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The Winston Churchill Lecture Series with The Rt Hon. the Lord Soames of Fletching

Date & Time

May. 22, 2024
1:30pm – 2:30pm ET


Online Only


The Wilson Center has established “The Winston Churchill Lecture Series,” a high-level annual lecture series with the help of Baroness Catherine Ashton, which will launch in May 2024 with a public event featuring Lord Nicholas Soames. He is a grandson of former UK Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill and this year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Churchill. Lord Soames was also a Member of Parliament from 1983 to 2019. He was appointed a Life Peer and is a member of the International Relations and Defence Committee of the House of Lords. 

Serving during a critical part of UK and European history, Baroness Ashton brings both historical perspective and current foreign policy expertise. Blending the Wilson Center’s role as a forum for balanced discussion, while also offering critical historical perspective, this series is made up of an annual lecture featuring world leaders on foreign policy issues of historic importance.

This event is online only.

Event Transcript

  • This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

    Robin Quinville: Good afternoon and welcome to the Wilson Center. We are congressionally chartered as a living memorial to former president Woodrow Wilson, and that makes us congressionally chartered, scholarship-driven, and fiercely nonpartisan. 

    I'm Robin Quinville and I'm director of the Global Europe Program here at the Woodrow Wilson Center, where we are focused on the global challenges that Europe faces and the capabilities it brings to solving them. We are transatlantic partners, but also on both sides of the Atlantic, global leaders, and leadership is the theme of this series. 

    To introduce this series, I am going to bring Ambassador Phil Reeker to the podium. Phil is the chair of our Global Europe program in addition to his work at Albright Stonebridge Group. Many of us know him through his stellar diplomatic career. Phil and I served together in Baghdad. He left that war zone to become Ambassador to North Macedonia, but he was then later the civilian Deputy to the commander of European command. In Stuttgart he was our acting assistant secretary for European Affairs and, important for this event, he was our interim ambassador to the United Kingdom from 2021 to 2022, which was a very critical time in our relationship. We feel very lucky to have him here as the chair of our program here at the Wilson Center and we are also lucky to have him here today to launch this inaugural series. So, Phil the floor is yours.

    Amb. Phil Reeker: Well, thank you Robin, it's always a pleasure to follow you at the lectern as fearless director of our Global Europe program. It's an honor to continue working with you in this post-Foreign Service era, and particularly here at the Wilson Center where we have the incredible leadership of Ambassador Mark Green. It's a great honor to join him here on the stage today to help launch the Winston Churchill lecture series and initiative. 

    Since its establishment as a living monument to President Woodrow Wilson, the Wilson Center has played a special role in current foreign policy while also featuring a deep body of historical analysis. We draw lessons from global leaders, from Woodrow Wilson to Winston Churchill, and so we have no better guest than Lord Soames himself—the grandson of the great Winston Churchill—and I'm reminded of my time in London as the interim Ambassador. I sat at the ambassador's desk in our Embassy, and even though we've moved the embassy from Grover Square to Nine Elms above the ambassador's desk is a great portrait of Winston Churchill still there symbolizing in a room that also has a portrait of General Eisenhower that important link and what we accomplished together. 

    I think the most moving moment of my time in the United Kingdom was on September 11th, 2021, when the Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps called on me at the embassy to say that her majesty the late Queen Elizabeth II had commanded that the orchestra would play the Star Spangled Banner at The Changing of the Guard at Windsor Castle, and she had requested that I be present at that ceremony to take the salute. Now I always joke that one of my staff said, “oh, it's too bad you have something else on that day we worked out that scheduling snafu” and as my dear friend Baroness Ashton knows, I was able to go to Windsor that day and never before have I felt such a feeling of the special relationship. 

    Some people step back from that term, “the special relationship,” as it sounds corny in the 21st century. But indeed, it is special, it is unique, and I think Winston Churchill understood that better than anyone. 

