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1940 / London

Once More Unto the Breach

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We do not yet know what will happen in France or whether the French resistance will be prolonged. The French government will be throwing away great opportunities and casting adrift their future if they do not continue the war in accordance with their treaty obligations, from which we have not felt able to release them. The House will have read the historic declaration in which, at the desire of many Frenchmen—and of our own hearts—we have proclaimed our willingness at the darkest hour in French history to conclude a union of common citizenship in this struggle. We in this island and in the British empire will never lose our sense of comradeship with the French people. If we are now called upon to endure what they have been suffering, we shall emulate their courage, and if final victory rewards our toils, they shall share the gains, aye, and freedom shall be restored to all. We abate nothing of our just demands; not one jot or tittle do we recede. Czechs, Poles, Norwegians, Dutch, Belgians have joined their causes to our own. All these shall be restored. 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.”

©2003 by Winston S. Churchill. Used with permission of Curtis Brown on behalf of the Estate of Sir Winston Churchill.

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About the Author

Winston Churchill, from a speech. Britain declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939; Churchill became prime minister the following May, stating in his first address to parliament, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” Intent on achieving victory, he gave his “finest hour” speech a month later, in it quoting the lines “He nothing common did or mean/Upon that memorable scene” from Andrew Marvell’s ode to Oliver Cromwell.

The day the world ends, no one will be there, just as no one was there when it began. This is a scandal. Such a scandal for the human race that it is indeed capable collectively, out of spite, of hastening the end of the world by all means just so it can enjoy the show.
Jean Baudrillard, 1987
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Lewis H. Lapham is Editor of Lapham's Quarterly. He also serves as editor emeritus and national correspondent for Harper's magazine.
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