The history of war is littered with many things; corpses, bullets, abandoned technology, negotiations, victories and defeats may be the first to come to mind. They are, though, also littered with words. Words of peace, of war, calling to arms, preying for clemency and reveling in destruction. It is no coincidence that some of the most powerful moments in fiction are focused on those moments where a decisive speech is made in war…Would Henry V have been the go to quotation fest for almost all managers everywhere without the St Crispin’s Day Speech?
As with most things fiction is not a patch on real life…so here are some of the most important, strange, life changing, and all that sort of thing, speeches…
Whether she really was as virginal as reputed there is much debate about, what there isn’t much argument about is that she was one tough cookie, and her 1588 speech demonstrates why you should never annoy a redheaded woman…
Elizabeth and her ‘friend’ Robert Earl of Leicester
“My loving people, we have been persuaded by some, that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourselves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you, I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear; I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good will of my subjects. And therefore I am come amongst you at this time, not as for my recreation or sport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live or die amongst you all; to lay down, for my God, and for my kingdom, and for my people, my honor and my blood, even the dust. I know I have but the body of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart of a king, and of a king of England, too; and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realms: to which, rather than any dishonor should grow by me, I myself will take up arms; I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already, by your forwardness, that you have deserved rewards and crowns; and we do assure you, on the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you. In the mean my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble and worthy subject; not doubting by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and by your valor in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over the enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.”
Governor of Virginia, and part of the movement for Virginian freedom Patrick Henry is well known for a speech from 23 March 1775, with its infamous and stirring ending:
“Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss. Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with those warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort. …We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne! In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation…It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace–but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
The century of goodbyes almost…
Diminutive he may have been, quiet he was not. In 1814 Napoleon said à plus tard to his soldiers (this clearly is a translated version!)
Do we really need credits under him…he appears so often on this blog that if you don’t know the emperor by now we worry.
“Soldiers of my Old Guard: I bid you farewell. For twenty years I have constantly accompanied you on the road to honor and glory. In these latter times, as in the days of our prosperity, you have invariably been models of courage and fidelity. With men such as you
our cause could not be lost; but the war would have been interminable; it would have been civil war, and that would have entailed deeper misfortunes on France. I have sacrificed all of my interests to those of the country. I go, but you, my friends, will continue to serve France. Her happiness was my only thought. It will still be the object of my wishes. Do not regret my fate; if I have consented to survive, it is to serve your glory. I intend to write the history of the great achievements we have performed together. Adieu, my friends. Would I could press you all to my heart.”
Not one of the most memorable American presidents these days, but James Polk presided over some turbulent times. This is from his 1846 communication on Mexico
“The grievous wrongs perpetrated by Mexico upon our citizens throughout a long period of years remain unredressed; and solemn treaties, pledging her public faith for this redress, have been disregarded. A government either unable or unwilling to enforce the execution of such treaties, fails to perform one of its plainest duties…Instead of this, however, we have been exerting our best efforts to propitiate her good-will. Upon the pretext that Texas, a nation as independent as herself, thought proper to unite its destinies with our own, she has affected to believe that we have severed her rightful territory, and in official proclamations and manifestoes has repeatedly threatened to make war upon us, for the purpose of reconquering Texas…Mexico has passed the boundary of the United States, has invaded our territory, and shed American blood upon the American soil. She has proclaimed that hostilities have commenced, and that the two nations are now at war…As war exists, and, notwithstanding all our efforts to avoid it, exists by the act of Mexico herself, we are called upon by every consideration of duty and patriotism to vindicate with decision the honor, the rights, and the interests of our country…To this end I recommend that authority should be given to call into the public service a large body of volunteers, to serve for not less than six or twelve months, unless sooner discharged…The most energetic and prompt measures, and the immediate appearance in arms of a large and overpowering force, are recommended to Congress as the most certain and efficient means of bringing the existing collision with Mexico to a speedy and successful termination…In making these recommendations, I deem it proper to declare that it is my anxious desire not only to terminate hostilities speedily, but to bring all matters in dispute between this government and Mexico to an early and amicable adjustment; and, in this view, I shall be prepared to renew negotiations, whenever Mexico shall be ready to receive propositions, or to make propositions of her own.”
The Polks were serious folk, properly serious.
