Lessons of the past continue to light our future if we let them. They uplift and illuminate if we pause to remember, read, and follow what they remind us works. Sticking together in a crisis is one lesson. Taking heart from each other when the chips are down is another. Those who prevailed against far longer odds than America now faces – are an inspiration. Done right, this may be our finest hour.
The world was coming apart – the entire world – in summer 1940. Nazi blitzkrieg had overrun most of Europe, from Poland and northern countries to Luxembourg, Romania, and France. The Battle of Britain was about to commence, and – even without computer models – the British knew, thousands would die. It was a dark day – darker than ours.
Already, thousands had died – and the plague of war was only starting. There was no inoculation against it, no prospect for an early end, and no basis for believing anyone was immune.
The advent of this global crisis hit fast, overcoming old presumptions, early preparations, and existing countermeasures.
Who could imagine anyone giving guidance to be resolved, unified, and optimistic under such circumstances? Who could imagine sustained hope for an ultimate end – when it was the beginning? Who would advise optimism in the face of onslaught?
Who – with a straight face – saw the foe beaten, and the entire world stronger for that victory?
The answer is one man.
Even in retrospect, the words of Britain’s Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, sharp-tongued leader, pugilistic and populist, admired and reviled – seem bold.
More remarkable, his words were not half-hearted, guarded, or embroidered with political reservations.
They were straight from the heart, true and authentic, rough-cut as the scotch-and-cigar leader himself.
On June 18, 1940, Britain – a small island – stood alone against the entire Nazi war machine, alone against 150 divisions, infantry and Waffen SS, panzer, and airborne. The odds did not deter Churchill, who went before his people to share a simple, stunning conviction: They would win.
Said Churchill, “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duty and so bear ourselves that if the British Commonwealth and Empire lasts for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘this was their finest hour.'”
The British leader knew all the world was roiled. He knew the odds, magnitude of likely losses, the threat to freedom. He knew the spirit of free peoples everywhere, once resolved to win.
He knew it was invincible. They could defeat any foe if unified, focused, serious, and determined to prevail.
His speech was epic, if short. Facts spoke for themselves. He did not sugarcoat. Odds were long, would get longer before the Battle of Britain ended, before allies pulled together. But his spirit pulled his countrymen up. That same spirit has often lifted Americans to our full and invincible height.
To win, we must first believe we can win – then we must act. That is where we are. The same spirit – of can-do, must do, and will do – is America’s spirit. It must spread far and wide today. Maybe it is no coincidence that Churchill’s mother was American. In any event, we must become citizen warriors to defeat an insidious foe. And what we know is, we can – if we resolve to do so, as One People.
Like the foe at which Churchill aims, this one threatens global social, economic, and political order – as well as our freedom and way of life. But if we respect our constitution and institutions, our President and his team, our role as citizens in a free republic, we will prevail. This battle is nothing by comparison to ones joined and won by our predecessors.
This globe-trotting virus rightly has Americans worried, many in the media spun up. It is worth our full attention, and it will take time and unity to defeat – but it will be defeated.
Whatever the eventual number who get ill, the majority will recover. Whatever the number who succumb, it will be dwarfed by the number who remain well and recover. This is not the Battle of Britain, even if it is serious. Our job is to stay resolved, responsible, and to respect the President’s leadership, his team’s guidance, and our role in getting to victory.
As in Churchill’s time, requirements for victory include sidelining fear, disposing of baseless worry, subsuming fear in constructive action, and concern for others. We can stay buoyed by faith, patience, and common purpose. Many hands make light the load, and singularity of purpose speeds the end.
So, yes, these are trying times. But Churchill’s spirit is also ours. Fear cannot be allowed to extinguish courage, and we also know others have weathered far worse times. We have seldom stayed divided long. We tend to unify quickly when we know we must. And at this moment, we must.
Analogies are imperfect, but they are useful – especially when they remind us of strengths and how others worked to prevail against longer odds. This rough patch will call on each of us to show patience and self-restraint, peace of heart, and the power to slow, followed by self-discipline and strength to come back up to speed. We can do that.
Churchill – and past Americans – teach us how to dig deep. Sticking together in a crisis is one lesson. Taking heart from each other when the chips are down is another.
Those who prevailed against far longer odds than we face are an inspiration. If we do what we must, this may be our finest hour.