Friday, 13 December 2013

Winston Churchill and false memories

From Benjamin Shwarz's review in the New York Times of  the book "The Roar of the Lion.  The untold story of Churchill's World War II speeches",  written by Richard Toye and  published by  Oxford University Press)

"The one unassailable aspect of Churchill's career up to now has been the series of speeches in the darkest days of the war,,,,,

Hisorians and commentators have long declared that these speeches (recognizable in a few key phrases - "blood, toil, tears and sweat" "their finest hour" "so much owed to so many by so few") inspired the British to hold on despite disaster and the threat of invasion, and are therefore of  world-historical significance.......

But, as Richard Toye points out in "The Roar of the Lion" nearly all the evidence supporting the speeches' decisive impact on British morale is derived from retrospective accounts   -  ( i.e " in the post war period  jmp ] and people's memories of  the myth of 1940, a myth promulgated during the war by British propaganda and advanced by Churchill and his supporters, then embraced by Britons who were no doubt  flattered by the image that it projected of them...

Toye, a professor of history at the University of Exeter, demonstrates the unreliability of such retrospective  accounts by citing people who remembered the impact of hearing Churchill on the wireless delivering his post Dunkirk speech, with the vow that Britons "shall fight on the beaches....."

Yet Churchill never did broadcast that speech; it was delivered, unrecorded, only to the House of Commons. (Churchill did make a phonograph recording of the speech - in 1949.)

Indeed, the image of Churchill inspiring a nation huddled around creaking (crackling?)  radios is fundamentally wrong - he delivered most of his speeches to Parliament".


Source New York Times Book Review December 2nd 2013 - in a review by Benjamin Schwarz of Richard Toye's "The Roar of the Lion.  The untold story of Churchill's World War II speeches. Oxford University Press)

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