Chief Joseph-Thunder’s 1877 ending
“Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before, I have it in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our Chiefs are killed; Looking Glass is dead, Ta Hool Hool Shute is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets; the little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are – perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my Chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more forever.”
I’m rather taken with Woodrow Wilson he manages to combine looking and charge and looking quiet very well.
Woodrow Wilson-January 8th 1918
“It is a reasonable conjecture that the general principles of settlement which they at first suggested originated with the more liberal statesmen of Germany and Austria, the men who have begun to feel the force of their own peoples’ thought and purpose, while the concrete terms of actual settlement came from the military leaders who have no thought but to keep what they have got. The negotiations have been broken off. The Russian representatives were sincere and in earnest. They cannot entertain such proposals of conquest and domination… To those who speak the spirit and intention of the resolutions of the German Reichstag of the 9th of July last, the spirit and intention of the liberal leaders and parties of Germany, or to those who resist and defy that spirit and intention and insist upon conquest and subjugation? Or are we listening, in fact, to both, un-reconciled and in open and hopeless contradiction? These are very serious and pregnant questions. Upon the answer to them depends the peace of the world… There is no good reason why that challenge should not be responded to, and responded to with the utmost candor. We did not wait for it. Not once, but again and again we have laid our whole thought and purpose before the world, not in general terms only, but each time with sufficient definition to make it clear what sort of definite terms of settlement must necessarily spring out of them…There is no confusion of counsel among the adversaries of the Central Powers, no uncertainty of principle, no vagueness of detail. The only secrecy of counsel, the only lack of fearless frankness, the only failure to make definite statement of the objects of the war, lies with Germany and her allies. The issues of life and death hang upon these definitions. No statesman who has the least conception of his responsibility ought for a moment to permit himself to continue this tragic and appalling outpouring of blood and treasure unless he is sure beyond a peradventure that the objects of the vital sacrifice are part and parcel of the very life of society and that the people for whom he speaks think them right and imperative as he does…There is, moreover, a voice calling for these definitions of principle and of purpose which is, it seems to me, more thrilling and more compelling than any of the many moving voices with which the troubled air of the world is filled. It is the voice of the Russian people. They are prostrate and all but helpless, it would seem, before the grim power of Germany, which has hitherto known no relenting and no pity. Their power, apparently, is shattered. And yet their soul is not subservient. They will not yield either in principle or in action. Their conception of what is right, of what is humane and honourable for them to accept, has been stated with a frankness, a largeness of view, a generosity of spirit, and a universal human sympathy which must challenge the admiration of every friend of mankind; and they have refused to compound their ideals or desert others that they themselves may be safe…We entered this war because violations of right had occurred which touched us to the quick and made the life of our own people impossible unless they were corrected and the world secured once for all against their recurrence. What we demand in this war, therefore, is nothing peculiar to ourselves. It is that the world be made fit and safe to live in; and particularly that it be made safe for every peace-loving nation which, like our own, wishes to live its own life, determine its own institutions, be assured of justice and fair dealing by the other peoples of the world, as against force and selfish aggression. All the peoples of the world are in effect partners in this interest, and for our own part we see very clearly that unless justice be done to others it will not be done to us.”
You could think if you had not paid that much attention to history, or had relied solely on the Hollywood interpretation, that the second world war consisted of Americans shouting a lot, Germany being run by comic book villains and a fat man with a cigar talking a lot….but some other people did get a word in edgeways.
Vyacheslav Molotov 1941
“The government of the Soviet Union expresses its unshakable confidence that our valiant army and navy and brave falcons of the Soviet Air Force will acquit themselves with honor in performing their duty to the fatherland and to the Soviet people, and will inflict a crushing blow upon the aggressor. This is not the first time that our people have had to deal with an attack of an arrogant foe. At the time of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia our people’s reply was war for the fatherland, and Napoleon suffered defeat and met his doom. It will be the same with Hitler, who in his arrogance has proclaimed a new crusade against our country. The Red Army and our whole people will again wage victorious war for the fatherland, for our country, for honor, for liberty. The government of the Soviet Union expresses the firm conviction that the whole population of our country, all workers, peasants and intellectuals, men and women, will conscientiously perform their duties and do their work. Our entire people must now stand solid and united as never before. Each one of us must demand of himself and of others discipline, organization and self-denial worthy of real Soviet patriots, in order to provide for all the needs of the Red Army, Navy and Air Force, to insure victory over the enemy. The government calls upon you, citizens of the Soviet Union, to rally still more closely around our glorious Bolshevist party, around our Soviet Government, around our great leader and comrade, Stalin. Ours is a righteous cause. The enemy shall be defeated. Victory will be ours.”
