Churchill Archive for Schools - Themes_Key questions_Korean War reveal

What does the Korean War reveal about the ‘special relationship’?

Source 3

Part of a speech by Churchill, as Conservative Party leader, at the Scottish Unionist Association Annual Conference, Green's Playhouse, Glasgow, dated 18 May 1951


CHUR 5/41A-C (images 652 and 653)

Simplified Transcript

I wish that the international situation had improved in the last year but it hasn’t. Communist aggression was resisted bravely in Korea. The main force was American but we sent a small force which has fought well. The USA has suffered 70,000 casualties.

We feel grief for our own losses, so we should be wary of criticising the USA because it’ll very hurtful if they feel they’re being criticised by allies who are weaker or less committed. The Americans are bearing the main burden in the Far East but they also have large forces protecting Europe. Without their help we couldn’t possibly defend Europe from the Russian Communist threat.

Original Transcript


It is a year almost to a day
since we met in Edinburgh,

and I wish indeed
that I could tell you that our affairs
have improved since then
either at home or abroad.

The Communist aggression in Korea
was promptly and valiantly resisted
by President Truman and the United States
acting with the United Nations,

of whom we are part,

and under their authority
fighting has been going on
for nearly a year.

It would not have been right for us
to send more than a small force to Korea,

but we may all be proud of the manner
in which it has distinguished itself.

The United States
have borne 19/20ths of the burden,

and have suffered nearly 70,000 casualties.


When we feel grief at our own losses,

we ought to understand
the keen feelings of the American people
if they feel they are
being reproached or hampered
by weaker or less engaged Allies.

The Americans are not only bearing the burden
in the Far East
but also are making contributions
in men, arms and money
to the defence of Northern Europe.

Without their help
there would be no hope
of preventing the conquest
and subjugation
of all the free peoples of Europe
by the immense Russian Communist
and those of their
satellite states
which stand ready for action
at any moment
the order is given
from Moscow.

What is this source?

This is a speech by Churchill to the Annual Conference of the Scottish Unionist Association, in Glasgow, 18 May 1951.

Background to this source

Churchill was making a keynote policy speech at the Scottish Unionist [Conservative] Annual Conference, trying to rally supporters for the expected election campaign. General MacArthur has just been ‘retired’ by President Truman and UN troops have recently retaken Seoul. Things were looking a little more optimistic in Korea, although that doesn’t come through in Churchill’ s speech.

As usual, Churchill’s speech notes are typed on small pieces of paper so they’d fit easily in his pocket and be held easily in his hand. When he was a young man, he used to rely on his memory when giving speeches and on one occasion lost his thread, much to his embarrassment. From that point on, Churchill always relied on full notes. The speech notes are written in ‘psalm’ style, as his secretaries called it, to help aid delivery.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember, we’re hoping that this source can be useful to us in investigating the relationship between Britain and the US. Sources usually help historians in two ways:

Surface level

  1. According to Churchill, what proportion of the burden of the war in Korea has the US borne?
  2. How many American casualties have there been so far in Korea?
  3. Where else are the Americans protecting the free world? How are they doing this?
  4. How, according to Churchill, ought the UK help the US preserve the peace?
  5. Which is the dominant partner, according to Churchill: Britain or the US? How can you tell?

Deeper level

Which of the inferences below can be made from this source?

On a scale of 1-5 how far do you agree that this source supports this inference?

Which extract(s) from the source support your argument?

Churchill thinks that the UNO is unimportant.

Churchill believes only the US can keep the peace.

Some countries and individuals have been criticising US actions.

Churchill is worried the US will return to an ‘isolationist’ foreign policy like it did after the First World War.

Churchill wants to help the US but believes Britain can only afford to commit a small force.

Churchill thinks Korea is less important than Europe.

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Need help interpreting the source?

  • Most people in Britain were expecting an election at any time in 1951 because the Labour Government had such won such a small majority in the February 1950 General Election. Churchill was to be elected Prime Minister in October 1951.
  • The US was getting ready for a Presidential Election campaign.
  • Churchill was speaking to an audience of loyal Conservative supporters.
  • Churchill was an international statesman with a big reputation. His speeches were widely reported so Churchill knew that he had a much wider audience than those in the theatre with him. He was speaking to Americans too.

Explore the guide to interpreting speeches

Source 4

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