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Words That Rally a Nation: Great War Speeches in World History

Like it or not, human history has been shaped by war, with the fate of nations, civilizations, and ways of life often hanging in the balance on the battlefield. And in wartime, many great leaders have emerged capable of harnessing rhetoric to inspire armies and individuals, rally the courage and will of entire nations, and describe the enduring significance of great battles. In this class, students will study some of the greatest war speeches in modern history—including Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Gettysburg Address, Frederick Douglass’s 1863 “Men of Color to Arms” speech, Woodrow Wilson’s 1917 “The World Must Be Made Safe for Democracy” speech, King George VI’s 1939 radio address to the British people on entry into World War II, Winston Churchill’s 1940 “We Shall Fight” speech after the Battle of Dunkirk, and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and President Franklin Roosevelt’s 1941 Pearl Harbor Speeches. Through these speeches, we will explore the defining challenges of these hinge moments in human history and the nature of political, moral, and military leadership in times of crisis.

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