The Christmas spirit of ’41
Over 2,000 Christmases have occurred since the birth of Jesus Christ, but few saw the future of humanity hanging so precariously in the balance as did the Christmas of 1941. That Christmas came only weeks after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7. By Dec. 24, there was little guarantee that the Allied Powers — anchored by the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union — would be able to defeat the Axis Powers of Nazi Germany, the Empire of Japan, and Italy.
Winston Churchill, then the prime minister of England, traveled to Washington that Christmas to meet with President Franklin Roosevelt. While no stranger to the evils of war, Churchill was relieved that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had forced the United States into World War II, and that Adolf Hitler had declared war on America four days after Pearl Harbor. The Allies had gained invaluable partners, ensuring that the war now would be a united effort against evil and totalitarian aggression across the globe.
On Christmas Eve of 1941, both Churchill and Roosevelt spoke to the world from the White House. Both leaders detailed the need to persevere and to meet the threat faced by free peoples. Both leaders urged the American people to commemorate Christmas, despite the mortal threats posed by true and determined agents of destruction.
Roosevelt was strident in proclaiming, “Our strongest weapon in this war is that conviction of the dignity and brotherhood of man which Christmas Day signifies more than any other day or any other symbol.”
Churchill took special care to remind scared and distracted parents of their obligation to put their children’s well-being before their own concerns on Christmas Day: “Let the children have their night of fun and laughter. Let the gifts of Father Christmas delight their play. Let us grown-ups share to the full in their unstinted pleasures before we turn again to the stern task and the formidable years that lie before us, resolved that, by our sacrifice and daring, these same children shall not be robbed of their inheritance or denied their right to live in a free and decent world.”
Hate-filled, economically illiterate, genocidal maniacs drove the world into darkness from 1939 to 1945 when somewhere between 70 million to 85 million people — 3 percent of the world’s population in 1940 — were killed.
And yet, with the final outcome of World War II nearly four years away and far from certain, these two world leaders were clear in calling out the need to commemorate and celebrate Christmas Day. Roosevelt and Churchill called on people throughout the world to recognize the dignity and brotherhood of man, and to protect and celebrate the innocence of childhood — and they did so while facing down a real and mortal threat.
Today, we know how this story ends, and as such, the significance of these speeches is hard to place in proper perspective. But suffice it to say, these Christmas Eve messages were a meaningful reminder of what mattered — and what was at stake — in the fight to come.
As we celebrate Christmas in 2019, it is clear that the conventions, alliances, institutions and norms of the post-World War II order are under duress across the globe. This is not surprising; the world has changed significantly in the years since 1945.
What has not changed? The fundamental worth and value of a human soul, and the need for people — and governments of people — to recognize the God-given value of individuals in order to have legitimacy and to prevent the mistakes of the past. These truths are eternal, and we must be vigilant in ensuring that they are never forgotten.
Needless to say, as both Americans and as humans, we do not face the same severity of challenges that we did in 1941. Not by a long shot. We may view our current circumstances as messy, difficult and irregular — but there are not 70 million to 85 million people dying around us as a result of global warfare, waged by maniacal murderers.
Yet, it is painfully obvious — from our politics, our culture and our individual actions — that many of us feel a large degree of dissociation from our fellow Americans at this moment in time. We often appear to disagree over matters of consequence, and inconsequence, with equal ferocity.
As we celebrate Christ’s birth, we can learn from the emphasis that Roosevelt and Churchill placed on Christmas during a dark hour in 1941. In the midst of staring down a menace that threatened the underpinnings of civilization, they called for a remembrance of our common bonds and a celebration of the best aspects of our humanity.
Today, as a nation of free people, our differences of opinion and philosophy are real. These differences must be addressed through legitimate processes of debate, elections, difficult decisions and policymaking. Yet, while doing so, there is no doubt that we can all do a better job of following the lead of those who faced far greater obstacles in the past, and yet still took time to commemorate and promote the bonds between us and the inherent worth of others.
In the spirit of the season, and in honor of the years when our difficulties were far greater, Merry Christmas to you and your family.
Kevin Nicholson is president and CEO of No Better Friend Corp., a conservative public policy group in Wisconsin. He is a combat veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps (Iraq, 2007 and Afghanistan, 2008-2009) and was a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2018. Follow him on Twitter @KevinMNicholson.