    I was recently at Blair House, the president's guest house not that far from here. An apocryphal story was told that the Blair House became the official presidential guest house at the urging of one first lady who tired of a frequent visitor to the White House, who had a habit of keeping the president awake late at night and indeed waking him early in the morning with new thoughts at 3 and 4 in the morning and, beyond that, smoked cigars. Now I don't know if that's really a true story of Blair House, but indeed it reminds us of someone who was a frequent visitor to Washington. 

    We're delighted to have with us Lord Nicholas Soames of Fletching, who served as a member of parliament from 1983 to 2019. He was minister of State for the armed forces from 1994 to 1997 in the government of prime minister John Major, and many don't know that in 1970, Lord Soames was appointed equerry to the Prince of Wales—now his majesty King Charles III.

    There is a wonderful story, an anecdote that I asked Lord Soames if I could relay to this audience, and I think it captures so well this moment and the relationship between grandfather and grandson. You know around 1953, when Lord Soames was five, he didn't know how important his grandfather was until someone told him, so he walked up to the old man's bedroom, managed to get past the valets and the secretaries, and found him sitting up in bed. “Is it true, Grandpapa, that you are the greatest man in the world?” he asked. “Yes, I am,” said Churchill, “now bugger off.”

    It reminds me a little of my own grandfather, although not the greatest man in the world, to me he certainly was, and he himself was a first-generation German immigrant. His parents had come from Germany and he fought as a naval officer in World War II.

    One of the greatest things my grandfather bequeathed to me was his original copy of General Dwight Eisenhower's D-Day message, which was given to him as they prepared to land at Normandy. Now we're just two weeks away from the 80th anniversary of that event, and on that day an order was issued by General Eisenhower to encourage the Allied soldiers taking part in the D-Day invasion. By May of 1944 there were almost 3 million Allied troops amassed in Southern England. The largest Armada in history made up of more than 4,000 American and British ships lay in wait and more than 1,200 planes stood ready that afternoon. Before the invasion was launched, General Eisenhower scribbled a note intended for release accepting responsibility for the decision to launch and full blame should the effort to create a beach head in Normandy fail. The order was then distributed to the 175,000-member expeditionary force on the eve of invasion and I'll just read a few lines from that: 

    “You are about to embark upon the great crusade toward which we have striven these many months,” wrote Eisenhower. “The eyes of the world are upon you. Your task will not be an easy one: your enemy is well trained, well equipped, and battle hardened. He will fight savagely. But this is the year 1944. Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940 and 41. The united nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats in open battle, man to man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our home fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons munitions of war and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned. The free of the world are marching together to victory, and I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory. Good luck and let us beseech the blessing of almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”

    Those are wise words for all time. This is the year 2024, and I'm very honored and proud to give you Lord Nicholas Soames. Thank you.

    Lord Nicholas Soames: Thank you, Phil, very much indeed. Before I start, ladies and gentlemen, I cannot tell you how humbled I am to be invited by the Wilson Center to be here today and to particularly thank my great friend Cathy Ashton, who introduced me to the Wilson Center when they were on a trip to London. I think it's incredibly generous and kind of you to have arranged such a wonderful program for me. 

    I can't pretend that I've been to anywhere in the last several years where I've heard so much good sense taught by so many good people, and it's been a tremendous honor and a great pleasure. I think the work that the Wilson Center does is irreplaceable, and I'm very proud to be here. But before I start, Mark, can I present to you a small gift to thank you for everything that you've done? And for your kindness and support to me and your reverence for my grandfather, thank you Mark very much indeed.

