Twice elected Prime Minister of England for his strength in standing against the Nazis and his "bulldog" spirit, Winston Churchill is known to be an excellent speaker. His speeches to the people in times of need were always inspiring, while simply delivered in a way that made them perfectly understandable to every person. In his speech "The Defence of Freedom and Peace" at the beginning of World War II, Churchill is very persuasive and uses simple yet illustrative rhetorical devices and diction to inspire, convince, and persuade the British people to prepare for war and the American people to join England's worthy cause. Each literary device that Churchill uses enriches his message, adding to the beauty, elegance, and importance of the cause. During Churchill's speech "The Defence of Freedom and Peace", he decorates and embellishes his message with rhetorical devices such as allusion, rhetorical question, imagery, and tricolon.
Perhaps one of the most emotional of rhetorical devices, Winston Churchill makes good use of the allusion. Not only does it show his intelligence, but also it gives his audience an idea of his true meaning. The first time he states, "He [Hitler] must blood his hounds and show them sport, or else, like Actaeon of old, be devoured by them" (Churchill). Here he alludes to the story of Actaeon in Greek mythology, a man punished by the goddess Artemis for boasting that he was a better hunter than she. For his impudence she turned him into a stag, and his hounds turned on him and killed him. What Churchill is implying with this allusion is that if Hitler does not constantly lead his allies and soldiers to victory, they will eventually turn against him, taking his power for themselves. Later Churchill says, "...the American people can wash their hands of the whole business" (Churchill). This allusion is to the story of Pontius Pilate and Jesus, how the Prefect Pilate washed his hands in a basin of water as a physical sign that he was going to have nothing to do with Jesus' fate. Both of these instances bring strongly to mind stories of brutal death and betrayal, which add to the emotion felt by the audience.
Another device that Churchill makes excellent use of in this speech is the rhetorical question. When he uses this device, the questions cause his audience to think about the answer, which leads the people to consider more thoroughly what the consequences are. "Has any benefit or progress ever been achieved by the human race by submission to organised and calculated violence?" asks Churchill (Churchill). Of course, he is not searching for an answer but for comprehension from his audience. In this question, he is asking the people to remember a time in history that any benefit came from succumbing to violence and over-lording from characters like Hitler. If his audience could think of an instance where there was benefit, then Churchill's argument would not be as strong. However, no one remembers progress and good that ever was the product of submission to brute force. In the last paragraph of his speech, Churchill asks of the people, "Is this a call to war? Does anyone pretend that preparation for resistance to aggression is unleashing war?" (Churchill). Here he asks if his audience believes he is calling them to war. Is calling America and Britain to arm in defense against Hitler asking them to fight? No, Winston Churchill is not asking these countries to go to war, but instead he asks them to defend themselves and their allies against the threat of the Nazis. Hence, his question about unleashing war is asking his audience to remember that they are not attacking Hitler, only preparing to fend him off. In "The Defence of Freedom and Peace" there are many more rhetorical questions, each, like the two above, inciting thought, understanding, and agreement from listeners.
Churchill also makes admirable use of imagery in this speech. Actually, one might make the conjecture that Winston Churchill's use of this rhetorical device is to frighten his audience. For an example, the speaker makes the statement, "It [Czechoslovakia] is now being digested" (Churchill). What a frightening image! The Nazi force has devoured and is digesting that country, absorbing the land and the people into the German rule. It creates an image of a formidable beast that has eaten the small country, which will soon be completely gone. Indeed, this statement displays how the Nazi forces are really starving for power, devouring whatever they can. Later in his speech, Churchill says "It is not a new theme; it leaps out upon us from the Dark Ages" (Churchill). Referring to the "racial persecution, religious intolerance, deprivation of free speech, the conception of the citizen as a mere soulless fraction of the State," the mention of the Dark Ages reminds the audience of that time when life and government were poor, overrun with tyranny and confusion. Such a memory causes the people to become frightened that times may take a turn for the worst again, returning to those years of pain and no new ideas.
If he employs rhetorical question, allusion, and imagery well, Sir Winston Churchill utilizes the tricolon superbly. Both parallel and forceful, each use of the tricolon emphasizes the points Churchill makes. A compelling example is in the sentence "It has been deserted, destroyed, and devoured." Alongside alliteration in this instance, the group of three violent, frightening words emphasizes the terror and dismal fate of Czechoslovakia and causes the audience to imagine what it would be like to be deserted, destroyed, and devoured. Churchill speaks of the Nazis' need to take over more and more of the world around them, and what they do have will never be enough, so he says. "...they must seek... a new target, a new prize, a new victim" (Churchill). Hitler and his mercenaries are pushing forward, searching for something more to arrogate again and again. There must be more that is different. The repetition of the word "new" highlights the necessity to possess more. Both examples from his speech underscore the seriousness of the situation with repetition of three parallel ideas that impress upon the audience the direness of the situation.
Among all of the famous orators in history, one man who deserves to be remembered well is Sir Winston Churchill. His excellent use of rhetorical devices in his speeches, especially in "The Defence of Freedom and Peace", is inspiring and thought-stimulating to his audience. Whether using the rhetorical question or the allusion or some other device, Churchill employs it in ways that are persuasive and relatable. His speech is plain in that no unnecessarily large or obscure words are used, but his use of literary devices add beauty and elegance to the message Churchill is attempting to relay. Yet his use of rhetoric is strong, calling forth great emotions and resolve to see Hitler destroyed like Actaeon and to resist digestion by the Nazi beast that seized and devoured Czechoslovakia. It is, in fact, Churchill's brilliant employment of rhetorical devices that make his speeches inspiring and worth remembering years after the memorable man's death.
Churchill, Sir Winston. "The Defence of Freedom and Peace." London. 16 Oct. 1938. Speech. learn/speeches/speeches-of-winston-churchill/524-the-defence-of-freedom-and-peace