I’ve always been avid about history and have been intrigued by how people reacted to Wars and how they acted to face an unprecedented threat. The tenacity to survive and lead such a dire situation is why I chose Churchill as he came into power during a great struggle and even if he was a bit of a mess in his personal life he led his country well and held morale high. He excels in his usage of rhetoric but also truth through his speeches and actions while keeping his personal life from being shown to the general public.
Winston Churchill is a familiar title with even people that aren’t familiar with history. The British prime minister came into office at the height of the Second World War after the previous prime minister Neville Chamberlain lost the vote of confidence in the House of Commons. Coming into office with mixed support and a losing war, he had much to take up as the new prime minister. In his own words he stated that he had, “nothing to give but blood, toil, tears, and sweat” also accepting the reality that the current status of the country is bleak by saying,” Poor people, poor people. They trust me, and I can give them nothing but disaster for quite a long time”.
Sadly, he foreshadowed an event that would occur in as little as a few days after he took office. The war had reached nearly a year since it had started, and due to incoordination and many poor decisions, the British and French had been pushed back farther and farther. Due to the speed that the Germans had been gaining ground, their troops had been pushed back toward the ocean and surrounded. This would be known as Dunkirk. There was a high push inside the British Government to seek surrender to avoid the destruction of their country. However, this pushed for the fight to continue and for the evacuation of Dunkirk to set on. He had no ships to spare or planes so in a desperate attempt he enacted Operation Dynamo which called for any civilian ship to set sail for Dunkirk and try to save as many men as they could. He had only hoped to save only 60,000 of the troops, however, Dynamo became one of the greatest displays of human compassion that the world had seen with 850 private ships being able to evacuate every remaining troop on the island counting around 338,000 troops.
Despite this Churchill remained cautious to call this a victory saying, “wars aren’t won by evacuations”. However, the last lines of his speech would resonate through the pages of history. “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender”.” It is victory, victory at all costs, victory despite all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival”. He repeated those concepts of “no surrender” and “victory” throughout his time as prime minister. Hearing his speeches you can understand them very easily and clearly. He lines out what he wants and how he’s going to do it. It captured the hearts of the citizens of the United Kingdom with the hope of freedom and victory over tyranny. He came out bold, a fighter, and a leader.
However, his daily life would suggest otherwise. When he woke up, he stayed in his bed and even ate breakfast there. Only hours later would he get out of bed and start walking around in his garden while smoking and drinking. Playing board games and having naps. He said, “You must sleep sometime between lunch and dinner, and no halfway measure. Take off your clothes and get into bed. That’s what I always do”. He would then bathe and have a party over dinner with drinks and guests at times staying up past midnight. Only then he would work for an hour in his study and then go to bed. He had a whopping track record of supposedly smoking 10 cigars a day. These make Churchill seem like an immature adult that shouldn’t have the position of prime minister. Yet he was able to capture the imaginations and hopes of everyone.
Despite the looks of this, he was well educated, understanding what went into an effective speech and even writing a book called “The Scaffolding of Rhetoric”. He established four principles that a speaker must follow. Correctness of Diction, Rhythm, Accumulation of Argument, and Analogy. These can be directly correlated to the basic types of rhetoric that we know and they can all be seen in his speeches and especially shown in his most famous speech that he made after the Dunkirk evacuation.
Correctness of Diction is the “knowledge of a language is measured by the nice and exact appreciation of words”. This can be summarized as being credible and trustworthy which we know as Ethos. While correct grammar and spelling might have seemed sufficient, Churchill referenced his imagery and language from reading the Bible.“It is for him the primary source of interesting illustrations, descriptive images, and stirring phrases. His knowledge of the Bible manifests itself in direct quotations, in paraphrased retellings of Biblical stories, and his frequent, perhaps even unconscious, use of Biblical terms and phrases”. He was not religious however he saw the hope and imagination stirred into people that were and used that to sound wise and invoke thoughts of hope. His concepts of “victory”, “fighting on”, and “taking up arms”. Can be seen in the Books of Maccabees, a story of a Jewish Rebellion which likely invoked Churchill's curiosity in how they fought on. This knowledge gave him the upper hand in his language and choice of words.
Rhythm “the sentences of the orator when he appeals to his art become long, rolling and sonorous’”. In this sense, you can also call rhythm repetition. Drilling this idea into people and remaining sonorous. Meaning is capable of producing deep or ringing sounds and having an imposing language. This can be seen many times in his excerpts one saying, “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 the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender”. The words “we shall” and “fight” continue to ring on and even after the speech concludes the words that remain in your head would be those words that are imposed by repetition.
The Accumulation of the Argument that “the climax of oratory is reached by a rapid succession of waves of sound and vivid pictures” can also be seen in the last quote. Churchill loved to create scenes for his listeners as he talked. By giving them vivid descriptions and imposing words through repetition he can drive the meaning very deeply. Another example of imagery can be seen here, “this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old”. Again using strong language and descriptions to allow them to imagine the scenes of fighting and hope still burning strong. These two showcase his usage of Pathos or emotion through imagery and specific phrases to drive his listeners' feelings in a certain direction
Lastly, he was known for his brutal honesty about the state of the war or the state of politics. He wasn't known for sugarcoating the situation, he said after the evacuation that, “evacuations don’t win wars” and “I would observe that there has never been a period in all these long centuries of which we boast when a guarantee against invasion, still less against serious raids, could have been given to our people”. In simple terms, he told the people that the war would continue long, and hard and that the invasion of the country would be inevitable. Using Logos he was the voice of reason and the bearer of hard news. However, he was also the bearer of hope, and people stuck with him because he gave them the reality and they could trust him to give them the truth.
Churchill was a man that was inherently lazy and despite other politicians calling his information “unreliable” and that he was “nauseating” to look at. He stood up to the challenge of defending what many thought to be a lost cause. He understood what line to tread between bleak honesty and softening the blow. Exploring every corner of the basic concept of rhetoric he gained a following that was not only backed by hope but also knowledge and hard facts. While his methods did not last in the time of peace he gave the United Kingdom and democracy as we know it a second chance for survival.