Garry Kasparov – Fulton, Missouri – April 9, 2016 – Winston Churchill Day
The title of my speech today is “The Courage to Continue.” I hope the many experts here with us will forgive my sly jest in using one of the countless quotations incorrectly attributed to Churchill for my title. It goes, “Success is not final; failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.” Very nice, but there is no record of Churchill ever saying or writing this. But this quote is found everywhere with his name attached. As the great Leo Tolstoy once said, don’t believe everything you read on the internet! Actually, it should be quite flattering. If there is a great phrase about courage it instantly becomes more credible when Winston Churchill’s name is put on it. After all, Churchill did write that “courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others.” It is also the quality that always attracted me to him the most.
53 years ago today, on April 9, 1963, four days before I was born, President John F Kennedy announced honorary American citizenship for Winston Churchill. JFK said, “Whenever and wherever tyranny threatened, he has always championed liberty. Facing firmly toward the future, he has never forgotten the past. Serving six monarchs of his native Great Britain, he has served all men’s freedom and dignity.” Kennedy’s statement sums up why Churchill will always be known as a touchstone for moral courage and not only for his wartime leadership. He was right on the biggest things by staying true to his beliefs—even if he was not always heeded in time.
And so it is a great privilege to be speaking to you here today to honor a man and an occasion that mean so much to me and to all of you. When Churchill gave his famous speech here in Fulton seventy years ago, the New York Times reported that it was such a momentous occasion that people had come “from as far away as distant St. Louis!” I arrived from New York City this morning, but, as you can tell from my accent, I have come a much greater distance in my life to be here with you today.
Actually, I like to tell American audiences that I was born in the Deep South, right next to Georgia. It’s true! I was born in the deep south of the Soviet Union, in Baku, Azerbaijan, right next to the Republic of Georgia.
My parents were still in school in the Soviet Union at the time of Sir Winston’s speech here in 1946. They grew up as the Iron Curtain he warned about grew higher and thicker between the free and unfree worlds. By the time I won my first Soviet chess title in 1976, at the age of 12, many of the things Churchill had warned about had been the status quo for a generation. The divided Germany, the Soviet Bloc, and the Cold War were, it seemed, permanent parts of our lives. But by the time I became world champion in 1985, it was increasingly clear that the seeds of Cold War victory that had been planted by Churchill and President Harry Truman right here in Fulton were beginning to bear fruit. It took one more leader possessing bold certainty and vision, Ronald Reagan, to finish the job, and to free the hundreds of millions of people that Churchill and Truman had been unable to save from Communist oppression. My family and I in Azerbaijan were among them. And so do not thank me for coming here today. I thank you for my freedom to be here. At least those of you who voted for Reagan!
And yet, in the year 2000, just nine years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, just nine short years after celebrating crowds in Moscow tore down the statue of KGB founder Felix Dzerzhinsky, Russia had a KGB lieutenant-colonel for its president, Vladimir Putin. My dream of raising my children in a free and democratic Russia began to fade, and there was no Reagan, no Truman, no Churchill, to help us. We must all find the courage to continue their fight for freedom.
Churchill’s speech here in 1946 was not well-received in Russia, as you might imagine. I can only hope that in that one respect my speech today matches his.
In a pattern that is now very familiar, the Soviets tried to frame Churchill and his warning speech as the message of a warmonger betraying the peace-loving Soviet Union. I remember my die-hard Communist grandfather getting quite agitated when telling me about this supposed betrayal that became a turning point in world history. If he could only see me now! The “Iron Curtain” part of the speech received the entire focus and Churchill was attacked as a “genetic” anti-Communist, unable to overcome his prejudice against Communism despite his alliance with Stalin against Hitler during the War.
And this, at least, was accurate. Churchill had condemned the Bolsheviks early and often, although in 1919 he was, as in the 30s, dismissed as a crank. Still, we cannot downplay the courage it took for him to stand up to Stalin, a man he had praised during the war years and legitimately respected at the time. World War II had finally ended with V-J Day just six months before the Fulton speech, but Churchill understood there was no time to celebrate, that it was not a moment to relax. Thankfully, this time, unlike in 1919, and unlike in 1938, people listened to him. Or, to be more precise, Harry S Truman listened. Even more importantly, the man from Missouri acted.
It was a remarkable partnership, the eloquent blue-blood and the plainspoken president from Independence, without a worldly or aristocratic bone in his body. They had seen the power of evil all too closely during the War, something that cannot be said for most of our leaders today. As such, since the end of the Cold War it has become unfashionable, politically incorrect, to talk about universal moral ideals like individual freedom and the value of human life.
In 1946, it was far from obvious which direction America would turn. The world’s lone superpower could have turned its back on the world again, as it had after the first World War. Truman could have let Europe collapse, allowed Stalin to swallow even more territory, from Greece to Iran, and let the Communists take over Taiwan and South Korea. Instead, ignoring domestic political risks, he defended and rebuilt Western Europe and Japan, and sent billions of American dollars to support recently vanquished enemies. More quietly, and just as impressively, Truman built the policies and institutions that would protect and guide the free world for decades. The post-war United Nations, NATO, the CIA, the NSA, the Voice of America, practically the entire infrastructure of the Cold War.
