Recent events have reminded me about two aphorisms that are often used in the current vernacular. “The past is prologue” and, “Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.”
One need only watch brief news clips of the war in Ukraine in which a ruthless Russian dictator is oppressing an innocent, Ukrainian population to be reminded of the events that led to World War II, in which a ruthless, German dictator oppressed an innocent Jewish population throughout Europe.
Just as the Second World War highlighted the unique leadership skills of Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, the current Ukrainian conflict has placed that country’s President, Volodymer Zelenskyy under the international media spotlight with comparisons to Churchill. A reminder that great leaders are often forged in the crucible of conflict and crisis.
While the media savvy Volodymer has never compared himself directly to Churchill he’s certainly “channeled” him and other great leaders by borrowing from historical speeches and images. Paraphrasing Churchill’s remarks after the evacuation from Dunkirk, Volodymer stated, “We will not give up, and we will not lose. We will fight till the end, at sea, in the air…continue fighting for our land, whatever the cost. We will fight in the forests, in the fields on the shore and in the streets.”
A recent article in the New York Times went into more detail on the comparisons between these two leaders who rose to prominence during two of Europe’s most difficult eras.
Zelensky Doesn’t Know the End of His Story.
Churchill Didn’t Either.
New York Times, March 23, 2022
LONDON — In his address to the House of Commons in London this month, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine compared himself to Winston Churchill. But Mr. Zelensky never mentioned Churchill by name — he didn’t need to.
He simply echoed the words and cadences of the famous speech Churchill made to the Commons on June 4, 1940, in the final stages of the evacuation from Dunkirk of the remains of the British Army and Allied troops in France.
“We shall fight on the seas and oceans. We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender,” Churchill said.
“We will not give up, and we will not lose,” Mr. Zelensky said. “We will fight till the end, at sea, in the air. We will continue fighting for our land, whatever the cost. We will fight in the forests, in the fields, on the shores, in the streets.”
The fervor and the flourishes, as heard in the chamber itself, left more than a few lawmakers in tears. Mr. Zelensky was shrewdly addressing an audience in words that they could not help reacting to.
On one level the call to history seemed immediately too much — a ridiculous overreaching across too great a space of time and across very different conflicts. But the more one considers it, the more apt it becomes.
Mr. Zelensky has addressed many audiences around the world as he pleads for international support. He has spoken to the European Parliament, to the U.S. Congress and to the Bundestag in Berlin. As he tailors his message to his audience, his choice to channel Churchill — and indeed Shakespeare — may go down as his biggest oratorical play for the ages.
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