Seventy years ago this summer, in June of 1940, an aging British politician, who for the previous twenty years had seemed to his countrymen to be one of those entertaining, eccentric, essentially literary figures littering the margins of political life, got up to make a speech in the House of Commons. The British Expeditionary Forces had just been evacuated from France, fleeing a conquering German Army—evacuated successfully, but, as the speaker said, wars aren’t won that way—and Britain itself seemed sure to be invaded, and soon. Many of the most powerful people in his own party believed it was time to settle for the best deal you could get from the Germans. At that moment when all seemed lost, something was found, as Winston Churchill pronounced some of the most famous lines of the past century. “We shall go on to the end,” he said defiantly, in tones plummy and, on the surviving recordings, surprisingly thick-tongued. “We shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” Churchill’s words did all that words can do in the world. They said what had to be done; they announced why it had to be done then; they inspired those who had to do it.
more from Adam Gopnik at The New Yorker here.