tv George Will on Iron Curtain Speech 75th Anniversary CSPAN April 1, 2021 7:06am-7:47am EDT
host for a series of very famous lectures the john finley green foundation lecture chief among them the lecture that churchill delivered here 75 years ago other celebrated lecture series include the ibm lecture the cherry price lecture the newly established brower lectureship established by churchill fellow and past leadership award recipient ambassador. stephen bauer westminster college class of 1967. but one of the most venerable lecture series here at the college is the enid and our crosby kemper lecture series. since 1981 scholars statesmen and women and others have delivered lectures from the historic christopher wren church of saint mary the virgin alderman berry to share with us thoughts on churchill the anglo-american relation and other topics other speakers have included andrew roberts, sir, martin gilbert lady mary soames and others all of whom have been
this distinguished lecture series. today we present the 34th needed in our crosby kemper lecture and the first to be delivered virtually to a global audience and to introduce today's speaker. i am pleased to welcome churchill fellow and the current director of the institute for museum and library services. crosby kemper great. thank you very much tim. i appreciate that introduction and i in the early 1990s george will came to kansas city to speak. i'm sure he won't remember this, but i was conducting a fan campaign with petitions and banners and bumper stickers to bring real grass to the field at royals now kauffman stadium. i was honored to sit next to him at lunch and he gave me a learned disquisition on seven layered composition of grass at camden yards. on the i think he was on the orioles board at that point.
we talked of the genius of george toma the great groundskeeper. whose life work. i was then defending the finances of major league baseball george will was one of the five i think commissioners who revolutionized those finances to the existential benefit of the kansas city royals. i hope he has a 2005 world series ring. oh and he signed my petition to that perhaps along with this lecture series on churchill and his times is my one lasting contribution to civilization. civilization and citizenship are words concepts and really life activities central to george will's work. he came back to kansas city again, probably again. i'm not going to remember this but to speak for the bank that i work for in the early 2000s and his schedule was empty part of the morning. so i invited him to go with me to visit the negro leagues museum. he told me he'd already been there early that morning indeed.
he was on their advisory board. a citizen at work i hope you agrees with me that the recent announcement that major league baseball will include a negro leagues statistics with asterisk, of of course is a civilizational advance. for this introduction i went back to his classical his classic baseball book men at work. there i found my notes for the previous introduction in which i opened with a line that as a lifelong chicago cubs fan. he clearly has a tragic sense of life. that line as they say is no longer operational. but for this introduction, i reread the two summative books of his political philosophy statecraft is soulcraft. from 1983 and has recently published in magisterial the conservative sensibility. these are the works of a lifelong american conservative in an almost lifelong republican. he therefore retains his tragic sense of life.
i should say that from statecraft to soulcraft to the conservative sensibility in he has gone from being a european conservative so described in statecraft of soulcraft to being in american conservative his index for the first is heavily waited to edmund burke and alexis to tocqueville and in the new magnum opus, it's madison and hamilton and particularly the federalist papers. and their nemesis woodrow wilson in many ways the book is a witty and devastating elaboration of the british philosopher. michael oakshot's great essay rationalism and politics. he quotes oakshot saying dreaming and ruling generates tyranny. he's a george willis the great critic of the overreaching overheated progressivism of our time. tyranny and defenses against it are the subject of churchill's great iron curtain speech and like george will he finds the greatest defense in the heritage
and tradition of the rule of law exemplified by the british unwritten constitution and the very well written american constitution. they are our civil religion. george will quotes antonin scalia saying we don't have a monarch. we have a constitution. and himself refers to the making of the constitution and its defense by madison and hamilton as our luminous moment. churchill speaks in the iron curtain speech about magna carta the bill of rights habeas corpus trial by jury english common law and most famously the declaration of independence. it is my hope then in the work that i do today at the as director of the institute of museum and library services of the federal government as we head into the 250th anniversary of the founding. we can find this luminous moment in our own moments and do the work of sharing this heritage and these ideals and the
remarkable historic experience that george will write so brilliantly about use our greatest interpreter of government and politics and the rhetoric descended and not yet completely lost from our founders the greatest earlier interpreter and rhetorician of this constitutionalism. is winston churchill and so on the anniversary the 75th anniversary of his great call to action for the preservation of civilization. it is appropriate and wonderful that we are able to welcome george will whose words have found illuminosity in our founding and even occasionally the poetry in our politics ladies and gentlemen, george will. thank you very much, and i want to thank you first for allowing this son of the midwest to come back to the midwest if virtually i also want to thank you for the giving me the occasion to where my true chilean bow tie. deep navy blue white polka dots and i thank you for the
