Ronald Reagan on Churchill

“Out of one man’s speech was born a new Western resolve. Not warlike, not bellicose, not expansionist — but firm and principled in resisting those who would devour territory and put the soul itself into bondage.”

by Scott L. Vanatter

A rarified world exists where most can only peer inside.

In sports, world champions have earned a unique perspective of achievement. No matter how otherwise accomplished, regular participants can only imagine what champions experience. No matter the obstacles, champions impress their will onto their fellows in their chosen field of competition.

In world affairs, there exists a brotherhood — now including a few sisters – of rare leaders. These leaders have impressed their will on the times and circumstances they inherited. Through their bold decisions and their clarion words they lead where others equivocate or obfuscate.

Of particular interest is when one great leader comments on another. In November 1990 former president Ronald Reagan came to Fulton, Missouri, the place where Winston Churchill warned a modern world of an Iron Curtain falling across Europe. Churchill spoke on March 5, 1946. Not quite fifty years later the Iron Curtain, the Berlin Wall fell. It seemed like much longer. It would have been much longer; but for two leaders, and others. 

Unimaginable and unimagined by most, not ten years prior to the speech, the Berlin Wall had just come tumbling down. Reagan told the world that Communism was destined for “ash heap” of history.

Reagan uniquely put Churchill’s accomplishments – and his own — into proper perspective. Churchill and the Allies defeated the Nazi menace. Reagan, himself known as the Great Communicator said that “the greatest communicator of our time,” Sir Winston Churchill, “enlisted the English language itself in the battle against Hitler and his hateful doctrines.” And “when the whole cause of human liberty stood trembling and imperiled,” Churchill, “breathed defiance in phrases that will ring down through centuries to come.”

In Reagan’s day, in the face of a growing Soviet ascendency, in a world “exhausted [by the] aftermath of World War II, few were prepared to listen to warnings of fresh danger. But Churchill was undaunted.” Reagan juxtaposes Churchill’s previous “voice crying out in the wilderness against the suicidal dogmas of appeasement” with his second warning, the Iron Curtain.

Reagan deftly described “those deluded souls” in Churchill’s time “who thought they could go on feeding the crocodile with bits and pieces of other countries and somehow avoid his jaws themselves.” Of course, his point was to compare what the appeasers of his time were also, through fear, succumbing to.

Only prescient leaders who could see accurately the present situation and project into the future would thrust into the public discourse dire “warnings” which would be “ignored by a world more in love with temporary ease than long-term security. Yet time had proven [Churchill] tragically correct.” Time would prove Reagan similarly correct, though Reagan fought those who would unilaterally disarm.

From the heartland of American, Churchill declared that, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.”

Worse, that those “trapped behind the iron curtain” were “spied on and lied to by their corrupt governments, denied their freedoms, their bread, even their faith in a power greater than that of the state — for them Churchill was no warmonger and the western alliance no enemy.”

A fearful world watched as “the iron curtain was made all too real in a concrete wall, surrounded by barbed wire and attack dogs and guards with orders to shoot on sight anyone trying to escape the so-called worker’s paradise of East Germany.”

Reagan knew from reading history and from shared experience that Churchill was “not warlike, not bellicose, not expansionist — but firm and principled in resisting those who would devour territory and put the soul itself into bondage.” Both leaders braved accusations that they were warmongers. Quite the opposite. Their foresight and leadership, properly heeded and followed, would help prevent war.

Acknowledging Churchill’s warning, and combating those in our own country who would bow before Soviet aggression, Reagan stated that “by the time I came to the White House, a new [Soviet] challenge had arisen.” Reagan, “announced our own intention to develop S.D.I. — the Strategic Defense Initiative, to hasten the day when the nuclear nightmare was ended forever and our children’s dreams were no longer marred by the specter of instant annihilation.

Reagan’s Democratic foes and “some opinion-makers” here in America said that all would be “well in the world if only the United States lowered its profile.” Even further, Reagan said, “some of them would not only have us lower our profile — they would also lower our flag.”

Reagan’s simple retort, “I disagreed.”

Today’s president famously went on an apology tour. In his day, Reagan declared that he “thought that the 1980′s were a time to stop apologizing for America’s legitimate national interest, and start asserting them. I was by no means alone.”

