James Pinkerton, DCNF
There are many kinds of renewal: cultural, technological, national. Yet none mean much unless there’s the accompanying willingness to change. And change-making requires determination and, oftentimes, courage.
Winston Churchill put his finger on it when he declared, “Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities … because it is the quality which guarantees all others.”
Today, if we want an example of courage — an example that’s likely to shine for years, decades, even centuries to come — we can look to Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the embattled president of war-torn Ukraine.
To be sure, we might never if some of the early tales of courage from the Ukraine war are factual. While accounts of the heroic soldier at the bridge at Henichesk appear to be accurate, it seems that the soldiers who shouted their defiance on Snake Island ultimately surrendered to the Russians, and did not, as first reported, die with their boots on. And who knows the truth about the Ghost of Kyiv. Or about the Ukrainian Reaper.
Yet we do know that the country as a whole has been resisting bravely; we can all see the video of burned out Russian tanks and other armored vehicles.
At the lead in the fight is a certifiably Churchillian figure, Zelenskyy. When asked about fleeing his country, his defiant words,— “I need ammunition, not a ride” — will redound in history as one of the great expressions of heroic resolve, as just the right mix of fortitude and manly quip.
Zelenskyy’s words recall, for example, Molon Labe (“come and take them”), attributed to Leonidas of Sparta at the Battle of Thermopylae as he confronted a huge Persian army — and dramatized in the film, 300. We don’t really know whether or not Leonidas said those words, although we do know that in 480 BCE the Spartans, obedient to the defense of their country, died valiantly.
We know that Leonidian locutions have been repeated many times in battles since, as in 1835, when Texas militiamen ran off Mexican cavalry at the Battle of Gonzales.
Yet when 2022 began, it might have seemed strange to predict that we would soon once again be wrestling with such elemental concepts as courage in the face of death. After all, here in America, many — certainly the cultural tone-setters — have been living a soft life for decades, made even softer of late by Zoom and Uber and Shipt, where the heaviest armor anyone wore was a face mask.
One of our richest tech moguls, Mark Zuckerberg, bids us to join him in the Metaverse, where we all supposedly will be shielded from everything but our own fantasies, and all the violence will be virtual.
Then the real world came crashing in. On Feb. 24, Russia invaded Ukraine. The bombs and bullets were real: People on the ground couldn’t change the channel or surf away from the carnage.
In this real world, it meant a lot that Zelenskyy was there with his people, always visible on social media, risking the same fate as anyone else in Russian crosshairs.
The contrast between Zelenskyy and his tormentor, Russian President Vladimir Putin, was stark. In the words of The Financial Times’s Gideon Rachman, “The Ukrainian president, once derided as a comic actor out of his depth, has won international acclaim for his inspirational leadership. His physical bravery on the streets of Kyiv is a marked contrast to the cowardice of Putin, who is too scared of a virus to allow his own officials within breathing distance.”
Yes, physical leadership matters: No wonder the Ukrainians seem to be fighting better than the Russians.
We can add that if Zelenskyy is another Churchill, then Putin is another Adolf Hitler. It’s worth noting that the Russian neo-Tsar has now joined Der Führer as one of only two dictators to have militarily attacked Ukraine in the last century; meme-makers have been quick to point out their infernal fusion, conjoined into Putler.
Now we must recognize a reality that’s always been true, even if we didn’t wish to acknowledge it: The world is often defined by violence; that is, by who wins and who loses.
It was the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who declared, “War is the father of all and the king of all.” For better or worse — for living or dying — it’s war, not WiFi, that shapes our destiny. The ancient sage added, identifying war as masculine, “some he has made slaves and some free.”
Which will we be: slave or free? In this world we cohabit with menacing superpowers such as Russia and China, it’s no longer a laughably remote question.
Newt Gingrich argues that the post-World War Two order, heavy as it was on the rule of law — and laden as it was with hope for world peace — is now kaput. “We’re going to see a much more violent world and a lot greater dangers,” he says, “and we’re going to see the dictatorships being much more aggressive.”
So this is our new world, same as the old word: We are threatened by tyrants, and thus the bravery of heroes is needed. So as we part with illusions built up over the past few decades, we need some hard-headed rethinking.
Should we still be “working” with the Russians on climate change, as John Kerry wishes? Okay, that question is easily enough answered.
Harder questions need a reckoning. For instance, should the U.S. get back on track as an energy exporter, thereby reversing the policy direction of the Biden administration? And thereby empowering the U.S. to replace Russian hydrocarbons, worldwide, with “Drilled in USA?”
Admittedly, it’s hard to imagine President Joe Biden reversing field on green ideology (even if such greenery seems to be more his administration’s than his, personally). And yet if the U.S. can’t be an energy leader, it’s difficult to see how we can be a leader for what used to be called — and will hopefully always be called — the Free World.
Does Biden have that sort of courage? Nobody’s asking him to be a Zelenskyy; he just needs to be brave enough to change course in the marbled corridors of Washington.
Great American presidents have sometimes had to shift dramatically in the face of exigency. For instance, in March 1861, Abraham Lincoln came into office hoping to achieve a compromise on slavery — an institution he loathed — in the name of peacefully preserving the union. Even after the Confederacy violently seceded in April, the 16th president was still hoping for a compromise; it was not until late in the following year, 1862, that he signed the Emancipation Proclamation, signaling an end to any possibility that slavery could survive in the United States.
Even more pertinently, Harry Truman came into office in April 1945, at a time when the Soviet Russians were supposedly our close ally in the fight against fascism. It took a few years of Soviet bad behavior — and a ringing speech by the same Winston Churchill — to shake Americans out of their complacency.
But when Truman and America finally saw the truth about Stalin and his Russians, we took it to heart. Soon, the U.S. was gearing up for the long twilight struggle of the Cold War.
Were these big pivots by Lincoln and Truman? Sure they were. Maybe even 180s. But there was a country to save — this country. So now, in this crisis, we’ll see if Biden can make the same sort of needed pivot.
The stern realities of international geopolitics are summoning us to a change in our energy strategy, and to other changes, in keeping with the new emergency, which some are calling World War Three. If the 46th president lacks the needed courage, then American Renewal will require a political change.
James P. Pinkerton, a former White House domestic policy aide to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, has been a Fox News contributor since 1996.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.
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