DUNKIRK HERE AND NOW
“We will not give up, and we will not lose. 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.”
-Volodymyr Zelensky (March 2022)
“We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end… 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.”
-Winston Churchill (June 1940)
It isn’t as though Ukrainian President Zelensky has only invoked Winston Churchill’s words in the extraordinary series of speeches he has delivered, of late, to august political bodies around the world. President Zelensky has proven himself an astonishingly adept allusionist. He does not dryly quote. Rather, he incorporates and internalizes the stirring oratory of others and makes their words his own. Reverberations of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” eloquence surfaced in his speech to a Joint Session of Congress last Wednesday, March 16. Shakespeare’s Hamlet punctuated his address to Britain’s Parliament the week before on March 8.
Still and all, it is Winston Churchill whom President Zelensky most pointedly echoes. Who would have imagined that Churchill’s infamous words to the House of Commons in the aftermath of Dunkirk on June 4, 1940 would ever again find such intense and immediate resonance? Dunkirk, as Churchill reminded his listeners, was not a victory, Dunkirk was an evacuation in the face of defeat; the desperate, against-all-odds evacuation of 338,226 British and French soldiers from France’s beaches by a flotilla of seafaring vessels of every description, including small boats from home.
Dunkirk, as President Zelensky profoundly understands, was about conquering fear, to outlast evil. Winston Churchill gave vivid expression to this sense of survival as a victory unto itself. His words were anything but celebratory. They projected strength by honestly acknowledging what had so narrowly been escaped and what was yet to come. It was as if Churchill was sharing with his listeners both his innermost fears and his innermost refusal to succumb to those fears. It is this humane Churchillian essence that President Zelensky has most inspiringly embraced. He simply has nowhere else to go.
We stand with you as we stand with Ukraine.