Speech at the Westminster College Cold War memorial, 1990
I can hardly visit this magnificent setting, so rich in memory and symbolism, without recalling the comment Sir Winston Churchill made when he was congratulated on the size of an audience gathered to hear him speak. Any other politician would have been flattered. Not Churchill. It was no great achievement to draw a crowd, he said. Twice as many would have turned out for a public hanging.
Maybe so, but I am deeply grateful to each of you for your warm welcome. What an honor it is for me to come to Fulton — indelibly stamped with the name and eloquence of Churchill. What a privilege to be on hand to help dedicate Edwina Sandys’ sculpture celebrating the triumph of her grandfather’s principles. And what a source of pride to receive an honorary degree from this distinguished college, who illustrious past is equaled only by its future promise.
Today we rejoice in the demise of the Berlin Wall that was permanently breached just one year ago.
We remember brave men and women on both sides of the iron curtain who devoted their lives — and sometimes sacrificed them — so that we might inhabit a world without barriers. And we recall with the intensity born of shared struggles the greatest Briton of them all, a child of parliamentary democracy who boasted of an American mother and who therefore claimed to be an English-speaking union all by himself.
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?
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 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.
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.
Near the end of World War II, but before the election that everyone knew must follow V-E Day, The Times of London prepared an editorial suggesting that Prime Minister Churchill run as a non-partisan figure, above the fray of parliamentary politics, and that he gracefully retire soon after to rest on his laurels and bask in the glow of yesterday’s triumph.
The editor informed Sir Winston of both points he intended to make. Churchill had a ready reply. As for the first suggestion, “Mr. Editor,” he said, “I fight for my corner.” And as for the second, “Mr. Editor, I leave when the pub closes.”
For a while in the Summer of 1945 it looked as if perhaps the pub had closed.
We all know that democracy can be a fickle employer. But that does little to ease the pain. It’s hard to be philosophical on the day after an elections slips through your fingers. Clementine, trying to think of anything to say that might console her husband, looked at the returns and concluded that it might well be a blessing in disguise.
The old lion turned to his wife and said, “At the moment it seems quite effectively disguised.”
“I have no regrets, ” Churchill told visitors in the aftermath of his defeat. “I leave my name to history.” But Winston Churchill rarely did the easy thing.
He could not rest so long as tyranny threatened any part of the globe. So when Harry Truman invited him to speak at Westminster College in the Spring of 1946, Churchill leapt at the chance. He hoped that by traveling to the heartland of America he might reach the heart of America. He would do so in an address whose timeless eloquence would be matched by its indisputable logic. Churchill addressed a nation at the pinnacle of world power — but a nation unaccustomed to wielding such authority and historically reluctant to intrude in the affairs of Europe.
In the exhausted aftermath of World War II, few were prepared to listen to warnings of fresh danger.
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. 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.
His Fulton speech was a firebell in the night, a Paul Revere warning that tyranny was once more on the march.
“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.” he said.
Churchill titled his speech “The Sinews of Peace,” but the reaction it provoked was anything but peaceful. Newspaper editors on both sides of the Atlantic rushed to brand its author a warmonger. Labor MP’s asked Prime Minister Attlee to formally repudiate his predecessor’s remarks. From Moscow came a blast of rhetoric labeling Stalin’s former wartime ally “false and hypocritical” and claiming that having lost an election in his homeland he had decided to try his luck in the United States. Harry Truman knew better.
The people of Missouri were highly pleased by Churchill’s visit, and had enjoyed what their distinguished visitor had to say.
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. 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.
Today we come full circle from those anxious times. Ours is a more peaceful planet because of men like Churchill and Truman and countless others who shared their dream of a world where no one wields a sword and no one drags a chain. This is their monument. Here, on a grassy slope between the Church of St. Mary the Virgin and Champ Auditorium, a man and a woman break through the wall and symbolically demolish whatever remaining barriers stand in the way of international peace and the brotherhood of nations.
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. The road to a free Europe that began there in Fulton led to the Truman Doctrine and The Marshall Plan, to N.A.T.O and The Berlin Airlift, through nine American presidencies and more than four decades of military preparedness.