Russian leaders do like their mustaches, here is Molotov with his.
Franklin D. Roosevelt 1944
“Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. ..With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace — a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.”
FDR responsible for many things, and inadvertently responsible for one of my favourite songs ( though my 78 is the Judy version)
Churchill minus cigar, and minus any good songs.
Winston Churchill 1940
“During the first four years of the last war the Allies experienced nothing but disaster and disappointment. That was our constant fear: one blow after another, terrible losses, frightful dangers. Everything miscarried. And yet at the end of those four years the morale of the Allies was higher than that of the Germans, who had moved from one aggressive triumph to another, and who stood everywhere triumphant invaders of the lands into which they had broken. During that war we repeatedly asked ourselves the question: ‘How are we going to win?’ And no one was able ever to answer it with much precision, until at the end, quite suddenly, quite unexpectedly, our terrible foe collapsed before us, and we were so glutted with victory that in our folly we threw it away…What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. 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.’ “
Edouard Daladier 1940
“The domination at which the Nazis aim is not limited to the displacement of the balance of power and the imposition of supremacy of one nation. It seeks the systematic and total destruction of those conquered by Hitler, and it does not treaty with the nations which he has subdued. He destroys them. He takes from them their whole political and economic existence and seeks even to deprive them of their history and their culture. He wishes to consider them only as vital space and a vacant territory over which he has every right. The human beings who constitute these nations are for him only cattle. He orders their massacre or their migration. He compels them to make room for their conquerors. He does not even take the trouble to impose any war tribute on them. He just takes all their wealth, and, to prevent any revolt, he wipes out their leaders and scientifically seeks the physical and moral degradation of those whose independence he has taken away… For, while Germany is crushing beneath her tyranny the men of every race and language, she is herself being crushed beneath her own servitude and her domination mania. The German worker and peasant are the slaves of their Nazi masters while the worker and peasant of Bohemia and Poland have become in turn slaves of these slaves. Before this first realization of a mad dream, the whole world might shudder…Nazi propaganda is entirely founded on the exploitation of the weakness of the human heart. It does not address itself to the strong or the heroic. It tells the rich they are going to lose their money. It tells the worker this is a rich man’s war. It tells the intellectual and the artist that all he cherished is being destroyed by war. It tells the lover of good things that soon he would have none of them. It says to the Christian believer: “How can you accept this massacre?” It tells the adventurer – “a man like you should profit by the misfortunes of your country.” It is those who speak this way who have destroyed or confiscated all the wealth they could lay their hands on, who have reduced their workers to slavery, who have ruined all intellectual liberty, who have imposed terrible privations on millions of men and women and who have made murder their law. What do contradictions matter to them if they can lower the resistance of those who wish to bar the path of their ambitions to be masters of the world? For us there is more to do than merely win the war. We shall win it, but we must also win a victory far greater than that of arms. In this world of masters and slaves, which those madmen who rule at Berlin are seeking to forge, we must also save liberty and human dignity.”
Edouard Daladier in his early years
Cardinal Clemens von Galen 1941
“Have you, have I the right to live only so long as we are productive, so long as we are recognized by others as productive? If you establish and apply the principle that you can kill ‘unproductive’ fellow human beings then woe betide us all when we become old and frail! If one is allowed to kill the unproductive people then woe betide the invalids who have used up, sacrificed and lost their health and strength in the productive process. If one is allowed forcibly to remove one’s unproductive fellow human beings then woe betide loyal soldiers who return to the homeland seriously disabled, as cripples, as invalids. If it is once accepted that people have the right to kill ‘unproductive’ fellow humans–and even if initially it only affects the poor defenseless mentally ill–then as a matter of principle murder is permitted for all unproductive people, in other words for the incurably sick, the people who have become invalids through labor and war, for us all when we become old, frail and therefore unproductive…Woe to mankind, woe to our German nation if God’s Holy Commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ which God proclaimed on Mount Sinai amidst thunder and lightning, which God our Creator inscribed in the conscience of mankind from the very beginning, is not only broken, but if this transgression is actually tolerated and permitted to go unpunished.”