Truman had been vice-president for only eighty-two days when Franklin Roosevelt died, but somehow he was the right man at the right time. Under intense pressure, this stubborn little man became a diamond. Truman was diligent, not flamboyant. He wasn’t interested in his place in history or in making grand bargains for the headlines. It’s no exaggeration to say that he saved the world and then moved back to Independence, Missouri, to quietly live out his life. And what could be more American than that?
The Cold War ended once and for all in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was a great moment, deservedly celebrated around the world. It was the end of a long and dark era, if not, unfortunately, the end of history.
1992 was, like 1946, a turning point. Unfortunately, the response by the victorious side was very different. Instead of pressing the advantage and resisting complacency, the free world let down its guard and let bygones be bygones. The sense of purpose provided by having an existential enemy in the USSR was lost and nothing replaced it. Diplomacy and engagement were a great success in Eastern Europe, but the purely positive pressure offered by the European Union and United States had no impact on the many former Soviet republics where the Communist dictatorship quickly morphed into local dictatorships that are still in place today, 25 years later.
The institutions that had been conceived and built by Churchill and Truman in the 1940s were not updated or replaced when the Cold War ended. The United Nations was designed to freeze conflict between two nuclear superpowers; its stagnancy was in many ways a virtue. But Churchill warned here in 1946 that a world government should be a force for good, and for action, and not, as he put it, “merely a frothing of words” and “a cockpit in the Tower of Babel.” As with so many of the great man’s warnings, this has come to pass. The UN’s rules put some of the world’s most oppressive regimes on its Human Rights Council, provide a lecture platform for brutal dictators, and grant it no ability to defend the principles of its founders.
The Cold War was won not just by military or economic superiority, but on values I, a former Soviet citizen, un-ironically call traditional American values, or more broadly, Western values. Churchill called on an alliance of the “English-speaking peoples”. All these terms are obsolete today, and it is the duty of every democracy, not just the United States and the United Kingdom, or Western Europe, but of every free and open society, from Brazil to Japan, from South Africa to South Korea, to defend these values.
Globalization is a blessing in many ways but we are allowing it to drag us down to the lowest common moral denominator instead of raising us all toward the highest. We need an alliance of, to update Churchill, “the democracy-speaking peoples.” We need new institutions to meet 21st century challenges. We need new frameworks to confront globalized dictatorships. Globalization has effectively compressed the world in size, increasing the mobility of goods, capital and labor. Simultaneously this has led to globalization across time, as the 21st century collides with cultures and regimes intent on existing as in centuries past. Radical Islamists set the time machine to the Dark Ages and encourage the murder of all who oppose them, often supported by fatwas and funds from terror sponsors like Iran.
Vladimir Putin wants Russia to exist in the Great Power era of czars and monarchs, dominating its neighbors by force and undisturbed by elections and rights complaints. As Churchill said about the Soviets seventy years ago, Putin does not desire war, but he desires the fruits of war. In the East, Kim Jong-Un’s North Korea attempts to freeze time in a Stalinist prison-camp bubble. In the West, Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela and the Castros in Cuba use anachronistic socialist propaganda to resist increasing pressure for human rights.
What unites these time travelers is their rejection of modernity—or what we should call modern values. With violence and with violent rhetoric, the time travelers’ natural target is often the traditional champion of the rights that threaten them: The United States of America. The freedoms represented by the First Amendment frighten the radical mullahs and the dictators more than drone strikes or economic sanctions. And make no mistake, no matter how much it tries to retreat from the world, as it is doing now, the United States will be their number one target for as long as it remains preeminent. Globalized economies have global interests and stability is essential for global trade. Unless the US is prepared to roll back the countless benefits its companies and citizens reap from cheap energy and international markets for American products and services, walking away as the chaos grows behind you is self-destructive in the extreme.
We must end our complacency not just on the political or foreign policy level, but at every level. Stagnant politics and stagnant economies leave us vulnerable to every type of destructive fantasy, from radical Islam to xenophobic fascism to the siren song of socialism. I’m sorry Bernie Sanders fans, but I’ve been through it and, let me tell you, the failures of capitalism are far better than the successes of socialism. If the modern world fails to provide our young people with a sense of challenge and purpose, some of them will look for purpose by rebelling against that world, or by attacking that world.
It is no coincidence that the values of the American century are also the values of innovation and exploration. Individual freedom, risk-taking, investment, opportunity, ambition, and sacrifice. Religious and secular dictatorships cannot compete with these values and so they attack the systems founded upon them. We must defend our values aggressively or steadily we will lose them, one savage terrorist attack at a time.
One way to lose a war is to refuse to admit you are in one, and that is how the free world is losing today: through apathy, through denial, and through complacency.
