Unique views from John F. Kennedy, Nelson Mandela, Indira Gandhi, and dozens of other world leaders reveal Canada and Canadians through their eyes.
During the First World War, foreign leaders began addressing Canadians in our House of Commons and, ever since, have continued influencing how we think about our role in global affairs. For a century now, this parade of world figures has brought urgent messages about Canada’s importance in world wars, the United Nations, Cold War security, decolonization and modernization, advancing human rights, environmental conservation, and combating terrorism.
All of the foreign leaders addressing Canada’s parliament sought to forge new partnerships between their own countries and ours in a rapidly evolving global context. Over the decades these speeches chart the stunning transformation of international affairs and Canada’s place in the world. No other source provides a complete record of this body of high-level oratory, gathered here for the first time in Foreign Voices in the House.
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Introduction: Ourselves as Others See Us
Oratory is an art inseparable from politics. From Demosthenes to Nelson Mandela, from the Lyceum in Athens to the House of Commons in Ottawa, from courtrooms and stadiums to assembly halls and television studios, the spoken word animates society and stirs us to action. Orators share with audiences how they see the world.
Some speeches quickly fall into the dustbin of history. Others gain lustre in hindsight. Yet none can be judged, truly, apart from its times. Demosthenes is regarded by some as a patriot unable to persuade his declining city state to rise above self-seeking and take recuperative action, but as A.N.W. Saunders concludes: “He was too great an orator to be always unsuccessful, even though the times were against him.”
The times do matter. When introducing his 957-page collection of historic speeches, Lend Me Your Ears, White House speechwriter William Safire distinguished mere “quotable lines” the sound bites, zingers, aphorisms, and epigrams from “the meat and potatoes of oratory: oral communication in context, human persuasion in action.”
Putting a speech in context involves two core elements. “Occasion” is one.
Crises and periods of transcending significance provoke great oratory as individuals “rise to the occasion.” Indeed, “Human history is primarily a record of important and dramatic events which have often been profoundly affected by great speeches,” notes Lewis Copeland in his 748-page collection, The World’s Great Speeches.
On December 30, 1941, Winston Churchill, Britain’s wartime prime minister, delivered a stirring speech in our House of Commons. Stressing that Britain and Canada had not sought the war, he added, “with every month and every year that passes, we shall confront the evildoers with weapons as plentiful, as sharp, and as destructive as those with which they have sought to establish their hateful domination.” Broadcast by CBC Radio link-ups across our country and BBC shortwave facilities around the world, Churchill’s pugnacious defiance uplifted listeners from the discouraging depths of war. His speech was the first live broadcast from Parliament Hill.
On November 3, 2014, shortly after an armed terrorist attacking inside our Parliament Buildings was killed by House of Commons sergeant-at-arms Kevin Vickers, France’s president, François Hollande, soon to experience a number of murderous acts by terrorists in his own country, saluted Vickers’s courage, pointing out that his name had become known around the world. “I reassert here,” Hollande stated, “that in the face of terrorism there is no room for backing down, for concession, for weakness, because terrorism threatens the values on which both our countries are built.”
From speeches in 1917 by René Viviani of France and Arthur Balfour of Britain at the darkest hour of the First World War, through those speeches by Churchill and Hollande, to the 2016 speech by American President Barack Obama, history’s irreversible currents can be seen transforming the world, and Canada’s place in it, many times over. Over the past hundred years, the foreign leaders at Canada’s podium have spoken during, and about, epic transitions. Their messages were immediate, even urgent broad in scope, yet specific in detail. They came to Canada’s podium knowing they themselves were in the midst of making history.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, the leaders addressing Canada’s Parliament confronted dark matters of grave concern: the risk of nuclear war, the continuing shame of poverty and hunger in the world, the crimes of racism and genocide, the plight of millions of refugees trapped in camps of the stateless, the implications of communism’s global spread and the human costs of capitalism’s bite, the peril of small regional wars expanding to jeopardize world peace, the dilemma of stopping wars within countries as well as between them, and acidic terrorist activity corroding the guy wires of human security.
But the trigger for great oratory is not just perilous threat. As Copeland notes, “important and dramatic events” can serve equally well. Arriving in our House of Commons, foreign leaders also brought uplifting messages designed to banish fears of the day and inspire listeners to create tomorrow’s better world. Beyond reciting by rote their particular catechism of calamities and challenges, many in this parade of world players highlighted the century’s peaceful miracles.
More than a dozen were early advocates for creating the United Nations, and a steady procession of leaders following them chronicled the United Nations’ growth and successes. What the League of Nations could not accomplish after the First World War, the United Nations achieved following the Second.
