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This Sustainable Life

411: Winston Churchill and the environment

Ep. 411

The notes I read from:

Missing messages on the environment we can learn from Churchill. I'll read from some of his most famous speeches, during WWII, then I'll play the close of one, from June 4, 1940 “We shall never surrender.”

Some points:

  • It's bad. It's as bad as it's ever been. There's no escape. Your life is in peril.
  • It's huge. Nations have been wiped off the map. The world is at stake.
  • We are dying. Many of us will die.
  • We must act, ourselves. You, me, everyone. We must put ourselves on the line.
  • We can't delegate or pass this off.
  • We can make it. We must join together.
  • We have done it before. We are a great people.
  • We are humble. “We” are just an island.
  • We have a purpose, not just defense.
  • I will give it to you straight. No lies. No dancing around the issues.
  • I'm in it with you.
  • Despite the depth of our misfortune, we have the means to make it our finest hour. We will. Those who give the most will feel the greatest reward.
  • You know what to do—everything you can.
  • You help yourself by helping everyone.
Churchill's context
  • Most of WWII as we know it hasn't happened yet and they don't know what to expect. Do they expect more, less, or what, we don't know.
  • He's 65.
  • He knows every person in the UK will listen to his speeches, as will probably nearly everyone who speaks English in the US, Canada, Australia, and the commonwealth.
  • The King will. Roosevelt and Stalin will. Hitler will. Mussolini will.
  • Nearly everyone remembers WWI and the tens of millions lost then.
  • England once held the largest empire ever. Now they were an island. The Axis powers had destroyed most of Europe. Who knew if help might come from the US, Australia, India, or any place. Hitler was dominating with strategies, tactics, and equipment nobody knew how to defend against.
Excerpts‘Blood, toil, tears and sweat’

13 May 1940. House of Commons

Churchill's first speech in office

“I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this Government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. This is our policy. You ask, what is our aim?

I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory, there is no survival.”

‘We shall never surrender’

4 June 1940. House of Commons

After Dunkirk.

“Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous states have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

‘Their finest hour’

18 June 1940. House of Commons

To the pilots of the RAF.

“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 civilisation. 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 upon 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.’”

‘The few’

20 August 1940. House of Commons

To the RAF pilots.

“The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Our context

Now consider our context regarding the environment. How many of these points sound true and how many has anyone shared with you?

  •  
  • It's bad. It's as bad as it's ever been. There's no escape. Your life is in peril.
  • It's huge. Nations have been wiped off the map. The world is at stake.
  • We are dying. Many of us will die.
  • We must act, ourselves. You, me, everyone. We must put ourselves on the line.
  • We can't delegate or pass this off.
  • We can make it. We must join together.
  • We have done it before. We are a great people.
  • We are humble. “We” are just an island.
  • We have a purpose, not just defense.
  • I will give it to you straight. No lies. No dancing around the issues.
  • I'm in it with you.
  • Despite the depth of our misfortune, we have the means to make it our finest hour. We will. Those who give the most will feel the greatest reward.
  • You know what to do—everything you can.
  • You help yourself by helping everyone.


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