Zelensky invokes past leaders

When Volodymir Zelensky spoke passionately to the joint session of Congress this past week, many compared his visit and timing to Winston Churchill’s at Christmas time, Dec. 26, 1941, when he came to ask the U.S., and in particular Congress, for resources to help in Britain’s fight against Hitler and his Nazi regime.

He came to strategize with President Roosevelt, and to plead not only with Congress but the American people after nine months of Germany’s blitzkrieg bombing of British cities. Timing wise, he came three and a half weeks after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in hopes that the isolationists in America might now realize that the war in Europe was the front line of an autocratic campaign against democracy.

Zelensky’s stirring speech was also reminiscent of Roosevelt’s speech to the American people after the attack on Pearl Harbor when he said, “We will, no matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.”

As I listened to President Zelensky and thought of Roosevelt and Churchill during their challenging wartime trials, I sensed an historical moment, and as a former history teacher it stirred up that famous admonition of George Santayana that, “Those who fail to remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Some passages from Zelensky’s speech hit home with me. At this historical juncture, there may be lessons worth learning here. For example:

· “This battle is not only for the territory, for this or another part of Europe. The battle is not only for life, freedom and security of Ukrainians or any other nation which Russia attempts to conquer. This struggle will define in what world our children and grandchildren will live, and then their children and grandchildren.”

· “Our two nations are allies in this battle. And next year will be a turning point, I know it, the point when Ukrainian courage and American resolve must guarantee the future of our common freedom, the freedom of people who stand for their values.”

· We’ll celebrate Christmas. Celebrate Christmas and, even if there is no electricity, the light of our faith in ourselves will not be put out.

· “Ukraine never asked the American soldiers to fight on our land instead of us. I assure you that Ukrainian soldiers can perfectly operate American tanks and planes themselves.”

· “Ukraine is alive and kicking. Thank you. And it gives me good reason to share with you our first, first joint victory: We defeated Russia in the battle for minds of the world. We have no fear…”

· “The Russian tyranny has lost control over us. And it will never influence our minds again.”

· “Your money is not charity. It’s an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.”

· “Standing here today, I recall the words of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which are I think so good for this moment. ‘The American people, in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory.’ The Ukrainian people will win, too, absolutely.”

· “Just one thing, if I can, the last thing — thank you so much, may God protect our brave troops and citizens, may God forever bless the United States of America. Merry Christmas and a happy, victorious New Year. Slava Ukraini.” [Glory to Ukraine]

In the ramp up to the Second World War, many in America didn’t want to get involved, saying that there was no good reason to get involved, that imperial autocrats were oceans away, that we needed to build our own defenses and otherwise not get involved and anger other sides. Today, we hear distant echoes of similar voices. But one thing is decidedly different. Today’s world is much more interconnected than it was in the 1930s, as Zelensky was quick to point out.

In today’s world we are in an expanding struggle against imperial autocratic forces who are daring to challenge democratic institutions around the world, and who have taken extraordinary measures to undermine not only our institutions but our democratic practices. This is no time to hesitate in pushing back on these threats. Hesitation is fundamental to a losing strategy. Which brings me back to the Powell Doctrine, which I believe I’ve mentioned in a previous column.

The war in Ukraine could endure for a long and painful time, with massive destruction of Ukrainian infrastructure and the loss of hundreds more men, women, children and grandchildren. Mr. Putin is clearly willing to drive his country and Ukraine into the ground, for as long as it takes, or until his ego is extinguished.

I’ve concluded that the time has come to do more than “just enough” to keep Ukraine from getting sucked into the gruesome halls of the Kremlin’s palace. The time has come in my view to give the Ukrainian military the overwhelming forces that General Colin Powell said were required to end wars quickly, in this case M1A2 battle tanks, longer-range drones, F-16 fighter jets, high-tech air-defense systems, and the satellite and communications technologies that could tip the scales decisively in Ukraine’s favor. Call it “achieving peace through strength.”

President Zelensky ended his speech to Congress unfurling a Ukrainian battle flag that troops in battle-torn Bakhmut had given him just the day before, and he said:

“So, let these decisions be taken. Let this flag stay with you, ladies and gentlemen. This flag is a symbol of our victory in this war. We stand, we fight, and we will win because we are united — Ukraine, America and the entire free world.”

History’s lessons are there to be learned. Now’s no time for amnesia.

Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, retired president of the Denver Council on Foreign Relations, an author and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.