A miracle, of sorts, accompanied the demise of colonialism. A number of leaders seeking to end globally integrated imperial operations trace, by their speeches, how the British Empire was made over into the “Commonwealth of Nations.” French presidents and prime ministers chronicle the stages of France releasing, in the face of military defeats, its many overseas colonies, from Algeria to Vietnam, and the subsequent emergence of La Francophonie, a voluntary affiliation of self-governing French-speaking countries. Indonesia’s President Sukarno spoke with passion and clarity in our Commons about winning his vast and impoverished nation’s independence from the Dutch, and claiming the treasure of freedom.
Other miracles, too, are represented by these foreign orators in our Parliament. John F. Kennedy’s presence epitomized the “New Frontier” spirit that made possible sending a man to the moon and back, safely. Nelson Mandela’s advance from his prison cell to our Commons bore testament to apartheid’s end and the coming to power of black South Africans without the expected revolution’s bloodshed. Boris Yeltsin’s dramatic speech highlighted the collapse of the Soviet Empire and European communism without the long-dreaded Third World War.
Because this century’s worth of speeches by foreign leaders in our House of Commons was punctuated by crises and dramatic events, they are deservedly memorable. Cicero put it best: “Great oratory demands great issues.”
The second element of context is “audience.” In Great Canadian Speeches: Words That Shaped a Nation, Brian Busby observes: “A speech is not made in a vacuum. The orator receives a reaction, yet this often remains unrecorded due to the limitations of the printed word.” That’s certainly true for speeches in the House of Commons. The Hansard reporter, for example, includes allusions to audience reaction such as the commodious expression “Hear, hear.” However, that discrete phrase never accurately reflects the responsive ambience MPs witness and feel in the moment.
Of all the speeches in this book, one of the most punctuated by cheering and applause was René Viviani’s grand peroration in 1917. The Great War’s tremendous incitement to patriotic eloquence enabled that courtroom maestro and former French prime minister to tug at the emotions of his Canadian audience, who felt no restraint about giving lusty voice to their enthusiastic militancy. There was plenty of “loud cheering.”
An orator’s audience, of course, includes more people than those present in person. This book makes you part of Franklin Roosevelt’s Ottawa audience, just as you can receive here inspiration from Indira Gandhi, Václav Havel, Kofi Annan, Bill Clinton, Sukarno, and the Aga Khan, because publishing speeches obliterates the restraints of time and distance. Preserving great speeches, in fact, has a triple benefit preserving a treasured part of the historical record, providing inspiration for one’s own life work, and producing a rich variety of oratorical styles for individuals seeking to upgrade their own arts of public address. Such collections have become a special literary genre, to which Foreign Voices in the House is now added.
Today television and the Internet project orators to audiences numbering in the millions, as well, but here as in most things the book itself remains the foundation document and most enduring tangible record.
Table of ContentsChronological List of Foreign Leaders Addressing Parliament, 1917 to 2016
Introduction: Ourselves as Others See Us
1 Foreign Voices at Canada’s Podium
Messages of Enduring Importance
A Composite of Diversity
Creating the Speech
Delivering the Speech
Reporting the Speech
Changes in the World View of Leaders
Actors upon the World Stage
2 A Century Ago
A Foreign Country 50
A North Atlantic Quadrangle
Proximity to the Fulcrum of Power
A French Leader Opens the Show: René Viviani
After the French Come the British: Arthur Balfour
3 United Kingdom
Anthony Eden, Foreign Secretary
Anthony Eden, Prime Minister
4 Old Commonwealth
Robert Menzies, Australia
John Curtin, Australia
Peter Fraser, New Zealand
John Howard, Australia
5 New Commonwealth
Jawaharlal Nehru, India
Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan
Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana
Indira Gandhi, India
Nelson Mandela, African National Congress South Africa
Charles de Gaulle, Free France
Vincent Auriol, France
Guy Mollet, France
François Hollande, France
7 United States
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Harry S. Truman
Dwight D. Eisenhower
John F. Kennedy
Richard M. Nixon
José López Portillo
Miguel de la Madrid
Madame Chiang Kai-shek, China
Masayoshi Ōhira, Japan
Zhao Ziyang, China
Yasuhiro Nakasone, Japan
Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan
10 Middle Europe
Giovanni Gronchi, Italy
Theodor Heuss, Federal Republic of Germany
Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands
Helmut Kohl, Federal Republic of Germany
11 Eastern Europe
Edvard Beneš, Czechoslovakia
Boris Yeltsin, Russian Federation
Václav Havel, Czech Republic
Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine
Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine
12 Middle East
Chaim Herzog, Israel
King Hussein Bin Talal of Jordan
13 Transnational Leaders
U Thant, United Nations
Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, United Nations
Kofi Annan, United Nations
Aga Khan IV
Epilogue: Voices in Time