News Mar 07, 2024 12:41 PM EST

America First! American Tax Dollars for Americans! Nyet. Nein. The First Duty of Taxpayers is to Liberty.

By Patrick Mondaca

President Roosevelt  circa 1940: American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 - 1945) at his desk. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
President Roosevelt circa 1940: American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882 - 1945) at his desk. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images) (Hulton Archive / Stringer)

"Give me liberty, or give me death!" Virginia statesman Patrick Henry famously declared on March 23, 1775, in opposition to British military intervention in the colonies.

It is a warning to oppressors that has endured through the centuries. 

President Biden Meets With Visiting Ukrainian President Zelensky At The White House

(Photo : Chip Somodevilla / Staff)

By arming those fighting for their freedom abroad, American taxpayers were investing in their own security and defense.

Fast forward a century and a half and President Franklin D. Roosevelt called for this kind of sacrifice, "the payment of more money in taxes," and "putting patriotism ahead of pocketbooks." It meant producing U.S. war materials for democracies under threat regardless of their ability to pay.

Two decades later amidst the tensions of the Cold War, former U.S. President John F. Kennedy echoed Roosevelt's speech at his inaugural address on January 20, 1961. "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty." And such assurances have been long-established principles of American foreign and defense policy.

Pay for Your Liberty, or Your Death is on You. 

Fast forward to a campaign rally in Conway, South Carolina on February 10, 2024, as former President Donald Trump recalled a conversation with a NATO country's leader. "If we don't pay and we're attacked by Russia, will you protect us?" the leader asked him. "No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want," Trump told supporters he had replied. The juxtaposition of Roosevelt and Kennedy's liberty first and Trump's America First is a stark reminder of the ongoing struggle between those in this country who see the United States as a beacon of democracy and the isolationists who believe what happens beyond our borders is not our problem.  

The latest iteration of the America First movement comes as an authoritarian Russia runs roughshod over Ukraine, a vengeful Israel annihilates occupied Palestine, and communist China looms over Taiwan, among the many other ongoing threats to democracy and human rights worldwide. The American isolationist movement first reared its "soft-headed" skull in September 1940, a year after the Nazis blitzkrieged through Poland. With 800,000 members, the America First Committee (ATF) was comprised of isolationists opposed to U.S. involvement in foreign entanglements and Nazi sympathizers like Charles Lindbergh convinced of an inevitable Axis victory. 

JAPAN-G20-SUMMIT  US President Donald Trump (R) attends a meeting with Russia's President Vladimir Putin during the G20 summit in Osaka on June 28, 2019.

(Photo : (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images))

As Robert Kagan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, noted recently regarding GOP sentiment at the outbreak of World War II, "Britain was certain to lose and...any weapons or money sent to Britain were wasted on a hopeless cause, with the money better spent at home." Today's GOP is not far off from its predecessors. In a letter to the White House opposing further aid to Ukraine sent on September 21, 2023, Republican members of Congress expressed a similar argument. "The American people deserve to know what their money has gone to. How is the counteroffensive going? Are the Ukrainians any closer to victory than they were 6 months ago?"

One lawmaker who signed the letter, Sen. J.D. Vance (R., Ohio), on the premise that such assistance would be a poor use of taxpayer dollars, said on his website regarding a visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, "This is not Churchill coming in the midst of World War II, this is literally a guy begging for a handout..." And yet, as many sitting and former world leaders have acknowledged, Zelenskyy's courage and defiance in leading his country's fight against an overwhelmingly superior aggressor exemplifies both Churchill and the very democratic cause Roosevelt and Kennedy promised to pay any price to support. 

Ukraine's Fight is America's Fight 

The first U.S. President and Commander-in-Chief George Washington had this to say about his fledgling republic's mandate: "The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people." And as former President Roosevelt likely would have said, the sacrifice of U.S. tax dollars for Ukraine, most of which is going directly back into the economy through American arms manufacturers, is a small price to pay to keep that fire of liberty alight. Indeed, "of the $68 billion in military and related assistance Congress has approved since Russia invaded Ukraine, almost 90 percent is going to Americans," according to the Washington Post. 

As the Ukrainian military rations ammunition and struggles to hold its ground against relentless Russian waves of human meat assaults, the greatest threat to liberty since the Third Reich comes not just from Moscow. With Ukraine's existence hanging in the balance and with other Eastern European countries in the Kremlin's crosshairs, critical U.S. aid to the Ukrainian war effort is being withheld by GOP lawmakers. One such lawmaker, the aforementioned Sen. J.D. Vance, (R., Ohio), told CNN's Jake Tapper it was "in America's best accept Ukraine is going to have to cede some territory to the Russians." He went on to say, "The idea that Ukraine was going to throw Russia back to the 1991 border was preposterous; nobody actually believed it."

Lawmakers like Vance should remember that there was a time when nobody believed that Washington's ragtag Continental Army would send Great Britain's professional army packing back to England. And a time when nobody believed Churchill's tiny Royal Air Force would send the mighty German Luftwaffe spiraling into the English Channel or limping back to France. Or that Zelenskyy's citizen-soldiers would survive the Russian onslaught two days after the February 2022 invasion. And yet the Ukrainians continue to fight two years later. They just need the weapons and ammunition to keep fighting. Lawmakers like Vance should remember what Roosevelt said about America's obligation to such resolute peoples as Zelenskyy's. "We cannot, and we will not, tell them that they must surrender, merely because of present inability to pay for the weapons which we know they must have."

Lawmakers like Vance should remember that history does not look kindly on appeasers and sympathizers like Lindbergh and Trump. History does not look kindly on those who would snuff out the "sacred fire of liberty" for personal gain like Benedict Arnold - on "that small group of selfish men," as Roosevelt described them, "who would clip the wings of the American eagle in order to feather their own nests."

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