    I've had a little bit of a sort of internal tussle with myself about how long I should speak today because I've had so many different words of advice. I'm all for going short, and then I think I ought to go long, and then I see people drifting off and I realize it's better to go short. But I always, when I speak on these occasions, I always start by telling an absolutely true story about Churchill—of the many untrue stories, this is a true story. In 1953, President Eisenhower and Churchill held a summit in Bermuda to celebrate the Anglo-American relationship and Alliance. And General Eisenhower, not being a selfish man, wanted someone else to propose [a toast to] Churchill's health at the dinner that was to follow. And so, he had a tremendous search around the place to try and find someone appropriate, and there was a great rough in the administrations who should do it. Eventually his eyes settled on the senior ranking Republican senator, 85-86 years old, very distinguished man—his one failing was that he never spoke for less than an hour and a half. So, Ike had him into the Oval Office and said, “you will propose a toast to Churchill's health on this occasion,” and he said he would, “but you may speak for five minutes.” 

    And so, the great evening came at the Princess Elizabeth Hotel in Bermuda. Warm sea, cold beach, lovely moon, too much wine, too much Brandy, too much Anglo-American loving. And the Senator rose to speak, and he chose as the subject for his speech the word “Yale” which was the university at which he had been educated. He said that Yale stood for youth, ambition, life, and enterprise. He gave 10 minutes on each subject and five minutes on what a very good man Churchill was. As he sat down, a very loud American voice in the back of the room shouted, “well thank God he didn't go to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology!” So, all my life I've had this dreadful sword of Damocles hanging over my head—you're in for a cool 50 minutes today. 

    I would like to start with Mark in thanking you and all your staff, and particularly Nora who has undertaken all these unbelievable administrative tasks with such grace and good humor. And to all the people who've given of their time, I am very, very grateful. I am, of course, deeply honored to be giving the first Winston Churchill lecture under the brilliant patronage of the Wilson Center, at an extraordinarily important time in a world that looks every day more dangerous and the course of events more uncertain.

    We are in probably the most strategically complex and strategically confusing environment since 1930. The days of the Cold War seem almost predictable. And this, of itself and in itself, is a prime reason to ensure that the transatlantic relationship is in good shape and fit for purpose. The essential architecture of the transatlantic relationship was constructed upon the relationship established between Churchill and Roosevelt. This was carried forward by President Truman and Mr. Attlee, whose relationship was equally important, but made easier by the pioneering work done by their predecessors. The fact is that nations conduct their international policies to promote and protect their own interests, but the stark lesson of history is that competition between nations along the 19th century model only produces war and economic situations of dislocation. 

    When we consider the nature of the transatlantic relationship, we should remind ourselves that the that the histories are full of alliances which meet a particular need at a particular time and are often dissolved as soon as the need is gone. Britain's history is rich in such alliances. Britain has in its long history fought against the Spanish and with the Spanish, against the Dutch and with the Dutch, against the Americans and alongside the Germans, against the Americans and alongside the Americans. Indeed, our kings came from Hanover and Wellington and fought alongside the Prussians against Napoleon. And perhaps, this underscores how often history makes for strange bedfellows—unlikely people who are thrown into situations not of their choosing but as circumstances dictate. Alliances, however, only mature

    into a deserving and enduring relationship through a much wider and deeper process than mere geopolitical calculations.

    Winston Churchill possessed many attributes which made him exactly the right person to reach across the Atlantic in 1940 to FDR. Churchill was a great student of history and his intuitive grasp of the importance of this relationship, at this moment in our two countries histories, was informed by his study of great events and of the men who shaped them. He once said that the further back in history you go, the better you will be in your understanding of the present—a very prescient thought for our own current times. 

    He was, of course, a politician to his fingertips and traveled widely and extensively in the United States, having immense affection and regard for this country and its great qualities. He first visited America in 1895 under the auspices of a great Irish American Congressman Burke Cochran. He well understood the forces that would be on Roosevelt's side of the relationship. He also had the great benefit of an American mother: the remarkable, graceful, and very beautiful, Miss Jenny Jerome of Brooklyn New York, my great grandmother through whom, incidentally, he had not only American but revolutionary blood in his veins, which thus further helped him to understand the perspective from the other side of the fence.