privilege of speaking on the 75th anniversary of winston churchill of great speech the speech that he himself considered his greatest speech most momentous speech which is saying something for a lifetime of wonderful rhetoric. his speech did two things. first his speech validated an axiom from a great son of the state of missouri. perhaps the greatest mark twain. try and said that god invented to teach americans geography. winston churchill is the reason why americans know that stetson is on the baltic and trieste is on the adriatic. second churchill speech announced the onset of the cold war which would continue for 43 years. as he did in the 1930s. in the 1940s churchill saw things early and he said things clearly i have an amiable long-distance disagreement with
my friend andrew roberts the most recent and in my judgment the best biography of churchill. as a child of central, illinois. i insist that lincoln is the greatest figure in the history of world politics andrew insist that it is churchill. this much is indisputable. the only remaining argument concerns which historical figure gets the bronze medal for third place. when churchill spoke at westminster college, he did something that's great orders can do. he implanted in the vocabulary of his era. a phrase that caught the eras imagination anxieties puzzlements ; a phrase that riveted attention. and distilled into two two syllable words the high stakes of the era's politics the phrase was of course iron curtain. the word iron suggested the danger of permanence as did
beginning in august 1961 the concrete of the berlin wall but part of churchill's realism, which is my subject today. is the knowledge that nothing necessarily lasts? nothing the only political things that last are the things that we work tirelessly to make permanent or to get rid of. the second word in churchill's immortal phrase iron curtain the phrase which itself has lasted is the word curtain. curtains are put up to prevent people from seeing things. churchill knew that the evil architects of the iron curtain had something to hide the first principle of churchill's realism was the honest candid forthright use of the resources of the english language. and especially of its simple
blunt words. words such as iron and curtain the second principle of churchill's realism was to realize that people often do not wish to be realistic. indeed they wish to be spared from realism. reality, you see can be distressing. and demanding and dangerous so at fulton churchill did what real leaders do not flinch from doing? he said something that his audience which actually was the entire american nation did not want to hear. in 1946 americans were weary. weary from 16 years of grinding depression and total global war. they were longing for a respite from challenges. and for a restoration of normality to americans yearning
for a respite from heavy responsibilities churchill said not yet. he said there will be no holiday from history. he said if i might have him speak in the language of his nations greatest writer. americans must stiffen their sinews and summon up their blood. the world needed americans in the 1946 world of shattered nations there were things that only the united states could do. the recent american secretary of state madeline albright referred to the united states as the indispensable nation. true today even more true in 1946. the first thing only the united states could do was to begin the repairing of the shattered nations this began the next year with the announcement of the marshall plan. but two world wars or perhaps we
should say the 20th century 30 years war. had raised a question about the future of nations themselves. 11 months before churchill spoke here. the united nations had been as it were born in san francisco. there was much talk about the possibility of the world moving beyond nation states. there had been similar talk after the first world war. when the league of nations had begun its short unhappy life. churchill however, had a romantic attachment. to the majesty of ancient nations and not just his own. but the man from western missouri who brought her children to westminster college 75 years ago had earlier in his life. been fascinated by the possibility of a world made peaceful by a reduced role for nations. in 1910 on the other side of the
state. harry truman was 25 and he was working on his family farm behind a horse-drawn plow. be very likely is the last american president. never to have gone to college and the last to have worked behind a horse-drawn plow. truman had put in his pocket that year in 1910. a copy of tennyson's poem loxley hall which includes these lines about a world without wars? a world subdued by international law a world made safe and tranquil till the war drum throb no longer and the battle flags were feral. parliament of man the federation of the world they're the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in all. kindly earth shall slumber left
in universal law nice words not churchillian churchill knew better truman carried this poem when he went to france as an artillery captain in the first world war. he carried the poem in his pocket on april 12th, 1945. when he was suddenly summoned from the us capitol building to the white house. to be told that he had become president. germany became president the month the united states the united nations was born in san francisco. by them however dreams of a world made tranquil by universal law had melted in the cauldron of war. today, we know what churchill never doubted. nations are here to stay. nations about supernational entities or the prime movers of history? and the united states which
churchill loved as much as he loved his american mother? is more indispensable than ever? to give just one example. which churchill former first floor of the admiralty would certainly appreciate and applaud? the two-thirds of the planet that is covered with water the oceans. a great global common will be policed and kept elderly by the united states navy or it will not be orderly. we are 75 years on from when at churchill's urging here. the united states unfurled a flag of world leadership 75 years later our nation is wiser than it once was about the sinews and limits of its strength. united states has experienced some hard learning on the road from fulton and churchill's appearance there.
