We recently celebrated Memorial Day, in remembrance of those who have served and given their lives for our nation. In less than a month we will celebrate the 4th of July, when we remember the founding of our nation. In the meantime we are engaged in political campaigns that will culminate in the election of a President in November. It is clear that our nation is deeply divided, and that we disagree on many issues, and about how to address the challenges facing us. Unfortunately we don’t seem to be able to agree on much else.
Enormous challenges are facing our nation. It seems clear that we need strong leadership. Our nation and other nations have faced similar challenges in the past. Fortunately, leaders have arisen to lead their nations through some very dark days. We need such leaders to guide us through our current challenges.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered an inspiring speech to the British House of Commons on May 13, 1940. The problems and dangers were overwhelming. To many the situation seemed hopeless. The Nazi armies were overrunning Europe, and most of its allies were defeated or about to surrender. What does a leader say to a country in such circumstances? After summarizing the events of the prior three days Winston Churchill gave this short speech:
I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined the government: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: victory; victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival. Let that be realized; no survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge and impulse of the ages, that mankind will move forward towards its goal. But I take up my task with buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. At this time I feel entitled to claim the aid of all, and I say, “Come then, let us go forward together with our united strength.”
I humbly suggest that our current leaders could learn something from Winston Churchill about both speeches and policy. He admitted the problems that were facing his nation. He didn’t make bold but unrealistic promises about immediate success. In the short term he offered them only “blood, toil, tears and sweat.” However, for the long term he promised them hope, and ultimate victory over tyranny and evil. Churchill focused on the reality of the situation. In the years leading up to World War II he had opposed the policy of appeasement, even when most of his nation had supported it. He put the needs of his nation ahead of personal popularity and gain. By doing so he was able to steer a steady course against overwhelming odds. Ultimately, the Nazi threat was resoundingly defeated.
Many years ago political scientist Edmund Burke wrote that “All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” We need visionary leaders, but we also need the wisdom to recognize them, and the courage to follow their leadership. Hopefully we are up to these challenges.