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Mares: Churchill's Legacy

Orwell and Churchill were two of my boyhood heroes. Both men regarded politics, not as dirty work, but as an honorable calling, capable of changing the affairs of people for the better and protecting both the individual and free speech. In fact, Churchill once declared that "A state of society where men may not speak their minds cannot long endure."

And Churchill’s skill as a speaker was legendary. John Kennedy said that Churchill mobilized the English language and took it to war. I might add that his language soared; it didn't slither through the gutter.

In the 1930s, Churchill spent 10 years in the political wilderness, rejected by his own party. But he never abandoned his self-appointed mission to prepare Britain to resist the Nazis. When then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain tried to appease Hitler's territorial appetites, Churchill thundered that “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last."

Many of his pronouncements were memorable. As he took the job of Prime Minister, he expressed humility, saying "I have nothing to offer, but blood tears, toil and sweat."

He insisted that his term of office was not about him, but about Britain, and all of civilization, urging "Let us conduct ourselves so that if the British Empire, shall last for a thousand years, men will still say this was their finest hour."

He knew nothing great is done alone, but with others - those whom in war and peace we call allies, not enemies.  And to Hitler, he said, "You do your worst, and we will do our best."

He had limitless curiosity and once claimed that, "Personally, I'm always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught."

He never crowed about his own genius and he never hesitated to credit others. One of his most famous and most eloquent statements came at the height of the Battle of Britain when he spoke of the several hundred RAF fliers who had saved the nation.

"Never in the field of human conflict,” he insisted, “was so much owed by so many to so few"

The ancient Chinese writer and philosopher Lao-Tze wrote that "When the best leader's work is done, the people say, 'We did it ourselves.'"

He could have been writing of Winston Churchill.

It's a quality sorely lacking in too many of our leaders today.

Writer Bill Mares of Burlington is also a former teacher and state legislator. His most recent book is a collection of his VPR commentaries, titled "3:14 And Out."
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