In the two years before the outbreak of World War II, Winston Churchill twice addressed the American people by radio, hoping to persuade them to throw American weight against Nazi aggression in Europe. Churchill had not yet been elected Prime Minister. When he spoke to the United States on October 16, 1938, he himself was still a minority voice demanding that the government of Neville Chamberlain cease its policy of appeasing Hitler’s demands for expanded territory in Europe. He appealed to American sensibilities in support of liberty:
Has any benefit or progress ever been achieved by the human race by submission to organized and calculated violence? As we look back over the long story of the nations we must see that, on the contrary, their glory has been founded upon the spirit of resistance to tyranny and injustice, especially when these evils seemed to be backed by heavier force.
While he warned that “the stations of uncensored expression are closing down; the lights are going out,” he insisted “there is still time for those to whom freedom and parliamentary government mean something, to consult together.” He held out hope that an international alliance—joined by the US—that would restrain Hitler.
When he spoke again, less than a month before Hitler invaded Poland and Britain and France declared war, his descriptions of the aggressions of Hitler and Mussolini—and by now, Japan—were more ironic, and his tone was more ominous:
There is a hush over all Europe, nay, over all the world, broken only by the dull thud of Japanese bombs falling on Chinese cities, on Chinese universities or near British and American ships. But then, China is a long way off, so why worry? The Chinese are fighting for what the founders of the American Constitution in their stately language called: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” And they seem to be fighting very well. . . . After all, the suffering Chinese are fighting our battle, the battle of democracy. They are defending the soil, the good earth, that has been theirs since the dawn of time against cruel and unprovoked aggression. Give them a cheer across the ocean–no one knows whose turn it may be next.