Tired of ads?
Join today and never see them again.
Advertisement - Guide continues below
Chamberlain made a short statement as he got off the plane coming home from signing the Munich Pact, in which the Sudetenland was more or less handed over to Hitler in exchange for his promise to never, ever invade Czechoslovakia. He gave the speech again at the prime minister's digs at 10 Downing St.
He was surrounded by huge crowds of cheering Brits, who were celebrating what everyone believed was a big accomplishment that would prevent war with Germany. Chamberlain was confident the Pact would hold: "We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again" (source).
In his speech on September 30, 1938, he famously declared "My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time…" (source). The "peace for our time" was a reference to Benjamin Disraeli's address after returning from the Congress of Berlin in 1878. Although that quote is often confused with "pizza on time," which everyone knows is totally impossible.
This moment was the high point of Chamberlain's career, when everyone, including himself, thought the crisis had been resolved and war had been averted. As we all know, it wasn't—and within two years Chamberlain would resign because of it.
The official declaration of war against Germany (on September 3, 1939) came about 15 minutes after the deadline for the final ultimatum to Hitler, as Chamberlain said in this broadcast to the British nation.
Something tells us they weren't expecting him to cave.
Chamberlain's speech had three primary aims:
The war declaration was pretty straightforward: The Germans had had until 11:00 that morning to stop their invasion of Poland or else.
They chose else.
Chamberlain explained: "I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany" (source).
He described how Hitler was using propaganda to lie and justify the invasion of Poland, and what the German dictator's actions had proven: "His action shows convincingly that there is no chance of expecting that this man will ever give up his practice of using force to gain his will. He can only be stopped by force" (source). Admittedly, this seems obvious to us now, but hindsight is 20/20 and we don't have the trauma of living through World War I to affect our opinions of getting into the sequel.
Chamberlain remained insistent that the government's attempts at appeasement were the right course of action. He said, "I cannot believe that there is anything more or anything different that I could have done and that would have been more successful. Up to the very last it would have been quite possible to have arranged a peaceful and honorable settlement between Germany and Poland, but Hitler would not have it" (source). He wasn't wrong, technically, but Winston Churchill probably had a very different opinion.
Chamberlain ended the speech with a sort of early call-to-arms, encouraging the British people to prepare to get involved in the war effort in any way they could. Like King George VI or Churchill himself, Chamberlain was trying to explain the situation leading to war and prepare Britain emotionally to face the tough road ahead. Chamberlain, being a much more reserved man than Churchill, kept the emotion out of his words, but the intent was clear.
You can hear the speech here.
You may have seen Colin Firth recite this speech with Beethoven's 7th Symphony playing in the background, but it was in fact a real speech given by the real King George VI, about seven hours after prime minister Neville Chamberlain told the nation that Britain was officially at war with Germany.
You can hear the original recording (September 3, 1939) if you feel like being a King's Speech completist.
The king keeps it pretty brief, assuring his people that there's good reason for the war and promises that they will face the future together. He says they have been "forced into a conflict […] to meet a challenge of principle" (source). This "principle" is the meat of his speech. Like Churchill, he reminds the people of Britain how crucial it is to prevent the Nazis and their allies from, well, taking over the world.
He's a big-picture guy.
[…] the freedom of our own Empire and of the whole British Commonwealth of nations would be in danger. But far more than this the peoples of the world would be kept in bondage of fear and all hopes of peace and of the security of justice and liberty of nations would be ended. This is the ultimate issue which concerns us. (Source)
Finally, he ends with a message telling people to be strong: "There may be dark days ahead […] but we can only do the right as we see the right […] if one and all be resolutely faithful today, ready for whatever service or sacrifice it may demand, with God's help we shall prevail" (source). Like Churchill in the "Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat" speech, George VI ends on a solemn but optimistic note. They both promote the idea that with dedication to the cause and a united front, they will triumph over the evil that faces them.
Maybe you've heard about Adolf Hitler's impressive public speaking abilities, but most people probably haven't taken the time to really investigate. Which makes sense, considering the kind of ideas that he'd be spouting in those speeches.
Plus, they're in German.
But if you take a look into what he was writing and saying, it gives you some perspective about why he was so politically successful (aside from being willing to crush democracy, change laws, and slaughter his political opponents).
This speech (December 10, 1940), we have to admit, is super long. But it contains Hitler's arguments for his invasions of other countries, as well as examples of the kind of twisted rhetoric he used to explain how Nazism was making Germany the great power it always should have been. These ideas are important for us to understand why Nazi Germany happened at all.
One of his major arguments, which looks like logic but isn't quite based on fact, is related to the amount of land Germany has versus other western European nations: "85 million Germans own only 232,000 square miles on which they must live their lives and 46 million Britishers possess 16 million square miles" (source). According to Hitler, Germany had been divided by a series of wars and unfair treaties imposed by other countries, which prevented it from becoming the glorious and powerful nation it was destined to be.
Hitler also summarized his over-arching plan for Germany, which was to eliminate "foreign oppression" from the Treaty of Versailles and reunite the whole German community from all parts of the world.
You might be able to see how this guy could be appealing to people who'd been facing very serious war reparations. He went on at length about Britain and the flaws in their government that allowed for the unfair distribution of wealth, and throughout his speech he painted a picture (metaphorically) of Nazi Germany as the place where everyone had the opportunity for work, resources, and education. According to him, in capitalist countries, it's every man for himself.
He twisted things to make the Nazis look virtuous, like when he argued that the immediate rationing of food when the war started made sure that food was always distributed equally. He told his audience that the National Socialists were creating a better world, and he himself had predicted that these awful capitalist nations would try to take them down despite the fact that Germany's improvement (rearmament, expansion) wouldn't hurt them at all.
There was even a jab at Jews in there, for good measure.
He described Britain's current leaders as "the same people who were warmongering before the Great War, the same Churchill who was the vilest agitator among them during the Great War; Chamberlain, who recently died and who at that time agitated in exactly the same way" (source).
There was quite a bit in there about Hitler's background—being a man of the people, of course—and how this was a war of the everyman versus the wealthy elite of the capitalist nations. At the end, he envisioned peacetime: "Out of this work will grow the great German Reich of which great poets have dreamed. It will be the Germany to which every one of her sons will cling with fanatical devotion, because she will provide a home even for the poorest. She will teach everyone the meaning of life" (source)
The Nazis were masters of propaganda, and Hitler's charismatic speaking style was extremely effective. We can't know for sure how much of his own rhetoric he genuinely believed—probably a lot of it—but you can maybe see how it could be convincing in a world where fact-checking wasn't as easy as it is now.
On the other hand, even fact-checking might not do the trick for die-hard believers.
Before the U.S. officially entered the war in December 1941, it unofficially (but very obviously) supported the Allied countries in their fight against Nazi Germany's expansion. The most powerful way that the U.S. did this was through the Lend-Lease Act, which allowed the U.S. to "lend" military equipment to countries if doing so helped defend America.
This speech, given at the White House Correspondents' Dinner (before it turned into a comedy show, we guess) on March 15, 1941, presented FDR's arguments in favor of the Lend-Lease program. He described the Nazi agenda:
They openly seek the destruction of all elective systems of government on every continent—including our own; they seek to establish systems of government based on the regimentation of all human beings by a handful of individual rulers who have seized power by force. [...]
These modern tyrants find it necessary to—their plans to eliminate all democracies—eliminate them one by one. The Nations of Europe, and indeed we ourselves, did not appreciate that purpose. We do now. The process of the elimination of the European Nations proceeded according to plan through 1939 and well into 1940, until the schedule was shot to pieces by the unbeatable defenders of Britain.
Props to Roosevelt for giving us a pretty succinct description of why the Allies were fighting against the Nazis.
Several times, Roosevelt referenced how other nations saw America as a seriously divided country, whose infighting and internal discord would prevent it from ever being a threat to others. Not so, said Roosevelt: "We do not have and never will have the false unity of a people browbeaten by threats, misled by propaganda. Ours is a unity that is possible only among free men and women who recognize the truth and face reality with intelligence and courage.
He referred to Lend-Lease as the "aid-to-democracies bill" and he was pretty honest about what this program would do:
Yes, you will feel the impact of this gigantic effort in your daily lives. You will feel it in a way that will cause, to you, many inconveniences. You will have to be content with lower profits, lower profits from business because obviously your taxes will be higher. You will have to work longer at your bench, or your plow, or your machine, or your desk. Let me make it clear that the Nation is calling for the sacrifice of some privileges, not for the sacrifice of fundamental rights. And most of us will do it willingly. That kind of sacrifice is for the common national protection and welfare; for our defense against the most ruthless brutality in all history; for the ultimate victory of a way of life now so violently menaced.
Here you see rhetoric that you'll find in the speeches of a lot of World War II leaders, about how everyone will need to sacrifice in order to defeat the Nazi threat. Roosevelt was calling on the American people to chip in, especially to help those in Britain, who were "bravely shielding the great flame of democracy from the blackout of barbarism."
He spent the remainder of the speech outlining what the U.S. would provide to the Allies, and why Americans should support the effort. There are some great lines in there about the difference between loyalty and obedience, but we won't spoil it.
Oh, and he also mentioned how "Britain is blessed with a brilliant and great leader in Winston Churchill."
This speech, given on June 4, 1941, is probably Churchill's most famous. And just like in "Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat," the famous line comes towards the end. (Churchill believed in building up to a strong ending). But unlike "Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat," he was pretty passionate and poetic throughout—even when he was talking business.
Churchill gave this speech to the House of Commons after the relatively successful evacuation of the British forces from near-disaster in Dunkirk. He described the situation in great detail and explained why the evacuation was necessary: "the German eruption swept like a sharp scythe around the right and rear of the Armies of the north." He described the "dull brute mass of the ordinary German Army and German people, always so ready to be led to the trampling down in other lands of liberties and comforts which they have never known in their own" (source).
Wow Winnie, tell us how you really feel about Germany.
Most of the speech is a detailed description of the circumstances leading up to the evacuation at Dunkirk, the effort to rescue the survivors, and the aftermath of the event. He praised all those who assisted with the evacuation, from French soldiers to fighter pilots to the medical services. He emphasized the need to consider the victory of the evacuation, despite it being an evacuation. There are a lot of great lines about this "miracle of deliverance" and several references to Napoleon. Who doesn't love a good Napoleon shout-out?
Like BTTS, the last paragraph is where he gets repetitive for the sake of glorious emphasis. These are the lines that everyone at least vaguely knows, although it's often slightly misquoted. He was discussing the future German invasion of Britain that everyone was expecting by this point. That's when he busted this out:
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 in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. (Source)
What a finish. It pretty much all came true.
Churchill was on an oratorical roll in May and June of 1940. In the course of a few months, he gave four speeches that people like you study all the time. The June 18 speech was like the earlier ones: it laid out the problem (this time it was France that had just surrendered) and offered encouragement that the threat would be met with everything Britain had. With France gone, Churchill knew that Britain would be next on Hitler's hit list. The stakes were high:
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." (Source)
The British Empire didn't do so well, but facing down Nazi Germany was definitely a pretty fine hour.
FDR gave this speech to Congress on December 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He was asking Congress to declare war on Japan as a result of the attack. As you might remember from Civics class, in the U.S., war has to be declared by Congress. FDR knew they hadn't been happy about the idea of going to war to protect Britain, but this time it was personal.
Roosevelt opened by describing the previous day, December 7, 1941, as "a date which will live in infamy," a quote that most Americans will recognize even if they aren't quite sure where it's from. He was right: it's now known as Pearl Harbor Day. He continued on to describe how unexpected the attack was, because the U.S. "was still in conversation with the government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific" (source). The Japanese government had even delivered a message during the attack that showed no indication that they were planning to, you know, attack.
Roosevelt described the attack, and also listed a number of other areas that Japan attacked the same day in a "surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area" (source). FDR then got into military mode, talking about how America would be determined to stand up and defend itself. Like Churchill and others, he got real about the road ahead: "Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger" (source).
Roosevelt closed the speech requesting that Congress declare a state of war between the U.S. and Japan.
We all know how that worked out.