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29th Annual Churchill Society Dinner: A Tribute to Sir Winston Churchill
Thursday, 8 November 2012 - 10:45am
Preston Manning's speech to the 29th Annual Chuchill Society Dinner:
Introduction: I would first of all like to express my deepest appreciation to the Winston Churchill Society for:
* Awarding me this honour.
* Opportunity to join with you in celebrating Sir Winston Churchill's legacy.
* Honouring the cause of Parliamentary democracy which Churchill himself described as - the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time [speech in House of Commons, November 11, 1947]
* Providing us with the opportunity to listen to Paul Reid who has devoted so much to understanding and communicating the life of Winston Churchill as The Last Lion.
Like all parliamentarians I wish I could put words together in the memorable way that Churchill did “especially his witticisms" my favourite being his quip when one of his members crossed the floor to join the Labour party that the member was to be congratulated for simultaneously raising the IQ of both sides of the house.
Because it is now 47 years since Winston Churchill passed on [Jan. 1965], it is getting harder and harder to find any direct personal links between ourselves and the great man. In my case there are only two - both indirect, very small, and tenuous - but important to me because they are links nonetheless and come to mind whenever I hear Churchill's name.
The first bears the strange name of Project Habakkuk (Habakkuk being an Old Testament prophet) and links Churchill to my home province of Alberta
Churchill, as you will recall, was extremely worried about the loss of ships in the North Atlantic convoys that were supplying Britain and were under constant attack from German U-boats. The convoys needed air cover from Allied bombers and the idea was suggested to Churchill that it might be possible to build floating airbases made of ice that would permit Allied bombers to be stationed in the North Atlantic along the convoy route.
Thus Project Habakkuk was conceived and described by Churchill as a project to develop a "ship-like construction, displacing a million tons, self-propelled at low speed, with its own anti-aircraft defence, with workshops and repair facilities, and a surprisingly small refrigerating plant for preserving its own existence."
The idea for the project actually came from Geoffrey Pike, a member of Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten's staff, who came up with the idea during a stay in a mental institution.
Needing a country with a cold climate to conduct the research, the British naturally thought of Canada. The National Research Council farmed out research for the project to several Western universities and the Alberta Research Council. The test site for the project was Patricia Lake in Alberta near the Jasper Park Lodge. When the project was abandoned in 1943 as being unfeasible, the researchers were ordered to sink everything connected with the project with an explosive charge and the remains are still at the bottom of the lake.
In the sixties, I met several of the scientists at the Alberta Research Council who worked on the project and who still proudly proclaimed that, "During the War, we worked for Winston Churchill."
The Fulton Missouri Speech
My second indirect and tenuous link with Winston Churchill came about because my father, Ernest Manning, was a great admirer of his. He had the honour of meeting Churchill at Queen Elizabeth's coronation in 1953. And it was my father who gave me a set of Churchill's History of the English Speaking Peoples and his six-volume The Second World War.
One day my father brought home a long-playing record entitled "I can Hear It Now" produced for CBS by Edward R. Morrow and containing excerpts from some of the great political speeches first broadcast on radio. One of those speech excerpts, which my father insisted I memorize, was that famous speech of Winston Churchill at Fulton Missouri on March 5, 1946.
From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow.
At the time, we lived on our dairy farm east of Edmonton and for several months our cows were favoured with my oratorical rendition of the Iron Curtain speech.
Churchill's Capacity to See Ahead
That speech reminds us of Churchill's uncanny ability to see into the future. He of course downplayed his ability in this regard, saying, A politician needs the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn't happen.
But in Churchill's case his prophetic powers were real - he was able to foresee the ideological frontiers of the future, in particular to see and forecast the two greatest ideological challenges faced by the Western World in the 20th. century - German fascism and Soviet communism. He saw them and the dangers they represented earlier and more clearly than any of his political contemporaries.
Today we honour him for that foresight and for the speeches he gave and the actions he took as a result of it. But I am reminded that during his lifetime, especially between the two wars, he was not only not honoured or respected, he was vilified and ostracized by the business, political, academic, and media elites of his day for both his predictions and his warnings.
