Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to the words of Winston Churchill.
Top Bush administration officials, looking for a historical model as they fight attacks at home and war abroad, have been conjuring the great wartime British prime minister regularly since Sept. 11.
President Bush, announcing the beginning of bombing in Afghanistan this month, declared: "We will not waver, we will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail." That had more than a passing resemblance to Churchill's 1941 speech: "We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire."
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson had this to say to the U.S. Conference of Mayors last week: "I'm reminded of something Winston Churchill said during the early days of the Second World War: 'Victory at all costs, victory in spite of terror, victory however long and hard the road may be, for without victory, there is no survival.' "
It took Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld only a day after the Sept. 11 attacks to recall the British bulldog. "At the height of peril to his own nation, Winston Churchill spoke of their finest hour," Rumsfeld told the troops from the Pentagon. "Yesterday, America and the cause of human freedom came under attack."
The affection for Churchill in the Bush administration is no accident. Churchill's soaring wartime speeches, it has been said, sent the English language into battle. Now, after the first attack on American soil since 1941, American leaders are looking for a suitable precedent in their rhetoric. "This puts Americans in mind of the dangers faced by Britain, the shock and uncertainty that came over a country that was unprepared," said James W. Muller, a political scientist and Churchill specialist at the University of Alaska-Anchorage.
Americans, of course, had their own larger-than-life wartime leader in the form of Franklin D. Roosevelt. But Roosevelt's wartime rhetoric was, except for his address after Pearl Harbor, not as dramatic as Churchill's. And other American models, such as Abraham Lincoln, seem too distant to be revived now.
Republicans such as those in the Bush administration also have a fondness for Churchill because he was a member of the Conservative Party. "It's fairly standard for American conservatives, who tend to be great fans of Churchill," said Eliot Cohen, a military expert at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies. "The element in Churchill that they are tapping is a staunchness and resolution."
Bush does not embrace all of Churchill, though. Churchill was flamboyant and wrote his own speeches; Bush is subdued and his aides write his texts. Churchill gave detailed and unvarnished descriptions of the war effort, and he brought opposition politicians into what was essentially a nonpartisan war cabinet; Bush's descriptions of the war have been spare, and unity with Congress has begun to wear thin.
Still, Churchill's words can be useful to justify actions even if his overall style is not. Asked on Sept. 25 whether the military would be authorized to lie to the media, Rumsfeld noted: "This conjures up Winston Churchill's famous phrase when he said . . . sometimes the truth is so precious it must be accompanied by a bodyguard of lies." A week before the Sept. 11 attacks, Rumsfeld also used Churchill -- this time in defense of a missile defense system. "Winston Churchill once said, 'I hope I shall never see the day when the forces of right are deprived of the right of force,' " Rumsfeld told a Senate hearing.
Most any occasion these days can invite a Churchill reference. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Henry H. Shelton brought a Churchillian quotation to his farewell ceremony on Oct. 1: "Civilization will not last, freedom will not survive, peace will not be kept, unless a very large majority of mankind unite together to defend them.' "
Paul D. Wolfowitz, the deputy defense secretary, also invoked the Great Man when asked about prospects for the military campaign. "It's worth going back and reading Churchill's memoirs," he said last month.
Bush and his advisers, of course, are not the only ones to invoke Churchill in the current conflict. NATO's secretary general, Lord George Robertson, saw a parallel in sending five NATO surveillance planes to the United States. "It's the Old World coming to support the New World, if I can misquote Winston Churchill in his famous phrase," he said.
One of the most prolific Churchill borrowers has been New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. He told a news conference days after the World Trade Center attack that he was reading a book about the Nazi bombings of London. "And nothing is more inspirational than the speeches and reflections of Winston Churchill about how to deal with that," he said. At another event, the mayor quoted Churchill directly: "Courage is rightly esteemed to be the first of human qualities because it is the quality that guarantees all others."
So much American Churchill quoting no doubt would have amused the late British leader, whose mother was American. And the latest round of Churchill citings has amused one Winston Churchill: the great man's grandson of the same name. Churchill, speaking at the National Press Club, noted that Giuliani "has become so fond of quoting my grandfather that he has earned the accolade of 'Churchill in a ball cap.' "
President Bush had an affection for the legendary Briton well before the current crisis. He requested from the British government a bronze bust of Churchill, which now graces the Oval Office. "Winston Churchill, he did what he thought was right," Bush told a group of Asian editors visiting him this month.
Democrats, too, have quoted the British Tory through the years, though perhaps not as regularly as Republicans. Still, Churchill has a way of sneaking into Democratic speeches -- even if only as the Democrat Roosevelt's sidekick.
"I'm reminded of what Franklin Roosevelt quoted to Winston Churchill during the darkest days of the London blitz in 1940," former vice president Al Gore told Iowa Democrats last month, launching into a Longfellow verse. "Sail on, O ship of state! Sail on, O union strong and great! Humanity, with all its fears, with all the hopes of future years, is hanging breathless on thy fate."