Zelensky Echoes Churchill In Appeal To Europe

10 Mar 2022

CLAY: The Splendid and the Vile, which is about Churchill during the bombing of England. Have you read that book, Buck?

BUCK: I’m about 75 pages into Dead Wake by Erik Larson, the same author, about the sinking of the Lusitania. We really do nerd out. This is like when we show up on TV wearing the same outfit.

CLAY: Exact same outfits. I will say, I am an unabashed Churchill stan. I read about Churchill as much as I can. One of the coolest things I’ve ever gotten to do was going to London. If you’ve ever been to London and had an opportunity — or if you will be going at some point, because I know all the travel has been restricted to a large extent for the past couple of years — the Churchill War Rooms in London. Buck, have you been there? Have you ever been able to see this?

BUCK: I’ve only spent two days in London when I was 12, so I don’t remember anything, really. I didn’t get to go.

CLAY: So I love London because, again, the history. I’m not sure any city… I haven’t been to Rome. I would love to go at some point. But of all the cities that I have visited, London does one of the best jobs of mixing amazing history with the modern day, and you can walk into the Churchill War Rooms. You can tour them. This is where Churchill managed the war against Hitler, and it’s underground, and they’re bunkers because obviously of all the bombs that were falling on London.

And it basically is set up… Buck, you would be in disbelief of how amazing it is. It’s as if time has stood still. The moment that they ended the war in Europe, they essentially came out from underneath the ground, and they have preserved all the maps, the cot that Churchill slept on, where all the armies were located at the day when they were finally able to achieve victory in Europe. It is one of the coolest experiences — if you are a history buff — that is possible. I’m telling you right now, just put it on your list. If you ever have the opportunity to be in London, make sure that you go there.

BUCK: What’s your favorite Churchill biography?

CLAY: What’s the big…?

BUCK: William Manchester, The Last Lion?

CLAY: Yes.

BUCK: That tends to be the one. I like the Roy Jenkins biography of Churchill, too, but —

CLAY: Yes, but The Splendid and the Vile, if you haven’t read that, focuses specifically on the period where Hitler was ascendant and the question was, “Is he going to come across the Channel and invade?” and they totally believed that the psychology of all of the bombs that they were dropping on England was going to defeat the British people.

Churchill made a calculated decision. He read Hitler better than anybody who was alive at that time, and he understood what he had to do in order to keep the war going until he could get the United States and others to come and join him. And, remember, initially the United States was providing materiel and resources while avoiding getting involved in the war in Europe.

And so let me play this, because Zelensky is making a calculated attempt to appeal to the Europeans who remember and honor the legacy of Churchill. He is making a very calculated attempt to be that version. But I want to play for you… I believe we have — let’s see here — on the Zelensky take is good one, but I wanted to play first, I think they went back and they pulled Churchill saying that we would resist. Let’s play the Churchill from 1940.

CHURCHILL: 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.

CLAY: That was Churchill, June 4th, 1940, speaking to the House of Commons. Well, Zelensky invoked Winston Churchill in his remarks to the United Kingdom, to the Parliament there. I want you to listen to this and take into account the historical echoes.

ZELENSKY: We’ll not give up and we will not lose. We will fight ’til 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.

CLAY: So you hear the historical relevance there. Great job pulling those cuts to put them side by side by our crew. Buck, Zelensky has become the focal point of Ukrainian resistance both in Europe and around the world. What exactly…? And he’s clearly invoking Churchill, continues the analogy which some want to make of Putin as a modern-day Hitler. And let’s be fair.

Every single time somebody does something bad or something that you’ve disagreed with, the Hitler analogy is tossed out there. But you’re a guy who studies history too. What is the evocation here long term of Zelensky clearly aligning himself with Churchill, and what do you think of the historical resonance, the historical analogy, and what it means going forward for the Ukrainian fight?

BUCK: He understands the messaging here is to draw a direct connection between his stand against Putin’s invasion and the Western world at the time, really, the British Empire and the United States and Canada — well, those two together, but you know what I mean — coming together to fight against Nazi Germany. This is what he wants people to be thinking of, that this is a moment in time just like we’re back at the early stages of World War II and that it’s effectively inevitable.

This is a fight for humanity, for all of mankind, and this is whether the long night of fascism takes over or not will be determined in this conquest. I don’t think that that is actually a fair historical analogy, unfortunately. I think that this is, yeah, obviously Putin has launched an aggressive invasion here. But the people that are saying, “His next stop will be, his next stop will be,” and it’s the NATO countries, “He’s gonna take over Poland, he’s gonna take over the Baltics, he’s gonna…”

No. At some point, we will fight. We’re already talking about a no-fly zone, folks. It’s been two weeks, and I think Putin realizes if he tries to roll tanks into Poland, we’re gonna have American A-10 Warthogs blowing up Russian tanks and World War III may be upon us. I think he does know that. But as we’re seeing this right now, I’m prepared for it, Clay, but, so now if someone somewhere invades another country, America has to get involved directly with troops in some capacity? Because a no-fly zone is American military in a war zone as active combatants, and that is what the — and they realize it’s a big tipping point because once you do that, what comes next? What’s the next step?

CLAY: I’m not concerned about Putin taking the next step because I don’t think, based on the way that the invasion has gone in Ukraine, that he even has the supply lines, Buck, to be able to take him from Ukraine into another country like Poland. I don’t believe… Now, he could fly in with planes and drop bombs and attack that way. But the idea that we’re gonna see a blitzkrieg-style attack where you’re rolling across multiple countries as we saw Hitler suddenly initiate in World War II is not.

BUCK: I think that’s bad. I think that’s bad-faith analysis. I think that’s meant to terrify people who don’t want us to get into Ukraine into thinking, “Oh, my gosh. If we don’t do this, next thing you know, he’s gonna be flying the Russian Federation…”

CLAY: The poeple that are arguing he’s gonna take over Poland, everything else.

