Friday, May 04, 2007

Ten thoughts on great speeches

The Guardian is currently running a series of great speeches of the 20th century. They haven't finished yet, but I've thought of ten that I think HAVE to be on any list, regardless of the century. I can't read the words of Churchill without a lump in my throat. My Grandfathers both gave their lives to the fight against Hitler. One in the RAF, who died in 1943, and the other as a Commando in Norway, Burma and North Africa who lived for another 40 years with the memories, the horrors but also the dignity of service as a Commando.

- the Sermon on the mount, as set out in Matthew 5 "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you."

- Winston Churchill, May 1940 - “blood toil sweat and tears.”

- Winston Churchill, June 1940 - “We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, 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."

- Winston Churchill, June 1940 - Later that month he once again reminded the country of the magnitude of the threat: “But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their finest hour."

- Winston Churchill, August 1940 - In August following the defeat of the German Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain his tribute to the Royal Air Force was: “Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.”

- John F Kennedy – January 1961 - "In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility -- I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it -- and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country."

- Martin Luther King, 1964 - "I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

- Nelson Mandela, 1964 - Facing charges of sabotage, high treason and conspiracy to overthrow the government he spoke powerfully (and at great length) from the dock. This is how it ends. "During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

Ronald Reagan – tear down this wall, Berlin 1987. President Ronald Raegan has been widely derided as an actor at the helm of an aggressive conservative administration and a cold war warrior intent to imperil the world with nuclear Armageddon. I've had the privilege of seeing him speak at a convention in Las Vegas in 1991 and he was a great orator. I think history will he kind to Reagan. His nerve never faltered and his strong messages to the reforming Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev hastened the demise of communism. He said in Berlin in 1987: “If you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”
The speech ended: “As I looked out a moment ago from the Reichstag, that embodiment of German unity, I noticed words crudely spray-painted upon the wall, perhaps by a young Berliner: 'This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality.' Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom. "

Col Tim Collins, Iraq, 2003 - "We go to liberate not to conquer. We will not fly our flags in their country. We are entering Iraq to free a people and the only flag which will be flown in that ancient land is their own. Show respect for them. There are some who are alive at this moment who will not be alive shortly. Those who do not wish to go on that journey, we will not send. As for the others I expect you to rock their world. Wipe them out if that is what they choose. But if you are ferocious in battle remember to be magnanimous in victory."
The fact our troops are still in Iraq and are hated by so many Iraqis is such a sad betrayal of an honourable and laudible ideal.

1 comment:

Rob Baker said...


I think the "band of brothers" speech in Henry V should be there as it has provided inspiration.

I even read of one commander using it before attacking a German defensive position in WW II