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Winston Churchill’s Rhetoric

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Rhetorical analysis is a way to analyze the effectiveness of a persuasive message.  It involves an examination of three facets of argumentation:  ethos, pathos, and logos.  Ethos is the credibility of the speaker.  IF the audience finds the speaker credible, then they are more likely to adopt his views.  Pathos is an appeal to feelings or emotions.  Through this method, the speaker attempts to engage the audience in emotive response by appealing to fears, to identity, to values and to characteristics they hold dear, such as courage, masculinity, loyalty, etc.  Finally, logos is a logical appeal.  Through this appeal, the speaker attempts to reason with the audience through facts, statistics and reasoned analysis (Williams, 2004).

            When utilizing rhetoric, it is vital that the speaker understand his audience.  While the most promising arguments are made using all three of the rhetorical cannons, some audience may be persuaded more by one of the three types.  In these cases, the rhetor may decide to create a purposeful imbalance to make this appeal.  Winston Churchill’s speech ‘To V-E Day Crowds’ utilizes all three appeals but seems to focus mainly on the appeal to pathos.   This is appropriate because the group is surviving WWII, an emotionally demanding situation.  In fact, Michael Harvey, a published authority on writing and argumentation notes, “In 1940 Churchill’s rhetoric was perhaps the most important weapon deployed against Adolf Hitler” (Harvey, 2003).  Truly, Churchill’s figurative, emotional style was a major factor in corralling the support of the British citizens.

 First Churchill addresses the group as ‘friends’ which earns him ethos.  Of course, simply by his own title and reputation, Churchill has already earned credibility with the crowd.  By using the first person pronouns of ‘we’ and ‘I’, Churchill develops a relationship with the crowd.  He even allows them to participate in the speech by offering questions of “Did anyone want to give in?” and “Were we down hearted?”  All of this appeal to ethos provides Churchill with a way to develop a relationship of camaraderie and respect with the crowd while convincing them that he holds the key to success.  He is, in effect, winning them over in much the same way as a beautiful supermodel wins over average housewives in an effort to sell name brand cosmetics.

Churchill appeals very little to logos and focuses on appealing to the emotions and feelings of the crowd.   After all, this speech occurs in the middle of WWII, so an emotional appeal is most necessary to keep up the moral of the crowd, who are citizens suffering under a war-ravaged society.  Complicated explanations of military strategy, weapons and tactics would certainly not have served Churchill’s purpose of raising the morale of Londoners who have in some cases lost their homes and family members.  They want to hear about revenge and retaliation.

First, Churchill ignites the feelings of honor and perseverance in the crowd.  He attempts to rally the group by having them shout out answers to the questions illustrated above.  He uses vivid figurative language such as “drawing the sword against tyranny” and “the lights went out and the bombs came down” to show the crowd how much the people had endured and to assure them that they could continue to withstand these obstacles.   They feel proud of their abilities to withstand such turmoil.

Next, Churchill gives them the promise of freedom:  “the bird of freedom chirps in human hearts” and promises that the world will look upon them with admiration and respect.  He encourages them to march forward, even to death, to remain unconquered.  This appeal relies on the crowd’s sense of loyalty and pride and dignity.  Nobody wants to die a loser; he wants to die a fighter, in the tradition of the epic heroes in Britain’s historical and literary past.  Logically, the individuals might stop and think that life is better than death, even if it means submission to Germany or Japan, but the group mentality that Churchill achieves keeps them from consciously realizing this.

The entire argument leads up to the main purpose:  Churchill wants the people to keep their confidence and morale up for the battle with the Japanese in the same manner that he was able to achieve in the years battling Hitler.  To create animosity, Churchill refers to the Japanese as a “foe stained with cruelty and greed.”  He makes them look like beasts in order to create the necessary hatred in the people.  He gives the listeners a prize, a figurative night of rest” before they resume their “duty” of rebuilding their homes and towns.  Duty goes hand-in-hand with loyalty and is another emotion vital to the war effort.

Churchill not only creates animosity towards the Japanese, but creates kinship and a feeling of alliance with the United States, “our gallant allies of the United States who were so foully and treacherously attacked by Japan.”  Once again, Churchill promises victory with out any logical reason why victory should, or would, be attained.  The emotions of the group, the pathos stirred within them, created the overwhelming sentiment that Britain would withstand.  They did.

Though highly effective, this speech is not even one of Churchill’s most famous. His “Finest Hour” speech in 1940 and his “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946

“secured for him on both sides of the Atlantic an almost unparalleled relevance in the rhetoric of the following forty years’ Cold War. To Western politicians of this period, his career offered pertinent ‘lessons’ – particularly the need to appear resolute in the face or threat of aggression. To this was added the fact that his magnificent command of English made him a rich quarry of quasi-prophetic quotes for an endless succession of political speeches and journalistic articles” (Stewart, 2000, 303).

Winston Churchill was able to utilize the three rhetorical appeals of ethos, pathos and logos in his continuous morale-boosting speeches to the citizens of Great Britain.  He was known as a tremendous speaker who employed high levels of pathos and illuminating metaphors and analogies into his speeches which were aimed at annihilating Adolf Hitler and subduing the communist threat.  There is a certain truth in the claim that Winston S. Churchill “mobilized the English language and sent it into battle” (Meider, 2005).

My dear friends, this is your hour. This is not victory of a party or of any class. It`s a victory of the great British nation as a whole. We were the first, in this ancient island, to draw the sword against tyranny. After a while we were left all alone against the most tremendous military power that has been seen. We were all alone for a whole year.

There we stood, alone. Did anyone want to give in? [The crowd shouted `No.`] Were we down-hearted? [`No!`] The lights went out and the bombs came down. But every man, woman and child in the country had no thought of quitting the struggle. London can take it. So we came back after long months from the jaws of death, out of the mouth of hell, while all the world wondered. When shall the reputation and faith of this generation of English men and women fail? I say that in the long years to come not only will the people of this island but of the world, wherever the bird of freedom chirps in human hearts, look back to what we`ve done and they will say `do not despair, do not yield to violence and tyranny, march straightforward and die if need be-unconquered.` Now we have emerged from one deadly struggle-a terrible foe has been cast on the ground and awaits our judgment and our mercy.

But there is another foe who occupies large portions of the British Empire, a foe stained with cruelty and greed-the Japanese. I rejoice we can all take a night off today and another day tomorrow. Tomorrow our great Russian allies will also be celebrating victory and after that we must begin the task of rebuilding our heath and homes, doing our utmost to make this country a land in which all have a chance, in which all have a duty, and we must turn ourselves to fulfill our duty to our own countrymen, and to our gallant allies of the United States who were so foully and treacherously attacked by Japan. We will go hand and hand with them. Even if it is a hard struggle we will not be the ones who will fail.


Churchill, W. (1946). To V-E Day Crowds.  The Churchill Centre.  Available from:             http://www.winstonchurchill.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=428

Harvey, M.  (2003).  The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing.  Indianapolis, IN: Hackett             Publishing.

Meider, W.  (1995).  Make Hell while the Sun Shines: Proverbial Rhetoric in Winston

            Churchill’s The Second World War.  Proverbio 1 (2) Available from


Stewart, G. (2000). Churchill without the Rhetoric. The Historical Journal (2000), 43: 303-307

Williams, G. (2004). Three Rhetorical Appeals:  Ethos, Pathos, Logos. Available from:                           http://w.faculty.umkc.edu/williamsgh/dialogues/225.rhetorical.appeals.html

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