UB op-ed: Westminster College, celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall

By: | Issue: July, 2019
July 10, 2019

I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be: for without victory there is no survival.
–Winston Churchill, First speech as Prime Minister, House of Commons, May 13, 1940.

James E. Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance and Senior Partner in the law firm of Samels Associates.

On a bright spring day, we visit the Churchill Museum in Fulton, Missouri, on the campus of Westminster College. In the immortal words of Yogi Berra, It feels like déjà vu all over again when reminded that 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 75th anniversary of the D-Day Landings and the Battle of Normandy.

For serious scholars of Winston Churchill, there is Westminster College home of the National Churchill Museum recognized by U.S. Congress as America’s permanent tribute to this great man. Through innovative programming and advanced technology, the Museum brings to life the story of Winston Churchill and the world he knew.

Churchill’s granddaughter announced the dedication of her timeless Breakthrough sculpture on the Westminster campus with: “Fulton, Missouri was good enough for my grandfather and that’s why it’s very, very good for me to bring this sculpture here.”

This artistic collage of history made from eight sections of the Berlin Wall reminds the Westminster College Community that the spirit and inspiration of Winston Churchill still beats proudly in the heart of Westminster College and Churchill Museum.

Because of Winston Churchill’s connection to Fulton and the Churchill Museum, historic leaders from all over the world have visited the Westminster Campus including Churchill himself, President Truman in 1946 and President Reagan in 1990. President John F. Kennedy was the first honorary chair of the National Churchill Museum.

Few have given more to contemporary democracies than Winston Churchill who stood steadfast in Britain’s darkest hours and whose voice inspired countless worldwide to hold on to hope and keep fighting.

Winston Churchill was typically the “man in the arena” on many fronts: war and peace, decolonization, and the welfare state. How he dealt with them remains a shining example to world leaders today.

The affinity between Churchill and Westminster is indeed historic. It was at Westminster College in 1946 that Winston Churchill gave his seminal speech heard round the world, “The Sinews of Peace” popularly known as the Iron Curtain Speech which warned of a new age of repression. Churchill’s prescient message predicted the rise of the Iron Curtain and the restrictions on immigration from Germany. “A shadow has fallen upon the scenes so lately lighted by the Allied victory….. From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.”

How apropos that in a time in which some leaders want to erect new walls to constrain immigration, Churchill stood tall among world leaders in World War II.

A world without walls

In a further twist of irony, President Ronald Reagan stood alongside Churchill’s granddaughter, Edwina Sandys, when he spoke on the Westminster campus to dedicate the Breakthrough sculpture. Reagan spoke of the courage of the people who had lived behind the wall for so long and the challenge the world now faced in supporting the growth of democracy in the former Soviet bloc.

Reagan spoke of his dream of a world without walls: “Maybe, one day, boundaries all of over the earth will disappear, as people cross boundaries and find out find out that, yes, there is a brotherhood of man”.

Not surprisingly, Russian historians date the Cold War from Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech. What most people don’t know is that Churchill was introduced by President Harry S. Truman and opened this speech with: “I am glad to come to Westminster College this afternoon, and am complimented that you should give me a degree.”

All around him, Churchill witnessed the capitulation of Western and Eastern European countries – surrendering to the Nazism that fueled combat tanks and Luftwaffe, creating the conditions that led to the Holocaust and endangering the free world.

Beyond the Nazi conquest of Britain’s key allies, history tells us that Churchill faced the defection of the British cabinet – some desperately hoping Churchill would cave in. Instead, Churchill conveyed a clarion call to rally the troops: “Never give in, never, never, never.”

The life of Winston Churchill serves as a critical example for our times, reminding us that vision and courage can triumph over seemingly impossible odds.

Virtually everyone agrees that Churchill first faced a perfect storm from combined threats of the Nazis, lack of political valor within the British cabinet; and the successive fall of one after another of its allies – a deadly combination with catastrophic outcomes.

Yet today, Churchill’s wisdom offers American Higher Education the values of resilience, persistence, and devotion to victory. Small, tuition dependent, and private liberal arts colleges can no longer take institutional perpetuity for granted given the daunting clouds of increased competition, decline in traditional age undergraduate students, and the spiraling costs of providing quality instruction.

Core values

In 1909, Westminster faced destruction by fire of Westminster Hall. Yet through the Great Depression, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and 9/11, Westminster has endured, providing an intellectual, historical, and cultural venue for showcasing the good works and teachings of Winston Churchill.

At Westminster, the remaining columns from Westminster Hall still provide a gateway for entering freshman and an exit path for graduating seniors. This ceremony symbolizes Westminster’s dedication to tradition, history, scholarship, loyalty and friendship, citizenship, service and honor — the core values that Churchill cherished and that Westminster College still celebrates today through its “seven skulls”.

The life of Winston Churchill serves as a critical example for our times, reminding us that vision and courage can triumph over seemingly impossible odds. Westminster President Fletch Lamkin has spoken eloquently about the College’s continuing commitment to the Museum’s outreach efforts ensuring that Churchill’s vital legacy will live on. In a speech given fifteen years ago, President Lamkin put it nicely this way:

Westminster College will forever be identified with one of the greatest statesmen of all time, Sir Winston Churchill. Today Churchill’s legacy is very much alive at Westminster College. His words of wisdom, his character, his leadership, the values that he fought for on a global level are as relevant today as they were in 1946 when in this very gymnasium he delivered his famous Iron Curtain address. This speech he believed was the most significant address he ever gave.

James E. Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance and Senior Partner in the law firm of Samels Associates, Attorneys at Law