“The Greatness To Bend History”
“Every night for three weeks now…Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a sound of death for thousands of people.”
On June 6, 1966 Senator Robert F. Kennedy addressed students at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. In his famous “Ripple of Hope” speech, Kennedy acknowledged that “few have been given the greatness to bend history.” RFK was right. Although few have the courage and conviction needed to bend history, it can be done. Joan of Arc, Martin Luther, William Lloyd Garrison, Rachel Carson, and Rosa Parks all met the moment when history tapped them on the shoulder.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is now demonstrating the clarity of purpose needed to bend history. On Wednesday morning, Zelensky delivered a stirring virtual address to Democrats and Republican lawmakers gathered inside the Capitol. Unshaven and undaunted, Zelensky began by evoking memories of 9/11: “Remember September 11, a terrible day in 2001 when evil tried to turn your cities into battlefields. When innocent people were attacked from the air. Our country is experiencing the same every day, right now, at this moment. Every night for three weeks now…Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a sound of death for thousands of people.”
Zelensky urged the lawmakers to support new sanctions and to blacklist Russian politicians. Although over 300 global companies have suspended business operations in Russia, some continue to do business there. Zelensky demanded that all American companies leave the Russian market “because it is flooded with our blood.”
Toward the end of his address, Zelensky asked the members of Congress to watch a graphic video compilation. The short but powerful video juxtaposed images of the beauty of Ukrainian cities and people with searing images of Russia’s brutal and barbaric attacks on apartment buildings, hospitals, and children. Tears filled the eyes of legislators and viewers including me.
Zelensky concluded by stressing that Ukraine is in a desperate battle to defend its independence. But he reminded his listeners that Ukraine is also defending America’s deeply held values of freedom, democracy, and self-determination. By encouraging us to put aside our petty political battles, Zelensky is attempting to bend history by reminding America of its role as the leader of the Free World and its historic mission as a “city on a hill.”
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