By Edward Achorn
The above picture is of yours truly on a raw day in London three springs ago, posing with the statue of Winston Churchill on the northeast corner of Parliament Square.
Churchill chose the site in the 1950s, though the statue was not installed until 1973, eight years after his death. It overlooks the Houses of Parliament, where Churchill played an immense role in his country’s life, and survival, rising to prime minister at its darkest hour, in May 1940, as Adolf Hitler prepared to snuff out Britain and control the European continent.
The statue, which depicts Churchill with a walking stick and in a greatcoat, is based on a famous photograph of the prime minister inspecting the Chamber of the House of the Commons after German bombers had destroyed it on the night of May 10-11, 1941.
That was 79 years ago last night.
Using language worthy of Shakespeare and the King James Bible, Churchill exhorted his people to fight on — even when surrender seemed to many the safest and most pragmatic option.
Eighty years ago yesterday, Churchill told the House of Commons, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”
Churchill admitted: “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 can 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, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.
“You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is 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. …
“But I take up my task with buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men.”
Later that year, he spoke to the Harrow School.
“Never give in,” he told the students. “Never give in. Never, never, never, never — in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
I often thought of Churchill’s advice on my smaller stage in Rhode Island, while defying political corruption and reminding readers of our hard-won freedoms. It remains my motto in striving to help tell America’s great story.
On Friday, the world celebrated the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day. Britain, with the might of the United States and the Soviet Union behind it, prevailed against Hitler. Then the United States prevailed over Soviet tyranny.
In the haze of the coronavirus, the day seemed to pass with shockingly little fanfare. But Queen Elizabeth II, as is her wont, offered some brief and utterly fitting remarks about the day. With prim perfection in a light blue dress and pearls, she recalled the speech of her father, King George VI, on the day that victory finally came, and the wild celebrations outside Buckingham Palace.
“At the start, the outlook seemed bleak, the end distant, the outcome uncertain. But we kept faith that the cause was right and this belief, as my father noted in his broadcast, carried us through: Never give up, never despair. That was the message of VE Day,” she said.
History is of vital importance to our republic, I believe, because it reminds us of the great cost of freedom — paid by those who came before us — and of the persistent difficulty of sustaining it. I have a new book out, Every Drop of Blood, about an Illinois lawyer, often defeated in the political arena, who refused to give in and permit America to be rendered in two. The might of that unified country helped turn back the vile and murderous tyrannies of the 20th century. Abraham Lincoln should be regarded as part of VE Day too.
His lesson, like Britain’s: Never, never, never, never give in.
(Read more about Lincoln in Edward Achorn’s acclaimed new book, Every Drop of Blood).