The 23-minute speech of the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky before the joint meeting of the United States Congress was a model of defiance in the midst of optimism. Defiance, for Zelensky mirrored the courage and indomitable spirt of resistance against one dictator who has uttered several times that “Ukraine has no right to exist” and that it is a “manufactured country.”
Optimism, as Zelensky delivered his impassioned plea for support during Advent, or in layman’s terms, at the start of the Christmas season, which for Christians is a season of hope.
For Christians, the birth of Christ in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, marks the beginning of salvation history and faith in the salvific process.
In his speech, Zelensky said, “We’ll celebrate Christmas, (and) even if there is no electricity, the light of our faith in ourselves will not be put out. If Russian missiles attack us, we’ll do our best to protect ourselves. If they attack us with Iranian drones and people will have to go to bomb shelters on Christmas Eve, Ukrainians will still sit down at the holiday table and cheer up each other. And we don’t have to know everyone’s wish as we know that all of us, millions of Ukrainians, wish the same: victory, only victory.”
It was clear that Zelenskyhad appealed to the importance of families being together, especially on Christmas which was coming a few weeks after another great American family festival, Thanksgiving. He was also addressing the American commitment to democracy, despite the aberration of, among others, Trump, Giuliani, Kevin McCarthy, Roger Stone, Steve Bannon, congressman Jim Jordan, and the Jan. 6 insurrection. To remind the Americans of their solidarity with democratic principles and the willingness of the US to fight for such principles, Zelensky referred to the address of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, also on a December day, in 1941 and, of course, to the address of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) on Dec. 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese Imperial Army’s sneak attack on American military and naval facilities and assets at Pearl Harbor, Guam, Wake Island, Midway Island, the then British Malaya and the Philippines.
While asking for the support of the US, Zelensky was careful to point out that the Ukrainians were not asking the US government to send American troops, because “we will do the fighting ourselves and we can operate American aircraft and other military assets. Too many American families had lost husbands, wives, brothers and sisters in wars waged by America in distant lands.”
Zelensky further emphasized the brutality of the Russian forces on orders of the Kremlin and certainly, Putin. “The Russian tactic is primitive. They burn down and destroy everything they see. They send thugs to the front lines. They send convicts to the war. They threw everything against us, similar to the other tyranny, which is similar to the Battle of the Bulge.” The reference to the Battle of the Bulge has to do with the last German offensive before the victory of the Allied Forces during World War II.
In his speech at the US Congress, Churchill referred to the triumvirate of (dictators) of Germany, Italy, and Japan as “enormous forces” ranged against Great Britain, the US, and other World War II allies which ironically included the USSR. Churchill had warned that “upon the battle depends the survival of Christian civilization.”
“They are bitter; they are ruthless. The wicked men and their factions who have launched their peoples on the path of war and conquest know that they will be called to terrible account if they cannot beat down by force of arms the peoples they have assailed. They will stop at nothing. They have a vast accumulation of war weapons of all kinds. They have highly trained and disciplined armies, navies, and air services. They have plans and designs which have long been contrived and matured. They will stop at nothing that violence or treachery can suggest.”
The reference to FDR’s speech was just as timely and relevant. FDR had gone to Congress for a Declaration of War against Japan. Before he made his request, FDR stated, “The attack (at Pearl Harbor) yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reportedly torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.”
FDR also pointed out the duplicity of the enemy in Asia which was conducting diplomatic negotiations through their highest diplomatic officials while preparing for the attacks on American military, naval, and air services. FDR then simply stated, “The President requests a War Declaration.” The request was granted.
A third speech, without any formal declarations of war but with the same request for understanding and support after a long and grueling but bloodless struggle to restore democracy, was delivered by President Corazon C. Aquino on Sept. 18, 1986, seven months after assuming office on Feb. 25 of the same year. The appeal was focused on the Philippines’ then foreign debt which had ballooned to $26 billion by the time the Ferdinand Marcos reign had come to an end in February 1986.
President Aquino had said, “Finally, may I turn to that other slavery, our $26 billion foreign debt. I have said that we shall honor it. Yet, the means by which we shall be able to do so are kept from us.” President Aquino added that many of the conditions imposed on the previous government continued to be imposed on Filipinos who never benefitted from those onerous loans.
The three speeches before the joint sessions of the US congress are all history-making, although with vastly different contexts. But they all have one thing in common: They all tell the story of defending democracy.
As expected, the Kremlin’s official reaction to Zelensky’s speech was beamed at its domestic audience which has started to realize that Russia is losing what Putin himself now calls a “war.” Prior to his statement, it was illegal to call the “Special Military Operations” in Ukraine a “war.”
As things stand, with the approval by the US congress of $45 billion in new aid for Ukraine, covering economic, military training, and equipment assistance, and the entry of the Patriot missile system which is designed to target incoming enemy missiles, Putin’s options appear to be getting limited as per military experts. The use of the system by Ukraine, which is essentially defensive, has been called by Russia a provocative move by the US.
Putin’s main move is to cripple the infrastructure of Ukraine and make life miserable for all Ukrainians. No structure is exempt from attack; from hospitals to schools, churches, power and water systems. CNN says, the Russians are bombing Ukraine back into the stone age.
Putin apparently hopes to bring Ukraine to its knees by attrition, precipitate a refugee crisis, and create a humanitarian emergency for Europe and the west. This refugee crisis should put a strain on the West’s budgets and, worse, create dissension in these societies and the importance of this surge of humanity relative to each country’s priorities and political orientations.
Philip Ella Juico’s areas of interest include the protection and promotion of democracy, free markets, sustainable development, social responsibility and sports as a tool for social development. He obtained his doctorate in business at De La Salle University. Dr. Juico served as secretary of Agrarian Reform during the Corazon C. Aquino administration.