High Steward of Cambridge Visits Westminster, Tells How Two of Churchill’s Speeches Saved the World
BY JIM MALVEN
As part of Westminster’s 70th anniversary celebration of Winston Churchill delivering “The Sinews of Peace” (“Iron Curtain Speech”), former British Liberal Party President and current High Steward of Cambridge University Lord Alan Watson, Baron of Richmond, spoke inside the Historic Gymnasium Thursday about the impacts of “Sinews” and “United States of Europe,” another speech delivered by Churchill in 1946.
Watson also discusses these speeches in his recently published book “Churchill’s Legacy: Two Speeches to Save the World.”
As his book’s title suggests, and as he said on Thursday, Watson believes that “The Sinews of Peace” and “United States of Europe” were hugely important in rebuilding and protecting post-World-War-II Western Europe.
“We are all in the debt of Winston Churchill,” he said.
Watson stated that “Sinews,” which warns of Soviet expansion, led to the implementation of the Truman Doctrine (1947), a declaration that the United States would provide political, military and economic assistance to all democracies threatened by internal or external authoritarian forces, and the Berlin Airlift (1948-1949), in which American, Canadian, British and French troops flew supplies to a blockaded Western Berlin, where their fellow Western Allies were stationed. He said it also led to the formation of NATO (1949), an intergovernmental political and military alliance based on the North Atlantic Treaty.
Watson said that the “United States of Europe” address, which calls for an alliance of European states, influenced the Marshall Plan, an American initiative to financially aid Western Europe after it was destroyed in the war.
In order to even give the two speeches, though, Churchill had to overcome severe depression and a landslide defeat in the 1946 general election.
“‘It would be better if I was dead, better if I had died, like Franklin Roosevelt, or had been killed in an accident,’” Watson cited from Churchill.
Watson said that Churchill was most depressed by the fact that he would no longer have the same ability to shape the future that he did as prime minister: “The key to the gloom that he felt was – and he’d used this analogy as well – that he’d fallen from a great, high altitude virtually to ground level.”
Churchill was so dejected that he refused to accept the Order of Merit from King George VI, “on the grounds that he’d been given the ‘order of the boot’ by the British people,” Watson said.
But according to Watson, Churchill’s mood changed when he received a letter from Westminster asking him to make a speech. Watson said that Churchill was particularly intrigued by a note written by President Harry Truman on the letter. Truman said in the note that he would host Churchill, and, according to Watson, Churchill knew that he could use a potential relationship with the president to regain some power.
“Almost instantly, his morale begins to recover,” Watson said. “His wife and daughter actually say to him, ‘Your spirits will rise as you cross the star-spangled waves.’”
The day before Churchill crossed those waves, he received the Order of Merit, which Truman’s invitation persuaded him to accept, Watson said.
Watson made it clear that although “Sinews” and “United States of Europe” had profound effects on the world, they were not initially well-received.
He said that seven days after Truman sat next to Churchill and applauded during “Sinews,” the president called a press conference to say: “I had no idea what Mr. Churchill was going to say, and the fact that I was sitting next to him on this platform does not in any way indicate the support of my administration for what Mr. Churchill said.”
He added that Churchill attended a reception in New York before returning to England and that the city was divided between welcoming citizens and protesters.
“On one hand, they were giving him the freedom of the city, and on the other hand, 4,000 people were taunting and waving posters saying, ‘No war for Winston! No war for Winston!’”
“The problem was, to the American public, to (whom) he was primarily speaking, (Soviet leader) Joseph Stalin was good old Uncle Joe; he was the one who’d been the great ally,” Watson explained. “As Churchill always admitted very openly, it was the Soviets who tore the guts out of the Nazi war machine. Their casualties were far greater than anyone else’s casualties. Over four million Germans were either killed or wounded, and 98 percent of those casualties occurred (while) fighting the Russians in Russia.”
However, “Churchill loathed Bolshevism and knew that behind the mask of Good Old Uncle Joe was a tyrant who was determined to get whatever he could,” Watson said, adding that Churchill was not deterred by the opposition.
“By this stage, his morale is fully recovered; the sap has absolutely risen to the peak,” Watson said.
The issue with “United States of Europe,” which Churchill delivered at the University of Zurich six and a half months after “Sinews,” was that the speech not only advocated for a union of European states but also reconciliation between France and Germany, which were still adversaries at the time, due to the revelations of the Holocaust, Watson said.
“De Gaulle was apoplectic,” he said.
Nonetheless, according to Watson, the two speeches “lit a fuse, ignited a process, began a new chain of thinking, opened up a new horizon.”
This horizon – one in which democracies are to protect one another from authoritarian rule – led to the Truman Doctrine, Berlin Airlift and creation of NATO, Watson said. Perhaps “Sinews” led to the Marshall Plan, but “United States of Europe” certainly influenced George Marshall’s demand that France reconcile with Germany before the United States sends economic aid.
In his closing, Watson asked the audience to remember Churchill’s courage: “This is a man who not only was able to defeat his own depression but a man whose minds had the sinews, the muscularity to think afresh, to see that there could be new solutions and to propose them to the world.”
70 Years After “Sinews”
Not only did Watson and Churchill speak from the same location in the Historic Gymnasium, members of the National Churchill Museum used photographs of Fulton on the day of Churchill’s speech to replicate various items from that day.
“All of our preparation for (Watson’s) visit has been looking at old photographs of the outside and inside of the gym so that we are able to accurately recreate the day,” Manager of Guest Services and Museum Operations Tyler Oberlag said. He added that Watson would ride in a World War II Jeep along the same parade route that Churchill took.
In the afternoon, prior to Watson’s speech, the museum hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony to formally open the new exhibit called “Sinews of Peace”: The Power of Prose. The exhibit features a typewritten draft of “Sinews” with handwritten corrections.
In the evening, after Watson’s speech, there was a Q&A session, followed by a cocktail party and dinner at Backer Dining Hall. The dinner featured food items – ham, mashed potatoes, etc. – similar to those that Churchill and Truman ate at Westminster 70 years ago.
Dr. Kurt Jefferson, who was teaching at Westminster when Margaret Thatcher visited for the 50th anniversary of Churchill’s speech, said that he found the replications this year interesting but that the most important thing is to recognize the major anniversaries in any way possible.
“I think these milestones – the 50th, the 60th, the 70th, the 75th – they are all important because, honestly, Fulton was really put on the map in 1946, and our college really became better known, even though we were just under a hundred years old at the time,” he said, adding, “It’s incredible how one speech can alter the course of history for a town.”