Cuba and Vietnam
Considering how popular the man was JFK got himself involved in a frightfully large amount of warring during his tenure…
John F. Kennedy 1961
“First, it is clear that the forces of communism are not to be underestimated, in Cuba or anywhere else in the world. The advantages of a police state-its use of mass terror and arrests to prevent the spread of free dissent–cannot be overlooked by those who expect the fall of every fanatic tyrant. If the self-discipline of the free cannot match the iron discipline of the mailed fist-in economic, political, scientific and all the other kinds of struggles as well as the military-then the peril to freedom will continue to rise….we face a relentless struggle in every corner of the globe that goes far beyond the clash of armies or even nuclear armaments. The armies are there, and in large number. The nuclear armaments are there. But they serve primarily as the shield behind which subversion, infiltration, and a host of other tactics steadily advance, picking off vulnerable areas one by one in situations which do not permit our own armed intervention. Power is the hallmark of this offensive power and discipline and deceit. The legitimate discontent of yearning people is exploited. The legitimate trappings of self-determination are employed. But once in power, all talk of discontent is repressed; all self-determination disappears, and the promise of a revolution of hope is betrayed, as in Cuba, into-a reign of terror…We dare not fail to see the insidious nature of this new and deeper struggle. We dare not fail to grasp the new concepts, the new tools, the new sense of urgency we will need to combat it-whether in Cuba or South Viet-Nam. And we dare not fail to realize that this struggle is taking place every day, without fanfare, in thousands of villages and markets-day and night-and in classrooms all over the globe.”
If ever there was a man in need of some under eye concealer
And again in 1962
“I call upon Chairman Khrushchev to halt and eliminate this clandestine, reckless, and provocative threat to world peace and to stable relations between our two nations. I call upon him further to abandon this course of world domination, and to join in an historic effort to end the perilous arms race and to transform the history of man. He has an opportunity now to move the world back from the abyss of destruction – by returning to his government’s own words that it had no need to station missiles outside its own territory, and withdrawing these weapons from Cuba – by refraining from any action which will widen or deepen the present crisis – and then by participating in a search for peaceful and permanent solutions…We have in the past made strenuous efforts to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. We have proposed the elimination of all arms and military bases in a fair and effective disarmament treaty. We are prepared to discuss new proposals for the removal of tensions on both sides – including the possibilities of a genuinely independent Cuba, free to determine its own destiny. We have no wish to war with the Soviet Union – for we are a peaceful people who desire to live in peace with all other peoples. But it is difficult to settle or even discuss these problems in an atmosphere of intimidation. That is why this latest Soviet threat – or any oilier threat which is made either independently or in response to our actions this week – must and will be met with determination…Our goal is not the victory of might, but the vindication of right-not peace at the expense of freedom, but both peace and freedom, here in this hemisphere, and, we hope, around the world. God willing, that goal will be achieved.”
LBJ looking remarkably like he’s about to tell you off. You’re not going to do that again are you? He’s going to be very disappointed, and he’ll have to tell your parents.
Lyndon B. Johnson 1965
“We do this in order to slow down aggression. We do this to increase the confidence of the brave people of South Viet-Nam who have bravely borne this brutal battle for so many years with so many casualties. And we do this to convince the leaders of North Viet-Nam-and all who seek to share their conquest-of a simple fact: We will not be defeated. We will not grow tired. We will not withdraw, either openly or under the cloak of a meaningless agreement…We hope that peace will come swiftly. But that is in the hands of others besides ourselves. And we must be prepared for a long continued conflict. It will require patience as well as bravery, the will to endure as well as the will to resist…I wish it were possible to convince others with words of what we now find it necessary to say with guns and planes: Armed hostility is futile. Our resources are equal to the challenge. Because we fight for values and we fight for principles, rather than territory or colonies, our patience and our determination are unending.”
Richard Nixon 1969 (evidently he didn’t pay his writers as well as JFK)
“A nation cannot remain great if it betrays its allies and lets down its friends.
Our defeat and humiliation in South Vietnam without question would promote recklessness in the councils of those great powers who have not yet abandoned their goals of world conquest.
This would spark violence wherever our commitments help maintain the peace — in the Middle East, in Berlin, eventually even in the Western Hemisphere.”
Looks almost like he’s smiling, very non presidential. I must confess I have something of a soft spot for Nixon. More twitty than tricky I feel.