    However, the circumstances surrounding the forging of this relationship were not propitious. America felt that it had done

    its part to restore order in the Old World by sending men to fight and die in the First World War. All of this Churchill understood. He'd been in and out of government during and after the First World War and he'd seen the peacekeeping from his own viewpoint. He had also traveled very widely in America whilst out of office. Roosevelt, for his part, also understood the significance of the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939. He had been Secretary of the Navy in Wilson's administration. He knew that matters in Europe would not be settled without some measure of involvement by the United States. But he also knew that there was considerable opposition to America committing force.

    Roosevelt knew he could not win a third term by advocating for American involvement in a European war. Instead, he sought out every avenue short of war operations likely to render assistance. The secret correspondence between Churchill and FDR, utterly fascinating reading for those of you that get a chance to see it, began as soon as my grandfather was recalled to the government as first Lord of the Admiralty in the autumn of 1939. This correspondence between the two former Naval persons (as they called themselves in the codes) enabled them to develop the sort of back channel which so often helps to shape great events and indeed remains so essential in today's world

    The attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 changed everything. It brought America into the war against the Axis Powers, but it also posed a problem for Churchill. The very reason why he hoped that America would enter the war, with her superiority in men and material, became the thing which changed the nature of the relationship. Instead of being a clandestine partner, America suddenly became the overwhelming and majority shareholder in the partnership. This might have soured the fledgling Alliance but for the efforts made by two great men to ensure that it did not.

    A study of the 1940s, and this is relevant today, shows us that no alliance and no institution, however noble its origins, can prosper without overcoming the tendencies of human nature and national pride. A proud imperial and colonial power, Great Britain, had to come to terms with its new status as a lesser power. Churchill knew this. The isolationist republic had to step up to its responsibilities and assume a world leadership role. Roosevelt knew this. The foundation of the landscape of the post 1945 world was shaped largely by the relationship of these two remarkable men who truly understood each other and knew what they could ask of each other and their countries and of what they could ask, ultimately, of their own people.

    The death of Roosevelt at the very point of victory and the political defeat of Churchill at the hands of the British electorate did not, of course, end the transatlantic relationship. The job was not yet complete and fresh events proposed new challenges. 

    America, for its part, had learned the lesson of the First World War period and decided to continue its involvement in the restoration of Europe. Wise Americans saw it was not only the political instability which would result from hunger and economic ruin, but also the rise of an aggressive Soviet communism, fully bent on expansionism if possible.

    Now we all know that any relationship has its high points and its low points. The Suez debacle in 1956 led to serious repercussions both at home and abroad. But it was [the] President Kennedy and Harold McMillan relationship which restored matters to an even keel. McMillan well understood the changing nature of events. He also understood the implications for Britain of the economic resurgence of Europe, resulting from the unbelievable generosity of the Marshall aid program and the considerable success of the security provided by NATO.

    The relationships forged across the Atlantic by the shared need to defend democracy against fascism now became an alliance once again united in the face of a different threat. We tend to speak now of the Cold War as a long series of lesser instances, but we forget that it began with a series of potentially explosive events.

    The Berlin blockade and the Korean War propelled the Allies into a new manner of urgent cooperation. Under Clement Attlee and Harry Truman, the successors to Churchill and Roosevelt, the practice of cooperation and coordination developed during the period from 1941 to 1945 by their various military diplomatic and governmental agencies continued. It was based on a shared need and on shared values. This new alliance became formalized into the Atlantic Alliance of 1949, which gave birth to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—one of the most successful, effective, and enduring alliances. 

    With the advent of NATO, America committed itself to the permanent station of its forces in Europe. The military stability this brought to the continent of Europe meant that, for the first time in its history, former rivals were bound together in such a way as to make war between them unthinkable—something we tend to forget and to greatly undervalue. And more importantly, it bound the Western European democracies together against the threat from across, what Churchill so memorably described as, the Iron Curtain.

