Greatest War Speeches... or not

In Military History

I\'m currently working on a book on the battle between Russian and Japanese battleships during the war of 1904-05 for our new Duel series. In it, the author Robert Forczyk highlights probably one of the most uninspiring pre-battle speeches ever, when the Russian commander Vitgeft told his officers, “Gentlemen, we shall meet in the next world.” Admiral Vitgeft was indeed killed during the battle but I think the men he commanded would have appreciated a bit more encouragement no matter how badly the odds were stacked against them!

Certainly Churchill, the author of perhaps some of the greatest war speeches, never white-washed the truth of the situation rather the opposite, always telling the British public the worst. One historian described it as “hurling it to them like great hunks of bleeding meat” but inspiring them nonetheless and he succeeded in sending them into battle transformed. The year of Dunkirk, he promised, would be one in which it would be “equally good to live or to die” yet if they prevailed this would be “their finest hour”.

From housewives to battlefield commanders, Churchill had the ability to transform each and every one into a potential war-winner. From Elizabeth I facing down the Armada and reminding her troops that she had heart of a king to Lincoln at Gettysburg to Colonel Tim Collins\' eve-of-battle speech in Iraq, these are the words that will resonate across the centuries. A great war speech can inspire troops to victory, prepare a population for hard times and even change the world...

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