No less firebrand like this century…
Vojislav Kostunica 2008
“Kosovo belongs to Serbia. Kosovo belongs to the Serbian people. That’s how it has been for ever. That’s how it’s going to be for ever. There is no force, no threat, and no punishment big and hideous enough for any Serb, at any time, to say anything different but, Kosovo is Serbia!…Is there a nation in the world that is being asked to renounce everything that makes it a nation, as is being sought of the Serbs today? If we accept that we are not Serbs, they are promising us that we, as a nation without memory and origin, will be better off…What Godly, human or European law have we violated? What agreement have we disrespected? Whom have we extended the hand of friendship and cooperation to, while offering something that was never on offer? The world’s powers say that’s not enough. It will be enough, they say, when you Serbs agree to be humiliated; when you put pen to your humiliation. No one will ever get the mandate from the Serbian people to agree to such an unworthy trade. Nobody ever…We demand that we should be able to take our place in the world and move towards our future under the same conditions that exist for all other nations and countries. That is justice! Such is the international law! That is the 21st century. Everything else is force…Serbia has annulled and will annul every act of the illegal and fictitious state created on its territory by the use of force. This fictitious state is nothing else but the triumph of lies over justice and truth. Everything in a fictitious state must out of necessity be fictitious, its law, its borders, its history. And the more the powers of the world endeavour for the cause of this fiction, the entity they have created will become more fictitious…As long as we reject ultimatums, and accept friendship, Serbia will be free!
The word has been given! And the whole world has heard! And everyone knows what it means when Serbia makes a promise!
Kosovo is Serbia!”
Vojislav Koštunica not looking quite as thrilled as Condy is
Hugo Chávez 2006
“The Devil came here yesterday, right here. It still smells of sulphur today. Yesterday on this rostrum the President of the United States, whom I refer to as the Devil, talked as if he owned the world. It would be appropriate to have a psychiatrist analyse yesterday’s address by the President of the United States. As the spokesman of imperialism he came to share his prescriptions for preserving the current pattern of domination, exploitation and pillage of the peoples of the world. It was like an Alfred Hitchcock movie. I would even propose a title: “The Devil’s Recipe”.
As Chomsky says here clearly and in depth, American imperialism is doing all it can to consolidate its hegemonistic system of domination. We cannot allow it to do that. We cannot allow the establishment and consolidation of world dictatorship. The address of the world tyrant, cynical and full of hypocrisy, shows the imperialists’ intention to control everything. They say that they want to impose a democratic model, but it is the democratic model of their own conception: the false democracy of elites, and furthermore an original democratic model imposed by bombs, bombardments and invasions. What a strange democracy! It would be necessary to revise the ideas of Aristotle and the other Greek pioneers of democracy in the face of this model, imposed by marines, invasions, aggression and bombs.
The President of the United States told us yesterday in this Hall, “everywhere you turn you hear extremists who tell you that you can escape your misery and retain your dignity through violence and terror and martyrdom.” Wherever he looks he sees extremists, and when he looks at your colour, my brother, he thinks “You are an extremist”. Mr. Evo Morales Aima, the worthy President of Bolivia, looks like an extremist to him. The imperialists see extremists everywhere…Hardly anybody here can defend the United Nations system. Let us be honest and accept that the system born after the Second World War has collapsed. It is worthless. It is true that it serves to bring us together once a year to meet, make statements, prepare long documents, reflect and listen to good speeches like those yesterday by President Evo and President Lula and the ones we have just heard from the President of Sri Lanka and the President of Chile. But the Assembly has been turned into a merely deliberative organ, with no power to make any impact on the terrible situation in the world…problems such as hunger, poverty, violence and human rights violations had worsened and become more complicated. That is a terrible consequence of the collapse of the United Nations system and American hegemonistic pretensions…The United States has already planned, financed and set in motion a coup in Venezuela, and it continues to support coup attempts and terrorism there. President Michelle Bachelet Jeria reminded us a short time ago of the horrendous assassination of the former Chilean Foreign Minister, Orlando Letelier. I would simply add that those who perpetrated that crime, in which an American citizen also died, are free. And they are Americans themselves, CIA terrorists…A very strong movement has been born: that of the South. We are men and women of the South.”
Have you been inspired to recreate a battle based on the speeches from it? Who are your favourite conflict orators?