By the time I came to the White House, a new challenge had arisen. Moscow had decided to deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles like the SS-20 that would threaten every city in Western Europe.
It never launched those missiles, but fired plenty of trial balloons into the air, and it rained propaganda on the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany in an effort to prevent the modernization of N.A.T.O.’s forces on West German soil.
But the Government in Bonn was not deterred. Neither was the rest of Western Europe deceived. 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.
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. 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. Principled leaders like Helmut Kohl and Margaret Thatcher reinforced our message that the West would not be blackmailed and that only rational course was to return to the bargaining table in Geneva and work out real and lasting arms reductions fair to both sides.
A new Soviet leader appeared on the scene, untainted by the past, unwilling to be shackled by crumbling orthodoxies. With the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev came the end of numbing oppression. Glasnost introduced openness to the world’s most closed society. Perestroika held out the promise of a better life, achieved through democratic institutions and a market economy. And real arms control came to pass, as an entire class of weapons was eliminated for the first time in the atomic age.
Within months the Soviet Empire began to melt like a snowbank in May.
Once country after another overthrew the privileged cliques that had bled their economies and curbed their freedoms. Last month Germany itself was reunited, in the shadow of The Brandenburg Gate and under the democratic umbrella of N.A.T.O. I know something about that neighborhood. Back in June 1987 I stood in the free city of West Berlin and asked Mr. Gorbachev to tear down the wall.
Was he listening? Whether he was, or not, neither he nor the rulers of Eastern Europe could ignore the much louder chants of demonstrators in the streets of Leipzig and Dresden and dozens of other German cities.
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.
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. Just last week, thousand of Soviet citizens, may of them clutching photographs of relatives who died in Stalin’s labor camps, marched to the Moscow headquarters of the K.G.B. to unveil a monument to the victims of Stalinist repression. An aging woman named Alla Krichevskaya held up a photograph of a young man in an old fashioned high collar. She wept softly.
“This was my father,” she said, “I never knew him. He was sent to Sologetsky (labor camp) in 1932, a few months before I was born, and they shot him in 1937.”
In dedicating this memorial, may we pause and reflect on the heroism and the sacrifice of Alla’s father and so many, many others like him. Fifty years after Winston Churchill rallied his people in the Battle of Britain, the world is a very different place. Soviet Russia is coming out of the dark to join the family of nations. Central and Eastern Europe struggle to create both freedom and prosperity through market economies. How pleased Sir Winston would be!
Let me conclude with a special word to the student of Westminster College, the empire builders of 21st Century. Before you leave this place, do not forget why you came. You came to Westminster to explore the diversity of ideas and experience what we call civilization. Here you discover that so long as books are kept open, then minds can never be closed. Here you develop a sense of self, along with the realization that self alone is never enough for a truly satisfying life. For while we make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.
Tragically, many walls still remain to endanger our families and our communities.
Later today the Fulton Optimist Club will join with others in recognizing winners of an essay contest called “Why should I say no to drugs?” Obviously Fulton cares about its future as well as its past — above all, it cares about the children who represent that future.
In Fulton, Missouri as in London, Berlin or Los Angeles, the future is what you make it.
Certainly it was unreasonable for a sixty-five-year-old parliamentarian, his counsel rejected until the emergency was at hand, to believe that he could defy the world’s most lethal fighting force and crush Hitler in his Berlin lair.
It was unreasonable to suggest that an ancient church, all but destroyed by enemy bombs, could be reconstructed five thousand miles away as a permanent tribute to the man of the century. 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.
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.
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.
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?
I received a letter just before I left office from a man. I don’t know why he chose to write it, but I’m glad he did. He wrote that you can go to live in France, but you can’t become a Frenchman. You can go to live in Germany or Italy, but you can’t become a German, an Italian. He went through Turkey, Greece, Japan and other countries. but he said anyone, from any corner of the world, can come to live in the United States and become an American.
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 truth of the matter is, if we take this crowd and if we could go through and ask the heritage, the background of every family represented here, we would probably come up with the names of every country on earth, every corner of the world, and every race. 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.
Thank you all and God Bless you all.