BUCK: That’s not gonna happen.

CLAY: You agree with me that they have to recognize that that’s not a probability, right? Like, it’s almost impossible to even conceptualize.

BUCK: Yeah. He doesn’t have the… He can’t do that is the point I think that you’re making.

CLAY: Yeah.

BUCK: He can’t trigger Article Five of NATO response and withstand that unless he wants… Putin doesn’t want a nuclear war. He wants, probably, half of Ukraine, and a promise that it will never be in NATO. I’m not saying that’s okay, but I’m saying I think that is his end state here. He can’t take over all of Europe. Russia’s got a $1.4 trillion economy. They’re not gonna be able to do this.

CLAY: They can barely get to Kiev right now with the resources… They’ve been straggled out and strung out on the road for 40 miles as we’ve seen for a while, and they seem to have major supply issues there. The idea that you’re gonna roll into another country, not to mention one that would trigger potentially NATO defense protocols seems to me kind of crazy. But I do think the historical relevancy for Zelensky is he’s playing clearly into the Churchill analogy.

Because he knows that people now looking at this, Buck, know that Churchill’s on the right side of history, right, and maybe one of the few people in the twentieth century that everybody can agree on is a true lion-hearted hero, and that might move European leaders and American leaders who are fond of Churchill’s legacy to be more supportive of him and Ukraine than they otherwise would be. I think it’s a smart play by him.

BUCK: Yeah, sure, and I think a lot of people will have in mind the movie Finest Hour, where Gary Oldman is playing Churchill, similar to The Splendid and the Vile in terms of the time period, right, Churchill is in the bunker trying to keep the war going despite the machinations of Halifax, who now is treated like a bad guy. I think it’s interesting, the debate at the beginning of World War II of who in the British government wanted to get involved.

Obviously, Churchill was much more bellicose and now we say, “Well, Churchill turned out to be right.” Europe had just gone through World War I. They’d effectively thrown an entire generation of men into a meat grinder for what purpose? For what reason? It was understandable that there was a lot of hesitation to go through, in a generation, yet another war.

CLAY: Which is why France fell so quickly, right, because France succumbed to that same thing. The Maginot Line, everything else fell apart because of the historical demand that World War I extracted upon that entire country.

BUCK: But the other part of this we have to remember is that America didn’t even want to get involved in WW2, right?

CLAY: Yep.

BUCK: We were attacked by Japan. We were trying to remain neutral. We had the neurological act. In that movie, Finestt Hour, you had that phone call with FDR, is like (impression), “Well, maybe we can let you pull the planes, old boy, across…” Remember that?

CLAY: Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

BUCK: Not a bad FDR impression.

CLAY: There haven’t been a lot of FDR compressions on the radio in a long time so I think everybody’s gonna believe it’s a dead ringer.

BUCK: There we go. But we were trying very hard at that point — the U.S. government was true very hard at that point — to not get involved. Look, war fever is a very contagious thing. I always am reminded of the Mark Twain, Samuel Clemens… Essentially, it’s a short story about the guy who comes in — about the church and — I think it’s called The War Prayer.

And it just goes to how people get very caught up in the moment where you’re saying, “Hold on a second. What are we doing here?” they look at you like you’re the crazy one. “What do you mean you don’t want to go to war right away?” It feels like we’re moving in that direction right now. We have a lot of coverage of a hospital that was just hit. It’s horrible. I was saying last week and the week before, “This is going to become atrocious.

“It’s gonna be awful. We’re gonna see more…” Remember, Clay, those opening days it was people spreading all these memes about how the Ukrainians are just kicking butt everywhere and everything’s amazing? This is gonna get very, very ugly. This is what war actually is. And when people are proposing, let’s say, Zelensky — to bring it back to your point about Zelensky as Churchill — okay, we lost a lot of people in the Second World War.

And that was a conflict that we tried to stay out of and found ourselves brought into. Do we really want to risk the possibility of open warfare with Russia? I think a lot of people in this country believe that we could kick Russia’s butt so fast that we would barely even feel it and that they wouldn’t fire nukes, and I think that’s wrong on both counts.

CLAY: Well, and also the challenge would be, we could find ourselves in a first Iraq war situation, Buck. Remember in the first Iraq war, we dominated, kicked Saddam Hussein’s butt when he invaded Kuwait. But the problem was Saddam Hussein was still in control after the first Iraq war. And to what extent is Putin…? Even if we were able to come in and kick them out of Ukraine, to what extent are we committing to a regime change in Russia? ‘Cause if we’re not, the danger is perhaps even more elevated and remains such with Putin still in control of Russia even if we beat him in Ukraine.

BUCK: Let’s understand this: The Donbas region, for example, and Crimea clearly, that’s… Unless people wanted to have the 82nd Airborne and U.S. Marines deploying to fight urban and ground warfare against Russians, that’s never gonna go back to Ukraine. The Russians will dig in on that and treat that like Russian Federation territory. So this is where we get into, “How do we bring this thing to an end?”

I just want this thing to end as quickly as possible. I know everyone wants it to end as quickly as possible. But whatever achieves that right now I think and preserves the most human life should be the goal. But look, apparently, that’s a minority position right now: 70% of people want a no-fly zone, according to the most recent polling I’ve seen. So we may be heading there, Clay.

CLAY: I don’t think most people understand what a no-fly zone means. Again, I think everybody wants this thing to be over. The question is, how do we get there and how do we do it with the least loss of life, as well as the least risk of the loss of life because this idea… We had this good conversation in the first hour about what would happen if a nuclear weapon actually got let loose, and I don’t think hardly anybody’s actually talking about it.

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