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Most influential wartime speeches December 21, 2008

Posted by neoavatara in Politics, World Politics.
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This is a little delayed, as it was a response the realclearworld.com’s list of the five most influential war time speeches.  Their list, from 5 to 1, was:  Reagan’s 1987 Berlin Wall Speech:

Emperor Hirohito 1945 Surrender; Goebels 1943 speech urging Germans to fight to the death;

FDR’s address to the nation after Pearl Harbor:

And Churchill’s ‘This was their Finest Hour’ speech from 1940:

This is an excellent list, though largely centered on World War II.  I would argue one that should be placed in this list, and actually is my number one:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Clearly, this is a very Americocentric choice, picking Abraham Lincoln’s November 19, 1863 speech on a battlefield in Pennsylvania.  But think of how important this speech was to America’s existence, and future power in the world.  In a few short paragraphs, Lincoln distilled the meaning of America, better than anyone has before or after.

Just to show the importance of the Gettysburg Address, just look at the speeches it was referred to in the past. The Constitution of France (under the present Fifth Republic) states that the principle of the Republic of France is “gouvernement du peuple, par le peuple et pour le peuple” (“government of the people, by the people, and for the people,”) a literal translation of Lincoln’s words. Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech; FDR’s first and second inauguration; JFK’s inauguration; and Ronald Reagan’s inauguration.  You can bring it completely to the present, to Barack Obama’s speech the night he was elected.

Many of these speeches will be remembered for keynote lines.  Lincoln’s entire speech will be memorized for generations, for its brevity and for it significance.

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