What makes a character convincing?

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Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill * 1874; † 1965, important British statesman of the 20th century; from 1940 to 1945 and from 1951 to 1955 Prime Minister. Previously, during his long career, he was Minister of the Interior and Finance, First Lord of the Admiralty and Minister of Colonial Affairs. From 1929 to 1939 he did not hold any political office and lived off his work as a writer. In 1953 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature for his literary and essayistic work. Churchill had so many skills and an extremely multifaceted character that one can speak of him as a "Renaissance person". His personality is almost inexhaustible when it comes to positive qualities: quick comprehension, determination, willpower, motivation to perform, open-mindedness, spontaneity, courage, boldness, perseverance, manual dexterity, artistic talent ... This is all about his persuasiveness.

Churchill's example shows what contributed significantly to his persuasiveness and what made him successful.

Churchill owned Charisma: Even when he switched from the Tories to the Liberals in 1904/5, his influence persisted and even became more influential.

He was able to cast a spell over people with his demeanor and vitality. He already had an image, namely that of a hands-on, convinced, crisis-tested personality who has successfully survived all adventures so far. His thirst for adventure was admired. His biography reads like an adventure novel today [1].

Churchill convinced through determination: His willingness to take action carried over to his surroundings. This did not always go smoothly. He was also attacked by powerful opponents who were not immediately convinced of his ideas, disqualified as an American half-breed and babbler. Churchill was not deterred and put all his creativity into his current tasks. He was quick to grasp and quickly familiarized himself with new subjects. Every subject he dealt with he worked on thoroughly, sometimes so thoroughly that he took little account of other interests. Nor did he take the comfort of his employees into account. Captain Percy Scott, military commander of Durban-Pietermaritzburg, wrote in a letter to Churchill [2] in 1899 that Churchill had "genius and plod". Churchill can toil and toil, that is what sets him apart. It was not the flare of genius that made his persuasive and effective, but the hard work. In his famous inaugural address to the House of Commons on May 13, 1940, he mentions what Great Britain must reckon with: "blood, toil, tears and sweat". Toil and sweat, hardship and sweat, both indicate the inevitable effort that must now be made. The Conservative MPs were reluctant [3]. Churchill was by no means as popular and undisputed as it may seem from a later point of view. He has been called, among other things, an 'American half-breed, unfit and talkative'. For example, he has not held political office for 10 years and made a living as a writer.

Churchill's persuasiveness was enhanced by his persistence strengthened. He was determined to keep repeating his arguments regarding the question of whether Hitler's Germany could be trusted and a peace treaty should be negotiated with the aggressor. The fact that he was ahead of his contemporaries in terms of clarity of judgment and determination of attitude may account for his "genius", of which Percy Scott was convinced as early as 1899.

For Churchill, however, determination, perseverance and willingness to perform were always threatened by an ominous melancholy. He threw himself into adventure and hard work so that he could keep the "black dog", depression, away from him. Inwardly he wavered between depression and a firm belief in the work of Providence. His vitality was threatened by the negative forces, but he was able to convert the threat into positive energy. In his childhood and youth, the rejection his father Randolph Churchill showed him was ultimately an enormous incentive for him to achieve something right.

Churchill possessed excellent rhetorical skills and linguistic expressiveness. However, he had to work hard to achieve this. He had to rely on thorough preparation, because free, improvised speech was not his thing. He developed his linguistic power in prepared, carefully studied, memorized speeches that he had to practice in laborious work, including intonation and presentation style.

As a young politician, Churchill memorized entire passages from parliamentary speeches. A disadvantage of his rhetorical disposition was the fact that he could also deal with irrelevant topics with the greatest linguistic vehemence, which sometimes seemed a bit antiquated and disproportionate. His rhetoric, however, was an important factor in his effectiveness and persuasiveness.

Churchill studied rhetoric extensively and wrote a treatise on the subject: "The Scaffolding of Rhetoric". According to his own statements, he owed the effectiveness of his speech in particular to the Irish-American politician Bourke Cockran. From him he learned what makes a speech effective and convincing: colloquial expressions, punch lines, the mark and roundness, antitheses and intelligibility "[4].

A concrete example Churchill's persuasiveness can be seen in the events of May 1940:

Churchill has been Prime Minister since May 10th. On May 16, he was confronted with news of the defeat of the French army. The German troops are also threatening the British expeditionary corps that are gathering in Dunkirk. After a number of clarifications, consultations and discussions, the inevitable became clear: The British expedition corps had to be brought back to England from Dunkirk.

