Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat

by Winston Churchill

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On May 13, 1940, Churchill delivered “Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat” to the House of Commons, one of the two houses of the United Kingdom’s legislative branch. For years prior, he had been watching the rise of Adolf Hitler and Germany’s Third Reich with fascination and alarm. As England stood on the brink of war, King George had chosen Churchill to replace Neville Chamberlain. Churchill had not been impressed with Chamberlain’s pacifist attitude toward the Third Reich and had very different ideas about how England should proceed. The purpose of Churchill’s address to Parliament was to state these ideas briefly and clearly.

The beginning of the speech is straightforward. The new prime minister speaks directly to the House of Commons, but his audience includes the nation at large. The goals of Churchill’s speech are ambitious. He must establish his authority, build trust, and make it clear that he is working for the common good; he must build his credibility as a leader and at the same time rally the nation for war.

First, Churchill makes it clear that he has the authority to make military decisions, because he is acting on orders from none other than the King of England. In a succinct, orderly manner, he then outlines the steps he has taken thus far to create a new administration. He delineates the roles of Parliament, the speaker, the king, and himself in these proceedings. This might be construed as both an appeal to logos (when he is relating the facts) and ethos (when he stresses the cooperative nature of these efforts). Churchill observes the speed and lack of ceremony that have informed his speech thus far, citing the “extreme urgency” of the situation and humbly requesting that the assembly before him understand the unusual circumstances. Once Churchill dispenses with the formalities, he makes clear the most important reason for the meeting: He and his new administration need Parliament to approve the new government and formally resolve to win the war against Germany.

Churchill only briefly mentions Britain’s role in the conflict thus far and implies that there is neither the time nor the need to debate the nation’s war policy. He then outlines his two main points: Britain must fight Germany, and Britain must win. His word choices and tone become more urgent and forceful; he introduces figurative language and rhetorical devices as he paints a picture of the very difficult road ahead with no option for failure. He is partial to anaphora, using the same word or words at the beginning of successive phrases to create rhythm and drama; in one paragraph, he starts three phrases with the word “victory,” which also appears at the end of one sentence and in the middle of another in the same paragraph.

Churchill makes it clear that the months ahead will include national suffering, international conflict, horrific fighting, and the bleakest of scenarios in the case of defeat. But he concludes with a simple statement of hope and a final call for the unity of the British people.

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