On the day that changed everything, September 11, 2001, then New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani seized the moment and guided that most unmanageable of all municipalities through its unsurpassed dark day.
When the mayor reached the point of exhaustion in the early hours of Wednesday, September 12, he went home and revisited a book he’d been reading the previous few nights. It was the full-length biography of Winston Churchill written by Roy Jenkins. He just happened to be reading the part about how the courageous British Prime Minister led his country through another horror in another time – the Battle of Britain. Giuliani drew strength from how Churchill inspired his people as Nazi bombs fell with indiscriminate horror during his nation’s very own protracted 9/11.
Churchill didn’t get a honeymoon period when he took over the premiership in May of 1940. He also didn’t inherit a lot of tangible resources. All he had was what had been long-simmering in his soul, as he watched from afar the approach of storm clouds and the sobering reality of lightning war.
And the great man had a way with words.
Legendary American broadcaster Edward R. Murrow once said of Winston Churchill that, “he mobilized the English language and sent it into battle to steady his fellow countrymen and hearten those Europeans upon whom the long dark night of tyranny had descended.” These sentiments were echoed by President Kennedy in April of 1963 in his remarks when signing a proclamation making Winston Churchill an honorary U.S. citizen:
“In the dark days and darker nights when England stood alone – and most men, save Englishmen, despaired of England’s life – he mobilized the English language and sent it into battle. The incandescent quality of his words illuminated the courage of his countrymen.”
When he gave his first address as Prime Minister to the House of Commons on May 13, 1940, his remarks were brief and to the point. He used a phrase that day – one that has come to embody his bulldog-like spirit. But the speech was not enthusiastically received by all in that historic room, nor was it ever actually broadcast to the nation. The words appeared in print, but it would take a little time before they would come to resonate as they are now remembered: Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat.
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