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Lessons to The Resistance from Churchill

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In February, 1941, as the Second World War ground into its seventeenth month, Great Britain was on her heels. Hitler was master of the continent of Europe; Italy had joined on his side; France had fallen. German bombers were reducing entire neighborhoods of London, Coventry, Birmingham, Liverpool and other English cities to rubble in the Blitz. Hitler’s U-boats were sinking enormous tonnages of goods being shipped to and from Britain, an island nation dependent on such trade for its lifeline. The German Wehrmacht–Army, Navy and Air Force–was poised to invade the British Isles. In the Libyan desert, Rommel’s Afrika Corps was routing the British army. In the Far East, Japan was mobilizing, threatening Imperial possessions such as Singapore and Hong Kong (both of which they soon seized).

In short, it was not a good time for the British, or for Winston Churchill, who had been called to be Prime Minister less than a year earlier. Churchill’s strategy—the only one he could truthfully proclaim to the British people—was heavy on rhetorical promises, but light on specifics: He vowed to “fight on the seas and oceans…in the air…on the beaches…on the landing grounds…in the fields and in the streets…in the hills…”. Despite the confident phrases, Churchill understood that Britain’s only chance was for America to step in, and so he added these immortal words: “We shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”

Ten months later—in early December, 1941—that is exactly what happened, as America entered the war. But neither Churchill nor anyone else could foresee that possibility, and so, on that night of Feb. 9, 1941, from London, Churchill gave a major speech entitled “Put your confidence in us.” It was addressed, ostensibly, to “the British nation and the Empire,” but its real intended target was 3,000 miles to the west, across the Atlantic: the United States of America, and particularly its leader, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who the previous November had just been elected to an unprecedented third term. On that bleak night, with German bombs still falling across Britain, Churchill bluntly conceded the difficulties Britain faced. Germany remained ascendant, he said, outlining what further conquering Hitler was likely to accomplish. “He may carry havoc into the Balkan States; he may tear great provinces out of Russia; he may march to the Caspian; he may march to the gates of India. All this will avail him nothing…In order to win the war Hitler must destroy Great Britain.”

Churchill’s prognostications soon came true, with the exception of the Germans reaching India (not that they didn’t try). In the event, Hitler never did dare to invade Great Britain. America did enter the war, after Pearl Harbor, and what Churchill called “the Prussian yoke and the Nazi name” did go down to utter defeat (which would not have happened without the Soviet Union’s extraordinary resistance). But it took everything the British had to remain steadfast in the face of such horrible and demoralizing setbacks. At the conclusion of that Feb. 9 speech, Churchill issued one of his most stirring perorations. “We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle, nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down.”

Great Britain survived Hitler’s threat; she simply would not let him win. The British stared down and fought the dictator, whose martial aspirations ended with a self-inflicted bullet to the brain. I need not point out the similarities between those legendary times and our own, here in America, where a majority of our people voted against this current President, whose opponents are armed in this fight with little more than resolve. But resolve is the mother of victory. For us, following the glorious Women’s Marches around the world, this—as Churchill said in another context—“is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

And so let us roll on. For this new President to succeed in his nefarious designs, he must first destroy our confidence and unity, just as Hitler had first to break Britain before he could conquer the world. This, Trump is desperately trying to do; he knows the legitimacy of his Presidency is at stake, and it’s freaking him out. But like the English in 1941, “We shall not fail or falter. We shall not weaken or tire.”  This is Winston Churchill’s lesson to The Resistance.

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