Sir Michael Howard, O.B.E., March 25, 1990

President Saunders, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a high privilege to be invited to deliver this eighth Crosby Kemper Lecture; and with it to be honoured with a Doctorate of Letters of Westminster College. My predecessors have been scholars or statesmen of great distinction. They have all given lectures which made substantial contributions to our understanding, not only of the personality of Winston Churchill, but of the age in which he lived, and, in consequence, of the background to our own times. Cumulatively they are a hard act to follow.

You have built here at Fulton a memorial to a very great man, but you have done something more. This glorious church in which we meet is a symbol of more than Churchill's own greatness, or even of the genius of the incomparable Christopher Wren. It is a monument, as any Englishman must recognize, to the unique qualities of the American people - your imagination in conceiving the project, your energy, your ingenuity, your technology, your craftsmanship and above all, your generosity in implementing it. These were the qualities that saved Europe in two world wars and made it possible to rebuild the Free World after the Second: qualities to which Winston Churchill himself constantly paid tribute and on which we all continue to rely - even in a world which has changed so much, and so incomparably for the better, since the dark days of 1946.

It was then, just over 44 years ago, that Winston Churchill came to Fulton on March 5th and warned his audience here that "from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent." Behind that barrier, he said, Soviet occupying forces were gradually extinguishing all elements of independent opposition and imposing totalitarian control. In front of it, and throughout the world, Communist fifth columnists "constitute a growing challenge and peril to Christian civilization." The Soviet Union did not, he believed, desire war. "What they desire is the fruits of war and the indefinite expansion of their power and doctrines." To counter their expansion, it was necessary that the Western Democracies, especially the United States and the British Commonwealth, should stand together in strict adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter. "If, however, they become divided or falter in their duty, and if these all-important years are allowed to slip away, then indeed catastrophe may overwhelm us all."[i]

This was not what his audience wanted to hear. The war was over. The boys, in their hundreds of thousands, were coming home. Barely nine months had passed since the Allied Leaders had met, to all appearances amicably, among the enemy ruins at Potsdam. Their Foreign Ministers were busy in London and Paris thrashing out the framework of a peaceful new order under the auspices of the United Nations. What was this call for a new entangling alliance against America's wartime ally? "The United States wants no alliance, or anything that resembles an alliance, with any other nation" editorialized the Wall Street Journal.[ii] President Truman had to deny that his presence on the platform in any way indicated official endorsement of Churchill's remarks. And in England, 93 members of Parliament (including future Prime Minister James Callaghan) tabled a vote of censure against their former Prime Minister on the grounds that his proposals were "calculated to do injury to a good relations between Great Britain, the USA and the USSR and are inimical to the cause of world peace."[iii]

We all know what happened. In 1947 the disintegrating economies of Western Europe provoked the imaginative generosity of Marshall Aid. In 1948 the Soviets consolidated their rule with the coup d'etat in Czechoslovakia and the Berlin Blockade. And in 1949, four years after Churchill had delivered his warning here at Fulton, the United States signed the North Atlantic Treaty, creating exactly that alliance for which Churchill had called; an Alliance for mutual support, threatening no one, but pledged to uphold the peaceful principles of the United Nations Charter.

And now, Mr. President - now? Within a period of barely six months, the Iron Curtain has dissolved. The captive peoples of Central and Eastern Europe are free once more - free, most of them, for the first time in 50 years. The two halves of Germany are coming together under a government which, however it may be constructed, will be firmly democratic as no government of a united Germany has been since 1933. The Soviet Union itself has entered on a period of turbulent and open-ended transformation that is likely to make it, for the time being at least, a cooperative partner on the international scene. Could any of us have foreseen this a year ago? Could you, Mr. President, have possibly known, when last July you invited me to deliver this lecture, what today we would be celebrating? I understand that you have also invited President Gorbachev, when he visits the United States later this year, to come here and formally proclaim the end of the dark era whose opening was heralded in this place 44 years ago. I hope he will come, for there could be no more appropriate messenger for such good news; unless it could have been Winston Churchill himself.

“Leave the past to history especially as I propose to write that history myself.”

Winston S. Churchill