Sep 15, 2007

The Battle of Britain and The Long War

In the history of warfare, the victory of will over might is not at all uncommon. Thrilling tales of battles in which vastly outnumbered and out-gunned troops fought heroically against all odds to emerge victorious enchant history books of every culture; at one time even our own.

An ever-diminishing few of us celebrate one such battle today, 15, September: The Battle of Britain. Taking place over the summer of 1940, 2,936 pilots defended England against a far superior German Luftwaffe. 544 of those pilots gave their lives in the effort which ultimately forced Hitler to abandon his planned invasion of England, the “sole champion of the liberties of all Europe.”

As Sir Winston Churchill so eloquently declared of these brave men,

“The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Sir Winston did not overstate the significance of this turning of the tide. He did, however, understate his own role in bringing it about. For in truth, it was the tone set by Sir Winston’s magnificent oratory and bold decision making preceding and throughout this ordeal that ignited the passions of British soldiers – and the British people – to fight as ferociously as they did for their survival and their way of life.

In his biography, Winston Churchill, author John Keegan writes,

“The answer to the question of what sustained Churchill and the British in the darkest days is that it was his own words. From them the people took hope and Churchill drew inspiration.”

“Churchill’s words did not only touch his people’s hearts and move the emotions of their future American allies, they also set the moral climate of the war.”

“Churchill’s message triumphed.”

It is our belief at Churchill’s Parrot, and – I am happy to say - numerous other sites throughout the blogosphere, that Sir Winston’s message remains as relevant, applicable, triumphant, and essential today as in 1940. Why?

Clearly, in our present struggle – the War on Terror or The Long War as it is perhaps more appropriately monikered – vast military superiority is entirely our own. Our great disadvantage, the Achilles Heel of Western Civilization, exists not in our arsenals of weapons and treasure, but in our arsenal of will. In government of the people, by the people, for the people, this is no small concern.

Thus, we endeavor to facilitate the steady application of Churchillian light upon current events with the hope of reawakening and emboldening the flagging will of Western Civilization; free people raised in unprecedented peace and prosperity and unaccustomed to the degree of sobriety and clarity required to sufficiently appreciate our current station in history. For as Osama bin Laden himself has declared:

“The whole world is watching this war and the two adversaries; the Islamic Nation, on the one hand, and the United States and its allies on the other. It is either victory and glory or misery and humiliation.”

On this September 15, Battle of Britain Day, allow us then to draw your attention to key excerpts from speeches Sir Winston made over the summer of 1940 which empowered his people to prevail – virtually through will alone – in what may well have become Western Civilization’s last stand. We feel these ought prove instructive to those today who see little hope or point to this Long War, its many complexities and fronts (yes including Iraq), and wish really the whole bloody mess would just go away.

We begin with Sir Winston’s response to Chamberlain and Halifax’s recommendation of “seeking terms” with Hitler upon Germany’s defeat of French and Belgian forces in May of 1940, leaving Britain alone to face the Nazi threat.

“Nations which went down fighting, rose again. But those who surrendered tamely, were finished. If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.”

Shortly thereafter, from his June 18, 1940 at the outset of the Battle of Britain:
“What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. 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.’”
“During the first four years of the last war the Allies experienced nothing but disaster and disappointment. That was our constant fear: one blow after another, terrible losses, frightful dangers. Everything miscarried. And yet at the end of those four years the morale of the Allies was higher than that of the Germans, who had moved from one aggressive triumph to another, and who stood everywhere triumphant invaders of the lands into which they had broken. During that war we repeatedly asked ourselves the question: How are we going to win? and no one was able ever to answer it with much precision, until at the end, quite suddenly, quite unexpectedly, our terrible foe collapsed before us.”

“Of this I am quite sure, that if we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we shall find that we have lost the future. Therefore, I cannot accept the drawing of any distinctions between Members of the present Government.”

From his speech before the House of Commons, August 20, 1940, the “crisis point” in the Battle of Britain:

“One of the ways to bring this war to a speedy end is to convince the enemy, not by words, but by deeds, that we have both the will and the means, not only to go on indefinitely but to strike heavy and unexpected blows. The road to victory may not be so long as we expect. But we have no right to count upon this. Be it long or short, rough or smooth, we mean to reach our journey's end.”

“If it is a case of the whole nation fighting and suffering together, that ought to suit us, because we are the most united of all the nations, because we entered the war upon the national will and with our eyes open, and because we have been nurtured in freedom and individual responsibility and are the products, not of totalitarian uniformity but of tolerance and variety.”

“Our people are united and resolved, as they have never been before. Death and ruin have become small things compared with the shame of defeat or failure in duty. We cannot tell what lies ahead. It may be that even greater ordeals lie before us. We shall face whatever is coming to us. We are sure of ourselves and of our cause and that is the supreme fact which has emerged in these months of trial.”

By this post we seek to honor those who gave their all in the Battle of Britain, conjuring their memory and the words of their leader, in acknowledgment of their profound sacrifice and example. What they lacked arms, they made up for a hundred fold in will. We today in this Long War stand better armed than any people in history. But have we the will to endure it?




Pickled Eel said...

A customer enters a pet shop.

Customer: 'Ello, I wish to register a complaint.

