In the wake of the tragic bomb attack in Manchester this week, which happened just as I was leaving the country, the U.K. is still reeling today — more innocent lives lost in a senseless attempt to create fear. But sowing fear is a tactic that doesn’t work. And my recent visit to Britain gave a graphic testimony of that indelible truth.
Wandering through Westminster, London, once the nerve centre of an empire that spanned the globe, I found myself in Parliament Square. This leafy square, in the shadow of the Supreme Court and the Parliament Buildings, is ringed with statues of historic figures like Gandhi and Disraeli. But the one that attracts the most attention is the statue of Sir Winston Churchill, Britain’s leader through the Second World War, and a man whose very appearance epitomizes Britain’s defiance in the face of attack.
On June 4, 1940, with Great Britain under heavy assault from the Nazis, Churchill made a speech that has become a classic piece of modern history. It’s often known for the iconic phrase, “we shall fight them on the beaches” — even though he actually said “we shall fight on the beaches”. But the heart of the speech was his declaration of British bulldog defiance: “we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone.”
And later, at the climax of the speech, this historic pledge: “we shall never surrender.”
Britain’s threat was much greater then than it is today, with a distant foe launching sneak attacks against civilians in a search for headlines. But the resolve is the same: these attacks won’t defeat countries like France, or Belgium, or the U.K., with huge populations of people who believe in their way of life and their freedom. It may be 77 years since Churchill made his “we shall never surrender” speech, but his words are as true as ever.