to here the hard learning began four years after churchill spoke here when president truman from independence, missouri took the nation into war in korea. the hard learning continued in vietnam continued in iraq in the first decade of this century. and it continues today in afghanistan. where the united states seems to be? in the painfully slow process of disengaging from what clearly is an impossible task. the task of nation building in a country that is not really a nation. more than a decade ago. when our involvement in afghanistan was already a decade old. i had a conversation with then secretary of defense robert gates in his pentagon office. i asked him. i said secretary. when was the last time that
afghanistan had a government? who's rick ran throughout the country? secretary gates answered briskly with one word. never he said. so once again, we have received a redundant lesson. in the impossibility of nation building a phrase that would have appalled churchill. because it would have offended his insistence on realism. the 1965 the year churchill died linden president lyndon johnson's vice president former, minnesota. senator hubert humphrey. said he thought the vietnam undertaking was exhilarating. he said and i quote. we ought to be excited about this challenge because here's where we can put to work some of the ideas about. nation building now the phrase nation building is a semi-oxymoron. it is a contradiction in terms
akin came to the phrase orchid building. as churchill new nations like orchids are organic growths. they are not things to be assembled and disassembled and reassembled like tinker toys. and as churchill also knew. communism he did from a european. strewn with ruins leaders who are not steeped in history not marinated in history. are apt to blunder. and by blundering they will make bad history. and more ruins 200 years ago this year on our nation's 46th independence day, july 4th 1821 then secretary of state john quincy adams delivered a lucid and measured statement of what he considered america's proper stance toward the world. i want to read you a portion of
one paragraph from it because it is an anticipation. i think of a version of churchillian realism. secretary of state john quincy adams said wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled there. will america's heart. her benedictions and her prayers be but she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. she is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. she is the champion and vindicator only of her own. she well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own. she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication. and all the wars of interest and intrigue of individual avarice envy and ambition fundamental maxims of her policy should
should then insensibly change from liberty to force. when secretary adams recommended this the world was very different and what he recognized is proven to be easier said than done. in the two centuries during which the united states has filled the continent and risen to to responsibilities around the world. it's simply is not possible for the united states to be merely what adams called the well-wisher of those who are long for freedom. it is not possible because our national premise. is that the principles by which we live? and that we espouse are explicitly universal. we are as our greatest president said our 16th mr. lincoln from central, illinois. he said we are a nation dedicated to a proposition. and the most important word in
that proposition is all. as in all men are created equal. when john quincy adams made his pronouncement in 1821 the united states had negligible military capabilities as befitted a nation. protected by the existence of two weak and placid neighbors and two broad oceans traversed only by wind powered ships. two centuries later the world is knitted together by economic globalization and the globe has been shrunk by technologies of travel communication and the projection of military power. the united states foreign policy should therefore adopt the prudence that secretary adams recommended it must however have a churchillion sense of the great responsibilities that come with america's great power. and america's great principles. both of which were subjects from
the speech made 75 years ago in fulton, missouri regarding the foreign foreign policy. the american mind is bifurcated. on the one hand. we are a nation of immigrants. we are all descended from people who came here to get away from there wherever there was. from places to entangled with wars and revolutions so america's instinctive isolationism sleeps lightly when it sleeps at all. on the other hand we are accredal nation whose creed impels us to lean into the world in in a way that churchill encouraged. in a way that saved churchill's nation as he well knew from the night of pearl harbor when we were at last blasted in to the world conflict. today there is much american soul searching about the nature
of our nation. there are those who advocate a kind of tribal nationalism and ethno nationalism a nationalism suited for what these advocates call a caucasian christian nation. but a few europeans have understood america better than some of today's americans do. prime minister margaret thatcher the most churchillian britain since churchill himself. correctly said this european nations were made by history. the united states was made by philosophy. that philosophy the heart of which is the doctrine of universal natural rights is always and directly pertinent to us foreign policy. henry kissinger has argued that americans believe that our principles are universally true implies that governments based on other principles are less than legitimate.
