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In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the nation in Kyiv, Ukraine, late Monday, March 7, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

A modern-day FDR

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By Carmen Gentile


When Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor, killing thousands and devastating America’s military capabilities, the United States was confronted with a global war it had been trying to avoid. 

Popular American myths about Dec. 7, 1941, portray Americans as being eager to join the fight. 

However, that wasn’t the case. Many were frightened and confused by the attack. Others remained adamantly opposed to entering the war at a time when America’s military was not combat-effective, even before the Japanese attack. 

Amid rampant fear and uncertainty, President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed Congress and the nation the day after the attack in a speech whose most famous line — “a day that will live in infamy” —  is one emblazoned on our collective memory. 

But it was the rest of Roosevelt’s speech that inspired Americans to cast aside their doubts and fears and confront their enemies head on: 

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 .. With confidence in our armed forces with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph so help us God.

In the span of his 6-minute and 30-second address, Roosevelt roused a nation’s courage to take on the Japanese, then also the Nazis, in an undertaking still considered America’s finest hour. 

The FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The same spirit and courage of conviction that inspired Americans to stand up to greater military powers intent on crushing democracy is evident in a new incarnation of FDR for the 21st century: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. 

The comedian-turned-president, and now, resistance leader has refused repeated offers by the United States to be evacuated from the country. 

He insists his place is in Ukraine, among those terrorized by Russian forces, despite repeated efforts to assassinate him. 

In a recent video address to European Parliament that left many in tears, Zelensky spoke of Ukrainians’ will in the face of Russian tyranny: 

Nobody is going to enter and intervene with our freedom and country. Believe you me, every square up today, no matter what it’s called, it’s going to be called, as of today, “Freedom Square” in every city of our country. Nobody’s going to break us. We’re strong. We are Ukrainians.

Zelensky’s courage in the face of overwhelming Russian force and cruelty has inspired his fellow Ukrainians to take up arms and support the war effort any way they can. We’ve seen grandmas making Molotov cocktails and learning to use assault rifles. Computer programmers, teachers, and pastry chefs now wield weapons of war in defense of their very existence. 

Their courage is inspiring the rest of the world, particularly at a time when democracy is on the ropes in other countries as well, including our own. 

During his recent interview with ABC News, Zelensky switched languages from his native Ukrainian to English to further drive home his point to Americans watching the war unfold on screens half a world way: 

 I want you to feel and understand what does it mean for our freedom. Because always, American people, they speak about freedom, and they know what is it. And now when you are looking at Ukrainians I think you feel what does it mean for us. We are not far from you …. If you see and you understand how we feel, how we fight against all the enemies of our freedom, support us!

Zelensky’s call for American support should ring in our ears every time we see or read stories about the horrors unfolding in Ukraine. His words should inspire us to do our part, any way we can, to aid in Ukrainians’ noble cause. 

Yes, gas prices have already gone up significantly, following the Russian invasion. And if the U.S. and Europe stop buying Russian oil and gas, they’ll climb even higher. 

In light of these economic challenges, many Americans will have to make hard choices about how to spend their money. It will be extremely difficult for some of us. Many will suffer. 

But when your wallet feels light, keep in mind the Ukrainians and their struggle for freedom. Because at this important, and yes frightening, moment in global history, they are fighting for the future of democracy and freedom around the world, including yours and mine, just as America did in World War II. 

We should do everything we can as ordinary citizens to support Ukraine’s noble effort. 

Carmen Gentile

Carmen Gentile is founder and editor-at-large of Postindustrial Media. Reach him at carmen@postindustrial.com.

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