Skip to content

Winston Churchill The Few Speech Analysis Essay

Pathos

The last paragraph of Churchill's speech is clearly a rousing appeal to the audience's emotion. You don't refer to "monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime" (24) unless you're trying to evoke an emotional response.

Okay, you could try to use something like that if you're going for logos, but then someone's going to ask to thumb through the "lamentable catalogue," and things could get weird.

Even in the less exciting parts of Churchill's speech, he uses the dramatic situation of the war as the backdrop for his drier parliamentary business. For example, when he talks about having to make a war cabinet just about overnight, he says, it "has been formed of five Members, representing, with the Opposition Liberals, the unity of the nation…It was necessary that this should be done in one single day, on account of the extreme urgency and rigor of events" (5, 8).

Remember that Churchill isn't just addressing his colleagues as their boss for the first time; he's telling them about major changes in their leadership that have happened very suddenly and quickly. A lot of them were still loyal to Neville Chamberlain, so throwing in some gentle reminders about the clear and present danger would give the audience some perspective.

Then there's the end of the speech, whose purpose is to get people amped up and ready to wage them some war.

Ethos

Churchill was already a colorful and well-known figure in British politics who'd held lots of roles in government and the Navy. He didn't have to spend any time introducing himself. But because his ascension to Prime Minister wasn't completely without controversy, he definitely had to establish the legitimacy of his new government.

He starts right off by describing the War Cabinet he's appointed and how it represents all parties in Parliament. He asks for understanding about why this had to be done so quickly, and projects a generally confident and collaborative attitude. He knew he had to get everyone on board with the new government, and he lets the MPs know that he thought it was important to have this meeting right away so they could get up to speed on all the changes. He's not trying to establish his own credibility so much as the credibility of the new government he's formed.

So right off the bat he's showing the MPs some serious R-E-S-P-E-C-T, and what better way to have them take Churchill seriously.

Perhaps the most revealing statement in the essay was that Churchill believed a strong oratory could be developed. This was probably because Churchill did not see himself as a natural speaker, but rather one who worked hard to hone his craft.

So he did, and he did it well. His speeches are powerful and had a major impact on world affairs when they were spoken. The following list is a collection of Churchill’s most influential speeches - not just during the war but throughout his lifetime.

10: Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat
(May 13, 1940; The House of Commons)

You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs—Victory in spite of all terror—Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.

In Churchill’s first speech as Prime Minister, he told Parliament he was putting politics aside and forming a national government which included all parties to wage war against Germany. He said he would tell them what told his new ministers: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

9: The Liberties of Britain
(January 10, 1910. Friends’ Institute, Birmingham)

[The House of Lords] regards all our liberties and political rights as enjoyed and enjoyable only so long as they choose to let us go on having them. But once we touch reality, once we touch their interests and privileges - [kicks his platform] Out!

This speech represents Churchill’s most liberal phase in the early 1900s. In it, he told his Brummie audience that: “The hereditary veto of the House of Lords not only over finance but over legislation must be swept away.” One year later, it was.

8: The Few
(August 20, 1940; The House of Commons)

The great air battle which has been in progress over this Island for the last few weeks has recently attained a high intensity.

On August 15, 1940, the battle of Britain reached a crisis point. All the resources of Fighter Command in the South were used. Churchill gave a stirring tribute to the RAF fighter pilots who were fighting in air above Britain. “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

7: The United States of Europe
(September 19, 1946, University of Zurich)

If at first all the States of Europe are not willing or able to join the Union, we must nevertheless proceed to assemble and combine those who will and those who can.

Churchill’s speech in Zurich calling for “a kind of United States in Europe” remains one of his most prophetic statements. Perhaps even more controversial - especially in 1946 - was his claim that the “first step in the re-creation of the European family must be a partnership between France and Germany”. In 1951, the treaty of Paris was signed creating European Coal and Steel Community which became a foundation block for the modern EU.

6: We Shall Fight on the Beaches
(June 4, 1940; House of Commons)

“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...

Though there was national euphoria and relief at the unexpected deliverance at Dunkirk, the peril facing Britain was now universally perceived. But Churchill told the world that Britain would stand firm:

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 in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender...

5. Never Despair
(March 1, 1955; House of Commons)

The hydrogen bomb has made an astounding incursion into the structure of our lives and thoughts.

This might be regarded as Churchill’s farewell address to the House of Commons and established Britain’s approach to nuclear weapons. Churchill, wary of nuclear weaponry, set out to warn the House of their destructive power. He even flirts with the idea of disarmament, but rules it out owning to the international context of the Cold War. He paints a grim picture of the effects of the Hydrogen bomb, but then abruptly changes tone. The Churchillian optimism shrines through in his conclusion:

The day may dawn when fair play, love for one’s fellow-men, respect for justice and freedom, will enable tormented generations to march forth serene and triumphant from the hideous epoch in which we have to dwell. Meanwhile, never flinch, never weary, never despair.”

4. Speech addressing a joint session of the US Congress
(December 26, 1941; U.S. Congress)

In the days to come the British and American peoples will for their own safety and for the good of all walk together side by side in majesty, injustice and in peace.

This was such a major speech because it helped convince the US government to focus on the European theatre of war thus helping Britain, rather than focusing on the pacific theatre. Churchill highlighted the common culture and language and his own American lineage by saying: “I cannot help reflecting that if my father had been American and my mother British, instead of the other way round, I might have got here on my own.”

3. Sinews of Peace
(March, 5, 1946; Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri)

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.

This speech made famous the notion of the “Iron Curtain”. Furthermore it defined the parameters of the Cold War. So powerful were Churchill’s words that President Truman had to distance himself from his remarks amid their international notoriety. Yet the speech also outlined the rationale for the “Special relationship” between Britain and the United States. Together, Britain and the US adopted a deep opposition to Communism and, and as a result, it virtually shaped the rest of the rest of the 20th century.

2. Finest Hour
(June 18, 1940; House of Commons)

This is one of Churchill’s most powerful and stirring speeches. France had just capitulated and Churchill had to explain the dire situation while remaining positive and willing to confront the Nazis. Churchill said:

What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin...

Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”

1. Speech on Trade Unions and Trade Disputes Bill
(22 April 1904; House of Commons)

It lies with the Government to satisfy the working classes that there is no justification...er... [long silence]

This speech is one of the most important speeches of Churchill’s life - and yet, it is often overlooked.

Churchill had been speaking on trade unions in the House for a better part of an hour, when he suddenly lost his train of thought. He stalled for time, but could not finish his speech. He thanked the House for listening to him and sat down and put his head in his hands.

He had been in the habit of totally memorising his speeches. But from this point forward, Churchill decided to forge a system of speech writing that employed copious notes and several revisions. It was this system which helped create the powerful and awe inspiring oratory which Churchill had envisioned as a 23-year-old in 'The Scaffolding of Rhetoric’ and for which Churchill has become famous. So in many ways, it was from this small failure that day in the House of Commons that Churchill’s amazing oratory was born.

Telegraph Tours: Churchill's Morocco
Follow in Churchill's footsteps with this exclusive tour of Morocco in the company of the Telegraph’s defence editor, Con Coughlin - from Casablanca and the Atlas mountains to Marrakesh, which Churchill called the "nicest place on Earth to spend an afternoon"