like are as it were on permanent probation. our founding document the declaration of independence does not mince words. it says that governments derive their just powers. they're just powers from the consent of the governed. therefore many of the world's governments do not have just powers. kissinger is also said acutely that on the one hand americans frequently seem to regard foreign policy as an optional activity. on the other hand the belief that american principles should be universal. the belief that justice would be served if all nations emulated our nation. this belief sometimes begets another belief. the us foreign policy should have the missionary purpose of spreading our universal truths. winston churchill knew better and remember this is a man who loved our country.
winston churchill understood the viscosity of history the vast inertia of nations and nations national cultures he was averse verse to unrealistic national ambitions abroad. united states has paid a steep price for not sharing his realism about this. in march 2003 three weeks before the us invasion of iraq president george w bush said and i quote. human cultures can be vastly different get the human heart desires the same good things everywhere on earth. that is i suggest and i think churchill would have said wishful thinking. exactly the sort of thinking churchill deplored. it is refuted by virtually every
blood-soaked chapter of human history, which is a story still being written a strife drive occasion by passionate political differences the human heart just is not the same everywhere in it all times. churchill knew this he knew the tragic dimension of history. which is that intense human desires will always exist and will always conflict. four months after the us invasion of iraq in july 2003 a british prime minister tony blair told a joint session of the us congress that it is a myth that quote or attachment to freedom is a product of our culture. blair added ours are not western values. they are the universal values of the human spirit in anywhere anytime. an ordinary people are given a chance to choose.
the choices the same freedom not tyranny. democracy not dictatorship well churchill himself a historian of distinction and a keen student of history knew better he knew that not everyone everywhere shares our attachment to freedom or even our definition of freedom. some people for her prefer piety or they prefer social solidarity. or they prefer order. there are lots of competing values. freedom is but one. churchill knew that our attachment to freedom and to the institutions indispensable for making it flourish is the product of a complex attracted centuries long a culturation primarily in the west especially among those churchill hymned in
his great work the english-speaking people. blair seemed to say baghdad or boston, new york or new delhi mongolia or missouri. what difference does it make? liberal democracy. he seemed to say can take root in any social soil. however, stony and until churchill, however great student of nations and national differences and nationalisms churchill knew that differences are enormous and important. he knew that even the merely 20 mile width of the english channel. separates political cultures that differ in significant ways they do because they have been incubated by very different histories. it has been well said that what americans want in the way of foreign policy is as little of it as possible.