Because the forces of freedom were marshaled together against the forces of tyranny, “within months the Soviet Empire began to melt like a snowbank in May.”

In June 1987 Reagan stood in Berlin and challenged Mr. Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”

Then, “In the churches and the school, in the factories and on the farms, a once silent people found their voice and with it a battering ram to knock down walls, real and imagined.”

Every generation defines their own future; or should. After Reagan our “future has been redefined, even as the veil has been lifted on a cruel and bloody past.” He taught that both “freedom and prosperity” are created and supported “through market economies.” And, “How pleased Sir Winston would be!”

With the best of the so-called liberal sentiments (really, this is a conservative sentiment and ingrained policy), Reagan taught the students of Westminster College, “So long as books are kept open, then minds can never be closed.” As usual, conservatives truly embody what liberals all too often only give mouth to.

In the face of a timid conventional wisdom, Reagan tackled what some thought impossible (or at least, unreasonable). Reagan said, “It was unreasonable to hope that oppressed men and women behind the iron curtain could one day break through to the sunlight of freedom.”

“All this was unreasonable,” he said. “But it all came true.” He wished that the rising generation would “be similarly unreasonable in pursuing Churchill’s objectives — justice, opportunity, and an end to walls wherever they divide the human race.”

He closed by asking whether the “young people and the students here” appreciate “how unusual — terribly unusual — this country of ours is?”

Ringing the same bell he had rung for decades, Reagan said that while, “some may call is mysticism” he could not “help but feel that there was some divine plan that placed this continent here between the two great oceans to be found by people … who had an extra ounce of desire for freedom and some extra courage to rise up and lead their families, their relatives, their friends, their nations and come here to eventually make this country.”

“Maybe,” he said, “one day boundaries all over the earth will disappear as people cross boundaries and find out that, yes, there is a brotherhood of man in every corner.” Imagine. Imagine there’s no country. An interesting idea.

Click here to see the full transcript of this important speech.

Please see below for key excerpts.

DEMISE OF THE BERLIN WALL

Today we rejoice in the demise of the Berlin Wall that was permanently breached just one year ago. . . .

Who standing here beside this magnificent 12th Century church that commemorated Sir Winston’s 1946 visit can ever forget the indomitable figure with the bulldog expression and the upthrust “V” for victory?

THE CAUSE OF HUMAN LIBERTY STOOD IN TREMBLING AND IMPERILED

As the greatest communicator of our time, Sir Winston enlisted the English language itself in the battle against Hitler and his hateful doctrines. When the Nazi might have prevailed from Warsaw to the Channel Islands and from Egypt to the Arctic Ocean, at a time when the whole cause of human liberty stood trembling and imperiled, he breathed defiance in phrases that will ring down through centuries to come.

THE HOUR OF ITS GREATEST TRIAL

And when the guns at last fell silent in the Spring of 1945, no man on earth had done more to preserve civilization during the hour of its greatest trial. . . .

EXHAUSTED, FEW PREPARED TO LISTEN TO WARNINGS OF FRESH DANGER

In the exhausted aftermath of World War II, few were prepared to listen to warnings of fresh danger.

SUICIDAL DOGMAS OF APPEASEMENT: DELUDED SOULS FEEDING THE CROCODILE

But Churchill was undaunted. Once before his had been a voice crying out in the wilderness against the suicidal dogmas of appeasement. Once before he had sounded an alarm against those deluded souls who thought they could go on feeding the crocodile with bits and pieces of other countries and somehow avoid his jaws themselves.

WARNINGS IGNORED: PROVEN HIM TRAGICALLY CORRECT

His warnings had been ignored by a world more in love with temporary ease than long-term security. Yet time had proven him tragically correct. . . .

AN IRON CURTAIN HAS DESCENDED

“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.” he said. . . .

SPIED ON AND LIED TO: DENIED FREEDOMS, BREAD, FAITH

And for those trapped behind the iron curtain spied on and lied to by their corrupt governments, denied their freedoms, their bread, even their faith in a power greater than that of the state — for them Churchill was no warmonger and the western alliance no enemy.

A CONCRETE WALL SURROUNDED BY BARBED WIRE AND ATTACK DOGS AND GUARDS

For the victims of communist oppression, the iron curtain was made all too real in a concrete wall, surrounded by barbed wire and attack dogs and guards with orders to shoot on sight anyone trying to escape the so-called worker’s paradise of East Germany. . . .

