All too many speeches by major political figures are heralded as historic in advance of delivery yet prove to be irrelevant in the grand-strategic scheme of things. Churchill’s “we shall fight on the beaches” address in the wake of Dunkirk, for example, and his Iron Curtain speech at Fulton six years later were rich in rhetorical flair. They did not go beyond describing an unpleasant reality, however, and urging resolve in dealing with it. They were good for the headlines and popular history books, but irrelevant to the making of history.
For a true paradigm-shifting oration, take Pope Urban II’s speech at the 1095 Council of Clermont. “You have thus far waged unjust wars,” the visionary Frenchman told the Christian world.
You have brandished mad weapons . . . for no other reason than covetousness and pride, as a result of which you have deserved eternal death and sure damnation. We now hold out to you wars which contain the glorious reward of martyrdom, which will retain that title of praise now and forever.
That was world-historic stuff. It ushered in not just the First Crusade but the sustained turning of the tables by an awakened Christendom that went on for eight centuries.
David Lloyd George’s Mansion House Speech on July 21, 1911, was of an almost equal historic import. “If a situation were to be forced...