Today President Bush reminded us why, at his best, he is a rightful heir to George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill. He spoke at the opening of an exhibit in Churchill’s honor at the Library of Congress, in the presence of Churchill’s daughter and grandson:
In a decade of political exile during the 1930s, Churchill was dismissed as a nuisance and a crank. When the crisis he predicted arrived, nearly everyone knew that only one man could rescue Britain. The same trait that had made him an outcast eventually made him the leader of his country. Churchill possessed, in one writer’s words, an “absolute refusal, unlike many good and prudent men around him, to compromise or to surrender.”
When World War II ended, Winston Churchill immediately understood that the victory was incomplete. Half of Europe was occupied by an aggressive empire. And one of Churchill’s own finest hours came after the war ended in a speech he delivered in Fulton, Missouri. Churchill warned of the new danger facing free peoples. In stark but measured tones, he spoke of the need for free nations to unite against communist expansion. Marshal Stalin denounced the speech as a “call to war.” A prominent American journalist called the speech an “almost catastrophic blunder.” In fact, Churchill had set a simple truth before the world: that tyranny could not be ignored or appeased without great risk. And he boldly asserted that freedom — freedom was the right of men and women on both sides of the Iron Curtain.
[I]n some ways, our current struggles or challenges are similar to those Churchill knew. The outcome of the war on terror depends on our ability to see danger and to answer it with strength and purpose. One by one, we are finding and dealing with the terrorists, drawing tight what Winston Churchill called a “closing net of doom.” This war also is a conflict of visions. In their worship of power, their deep hatreds, their blindness to innocence, the terrorists are successors to the murderous ideologies of the 20th century. And we are the heirs of the tradition of liberty, defenders of the freedom, the conscience and the dignity of every person. Others before us have shown bravery and moral clarity in this cause. The same is now asked of us, and we accept the responsibilities of history.
America is pursuing a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. We’re challenging the enemies of reform, confronting the allies of terror, and expecting a higher standard from our friends. For too long, American policy looked away while men and women were oppressed, their rights ignored and their hopes stifled. That era is over, and we can be confident. As in Germany, and Japan, and Eastern Europe, liberty will overcome oppression in the Middle East. (Applause.)
We will succeed because when given a choice, people everywhere, from all walks of life, from all religions, prefer freedom to violence and terror. We will succeed because human beings are not made by the Almighty God to live in tyranny. We will succeed because of who we are — because even when it is hard, Americans always do what is right.
And we know the work that has fallen to this generation. When great striving is required of us, we will always have an example in the man we honor today. Winston Churchill was a man of extraordinary personal gifts, yet his greatest strength was his unshakable confidence in the power and appeal of freedom. It was the great fortune of mankind that he was there in an hour of peril. And it remains the great duty of mankind to advance the cause of freedom in our time.
May God bless the memory of Winston Churchill. May God continue to bless the United States of America. (Applause.)
These are excerpts; the speech is worth reading in its entirety. Very few, of course, will read the President’s inspiring words. Most, if they hear of his speech at all, will receive it through the media filter, as in this Reuters account, which begins: “Casting himself and British Prime Minister Tony Blair as the spiritual heirs of Winston Churchill, President Bush defended their decision to go to war against Iraq, despite the unraveling of U.S. and British claims relating to Iraq’s banned weapons.” You get the picture.
But for those who actually listen to the President, it is easy to recall why he has been, and may yet be, for some time, the greatest spokesman for freedom of our generation.