Winston Churchill’s July 4 Message to America
Allies in War, in Peace Friends.
12:30 AM, Jul 4, 2010 • By JOSEPH LOCONTE
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The celebration of American Independence has a way of illuminating the Anglo-American relationship, especially during times of war. Although July 4, 1776 marked the date when the American people dissolved "the political bands which have connected them" with Great Britain, July 4, 1940 signified just the opposite: the moment when the two great democracies solidified their “special relationship.” Seventy years ago, British prime minister Winston Churchill delivered a speech before the House of Commons that masterfully rebuked the United States for sitting on the sidelines while Britain stood alone to defend freedom against totalitarianism. Churchill’s insights are worth recalling during our own season of war, when the historic ties between the two nations seem frayed and in doubt.
The speech was occasioned by the dramatic events of the previous day, July 3, when Churchill ordered the Royal Navy to destroy the French fleet in North Africa. Breaking a solemn agreement with Britain, France had just signed an armistice with Nazi Germany. It represented a colossal and dangerous betrayal: After the Royal Navy, the French possessed the most powerful fleet in European waters; they held the balance of power in the early stages of the Second World War. Churchill calculated, quite correctly, that if the French vessels were seized by the enemy, Britain would lose the war.
Thanks in part to Churchill’s Independence Day speech, America would join Britain’s “righteous purposes” in defending freedom against the immoral monstrosity of fascism. There are, of course, new monstrosities and barbarisms in our own day, new threats to human dignity and decency. Alas, there is also a new fraternity of defeatists eager to accommodate them. Churchill’s speech is a bracing challenge to both English-speaking nations to resist the siren song of appeasement and renew their commitment to democratic freedom—and to one another.
Joseph Loconte is a lecturer in politics at the King’s College in New York City and a frequent contributor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD. His most recent book is The End of Illusions: Religious Leaders Confront Hitler’s Gathering Storm.
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