Where's our Winston Churchill today?
While Winston Churchill passed the bonds of this Earth fifty-five years ago, his life stands as a testimony to the greatness men can achieve with grit, perseverance, and opportunity. It is also a reminder that the actions of men matter despite the "largeness" of modern life. We must remind ourselves of this in 2021 while we continue to endure the impact of the Wuhan virus and the actions of corporations and governments taken to limit its spread.
Churchill once asked in his speech, "Mass Effects in Modern Life," delivered in 1925, whether, "human progress [was] the result of the resolves and deeds of individuals, or are these resolves and deeds only the outcome of time and circumstance? Is History the chronicle of famous men and women, or only of their responses to the tides, tendencies and opportunities of their age?" Churchill thought the former was true, and his life proved it. His courage and foresight, leadership and eloquence, shaped the twentieth century to a greater extent than any other individual of his age — proof that history is not deterministic.
His actions and thoughts are worth examining, particularly his bravery and his exercise of prudence in the political realm.
Prudence is practical reasoning in which individuals deliberate about the proper means to achieve the ends set by the natural law. It requires a knowledge of not just eternal principles, but also the ability to apply them in the concrete circumstances confronting an individual or a regime. Churchill exercised it.
Throughout his life, Churchill fought for the greatness, security, and freedom of Great Britain and by extension the democratic world. Through his leadership, the British fleet was prepared for battle in the First World War in addition to his service in crafting the naval air arm and serving in the trenches.
Churchill is best known for his service to Britain and the world in calling attention to the Soviet and Nazi threats and then doing his best to neutralize them. In the 1930s, during the Wilderness Years, few respected his warnings. He recognized that the best way to stop the Nazis was the threat of force or its proper use. During the Second World War, he served as prime minister from 10 May 1940 until 26 June 1945.
He came to power at the moment Nazi Fuhrer Adolf Hitler conquered western Europe. France had fallen. Britain was left alone to face the Nazi threat. Many assumed she would surrender. Through his rhetoric and determination Churchill provided the inspiration the English people needed to continue fighting rather than sell their freedom and liberties for a little security.
Churchill kept Britain in the fight with Nazi Germany until the United States entered the war. Under his leadership, Britons fought in the Pacific, the Atlantic, and Africa before landing on the beaches of Normandy to drive through Western Europe on the road to Germany.
Churchill displayed his courage yet again when he pointed out the dangers of socialism and communism at the end of the war. This cost him dearly at the height of his power. When he fought socialism in Britain, he clearly pointed out where the system would logically lead when he stated, "No Socialist system can be established without a political police." Churchill and his party lost overwhelmingly to the Labor Party.
Churchill did not shy away from confronting the Soviet menace. On 5 March 1946, he boldly and clearly described the situation when he said, "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe ... in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow." This speech was a clarion call to the West to stand and resist Soviet tyranny at a time when many were exhausted by war and wished to ignore the looming threat of the USSR.
Churchill's legacy remains important today because of his dedication and recognition of the importance of politics in defending the inalienable rights and constitutional liberties of individuals in a totalitarian age. Churchill understood that we live not in a deterministic world, but in one where choice is possible. Men are able to deliberate well and act prudently in order to attain the good for themselves and their communities.
We should frankly confront the issue of 2021 with the knowledge that leadership matters and the actions of individuals change the fate of a nation.
Zachary D. Rogers is a graduate of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and Hillsdale College. He is a former high school teacher, college counselor, and dean of students currently working as a program officer for a non-profit in D.C. Views are his own.
Image: Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures.