War + Cabinet = War Cabinet
Winston Churchill had just become prime minister, appointed by King George VI just a few days earlier. Part of his job was to pull together members of Parliament to form a government made up of politicians from all parties, to be truly representative of the entire nation. Because of the urgent need to deal with the upcoming crisis of war with Germany, Churchill had done his homework basically overnight.
In this speech, he tells the members of Parliament that he'll give everything he has to the cause of fighting evil and tyranny, and Britain has to stand up and fight.
Otherwise, it's the end of the world as we know it.
Questions About Main Idea
- How might the rapid creation of a new government impact the way a country responds to war?
- What was at risk for Britain when Churchill gave this speech?
- Why would Churchill have wanted a government made of people from different parties at this moment in time?
- Why did Churchill take such a dramatic tone about the possible outcome of the war?
Chew on This
Without Churchill's leadership, Britain never would have been strong enough to hold back the Nazis.
Churchill's telling the MPs what they don't want to hear so they can get off their butts and start taking care of business.
Winston Churchill becomes prime minister of Great Britain after Neville Chamberlain's resignation, which is related to Chamberlain's failure to stop Nazi aggression in Europe. Churchill addresses Parliament for the first time as prime minister.
Churchill's speech has two primary aims.
- He's discussing the new government that he formed in the past three days after becoming prime minister.
- He's giving a frank status update on the war with Germany.
The first half or so of the speech isn't about ramping up the political troops against fascism—it's about the transition between governments. Churchill explains the rapid change in leadership and why Parliament was meeting that day. Then he transitions to talking about the war, first through a political lens and then a more poetic one.
Churchill finishes off the speech with some rousing yet intimidating lines about the crisis facing Britain today, and how they'll be victorious…but only after lots and lots of fighting.
I've created a new, multiparty cabinet because we're facing a major war, and we're going to have to fight like crazy to win and protect everything we hold dear.
- In The King's Speech (2010), King George's speech about the outbreak of World War II is accompanied by Beethoven's 7th symphony. What music would you play under Churchill's "Blood Toil, Tears, and Sweat" speech?
- How important do you think a forceful leader like Churchill is for countries facing war? Do some people think that diplomacy is for wimps?
- Can you think of any other wars or major conflicts where a speech with similar ideas to this would have been appropriate? Who'd be giving it?
- What effect does Churchill's change in style and tone halfway through the speech have on the experience of reading or listening to it?
- Do you think Churchill would have written or structured the speech differently if he were giving it to regular citizens rather than members of Parliament?
- In your opinion, does Churchill more resemble an English Bulldog or John Lithgow?