    And then came really a golden age in the transatlantic relationship and here again we see two different characters shaping the future of the relationship. John F. Kennedy was old enough to have served in the Second World War, but in his great inaugural speech, he spoke of the torch being passed to a new generation tempered by a hard and bitter peace. From his own experience, he understood how the world had been shaped and the need to face down communism. McMillan, the last Edwardian as he's often been described, and Kennedy formed an unlikely pair, but they wholly understood each other and where their countries were going.

    The world had indeed become an increasingly dangerous place. The Cuban Missile Crisis underlined this point, just in case anyone had been in doubt. The creation of the Berlin Wall seemed to signify the potential for a European flash point to have the gravest political and military consequences. And in this fevered atmosphere, McMillan was able to achieve the Nassau agreement with President Kennedy, resulting in the sharing of nuclear expertise—a treaty of the first importance which survives today.

    But to many students of the Anglo-American relationship, the Thatcher-Reagan Era was the rekindling of the substance of the transatlantic relationship. Their ideological beliefs were both similar. Both had an intuitive gift that is given rarely to statesman to see beyond the squares of the chessboard and sense the shifting tenor of their times. Reagan instinctively knew that Soviet communism was an empty vessel. He knew that the only reason the regime remained in place, in the face of increasing descent, was by repression. He sensed that there was an opportunity to face down the Soviets through the technological lead that America had developed during the 1970s. He knew that America needed to be economically strong enough to undertake this task and that this required hard decisions, but he was right.

    Margaret Thatcher held entirely similar beliefs. She also knew that the Soviet regime was changing. The value of the closeness of the Thatcher-Reagan relationship was shown by the issue of the deployment of land-based cruise missiles in Britain to counter the Warsaw Pact short range SS20 missile. The Soviet gamble failed, negotiation was backed by resolution, and Gorbachev realized that matters had to change. The end of the Warsaw Pact could not have happened without the vision of Ronald Reagan and the unswerving support of Margaret Thatcher and undoubtedly the magnificent faith, resolve, and courage of the Polish Pope.

    But what September the 11th and the events consequent to it ultimately showed is that the underlying conflict that our nations have to deal with is still between democracy and tyranny. Nazism was replaced by communism. Hitler was replaced by Stalin. The Blitzkrieg was replaced by the nuclear stalemate of the Cold War. Al Qaeda was and is as much a tyranny as the Nazis ever were. They do not proclaim freedom; they glorify in death.

    Under President Obama, the transatlantic relationship flourished, albeit with the odd hiccup. President Trump appeared to have his own unique ideas about the management of the relationship, but on one thing I believe he was absolutely right – that the European partners in NATO do, indeed, need to make a much greater contribution to their own defense. President Biden, vastly experienced operator, has again done a great deal with the Atlantic Alliance. And now we find ourselves working together to save Ukraine from the vile clutches of Russia, and to try to make our way through the horrors of Israel and Palestine.

    Ladies and gentlemen, the future of the transatlantic relationship is dependent on those who come after the current generation of political evils and the events that will shape them. It also depends on the value ascribed to this relationship by each party. Europe has again found its freedom, thanks in large part to the security and prosperity it enjoyed after 1945 and after the fall of the Berlin Wall. These are the fruits of the Marshall Plan, the Atlantic Alliance, and of America's heroic commitment to Europe's stability, as well as the success of the European Union. However much we may argue back and forth across the Atlantic about Ukraine and the Middle East, or the best way to deal with Iran, the democratic nations need to remain constant in the vigilance of their values.

    We should remember those who struggle to give us the privileges which we enjoy today, and whatever our political views, we can all agree on the merits of democracy. The experience of those European countries that emerged from communist rule in 1989 is particularly telling. The lives of ordinary people were hemmed about by the daily pettiness of a tyranny which invaded every aspect of their lives, and whatever else we teach our children, we should teach them to treasure their values and to understand and grasp their sense and their importance. We should also remind them of their history and its meaning in their lives. This will help to equip them to face the new challenges of tomorrow. As Churchill said, “let us not start a quarrel between the past and the present or we risk losing the future.”

