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State of The Union: Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill

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From 1939 to 1945, the world fell into a great darkness. During this time period, nations were battling it out in what is currently known as the Second World War. It was during this time that leaders of nations were under extreme pressure to address the public with constant updates on the ongoing war. As a result, one can find some of the most well-known speeches in history during this time. Leaders such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) and Winston Churchill gave such speeches. FDR’s The Four Freedoms speech can be argued as the most famous speech of his presidential career. His address to Congress was pivotal for it highlighted the possibility of America’s entry into the war in the defense of the liberties that America stands for. Churchill’s, I Have Nothing to Offer but Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat and By Ye Men of Valor speeches captivated the English as they welcomed their new Prime Minister.

On January 6, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his State of the Union Address to Congress. In his speech, he emphasized what would become known as the Four Freedoms. These were four basic elements of freedom that he believed every individual should have. At the time, World War 2 was still in its earliest stages. However, the United States was still formally not involved. When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, the USA still expressed their desire to remain neutral from the conflict. Then, the Nazis took France and the Japanese expanded into continental Asia. Still, the United States remained neutral but became worried. When Germany started bombing London, Americans wondered if they could really stay out of this war. American involvement was increasing by sending supplies; however, they were still considered neutral. The majority of Americans supported England and wanted to show their support; however, this action made many people nervous. It seemed as if America was breaking its neutrality. The need to reassure the American public was ever increasing. The 1941 State of the Union was the ideal place to do that.

FDR had one goal coming into the State of the Union. His speech was meant to convince the American people of the growing need to increase support to Great Britain. He made clear that the USA would not become involved for new territories. The slight American involvement in the war was solely based on the protection of the ideals America is based on against fascism. “In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms”. What stood out was Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. This was big. Essentially, he implied in his speech that to own such freedoms was an expectation from Americans and that they had a responsibility to defend them everywhere. FDR’s Four Freedoms were meant to be seen as global initiatives. This would start a movement of the US beginning to take a larger role in the international community. The effect can be seen in future conflicts and events such as the Cold War and the Vietnam War.

FDR uses rhetorical language to further enhance his speech. “Every realist knows that the democratic way of life is at this moment being directly assailed in every part of the world—assailed either by arms, or by secret spreading of poisonous propaganda by those who seek to destroy unity and promote discord in nations that are still at peace”. This would be an example of pathos. FDR has his audience (Congress and the American public) thinking of worst-case scenarios. Responding with fear is appropriate because war is very frightening. In this speech there are many examples of pathos. “If that defense fails, all the population and all the resources of Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australasia will be dominated by the conquerors”. He is using people’s emotions to sympathize those fighting against the Nazis.

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was the prime minister of the UK from 1940 to 1945, when he led Britain to victory in WWII, and again 1951 to 1955. There was a huge weight on his shoulders as he came in during the war replacing Neville Chamberlain. During the first few weeks, he gave what can be argued as some of his most famous speeches. One such example is his Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat speech. “…to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime”. This is an appeal to pathos. He is using the situation of the ongoing war to further is parliamentary agenda. One cannot forget that Churchill is addressing major changes to his reign from his predecessor. One can only imagine how crucial it is to address it correctly. Churchill does this perfectly here. He is using people’s emotions to morals to change people’s mindset about the war. “You ask, What is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory – victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival”. This is an example of repetition. He is repeating the word victory to ingrain this idea of victory.

Just six days later, he gave his By Ye Men of Valour speech. This live broadcast to the British public was a verbal address to show his commitment to the war. “Our task is not only to win the battle – but win the War”. His goal was to warn the British of an imminent attack on British soil by the Germans. The Germans were advancing closer and it became clear that the French were not going to hold them. Churchill was given the major task of instilling hope in his people. “I have received from the Chiefs of the French Republic, an in particular from its indomitable Prime Minister… the most sacred pledges that whatever happens they will fight to the end…”. This is an example of ethos. He is mentioning the sacrifice of a major nation at the time. The French were not a joke. Mentioning that the French have said they will fight till the end can inspires people and that’s exactly what he did. “… side by side, the British and French peoples have advanced to rescue not only Europe but mankind from the foulest and most soul-destroying tyranny which has ever darkened and stained the pages of history”. This is an example of logos and pathos. This is logos for it is reminding people of the British and French alliance. The alliance between the two nations is a powerful one as they won WWI. This is also an appeal to pathos. He is saying that they will not surrender to tyranny and will be united in their stand against Germany. He is playing with people’s emotions to morals by using exaggerating Germany. That is also why this is a hyperbole.

World War 2 was a historic period of time. Leaders such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill rose up to the challenge, even when the odds were stacked against them. FDR and Churchill gave fiery speeches still distributed today. Their amazing use of rhetoric inspired their respective nations during this dark time. It can be observed that pathos was heavily used during this time due to the fact that people were emotionally confused during the conflict. FDR and Churchill did an amazing job manipulating that. That is why they will be forever remembered in the history books.

Works Cited

  1. MacArthur, Brian. The Penguin Book of Twentieth-Century Speeches. Penguin Books, 1999.
  2. “World War II.”, A&E Television Networks, 21 Aug. 2018,
  3. “Winston Churchill.”, 21 Aug. 2018.

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