Sir Winston’s Enduring Legacy: Churchill Day 2019

Sir Winston’s Enduring Legacy: Churchill Day 2019

Washington, 1963

Jacque­line Kennedy offered a touch­ing and durable vision of Churchill’s lega­cy at the White House cer­e­mo­ny on 9 April 1963—now “Churchill Day” in Amer­i­ca. It was when Pres­i­dent Kennedy bestowed hon­orary U.S. cit­i­zen­ship on Sir Win­ston.

Aged 88, Churchill was rep­re­sent­ed by his son Ran­dolph, who was a bun­dle of nerves. In the Oval Office before­hand, the First Lady recalled, “Ran­dolph was ashen, his voice a whis­per. ‘All that this cer­e­mo­ny means to [Ran­dolph and the Pres­i­dent],’ I thought, ‘is the gift they wish it to be for Randolph’s father.’” “Ran­dolph stepped for­ward to respond: ‘Mr. Pres­i­dent.’ His voice was strong. He spoke on, with almost the voice of Win­ston Churchill, speak­ing for his father.”

Legacy and Liberty

Churchill’s mes­sage, so ably deliv­ered by his son at that cer­e­mo­ny fifty-six years ago, calls to us again across the years, amidst fresh chal­lenges to lib­er­ty.

In this cen­tu­ry of storm and tragedy, I con­tem­plate with high sat­is­fac­tion the con­stant fac­tor of the inter­wo­ven and upward progress of our peoples….Our com­rade­ship and our broth­er­hood in war were unex­am­pled. We stood togeth­er, and because of that fact the free world now stands.  Nor has our part­ner­ship any exclu­sive nature: the Atlantic com­mu­ni­ty is a dream that can well be ful­filled to the detri­ment of none and to the endur­ing ben­e­fit and hon­our of the great democ­ra­cies.

Those words tes­ti­fy to why the lega­cy of Churchill still mat­ters. They explain why, after the most crit­i­cal attacks against any states­man of the recent past, his rep­u­ta­tion sur­vives. We still heed and quote him. Churchill’s lega­cy endures because of his abil­i­ty to crys­tal­lize the con­vic­tions and aspi­ra­tions of free men and women. No one spoke them bet­ter.

Legacy and Longevity

That lega­cy also involves longevi­ty. From the last great British cav­al­ry charge at Omdur­man to the nuclear age, Churchill was there. Most politi­cians are promi­nent for ten or twen­ty years. Churchill stood at the apex of events for half a cen­tu­ry. Read about him and you’ll find he was more than a fleet­ing fig­ure in a war long ago.

Thought­ful peo­ple know Churchill’s sto­ry offers much more than the coura­geous fig­ure of 1940. More than ordi­nary politi­cians, he reflect­ed seri­ous­ly on the nature of democ­ra­cy, on the prop­er role of the state. He thought repeat­ed­ly about how to main­tain peace with­out resort to war. Always he nursed a deter­mined opti­mism that in the end “all will come right.”

It is easy today for the unin­formed to por­tray Churchill as a grotesque—even the oppo­site to what he real­ly was. Did he make mis­takes? Cer­tain­ly. Did he con­tra­dict him­self? Fre­quent­ly. But he “always had sec­ond and third thoughts,” as William Man­ches­ter wrote,

and they usu­al­ly improved as he went along. It was part of his pat­tern of response to any polit­i­cal issue that while his ear­ly reac­tions were often emo­tion­al, and even unwor­thy of him, they were usu­al­ly suc­ceed­ed by rea­son and gen­eros­i­ty. Giv­en time, he could devise imag­i­na­tive solu­tions.

As he reflect­ed upon his hon­orary Amer­i­can cit­i­zen­ship he con­clud­ed: “Our past is the key to our future, which I firm­ly trust and believe will be no less fer­tile and glo­ri­ous. Let no man under­rate our ener­gies, our poten­tial­i­ties and our abid­ing pow­er for good.”

That is his lega­cy. We seek to learn by his expe­ri­ence and wis­dom. Today as always, it is eeri­ly rel­e­vant.

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