WiW: Breathing Room/Living Space

Monday, March 21st, 2011 at 6:36 am

The Week in Words

While reading John Keegan’s Penguin Lives biography of Winston Churchill (unsurprisingly titled Winston Churchill), I found the following quote by Churchill, describing his vision for the world:

“The cause of the poor and the weak all over the world will [be] sustained; and everywhere small peoples will get more room to breathe; and everywhere great empires will be encouraged by our example to step forward into the sunshine of a more gentle and more generous age.”

Churchill said this in 1910 or so, four years before the world would be drawn into a Great War.

At the same time, German thinkers and political theorists were developing their theory of Lebensraum or “Living Space” which Hitler would take as a main Nazi party doctrine.

Hitler writes of the principle of Lebensraum in Mein Kampf:

“Without consideration of traditions and prejudices, Germany must find the courage to gather our people and their strength for an advance along the road that will lead this people from its present restricted living space to new land and soil, and hence also free it from the danger of vanishing from the earth or of serving others as a slave nation.

The National Socialist Movement must strive to eliminate the disproportion between our population and our area—viewing this latter as a source of food as well as a basis for power politics—between our historical past and the hopelessness of our present impotence.”
~Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf found in the Wikipedia article on Lebensraum

Living space, Hitler declares. Give us living space.

Breathing room, Churchill proclaims. Give them breathing room.

I couldn’t help but be struck by the similarities between the two phrases.

“Living space”

“Breathing room”

The same sort of vision.

One led to the destruction of over six thousand Jews and many thousand more minorities (whether political, ethnic, religious, or social).

The other led to the liberation of Western Europe from encroaching totalitarian regimes.

Similar dreams, completely at odds with one another.

The two men would be pitted against one another in the largest war the world has seen yet.

Hitler would fight for his Lebensraum, bowling over nation after nation in Europe.

Churchill would stand, for the most part alone, to regain “breathing room” for the many marginalized peoples of Europe.

What is the difference between the two?

While Hitler argues for the benefit of himself and his people, those he has considered to be the “master race”, Churchill argues on behalf of the poor, the weak, the “small peoples”.

The same goal, but two separate targets.

Fight for my rights, for my people, for my way of life?

Or fight for others?

Not to say that Churchill was not interested in Britain’s rights or people or way of life. In fact, he was, rather oddly, a British imperialist–and certainly interested in Britain’s interests.

But he was nevertheless conscious of the rights and desires of the downtrodden, the oppressed, the “small peoples”–and it was this that made his “breathing room” so different than Hitler’s Lebensraum.

Don’t forget to take a look at Barbara H’s meme “The Week in Words”, where bloggers collect quotes they’ve read throughout the week.

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Reader Comments (6):

  1. Very interesting… Good catch on your part, Rebekah. It does make one sit back and think. Similar words from two different mouths with very different meanings.

  2. Definitely an interesting comparison. Fascinating. As Lisa said, good catch and comparison.

    (Did you like that Winston Churchill bio enough to recommend it?)

    • bekahcubed says:

      Carrie-I did enjoy that biography. I selected it because it was the shortest my library had (and the thought of the many thousand-page tomes on Churchill was, and still is, rather intimidating.) I felt this particular biography was like my children’s Cliff Notes only on steroids. It didn’t try to find a single theme to carry throughout the narrative or any such literary tricks. It just told the basic facts from start to finish without excessive interpretation. I think it’ll be interesting to see, though, how my opinion of various biographies changes as I read more about the same person!

  3. Barbara H. says:

    Fascinating comparison between the two goals and means of reaching them.

  4. Bobbi says:

    WOW…that’s alot for one week! Really neat comparison!!

  5. Hazel says:

    What an interesting comparison of two significant figures in history. I particularly focused on what Hitler said because I have never read anything that he himself has spoken.(read Churchill here and there over the years)

    I appreciate the perspective you left on my post. That was really wonderfully said.

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