This is not only a metaphorical war of values. It is real and there are casualties. Nineteen individuals killed more Americans on 9/11 than the entire Japanese fleet killed in Pearl Harbor. Thousands have been killed during Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, including three hundred shot out of the sky by Russian forces on Malaysia flight MH17. Attacks in Paris, San Bernardino, Brussels – and others, further from our headlines, in Indonesia, Turkey, Kenya, and Nigeria. This is a war, and by refusing to admit it, we are putting our civilians on the front line instead of our soldiers.
Between the extremes of appeasement and war is a very large gray area called “leadership.” Let us remember that appeasement has killed far more people than deterrence. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in a Communist country that I cannot so casually ignore the suffering of the people being left behind today, from Cuba to Syria to Ukraine. Ronald Reagan was called a warmonger by the same crowd that is praising Obama to the skies today, and yet Reagan is the one who freed hundreds of millions of people from the Communist yoke, not the celebrated peacemakers Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter. If Barack Obama had been president instead of Ronald Reagan, I’d probably still be playing chess for the Soviet Union!
Despite the painful lessons of history, the vocabulary of diplomacy is pleasant and comforting, especially to a war-weary America. Obama’s deals with Iran and Cuba are good examples of how diplomacy can triumph—as long as you are willing to concede everything to a brutal dictatorship. Every time the White House makes a new concession to Iran I check the State Department’s own website’s list of State Sponsors of Terror. And sure enough, Iran is still there! This is not diplomacy, this is capitulation. Every time John Kerry meets with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, I’m afraid that if they spend too much time together Kerry will give Alaska back to Russia.
Nations that value democracy and individual liberty now control the greater part of the world’s resources as well as its military power. If we band together and refuse to coddle the rogue regimes and sponsors of terror, our authority will be irresistible. Our combined wealth can also fund new technologies to cure our fossil fuel addiction, which currently empowers a majority of the terrorists and dictators. The so-called leaders of the free world talk about promoting democracy while treating the leaders of the world’s most oppressive regimes as equals. You cannot stand for democracy while standing next to Vladimir Putin.
Do not tell me it’s too risky to confront Putin, or that he is too strong. More formidable than Stalin when Truman stood up to him? More dangerous than the USSR when JFK faced the Cuban Missile Crisis? More powerful than the Evil Empire confronted by Ronald Reagan? No. No. And no! Our enemies have not grown stronger; it is that our resolve has grown weaker. During the seven years of the Obama administration we have seen that inaction can also have the gravest consequences. Inaction can fracture alliances. Inaction can empower dictators and embolden terrorists and enflame regional conflicts. Inaction can slaughter innocent people and create millions of refugees. We have the horrific proof in Syria, where Obama’s infamous “red line” has been painted over in blood.
Harry Truman warned us in 1951, defending US intervention in Korea in a speech at the Chapel of the Four Chaplains in Philadelphia. He said that American soldiers were fighting there to prevent the slaughter of a bigger conflict, and that restraining aggression was the only way to avoid another world war. Truman said, “we cannot measure sacrifice with a teaspoon while the fight is on” and he continued, and I quote, “We cannot lead the forces of freedom from behind.” He said it in 1951!
Today, Obama and his fellow neo-isolationists on both sides of the political aisle ignore that truth. They are well aware that few are condemned and fewer are convicted for having the power to prevent a tragedy but refusing to do so, while a single death resulting from intervention will be denounced. A quarter-million deaths, a dozen terror attacks, a million refugees, these are politically acceptable consequences of inaction. But a single casualty from action, from attempting to prevent those horrors, is considered politically unacceptable. That is the ghastly arithmetic of appeasement in the 21st century. We must not let the fear of making things worse paralyze us against trying to make things better.
I reject the tired premise of whether or not the United States should be the “global policeman.” Global leadership is what is required, not a cop on patrol who occasionally shoots — or carpet bombs — a few bad guys. Americans have become accustomed to demanding the impossible and their politicians have become accustomed to providing it. Massive debt fuels education and the stock market. Calls for greater security are accompanied by a refusal to invest or sacrifice to achieve it. The bipartisan acceptance of reality has gone missing in America’s hyper-partisan political environment. The idea that America can be a global force for stability and freedom has been abandoned by Washington, reflecting an American Main Street that is more interested in fleeting stock market values than in the lasting values of global democracy. We must look to the next generation, not to the next poll or the next election.
Yes, I advocate for a return to many of the principles and policies that were dominant in the West during the Cold War. But that does not mean I want to turn back the clock. As the Bible says, “No one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined.” We cannot pour the modern wine of globalization and the multi-polar world into the old wineskin of obsolete Cold War rules and regulations. Times change. Circumstances change. Our institutions must change. But our values must not.
We are here today in a building that was built on stones that were brought from London after the original church was destroyed by Nazi bombs. A fitting memorial, without a doubt. The values that won the Cold War are the stones upon which we must build our new world. The values of Winston Churchill are the stones upon which we must build his vision of global democracy, global prosperity, and global peace. We have the tools and we have the strength. All we need is the courage to continue. Thank you.