Churchill's position on how Britain should respond to the threat posed by Hitler's Germany has long been controversial. Churchill first had to convince the politically influential people that the struggle was the only correct response to Hitler's greed for power. This was followed by cumbersome clarifications and consultations on the subject of whether Great Britain should start negotiations with fascist Italy and Hitler's Germany. Viscount Halifax, the Secretary of State, was one of Churchill's main opponents. Halifax did not want to accept Churchill's radical stance unchecked, even in a precarious situation. Churchill's excitement resisted him. US President Roosevelt wanted to take into account the isolationist stance in the US and not want Great Britain to come to the rescue immediately. Joseph P. Kennedy (the father of J.F.K.) also tried, as US ambassador in London, to distract Roosevelt from a possible engagement of the USA. When Roosevelt announced a rejection to Churchill on May 16, Churchill was enraged. In this situation he says to his son: "I shall drag the United States in" [5]. This outbreak shows how much Churchill believes in his mission and trusts its effect.

Churchill fights for British independence passionately, persistently and with argument. In his radio address on May 19, Trinity Sunday, he called on the British public "to fight for life and honor, for the law and freedom to which we are devoted" [6]

The decision-making process is lengthy. Churchill does not steer this process as a dictator, but convinces the few decisive people in the war cabinet of his position. In the war cabinet is Neville Chamberlain, representative of the appeasement era and supporter of tried and tested, balanced politics. Chamberlain is suffering from cancer and in the long run cannot oppose Churchill's insistence and arguments. The French Prime Minister Reynaud is pushing for negotiations with Berlin. Halifax cannot stand Churchill's determination and intransigence.

Churchill keeps asking the question: Can one trust Hitler, who has already broken his word several times? His main argument was that, after what had already happened, one could not expect an acceptable offer of peace from Hitler. Ultimately, Lord Halifax also agreed with this argument on May 28th. Churchill's breakthrough came on May 28, which was also one of the turning points in World War II.

During this lengthy decision-making process, the British Army of the Rhine is waiting for the rescue in Dunkirk. As of May 28, only 17,000 soldiers had been evacuated from Dunkirk.

On May 28, during a break in negotiations in the War Cabinet, Churchill summoned all cabinet ministers, the heads of the individual departments, around 25 people, to his office in the House of Commons. With this unusual and unexpected measure, he was able to convince his opponents, the indecisive members of the war cabinet, - or, to put it another way, to beat them out. Chamberlain's views on that day were already moving closer to Churchill's position. Chamberlain himself realized that there would probably be no reasonable offer from Hitler.

At 6 p.m. Churchill informed the extended war cabinet in his office about the precarious situation in Dunkirk and the question of whether Great Britain should accept Hitler's offers. England must prove itself worthy of its history [7]. His earlier warnings against Hitler Germany, which he uttered in the BBC speech on November 16, 1934, for example, have been dismissed as exaggerated rhetoric. Churchill now convinces all those present with his speech and strengthens the resilience with pathetic, fiery and gripping formulations: If England's story is to come to an end, then "let it end only when each of you is choking on the ground in his blood," noted Hugh Dalton, Minister for Economic Warfare, in his memoirs [8].

At 7 p.m. there is no longer any trace of the caution in the actual war cabinet. The opinion of the ministerial group has carried over to the war cabinet. Churchill thus enforced his negative attitude towards Hitler Germany in the British government. Churchill thus achieved his passionate goal: the cabinet decided to fight against Hitler's Germany. As a result, Hitler's power has been fundamentally called into question. Hitler was classified as defeatable, not an overwhelming threat. Because of Churchill's persuasiveness and determination, Hitler could not intimidate Britain. Great Britain was not easy prey, which ultimately sealed the defeat of Hitler's Germany. All German victories therefore remained Pyrrhic victories. Hitler could not tackle his main goal, the conquest of the Soviet Union, unhindered, but fell into a two-front trap.

The decision of May 28 was also significant for the Rhine Army. A spectacular rescue operation started. By June 4, a total of 224,301 British and 11,172 French and Belgian soldiers had been evacuated from Dunkirk. Churchill found the famous words for the miracle of Dunkirk: "We will fight on the coasts, we will fight on the landing sites, we will fight in the fields and in the streets, we will fight on the hills; we will never surrender [ ...]. [9]

Where does Churchill draw his strength for persuasion, for resistance and readiness to fight? In his family history there was already an overpowering enemy defeated by one of his ancestors: ancient Roman legends, own family history: John Churchill (1650-1722), first Duke of Marlborough, was in command of the Great Alliance against Louis XIV in the War of the Spanish Succession. Churchill defeated the Sun King in the Battle of Blindheim in Swabia in 1704. After this Battle of Blenheim, Queen Anne gave him the title of Duke and had the Baroque Blenheim Castle built for him. For Churchill, was Hitler the new Sun King who had to be defeated? In any case, Winston Churchill dealt intensively with the Marlborough biography in his youth [10]. The family history was probably a point of reference for him. Winston Churchill's power of persuasion also strengthened his special ancestry.

[1] Thomas Kielinger: Winston Churchill. The late hero. Munich 2014, p. 39

[3] Ian Kershaw: Turning Points. Key decisions in World War II. Munich 2008, p. 40 Original edition: Fateful Choices. Ten Decicions That Changed the World, 1940-1941, London 2007