continued from Part 3…
America and the other great democracies confront no mighty superpower, like Britain did in 1936. Yet we face problems which, long simmering, may indeed result in a wreckage similar to what might have befallen the world, had Churchill’s Britain, and its Commonwealth, not stood alone against Hitler, until, as he put it, “those who hitherto had been half blind were half ready.” The clearest declaration of Churchill’s character and principle I have ever read came in July 1936, at the height of the rearmament debate, Churchill told Parliament:
I would endure with patience the roar of exultation that would go up when I was proved wrong, because it would lift a load off my heart and off the hearts of many Members. What does it matter who gets exposed or discomfited? If the country is safe, who cares for individual politicians, in or out of office?
That ringing declaration demonstrates Churchill’s devotion to principle and to his nation, regardless of poll ratings or unpopularity—characteristics some in Congress also demonstrate, from time to time.
They may be struck also by certain earlier Churchill remarks in 1928, which serve as a warning against inaction in the face of the obvious, by any nation’s leaders today. They were written by Churchill to Lord Beaverbrook, after he had read Beaverbrook’s book about World War I, Politicians and the War. They were meant in no invidious sense, but only, I think, in sorrow:
Think of all these people—decent, educated, the story of the past laid out before them—What to avoid—what to do etc.—patriotic, loyal, clean—trying their utmost—What a ghastly muddle they made of it! Unteachable from infancy to tomb—There is the first and main characteristic of mankind.
Worth heeding too are Churchill’s words to the Royal Society of St. George on 24 April 1933, which are evergreen: “We ought to rejoice at the responsibilities with which destiny has honoured us, and be proud that we are guardians of our country in an age when her life is at stake.”