December 26, 1941
The date was December 26, 1941. Outside the U.S. Capitol Building, platoons of soldiers and police stood at high alert. Shortly after noon, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill entered the Senate Chamber to address a joint meeting of Congress. He took his place at a lectern bristling with microphones. Above his head, large, powerful lamps gave the normally dim room the brilliance of a Hollywood movie set. Motion picture cameras began to roll.
The Christmas holiday had thinned the ranks of senators and representatives still in town, and had dictated moving the joint meeting from the House to the smaller Senate Chamber to avoid the embarrassment of empty seats. Yet, all 96 desks were filled with members, justices of the Supreme Court, and cabinet officers—minus the secretaries of state and war. The overflow gallery audience consisted largely of members' wives.
Less than three weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and as German submarines appeared off the coast of California, Churchill had arrived in Washington to begin coordinating military strategy with the president and leaders of Congress.
The eloquent prime minister began his address on a light note. He observed, "If my father had been an American, and my mother British, instead of the other way around, I might have gotten here on my own. In that case, this would not have been the first time you would have heard my voice." He then grimly predicted that Allied forces would require at least 18 months to turn the tide of war and warned that "many disappointments and unpleasant surprises await us."
Regarding the Japanese aggressors, he asked, "What kind of a people do they think we are? Is it possible that they do not realize that we shall never cease to persevere against them until they have been taught a lesson which they and the world will never forget?" As for the German forces, "With proper weapons and proper organization, we can beat the life out of the savage Nazi." These "wicked men" who have brought evil forces into play must "know they will be called to terrible account if they cannot beat down by force of arms the peoples they have assailed."
When Churchill concluded his 30-minute address, he flashed a "V" for victory sign and departed to thunderous applause. One journalist described this historic address as "full of bubbling humor, biting denunciation of totalitarian enemies, stern courage—and hard facts."
Gilbert, Martin. Churchill and America. New York: Free Press, 2005.