ONE MAN’S SPEECH: A NEW WESTERN RESOLVE

Out of one man’s speech was born a new Western resolve.

Not warlike, not bellicose, not expansionist — but firm and principled in resisting those who would devour territory and put the soul itself into bondage. . . .

REAGAN’S TIME

By the time I came to the White House, a new challenge had arisen. . . . At the same time, we in the United States announced our own intention to develop S.D.I. — the Strategic Defense Initiative, to hasten the day when the nuclear nightmare was ended forever and our children’s dreams were no longer marred by the specter of instant annihilation.

Of course, not everyone agreed with such a course.

OPINION-MAKERS: LOWER OUR PROFILE, OUR FLAG

For years it had been suggested by some opinion-makers that all would be well in the world if only the United States lowered its profile. Some of them would not only have us lower our profile — they would also lower our flag.

I DISAGREED: TIME TO STOP APOLOGIZING

I disagreed. I thought that the 1980′s were a time to stop apologizing for America’s legitimate national interest, and start asserting them. I was by no means alone. . . .

CRUMBLING ORTHODOXIES

With the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev came the end of numbing oppression. Glasnost introduced openness to the world’s most closed society. . . .

Within months the Soviet Empire began to melt like a snowbank in May. . . .

TEAR DOWN THE WALL

Back in June 1987 I stood in the free city of West Berlin and asked Mr. Gorbachev to tear down the wall. . . .

KNOCK DOWN WALLS, REAL AND IMAGINED

In the churches and the school, in the factories and on the farms, a once silent people found their voice and with it a battering ram to knock down walls, real and imagined.

FUTURE HAS BEEN REDEFINED

Because of them, the political map of Europe has been rewritten. The future has been redefined, even as the veil has been lifted on a cruel and bloody past. . . .

MARKET ECONOMIES CREATE BOTH FREEDOM AND PROSPERITY

Central and Eastern Europe struggle to create both freedom and prosperity through market economies. How pleased Sir Winston would be! . . .

SO LONG AS BOOK ARE KEPT OPEN, MINDS CAN NEVER BE CLOSED

So long as books are kept open, then minds can never be closed. . . .

ALL THIS WAS UNREASONABLE, BUT IT ALL CAME TRUE

It was unreasonable to hope that oppressed men and women behind the iron curtain could one day break through to the sunlight of freedom — and that the Soviet Politburo itself would yield to people in the streets.

All this was unreasonable. But it all came true. My fondest wish is that each of you will be similarly unreasonable in pursuing Churchill’s objectives — justice, opportunity, and an end to walls wherever they divide the human race.

I OWE YOU LIBERTY ITSELF

Shortly before he died, Sir Winston received a letter from his daughter Mary. “In addition to all the feelings a daughter has for a loving, generous father,” she wrote, “I owe you what every Englishman, woman and child does — liberty itself.” We owe him nothing less.

DEDICATE OURSELVES TO LIVE IN A WORLD WITHOUT WALLS

In dedicating this magnificent sculpture, may we dedicate ourselves to hastening the day when all God’s children live in a world without walls. That would be the greatest empire of all.

HOW TERRIBLY UNUSUAL THIS COUNTRY IS

And now, let me speak directly to the young people and the students here. I wonder yet if you’ve appreciated how unusual — terribly unusual — this country of ours is? . . .

SOME MAY CALL IT MYSTICISM: SOME DIVINE PLAN, SOME EXTRA COURAGE

Some may call is mysticism if they will, but I cannot help but feel that there was some divine plan that placed this continent here between the two great oceans to be found by people from any corner of the earth — people who had an extra ounce of desire for freedom and some extra courage to rise up and lead their families, their relatives, their friends, their nations and come here to eventually make this country. . . .

THE BROTHERHOOD OF MAN: BOUNDARIES WILL DISAPPEAR

Here, is the one spot on earth where we have the brotherhood of man. And maybe as we continue with this proudly, this brotherhood of man made up from people representative of every corner of the earth, maybe one day boundaries all over the earth will disappear as people cross boundaries and find out that, yes, there is a brotherhood of man in every corner. . . .