Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My special afternoon with Winston Churchill

It’s nice to watch a movie and be entertained. It’s even nicer to walk away from a film feeling that you’ve experienced something important. Winston Churchill: Walking with Destiny is fun to watch, packed with detail and emotionally compelling.

I saw the documentary earlier this week, part of my mission to see just as many films as possible during the 20-day run of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival here in the Land of Cotton. It was produced by Moriah Films, an arm of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; directed by the Oscar-winning filmmaker Richard Trank and narrated by Ben Kingsley.

Winston Churchill was a bigger-than-life personality, a charismatic politician who by sheer force of will lifted up the British people during the very dark days of World War II. As the Nazi war machine rolled across Europe, leaving death and destruction it its wake, it was Churchill who rallied the troops and the masses, offering words of comfort and hope while metaphorically thumbing his nose at Hitler and his generals.

We forget in this age of 15-second commercials and political sound bites, Facebook and Twitter, that words can actually be strung together coherently in such a way that they touch the heart and soul. Churchill, like all good speakers, had the ability to write for the ages and speak with authority. His was often the voice of a lone prophet – quiet and reflective, powerful and pugnacious, compassionate and caring. He talked and the people listened.

Over the course of his life, this remarkable man said much worth remembering – bits of wit and whimsy, truths about the human condition, sorrow and joy. Much of what he thought and believed has been saved, words of wisdom that remain as true today as when they were first put to paper.

In the late spring and summer of 1940, when dark and evil forces seemed on the move about the planet, he stepped forward and offered a beacon of light to the people of Great Britain. His words were simple and direct, strong and valiant, a call to arms.

Churchill talked with passion and power of victory, victory at all cost, victory in spite of all terror. He talked of fighting in France, fighting on the seas and the oceans with growing confidence and growing strength. But he also shared the truth, that for the moment Western Europe was lost and the British people stood alone.

Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands … Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will say, "This was their finest hour."

History tells us that the British people did rise to the occasion and so, too, the people of the United States – eventually. It would take several years, but the tide of war turned and the axis powers were defeated.

Some 50 million people died in World War II and for a moment – a long and frightening moment – the world stood tottering on the brink of a new age of darkness. Winston Churchill, a man of destiny, made sure that would never happen.

In that long ago summer when he was out and about, sounding the alarm and comforting the troubled, Churchill paid tribute to the men of the Royal Air Force. He praised them for their gallant efforts in besting the might of the German Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain. I think it only fitting to paraphrase his own words in praise of his efforts – and life!

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by
so many … to one man.

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