    These relationships, which have sometimes dominated and driven the transatlantic Alliance, have left us in 2024 the indispensable and invaluable partnership for prosperity, for peace, and freedom. One of Churchill’s greatest sayings and most sensible pieces of advice was to keep your friendships in good repair, and we should follow that advice. So, it seems a good moment, given the tremendous difficulties that surround us, to remember Winston Churchill's absolute devotion to the Anglo-American relationship, and how right he was to see its profound importance to both America and to Britain, through thick and thin. To this end, I salute the work of the Wilson Center that does so much in that cause.

    I can't conclude without saying a few words particularly about my grandfather. Winston Churchill was well described as being half American but wholly British. Through his mother, my maternal great grandmother, the wonderful Jenny Jerome, he had American and, indeed, revolutionary blood in his veins. He visited America first in 1895 under the lead of Cochran, and that he should have been made an honorary citizen of the United States by President Kennedy 70 years later was something of which he was immensely proud, as are his family today, and that one of the most modern destroyers in the United States Navy is the Aegis class USS Winston S. Churchill. 

    But however much one knows of Churchill's life it never really fails to astonish. As a soldier, he served in Cuba and Egypt; in India and on the northwest Frontier of Pakistan; in the Sudan and in South Africa; not to mention his gallant and distinguished service in the first world war in the trenches of France and Flanders. He was a soldier of fortune and an adventurer. He was the first Lord of the Admiralty who had the fleet ready for war in 1914 and again by a miracle in 1939. He was the writer and historian who wrote 43 book-length works in 72 volumes and was later awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. And all this on top of the most prolific political comment and journalism.

    But it was to the public service that Churchill devoted the greatest part of his life and which most fascinated him. Remember that Churchill, like us, lived his life astride two centuries, through a period of the most profound economic, social, and technical change. I think it's astonishing to reflect through the telescope of history that in the course of his public life, Churchill served six of the kings and queens of Great Britain: Queen Victoria as a soldier; Edward VII and George V as a minister of the crown; Edward VIII as a senior privy counselor; George VI as his wartime prime minister; and the late Queen, whom he greatly revered and loved as her first prime minister when she ascended the throne. 

    His profound understanding for the great sweep of the generations and their histories and the events and circumstances that shaped them, enabled him to bring to the conduct of public affairs a sense of proportion and judgment that seem so often to be greatly lacking in public leadership today.

    So, what do I, now age 76, conclude of my grandfather and his life? Well, I think that at the very root of his character, his greatest qualities were his tremendous moral and physical courage, and especially his great humanity in an age when there seems to be so few real heroes. It is this that strikes so powerful a chord. But of course, there was much, much more to him than that. For he was in truth everything that we surely would all want to be: resolute, rocklike, indomitable, and morally and physically fearless. And whilst, like all politicians, he certainly was not always right, he most definitely was on the really big things of his political life. In almost every sphere of human endeavor, Churchill foresaw the dangers and potential for evil and foretold them with devastating clarity to a largely unlistening world.

    Many of those dangers are our dangers today. Here he is speaking in the House in 1935, and it could just as well be said today in your country or mine: “when the situation was manageable, it was neglected. And now that it is thoroughly out of hand, we apply too late the remedies which then might have affected a cure. There is nothing new in the story. Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action could be simple, and effective lack of clear thinking, confusion of council until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong—these are the features which constitute the endless and dismal lessons of history.” 

    His life was much dogged by controversy, and sometimes despair, and often abuse, but none of these ever deflected him from his sense of duty, and above all, his faith in the British people. As Isiah Berlin, the great British philosopher said of Churchill in 1945, at the end of the war, “a man larger than life, composed of bigger and simpler elements than ordinary men, a gigantic historical figure during his own lifetime, superhumanly bold, strong, and imaginative, one of the two greatest men of action his nation has produced, an orator of prodigious power, the savior of his country, a mythical hero who belongs to legend as much as to reality, the largest human being of our time.”

