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Opinion | Zelensky and Churchill Are True Leaders

“All right” in this context meant the geopolitical consequences of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, which finally brought the United States into the war; intensive haggling among the allied leaders; the deaths of tens of millions; famine, bankruptcy and poverty across great swaths of Europe; and the effective end of the British Empire that Churchill loved too much. The speechifying was, at most, a fragile pivot around which much greater forces swung.

Still, I would not be surprised if right now, at the moment of their maximum peril, young Ukrainians were tapping into their phones similar “it will be all right” thoughts after hearing or watching Mr. Zelensky’s latest. The parallel between the two men is not, it turns out, ridiculous after all. After decades of relative domestic peace, the West perhaps was in danger of forgetting the pivotal and motivating power of individual charismatic leadership.

We cannot finally judge the meaning of Mr. Zelensky’s defiance until we know how it ends. We know, of course, how the Churchill and World War II story ended. We know that he, like Mr. Zelensky, was fundamentally pleading for American support. But the Zelensky story may have a long way yet to run.

And the meaning of symbols can change very quickly. How would Churchill be remembered today had Britain been defeated in 1940? As a stubborn, outdated, old imperialist warmonger? In the economic war that has now begun, there may come a time when Europeans and Americans, selfishly horrified by high energy prices and the economic shock caused by the invasion, turn Mr. Zelensky from a heroic Ukrainian resistance fighter into a stubborn blockage to a necessary endgame.

He may yet emerge as the triumphant leader of a still independent Ukraine, a world figure to set alongside Gandhi and Mandela. Or there may yet be a much darker ending.

For all the failures of the army, the Russian military advantage remains enormous. The day may come when Mr. Zelensky has no escape from the Russians coming after him. Churchill would have understood that as well. A few days before addressing the Commons, he spoke to colleagues in the cabinet about not giving in until he was lying on the ground, choking in his own blood. It is in the nature of courageous leadership that you don’t know the end of the story when you utter your memorable — and perhaps decisive — words.

Andrew Marr (@AndrewMarr9) is a contributing Opinion writer. He is a veteran British journalist and political analyst and was a longtime television and radio host for the BBC.

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