Lesson Plan - Get It!
Image by New York Times Paris Bureau Collection, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.
- Do you know where or when this photo was taken?
This is London during the Blitz in September of 1940 when Hitler bombed British cities indiscriminately.
The photo below shows British citizens sleeping in an air raid shelter during those bombings:
Image, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.
- Would it be easy to stay positive and support the war if you had to sleep here every other night?
- What types of concerns would you have as a leader trying to gain the support of these people?
The key was using rhetorical devices.
Churchill and the Blitz
Image by Yousuf Karsh, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.
Winston Churchill was the new prime minister of the United Kingdom in 1940, which gave him the job of keeping the island nation united against the Nazis and Hitler. There was one huge problem, however.
By the end of 1940, France had fully surrendered to Germany, leaving the United Kingdom as the only country in Europe that was still fighting the Nazis.
Because Hitler managed to take control of almost the entirety of Europe, he was able to send planes across the English Channel to destroy the British planes, allowing for a land invasion.
Knowing this, people like Churchill had reason to fight harder. However, the British did not have many planes or pilots in order to fight the massive German air force. Moreover, in early September, the Germans started bombing British cities almost every single night.
As you watch London's Biggest Blitz (1941), from British Pathé, for an overview, think about how you would feel as a civilian having to endure this every night:
Somehow, Churchill had to persuade an entire nation of people, who were worried about continued suffering on the home front, that it was better to continue fighting than simply surrender to Hitler.
We Shall Fight on the Beaches
Long before any bombing happened in England, France fell in June of 1940. At that moment, Hitler had rapidly expanded the borders of his empire to include almost the entirety of Europe.
With so much fear in the air, Churchill needed to quell calls to surrender or to make a deal with Hitler so that he would stop at England's doorstep.
As France was falling in June of 1940, Churchill gave a speech to Parliament that would later come to be known as his "We shall fight on the beaches" speech.
As you watch the video below to hear Churchill's own voice giving the last part of this speech, read along with the We Shall Fight on the Beaches excerpt provided by the International Churchill Society, also below.
Winston S Churchill: We Shall Fight on the Beaches from Jimmy Thatcher:
- What was effective about this speech?
Churchill recognized his audience's concerns.
People were worried about the unknown as Hitler undoubtedly was coming for their island next. He assured the people of Great Britain that they would fight to keep every single inch of the island.
His repetitive use of the phrase "We shall..." was especially inspiring to the people at the time.
- Do you know what type of rhetorical device this is?
Repeating the same word or phrase at the beginning of succeeding sentences is referred to as anaphora.
- In what way does this advance Churchill's point of view?
Not only is he committed to defending the country, but repeating "we" makes it clear to the British people that they are a part of the fight and are needed in order to '"defend our island."
Another rhetorical device used in this speech is allusion, which is when a reference is made to another event, place, or text without explicitly mentionning it.
- Did you catch the reference to the United States at the very end of Churchill's speech?
When he refers to the new world saving the old, he is saying that, if the British fall to Hitler, he is sure the U.S. will join the war to liberate them.
- Why do you think Churchill alluded to this instead of saying it directly?
The United States was not in the war yet and wouldn't be for another year and a half. Without the U.S. at war, Churchill did not want to publicly state he thought the U.S. would defend them because then he would be roping a separate country into a foreign war.
While these are the two main rhetorical devices used in this portion of his speech, there are many more we still haven't discussed.
Move on to the Got It? section to explore these other literary tools while focusing on what made this a tactful speech to the British people.