    While certainly he was one of the most brilliant and gifted Englishman of all time, statesman and war leader, a very gallant soldier, a fearless early aviator, the holder of private pilot’s license number two, the master of strategy, journalist, bricklayer, author and winner of a Nobel Prize for literature. Sage historian, painter, and visionary, and incidentally, a devoted and loving husband, father, and grandfather. These qualities shine for us today even brighter when they march with great, good humor, an almost complete lack of side and pomposity, and most of all, a generous and full understanding of men and women and what makes them tick. 

    So here indeed was a man for those difficult times, indeed for all the times. Half American, yet ever ardent for closer bonds with North America and Europe. Born in an English palace 150 years ago and buried in the tiny graveyard at Bladon in Oxfordshire at the entrance to the great park at Blenheim. He was at one with all people of courage, goodwill, no matter what their rank, their race, or their nation. Thank you very much.

    Amb. Mark A. Green: I pity who follows with the second annual Churchill lecture. 

    80 years ago in 1944, a young British journalist working at a small newspaper in South Africa, “The Daily Representative,” wrote the following: “One man has never been guilty of misleading us, and that is Winston Churchill himself. Though nothing has ever shaken his indomitable faith in our ultimate victory, he has consistently been cautious, moderate, and realistic in his outlook. He has never descended into irritating pep talks. His speeches have put heart into us if we ourselves will pattern his stout-hearted realism, not will make us rue.” That young journalist was my grandfather Dusty Green in South Africa, writing about his grandfather, and so I grew up with the sense of the greatest man in the world. Lord Soames, it is a true honor for us to have you here. 

    One of the sayings that have been attributed to Winston Churchill is that “Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing after they have exhausted all other possibilities.” As we take a look at the recently passed supplemental bill in assistance to Ukraine and Israel, do you think that's how he would view what is happening?

    Lord Soames: I have to start, Mark, by saying that my grandfather's been dead for over 50 years now, and I'm very reluctant obviously how could I know what he thought, but the histories would teach us that he would think that he wouldn't alter a word of that paragraph you read out. 

    But he was also very understanding of President Roosevelt's difficulties here, very understanding, and having traveled here and this is why I think the thing of people in public life, having experience of the wider world and the sort of work that you're doing here in this wonderful Center, are incredibly important because if we don't understand the sort of background to the very difficult situations that all of us are going to find ourselves in, we're all going to go on the wrong foot on everything.

    I did say last night I think to Cathy that in the Churchill war room so though that you have been to see them I don't know if you saw the telephone box in the corner with its tiny little telephone in in a cramped room. What other Nation would have its prime minister in a sort of it was a spare men's room and it had it had the telephone in it and this marvelous man I met who was still alive I mean 10 years ago if 15 years ago told me he was in charge of all my grandfather's Communications told me that quite often after he'd been talking to FDR at the beginning of that relationship he would he could see him and the telephone went down and he'd just sit there with his head in his hands, simply not knowing what else he could say. And that's we were talking earlier, about these Great American emissaries that FDR sent Gil Winant,in particular Averell Harriman and others who came to England to report back to Roosevelt exactly what the state was and gave him a very true and faithful briefing on what was going on and indeed certainly inspired Roosevelt to move as quickly as he could. 

    I also think it's worth saying that General Eisenhower—my grandfather loved General Eisenhower, as you know, and they had a very good relationship—but General Eisenhower’s military chiefs were absolutely terrified every time my grandfather came to Washington to see Ike because he would get Ike in a corner and expand some terrific plan to take over some country far away and the Chiefs will be outside chewing their fingernails saying don't you dare listen to a word. So that remark is tendered in a spirit of absolute devotion and affection, it really is. I don't know if any of you have ever seen the photograph of my grandfather standing beside FDR's grave at Hyde Park—it's one of the most touching photographs. He was devoted to FDR, and to all his efforts and to everything that he did.

