"Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat": The Dire Warning; Churchill's First Speech as Prime Minister

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"Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat": The Dire Warning; Churchill's First Speech as Prime Minister

By John Lukacs
Basic Books, 2008
147 pp. $24.00
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The horrifying challenges of the summer of 1940 produced some of Winston Churchill's greatest speeches, those including his memorable promises to "fight on the beaches" and "never surrender," offered on June 4, and his determination to make this his country's "finest hour," presented on June 18. In this short book, the historian Lukacs examines Churchill's first speech as prime minister, on May 13, and in particular his admission to the British parliament that he had "nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat." The phrase was not spontaneous -- he had already spoken it to the War Cabinet that morning. Nor was it entirely original; Garibaldi, Churchill almost certainly knew, had in 1849 told his followers that he could offer "hunger, thirst, forced marches, battles and death" in the impending battle for Rome. Nor was the speech even broadcast to the nation; it was merely summed up that evening by the BBC. Yet the phrase, Lukacs argues, was important because it was so sincere. Churchill knew -- even better than his compatriots -- that the United Kingdom's situation was dire and that even in the long term, victory was uncertain. But he also understood -- again better than his compatriots -- that with Hitler there could simply be no compromise worth accepting. The author of a number of acclaimed books about Churchill and World War II, Lukacs knows his story and tells it well.