Never give in

“…never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

Churchill, Speeches: Never Give In, Never 29 Oct 1941

Winston Churchill is famous for many things. He was a master with words and is the source for so many inspirational quotes. And now his quotable turns of phrase are everywhere as pictures with inspirational quotes. One speech that Churchill is famous for is “never give in”. The first part of this quote has come to be used by various business and entrepreneurship gurus to encourage people to continue in their efforts. But I think the backdrop and context of this talk are worth knowing.

But first some background on Churchill. He is nowadays often considered to be a controversial figure, and many refer to his “crimes” (or sometimes the softer term “controversies” is used), as exemplified by this 1937 quote:

“I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.”*

However, his role in leading Britain during World War 2 and his stirring words during that time remain a great achievement. He was born of a very different age, born in the Edwardian age to Victorian parents, and he was very much a product of his times. He was the product of an empire upon which the sun never set and conducted himself as one who was born to rule. His family were rich and aristocratic and his schooling, first at Harrow then in the military, merely reinforced his attitudes.

It was spoken in a speech given at his old school, Harrow, in 1941 and against a backdrop of the dark days of World War 2. Harrow is a prestigious boys school in England that has produced seven British Prime Ministers and one Indian Prime Minister, and many prominent politicians and business leaders.

He speaks to the School, about how, when he had last visited with them, Britain had stood alone against the might of the Nazi regime: “when I was here last time we were quite alone, desperately alone, and we had been so for five or six months. We were poorly armed.” In those days, a mere ten months earlier, it had not been certain that Britain would be able to stand alone. But as Churchill said “You cannot tell from appearances how things will go. Sometimes imagination makes things out far worse than they are; yet without imagination not much can be done.”

But as with many things folks often to do look at the entire quotation. Because I often think that the latter part, which is so rarely quoted, is important too. We too often do not consider “convictions of honour and good sense” and we almost certainly rarely need to consider the last part “Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” And then he goes on to note: “We stood all alone a year ago, and to many countries it seemed that our account was closed, we were finished. All this tradition of ours, our songs, our School history, this part of the history of this country, were gone and finished and liquidated.”

They remain stirring words, given in a time of great peril for the British people. It reminds me so much of the brave Ukrainians standing firm, alone and resolute against the might of Russia.

And I think it is interesting to put these words “never give in” into their context and understand the full speech a little better.

* Attar, S. (2010). Debunking the Myths of Colonization: The Arabs and Europe. University Press of America.