    Amb. Mark A. Green: You alluded to it, and I grew up with my mom reminding me of it, that Churchill wasn't always popular, and there was controversy and difficulties and stresses. At one point in his life, he received what he referred to as “the order of the boot” at the ballot box, and yet today he is more popular than perhaps ever before. To what do you attribute that? It seems to be much more than simple nostalgia. Why is Churchill so popular today? 70 books written in the last year, something like that.

    Lord Soames: Well, you know that’s a fantastically good question. I know I have my own idea about it, other people will have theirs, but my own view is that what people long for, and you read this in your grandfather's wonderful dispatch—Mark has very generously shown me these scrapbooks of his grandfather's articles, and they are an invaluable, extraordinary archive of writing—that he said he never lied to us. He never gave us a pep talk. He told them the truth. 

    He was very unpopular for a lot of time in the 1930s—he only had three friends left in Parliament and people shunned him socially, he was not invited to any of the great houses of people who had been his great friends for years. They regarded him as a warmonger and Britain had suffered, you know, like everyone else. The First World War had taken a terrible toll and they didn't want it to happen again. 

    But I think that people saw in Churchill the real qualities of leadership. In 1940, he was carrying the whole of the Free World on his shoulders. There was no iPhone, Twitter, the newspapers were very strongly controlled, but people could hear in that voice the determination to fight and to win and that we would be all right. The other thing I think they sensed, and I promise you this is true, that he had a really high opinion of the British people, he really did. He loved them and he thought they had the real root of the matter in them, and so he was able to be straight with them. 

    People say, “Why aren't there any more Churchills?” As I said last night, there are no more Churchill because there's no one else who today who could ever have a career like Churchill did. He understood about dealing with the fighting forces during the war because of his own service as a as a soldier all over the world, and in the trenches, and the soldiers knew they were talking to someone who knew what he was talking about. I think they sensed that too, that he was one of them. I think it was his leadership and I think people yearn for people who are I mean as we all know leadership is really a very hacked word we know it when we see it. We know what it is. And there are very, very few people who have it. 

    Amb. Mark A. Green: I could go on for a long time, but I'd like to turn things over to the esteemed Baroness Cathy Ashton, who has done so much for the Wilson Center and continues to do so much for the Wilson Center, including bringing Lord Soames to us. Baroness, thank you.

    Baroness Catherine Ashton: Thank you, Mark. I'm going to be very brief because I think there's nothing more to be said that I could possibly say as eloquently as it has already been said to you. Part of what we were trying to do at the Wilson Center, especially as part of thinking about the relationship that we've put within the umbrella of Global Europe, we wanted to find a way to show this transatlantic relationship and the importance of it to put it at its heart. Nobody personifies that relationship better than, of course, Winston Churchill. Nobody, nobody comes close, and as you've heard, nobody can take us behind the scenes better than Lord Soames, his grandson.

    As you've heard too, Lord Soames himself is a man of note with a deep passion and understanding for the relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom, and I think the message that I take away above everything is that if we thought we needed that relationship before, in these difficult and challenging times, we need it even more now. 

    So, I want to thank you for doing the inaugural lecture, for letting me persuade you to come and do it—by the way Mark, he's already got loads of ideas for speakers for years to come, so I think we'll be all right. I want to thank you so very much. I’m sure we’ll all remember this day. Thank you to everybody for being here and all the people I know who've been watching online, thank you so much.

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Global Europe Program

The Global Europe Program is focused on Europe’s capabilities, and how it engages on critical global issues.  We investigate European approaches to critical global issues. We examine Europe’s relations with Russia and Eurasia, China and the Indo-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa. Our initiatives include “Ukraine in Europe” – an examination of what it will take to make Ukraine’s European future a reality.  But we also examine the role of NATO, the European Union and the OSCE, Europe’s energy security, transatlantic trade disputes, and challenges to democracy. The Global Europe Program’s staff, scholars-in-residence, and Global Fellows participate in seminars, policy study groups, and international conferences to provide analytical recommendations to policy makers and the media.  Read more

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