Quotes for the times
KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson (The Philippine Star) - January 29, 2018 - 12:00am

Oscar awards contender Darkest Hour should guarantee a trophy for Best Actor for Gary Oldman. Indeed, it’s his remarkable performance as Winston Churchill that can contend for honors. Oldman/Churchill’s ringing oratory proves most enjoyable. It should also provide historical inspiration for any generation facing challenges and long-term struggle.

We’ve long associated Churchill with the phrase “blood, sweat and tears,” but in the first of three classic speeches he delivered before the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, on May 13, 1940, it was actually a variation that he used to rally a nation with his resolve even as Europe had largely fallen to Nazi troops.

He had just replaced Neville Chamberlain, whose apparent policy of appeasement led to the turnover. Churchill saw Hitler as a menace not only to his country but the rest of the world. Thus, he uttered: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.”

He had previously employed similar phrases, such as “Their sweat, their tears, their blood” and “new structures of national life erected upon blood, sweat, and tears.” These have since been appreciated as a paraphrase of Guiseppi Garibaldi’s rallying cry to revolutionary forces in Rome nearly a century earlier, in 1849: “I offer hunger, thirst, forced marches, battle, and death.” Churchill had once considered writing Garibaldi’s biography. 

In 1897, Theodore Roosevelt had spoken of his nation’s previous triumphs “because of the blood and sweat and tears, the labor and the anguish,” so that other scholars have referred to Churchill’s favored phrase as a direct quotation from Roosevelt, a military historian whose speeches Churchill must have read.

At any rate, in that first speech as PM, Churchill vowed “to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime.”

Three weeks later, he gained Parliament’s (and his country’s) approval of his determination to resist Hitler when he followed up with more “fighting” words: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…!”

Other memorable snippets of dialogue include the oppositor Viscount Halifax’s grudging acknowledgment: “He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.” And Churchill’s one-line repartee against appeasement: “You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth.”

The third historic “This was their finest hour” speech was omitted. After all, the film had dwelled on the “darkest hour.” But suffice it to conclude this paean to Churchill with yet another quote that speaks to our time, here in what may presently gain inclusion in a list of “s**thole countries”: “Success is not fixed. Failure is not fatal. It’s the courage to continue that counts.” 

Last week, we grieved over the demise of beloved author Ursula K. Le Guin. She too provides providential quotes amid the division in the ranks among our own writers.

One of her more popular short stories, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” imagines a place and a people where there is no king, no soldiers, no slaves, just general happiness. She writes:

“They were not less complex than us. The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain. If you can’t lick ’em, join ’em. If it hurts, repeat it. But to praise despair is to condemn delight, to embrace violence is to lose hold of everything else. We have almost lost hold; we can no longer describe a happy man, nor make any celebration of joy.”

But there is one child who suffers in a prison, and all the overwhelmingly positive aspects of life in Omelas appear to “depend wholly on this child’s abominable misery.”

Everyone knows of this child’s existence, but “To exchange all the goodness and grace of every life in Omelas for that single, small improvement: to throw away the happiness of thousands for the chance of the happiness of one: that would be to let guilt within the walls indeed.” And yet some choose departure from this veritable paradise.

“They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.”

From another Le Guin story, “The Word for World is Forest,” here’s a final quote that’s also relevant for our times: 

“Once you have learned to do your dreaming, to balance your sanity not on the razor’s edge of reason but on the double support, the fine balance, of reason and dream; once you’ve learned that, you cannot unlearn it any more than you can unlearn to think.”

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