While Churchill was warning of the dangers to Britain and the Western World of fascism, Hitler, and the re-arming of Germany, listen to some quotes from the other leaders of public opinion during that time.
From Sir Thomas Moore, a respectable MP with a distinguished university career behind him (eight months after Hitler had become chancellor), "If I may judge from my personal knowledge of Herr Hitler, peace and justice are the key words of his policy."
From Arnold Toynbee (the distinguished historian), equally spellbound by the Reich chancellor, "I am convinced of his [Hitle's] sincerity in desiring peace in Europe and close friendship with England."
From an Anglican bishop, the Reverend Morley Headlam, a declaration that a great majority of the Nazis believed that their cause "represented a strong spiritual influence" and looked upon it as "a real representation of Christianity."
From Max Aitken, later Lord Beaverbrook (the British press baron), constant reassurance to his readers, even when the sands were running out in 1939, that "there will be no war."
From Sir John Reith (head of the British Broadcasting Corporation), who saw Churchill as a scare-monger, policy directives to his programmers to make sure that Churchill was seldom heard over the BBC.
When Hitler declared (in a speech to the Reichstag) that Germany would never dream of threatening other countries, the London Times rejoiced, advising its readers that the Fuhrer's speech was "reasonable, straightforward, and comprehensive."
From Lloyd George (British Prime Minister during the first World War), who had personally met Hitler, a description of him as "the greatest living German. I only wish we had a man of his supreme quality as the head of affairs in our country today."
And from Neville Chamberlain, a businessman who had become Prime Minister, returning from his Munich meeting with Hitler to Downing Street, waving the piece of paper he and Hitler had signed, and calling to the dense throng below: "My good friends: this is peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time." Five days later, the British House of Commons voted overwhelmingly its approval of Chamberlain's policy. (Less than one year later, Britain and Germany were at war.)
The frightening thing about all of this is the predisposition of opinion leaders and publics, who long for peace, to totally misjudge the threats to their own security and the pre-requisites for assuring it - to be 100% wrong on an issue of national and international security.
The inspiring thing about all this is that Winston Churchill had the courage to swim against this floodtide of elite and public opinion, and to be proven right in the end.
If another Churchill came along in our time - perhaps offering hard, unpalatable, unpopular truths about how to cope with the ideological challenges of our time - would we recognize him or her as a visionary worth listening to, or would we treat him or her as Churchill was treated?
It does not take a prophet to at least recognize the two greatest ideological challenges facing the Western world in our time:
- That represented by militant Islam, where the inspirational and motivational power of religious faith is distorted and harnessed into an unholy alliance with the state - a situation which prevails in about 50 nations around the world.
- And second, the ideological contest between the Chinese Communist model of state-directed capitalism and state-directed "democracy" versus the older Western model of market-directed capitalism and citizen-directed democracy.
How to respond to these challenges on the global stage is the great issue of our time. Is a never-ending War on Terror the only way to deal with militant Islam? Do we identify religion and that aspect of humanity to which religion appeals as a dying relic from the past and trust that science and secularism and humanism will eventually overwhelm it in Islamic countries as it has ours? Or do we counter misplaced faith with faith redirected to a more worthy object? What might Churchill say? And would we listen?
Do we see Chinese Communist ideology as a genuine threat to market-driven capitalism and citizen-directed democracy worldwide, or do we see it as a benign ideology which we must learn to accommodate? Do we vigorously challenge the Chinese Communist vision of capitalism and democracy which is winning converts daily all over the developing world or do we mute our analysis and criticism in order to get our share of the Chinese market? What would Churchill say? And would we listen?
Churchill once said that "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak" and he demonstrated that type of courage in spades. He also said "Courage is what it takes to sit down and listen" the courage that he might demand of us.
Sadly, because I speak of my own profession, the modern politician has more often than not become someone who merely tells us what we want to hear. A statesman like Churchill is someone who tells us what we need to hear, whether we want to hear it or not. That is why it is such an honour to join with you and Paul Reid tonight in honouring a true statesman, Sir Winston Churchill.
 The following quotes are taken from William Manchester's The Last Lion Alone.