but something else has also been well said for two centuries now. the only thing more common than predictions about the end of war. has been war itself. vietnam war was america's most severe trauma since churchill spoke in fulton. i think churchill who was pignatious even occasionally bellicose. but was selectively so would have approved of the words of karl malantes has spoken about vietnam. mylanta's was a decorated combat marine in vietnam before he wrote one of the great novels of that war. matterhorn or lentes regrets he says quote. that the prudence we learn from our involvement in indochina has been widely derided as vietnam syndrome. or rent is good is on to say if
by vietnam syndrome, we mean the belief that the us should never again engage in a military interventions in foreign civil wars without clear objectives and a clear exist strategy. be nation building in countries about whose history and culture. we are ignorant and see. sacrificing our children when our lives way of life or government of buy and for the people are not directly threatened then we should never get over the vietnam syndrome. it is not an illness. it's a vaccination. close quote that vaccination wore off. and so we went off to iraq. thereby validating the axiom that the only thing we learn from history is that we do not learn from history. today, however, we commemorate the 75th anniversary of one of
the great contributions to western civilizations tradition of political rhetoric. and as i close, let me ask your indulgence. for a brief autobiographical coda to my remarks when churchill spoken fulton, i was not quite five years old. in two months, i will be 80. i have never not once. wanted to be a day younger than i was at any given moment. and churchill is one reason why i actually relish growing older. i have i think come to understand what made churchill tick and what made him distinctive. and indispensable it was his genius born of living a long and active life for understanding the texture of life. it's complexities which tend to defeat the grand intentions of people who have no realistic sense of limits.
but churchill's understanding that there are limits to what nations can achieve did not immobilize this man of action. he came to fulton to deliver to our nation a call to action. he came in the spirit of james russell lowell the 19th century american poet. in 1845 our nation was torn by disputes about slavery and about the impending war with mexico. both the whips local are currently opposed. in my ear lower pen to with these famous lines. once to every man a nation comes the moment to decide in the strife of truth with falsehood for the good or evil side. in the 1930s churchill was for a while nearly alone in scene. saying that such a moment had arrived for britain. and for us in 1946.
he came to fulton to urge our nation to measure up to another such a moment. and our nation did united states turned to the business of creating the architecture of collective security for the world. and a liberal regime of trade that is lifted billions of people. out of subsistence property the united states or as churchill like to call us the great republic was weary. but rose to the challenge that he issued at westminster college three quarters of a century ago. the cold war was declared. cold war was on the cold war would be one. today americans again are weary. of responsibilities abroad and discord at home they have been applied and lately labored and enticed with the siren song of isolationism.
with the temptation of withdrawing from the troublesome world. where churchill to return to fulton today? he would i am confident. say something like this. there is a democracy recession underway around the world. there are two authoritarian regimes those of poland and of hungary. currently blemishes on whole europe in asia in the world's most populous nation the regime is using sinister applications of science and technology to impose a totalitarianism even more suffocating. and those that flourished in the 20th century? there are millions in concentration camps. and policies the united states has designated as genocide. we're churchill to look around the world today. and look upon the united states today. he would i think draw our
attention to a sentence in his fulton speech that has not received the attention. it deserves. this is the sentence. there never was a war in all history. easier to prevent by timely action than the one which is just desolated great areas of the globe. what prevents timely action is unrealism? the human tendency to flinch from unpleasant facts so churchill who looked facts in the face in the 1930s again in 1946 would i think tell americans in 2021? truth that was the subtext of his great speech at all. he would say. to americans you are weary. you would like to rest. but not yet. what this bulldog of a man meant
in 1946 and would mean today is for a great nation. for the great republic not ever thank you very much. bravo and thank you, mr. will for those terrific remarks and great reminder of the importance and lasting legacy of sir winston. churchill's great sinews of peace speech given here at westminster college 75 years ago. to conclude and as a token of our thanks you will receive if you haven't already a package from the museum here in fulton including some some relics of the cold war and also a ticket a ticket to the iron curtain speech. this was a ticket that was issued 75 years ago to two members to hear the speech in our gymnasium here as well as
pieces of the berlin wall the concrete manifestation of the iron curtain speech that you mentioned. so appropriately in your speech as a reminder that walls do come down eventually and we're very very pleased for you that great reminder. also, welcome. i might add to the association of churchill fellows today marks your induction into that illustrious group the association of churchill fellows was founded in 1969 as an honorary society of people dedicated to the development and use of america's national churchill museum here at westminster college past fellows include churchill's grandson winston churchill walter cronkite president eisenhower truman. we're all so churchill fellows and we are very pleased to welcome you into that honorary society today. congratulations,