(The owner does not respond.)

C: 'Ello, Miss?

Owner: What do you mean "miss"?

C: I'm sorry, I have a cold. I wish to make a complaint!

O: We're closin' for lunch.

C: Never mind that, my lad. I wish to complain about this parrot what I purchased not half an hour ago from this very boutique.

O: Oh yes, the, uh, the Cockatoo...What's,uh...What's wrong with it?

C: I'll tell you what's wrong with it, my lad. 'E's now an African Grey Parrot, that's what's wrong with it!
O: No, no, 'e's uh,...he's a Cockatoo.

C: Look, matey, I know an African Grey Parrot when I see one, and I'm looking at one right now.

O: No no he's not an African Grey Parrot, he's, he's a Cockatoo'! Remarkable bird, the Cockatoo, idn'it, ay? Beautiful plumage!

C: The plumage don't enter into it. It's an African Grey Parrot.

etc etc

With apologies to Monty Python - and of course, despite the nitpick compliments on a very imaginative and creative blog. I envy you the energy.

Churchill's Parrot said...

My Dear Pickled Eel,

You are likely unaware that I performed the role of the parrot in that sketch when performed live for Her Majesty at London’s Stamford Bridge Chelsea Football Club in 1982. Great fun! Though flaming Lefties, the Phythoners are a spirited lot. Got along famously!

Thank you for your very kind (and insightful) comments.



Gary Fouse said...

The Military Service Totem Pole

In recent years, there has been considerable controversy in politics centered around the military experience of some of our politicians-or lack thereof. For example, Bill Clinton's avoidance of the draft during the Viet Nam War was an issue, but not enough of an issue to cost him 2 elections, in both of which he defeated distinguished veterans of WW2, George Bush and Bob Dole. George W Bush's National Guard Service during Viet Nam was an issue in both of his elections. During the second, Dan Rather of CBS used fraudulent documents in an attempt to show that the younger Bush had been granted special treatment to avoid active duty service in favor of the Reserves. John Kerry, himself a Viet Nam veteran who later led Viet Nam Veterans Against the War, had his service called into question by other Swift Boat veterans. Today, with the Iraq War on center stage, other Vets like John Murtha and Chuck Hagel have spoken out against the war and incurred criticism in the process-albeit not of their own military service. This leads to a question not often considered: Who has the standing to criticize or question the military record of another-especially in the public and political arena?

Being a veteran myself, I have some thoughts on this matter, which I would like to share. First, I am a Viet Nam era veteran who served 3 years in the US Army from 1966-1968. I hasten to add that I did not serve in Viet Nam. At the conclusion of my training, the Army assigned me to Germany, where I served the remainder of my time. I neither volunteered for Viet Nam nor did I choose Germany as my post of duty. The choice was the Army's. Had I been assigned to Viet Nam, I was prepared to go. The only other option was to desert.

These facts are always in my mind when I consider the military record of others in public life. To me, there is a scale of those I feel free to criticize and those I do not. Now, we must remember that lack of military service cannot be held against someone in and of itself since we no longer have a draft. (When I enlisted, there was a draft.) Having said that, my scale looks something like this: Highest on the totem pole are those veterans who have served in combat. There is no way I would question their service because it stands on a higher level than mine. That includes people like John Murtha, Chuck Hagel, John Kerry and Bob Kerrey. I will criticize them on other issues, but never their service. (I have written a critical piece on Murtha based on his pork barrel politics.) When John Kerry was dealing with the Swift Boat charges, I remained silent though I supported Bush. The Swift Boat commanders who condemned him had every right to express their feelings, but I remained neutral. Similarly, while others have questioned and belittled Al Gore's service in Viet Nam, I have never said a word. Both he and Kerry stand higher on the totem pole than I do.

As for George W. Bush: He did, in fact, fulfill his military obligation. Many of his biggest critics on this point never served a day in the military (Bill Maher, Howard Dean, and Michael Moore, most notably.) They are pure hypocrites. Did Bush get special treatment in getting into the Guard? Perhaps. In those days, many (like professional athletes) did, but I don't wish to impugn the service of those who served in the National Guard. Did Bush skip some of his weekend meetings? Perhaps, but as I understand it, you don't get a discharge unless you make up the required time. If I wanted to question Bush on this issue, I would since I served 3 years active duty, but I don't know the whole story.

Let me tell you who I don't hesitate to question: That would be those who used trickery, lies and deceit to avoid military service, especially during war. I am not talking about conscientious objectors here. I am talking about draft dodgers. Is a certain name coming to your mind? Bill Clinton perhaps? You bet'cha. This man used every trick and lie in the book to avoid military service during Viet Nam. Moreover, he went to England to study during the war, and while there, participated in anti-war demonstrations against his own country. I will blast him all day long as someone who was never fit to serve as Commander-in-Chief. He lies at the very bottem of the totem pole.

Our military is rightfully the most respected institution in the country. Having military service on one's resume is a giant plus and deserving of respect-especially when that service includes combat duty. In America, of course, no one is above criticism, and we all enjoy the right of free speech. However, whenever we hear someone's military service questioned, we should pay attention to the critic and their standing on the totem pole vis-a vis the target of their criticism.

gary fouse