In May 1940, when Winston Churchill became British Prime Minister, the lamps of freedom were going out across Europe. Having warned a heedless world of the gathering storm, he was destined to play a leading role in re-kindling those lamps, and rallying the free world to resist its totalitarian foes. It is, above all, for that reason that Churchill is widely regarded as the outstanding leader of the twentieth century.
Churchill was born to lead and, in a Parliamentary career that began in 1900, he had served in virtually every senior Cabinet position, save that of Foreign Secretary, before attaining the Prime Ministership. A House of Commons man to the core, he could also draw on a wide range of military experience so that, when the critical hour struck in 1940, he understood the art of waging war.
His first task was to inspire Britain, with her Commonwealth partners ranged beside her, to believe in the possibility of victory despite the presence of a mortal enemy, formidably armed and poised to strike across the English Channel. He accomplished this in a series of speeches in which he convinced not only Britons, but also men and women of goodwill around the world, that the cause of democracy was not doomed. As President John F. Kennedy recognized when conferring honorary US citizenship on the great Briton, Churchill "mobilized the English language and sent it into battle."
Despite the impact of his oratory, Churchill understood that words alone would not bring victory. Massive strength on land, at sea and in the air had to be created. Above all, there was the need for allies - and it was in large measure Churchill who forged and maintained the Grand Alliance that, through the hard-fought years of war, brought victory and peace to Europe and the Far East.
Victory in 1945 cemented Churchill's place in history, but further contributions were to follow. At Fulton, Missouri in 1946 he awakened the world to the hazards of Soviet imperialism by his use of the phrase 'Iron Curtain'. Later in that year, his speech at Zurich proved to be a major catalyst in the movement toward a united Europe.
Returned to office as Prime Minister in 1951, much of Churchill's thinking focused on the folly of war in the atomic age. In one of his last major parliamentary speeches, in 1955, when the threat from the Soviet Union still loomed large, Churchill looked forward to the day when a policy of deterrence could be set aside and "fair play, love for one's fellow-men, respect for justice and freedom," would "enable tormented generations to march forth serene and triumphant from the hideous epoch in which we have to dwell. Meanwhile, never flinch, never weary, never despair."