Congress dedicated a bust of Winston Churchill, one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century and an honorary American citizen, in a ceremony this week in the magnificent Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol.
The event was a powerful tribute to Churchill’s leadership and to his great legacy in the United States and around the world.
In 2011, on the 70th anniversary of Churchill’s great speech to a joint session of Congress shortly after the U.S. entered World War II, the House of Representatives recognized Churchill’s “persistence, determination and resolve remain an inspiration to freedom-fighters all over the world” and authorized the placement of the Churchill bust.
The bust is the third official copy of a work by famed sculptor Oscar Nemon, which superbly captures Churchill’s bulldog determination. The other copies sit in London and Moscow, the capitals of the victorious allies of the Second World War. With this ceremony, addressed by the congressional leaders of both parties and Secretary of State John Kerry and attended by members of the Churchill family and a distinguished audience, Churchill now takes up his rightful and permanent place in what he called “the Great Republic.”
The event was a triumph for supporters of the Anglo–American Special Relationship, for the wisdom of the House, and for friends of Churchill around the world. It also marks a major achievement for the Churchill Centre, which was invited to donate the bust.
Based in Chicago, the Churchill Centre’s mission is “to foster leadership, statesmanship, vision, courage and boldness among democratic and freedom loving peoples worldwide, through the thoughts, words, works and deeds of Winston Spencer Churchill.” The Churchill Centre is currently working with George Washington University to build the National Churchill Library and Center in Washington, D.C., as a permanent center for Churchill scholarship.
This week’s ceremony was admirably nonpartisan, but in the background was the embarrassing decision by the Obama Administration to remove a bust of Churchill from the Oval Office in 2009. The White House has tied itself in knots over this blunder, which turned out to be powerfully symbolic of its attitude not just toward Britain but toward many of America’s best allies. Today, Churchill may not be back in the Oval Office, but he has an honored place in the Hall of the People.
The musical portion of the program was provided by Roger Daltrey, lead singer of the classic British rock group The Who. The Washington Post thought Daltrey’s appearance was “totally random,” but they missed the point. Daltrey’s music might not have been to Churchill’s taste, but his selections were thoughtful.
Daltrey chose his first song, an arrangement of “Stand by Me,” to symbolize the Anglo–American alliance. His second was The Who’s classic “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Like the Beatles’ “Revolution,” it’s a song written from the left about the risks posed by people who promise change:
I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around me
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again
Don’t get fooled again.
Looking for messages in musical selections can be dangerous, but it’s not too much to imagine that Daltrey was singing to the American people. In a ceremony honoring Churchill, a leader who loved the popular culture of his day, using the popular culture of our time to make a point was subtle.
All congratulations to Daltrey, the Speaker of the House, and the Churchill Centre for their superb work in honoring Winston Churchill.