History: Great Speeches of the 20th Century

First, I apologize (well, not really) for inflicting my geekiness onto any unsuspecting reader. 

Second, my reference for this post -yes, I have a reference– is “The Penguin Book of Twentieth-Century Speeches”, edited by Brian MacArthur.

Third, my almost-excuse is the fact that I wrote all of this down in my journal last March 2012. To be clearer: I was in the library for THREE hours. I can’t really remember why. 


My handwriting (yes, I wrote all of these down) is not exactly reliable. I can’t be pushed to find online transcripts, so I apologize for any misquotes. Especially on Hitler’s speeches. The brackets are mine and my confusion’s. 

Joseph Stalin, Moscow, 4 Feb 1931

“Such is the law of the exploiters – to beat the backward and the weak. It is the jungle law of capitalism. You are backward, you are weak – therefore you are wrong; hence you can be beaten and enslaved. You are mighty – therefore you are right; hence we must be wary of you. 

That is why we must no longer lag behind”

“Either we do it, or they crush us.”

Adolf Hitler, Dusseldorf, 27 Jan 1932

“But I came to realize that if a beginning was not made with the smallest cell, if a new body-politic was not thus formed within the nation, a body-politics which could overcome the existing ‘ferments of decomposition’, then the nation itself as a whole would never rise again.

Every idea must draw men to itself. Every idea must step out before the nation, must win from the nation the fighters whom it needs, and must tread alone the difficult way with all its necessary consequences that it may one day gain the strength to turn the course of destiny. 

Today the movement cannot be destroyed… Here is an organization which is filled with an indomitable aggressive spirit… “

He spoke of how democracy and internationalism must be “overcome”, inspired by national sentiment. He spoke of “absolute authority in the leadership in all spheres, at all stages”, and maintained that he did not ask for votes, but rather only expounded on a view. He sought to bring people back to the sphere of truth, of an ideal “intolerant of anyone who [saw] against the nation and its interests,… and yet ready for friendships and peace with anyone who has a wish for peace and friendship.”

Adolf Hitler, Berlin, 26 September 1938

“My patience is now at an end…

The decision now lies in his hands: Peace or War.”

Winston Churchill, BBC Radio, 19 May 1940

“…to rescue not only Europe but mankind from the foulest and most soul-destroying tyranny which has every darkened and stained the pages of history. …the long night of barbarism will descend, unbroken even by a star of hope, unless we conquer, as conquer we must; as conquer we shall. 

Arm yourselves, and be ye men of valour…”


It’s like I can’t get enough of writing papers. Woohoo, it’s summer!

I’ve read more than just those four speeches (though obviously not the whole book; that would have been extremely ambitious for a three-hour stint), but they were the ones I took note of. The three speakers bear names which will remain in history books and the general conscience of people for a very long time –and for vastly different reasons. 

      After reading these speeches (and recalling a previous writing assignment I had on JFK’s memorable inauguration speech), I researched (yes) on the qualities that distinguish a speech. Several rhetorical analyses (and this is on JFK’s inaugural address) point to many techniques: antithesis (“United there is little we cannot do… Divided there is little we can do”), parallelism, metaphor (“the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans”), alliteration and so on. But while the excerpts, and the speeches they originate as a whole, do have these elements (“the long night of barbarism will descend…”; “You are backward, you are weak -therefore you are wrong; hence…”), their popularity stems from more influential factors. 

      The atmosphere of that time, for one thing, would have made the audiences willing listeners. I’m not brilliant in WWII history (if I remember correctly, we barely touched it in class), but I suppose the recession, the previous war and the general xenophobia lent credence to the first two speakers. The imminent threat, or rather beginning, of a new war and of weapons of mass destruction, coupled with depression and death strengthened Churchill’s first radio broadcast. But the speakers themselves –I am sure of it, though I have not watched or heard any rendition– must have said the words with great passion (for even in paper the words were full of life). It was noted the Adolf Hitler received a standing ovation for his speech in Dusseldorf (and how interesting that speech’s difference is to the one that followed). But the 1938 speech was also well-received. By that time, majority of the Germans on Hitler’s side (if I’m not mistaken) were even more hostile against Britain and its then PM. Even Stalin’s earlier speech is ageless. It bore sentiments that existed after and still exists in Russia. 

:) Updated Wish List!

 These two things are now officially off the mark: 

Moleskin Book Journal What I want the most :) – 1299

The 101 most influential people who never lived by Lazar, Karlan & Salter (harper) – 579

The first one is too expensive, and I realized I keep a pretty good book journal here on wordpress. The second one, according to reviews on goodreads, is bloody boring. So, no. 

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