Thursday, October 26, 2023

Ursula von der Leyen Warned Us of the Totalitarian Winds

Ursula von der Leyen
Sometimes even the tritest metaphor brings great power to a public speech. Metaphors express our values. So, we might ask, how are the winds of history blowing? What about the attacks that totalitarian regimes launch against seemingly stable democracies? On October 19, 2023, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke at the Hudson Institute in Washington DC. She warned the assemblage that freedom was under worldwide attack. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the outbreak of violence between Hamas and Israel especially alarmed her. Winds, she said? No, she insisted, the attack on freedom was at “gale force:”
“The winds are not just blowing today. Today, they are at gale force. Our democracies are under sustained and systemic attack by those who abhor freedom because it threatens their rule. For more than 600 days now, our friends in Ukraine have been fighting and dying for their freedom against Russian aggression. And now, Israel has suffered the worst terrorist attack in its history, and the worst mass murder of Jews since the Holocaust.” [italics supplied]
Von der Leyen pointed out the common barbarity of Hamas and Russia in their terrible wars:
“Russia and Hamas are alike. As President Zelenskyy has said their ‘essence is the same”. Both have deliberately sought out innocent civilians, including babies and children, to kill and take hostage.”
Continuing her argument, von der Leyen insisted that the winds of evil can be stopped. The defeat of representative government is not written in stone. As she reminded the Institute, the democratic nations defeated fascist forces around the world during World War II:
“We have not forgotten that in World War II, democracy won over fascism and autocracy. This triumph set the foundation of our peace order. And this is not only about the past, but it will also define our future.”
So, von der Leyen was right. We must learn from the past. We look to the past to understand the future. We rely on our basic values. So often, people think that authoritarian and fascist governments are stronger than the world’s democracies and constitutional republics. History emphatically refutes that view. She reminded her conservative audience that the historical lesson rings true today.

In the United States Congress, support for the Ukrainians is under emphatic attack from major Republican leaders, while a few Democrats have expressed reluctance about supporting Israel in its fight against Hamas. Surely, while she never mentioned names, von der Leyen timed her speech well.

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The foreign policy implications of current world conflicts are complex, and I have no foreign policy expertise. Still, can we remember von der Leyen’s metaphor, that “gale force” winds are attacking the world order that has brought us prosperity and which has kept us free from World War for decades. She stated to all of us that history is on the side of freedom. She reminded us that vicious, murderous regimes bring their countries to bad ends.

The Hudson Institute is a conservative think tank that is sometimes associated with the neocon movement. Von der Leyen, a voice for European conservativism, called for unity, not discord, between Europe and the United States and the struggle for freedom. Her simple metaphor of “gale force” winds reminds all of us that we face horrible challenges.

European President Ursula von der Leyen Called for European Unity during the Russia-Ukraine Crisis

Peace, justice, and prosperity must always be supported by wisdom. The speech received little attention in the United States, despite the influential audience to which she addressed it. The American press is more interested in Biden’s gaffes or Donald Trump’s temper tantrums. Von der Leyen ignored the squabbling details of American and European politics, relying instead on moral values drawn from history.

Indeed, calm, reasoned, and thoughtful rhetoric should never go out of date. As we face terrifying winds, let us acknowledge them, at the same time that we remember the blessings of living in free countries.


P.S. Von der Leyen, a conservative German leader, faced up to her nation's Nazi past in this speech. I'd love to hear more American conservatives rise above our own past. What do you think? 

by William D.Harpine

© Copyright 2023, William D. Harpine

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