“Doing Your Bit”-A Duty Every Generation Encounters

The Black Man’s Bit

by Leslie Pinckney Hill  published in 1921

“Leslie Pinckney Hill was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, on May 14, 1880. He attended public schools in East Orange, New Jersey, before graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree in 1903. He earned a master’s degree a year later.”

In the foreword in the book this poem appears, Hill wrote, “Nothing in the life of the nation has seemed to me more significant than that dark civilization which the colored man has built up in the midst of a white society organized against it. The Negro has been driven under all the burdens of oppression, both material and spiritual, to the brink of desperation, but he has always been saved by his philosophy of life. He has advanced against all opposition by a certain elevation of his spirit. He has been made strong in tribulation. He has constrained oppression to give him wings.

“In such poems as  ‘The Black Man’s Bit,’  I have desired to exhibit something of this indestructible spiritual quality of my race (during WW I). I trust that there may be in all at least an implied appeal to that spirit of human brotherhood by which alone the world must find the path to peace.”  (Source: poets.org)

O there’s talk from school to pulpit, and the barber’s place is rife,
And the shoe shop and the supper table hum,
With the tale of Dixies black men who have shared the mighty strife
For that freedom of the better time to come.
Every mother’s eye is brighter, every father’s back is straighter,
And our girls are tripping lightly in their pride,
And by none except a Teuton, or a slacker, or a traitor, 
Will the right to their elation be denied.

They said they were too slow, too dull, too this and that to do it,
They couldn’t match the method of the Hun,
And then to arm a million—why, the land would surely rue it
If a million blacks were taught to use a gun.
But right won out, and they went in at all detractors smiling;
They learned as quick as any how to shoot,
They took the prize at loading ships, and riveting and piling,
And trained a thousand officers to boot.

And when they went ’twas with a boon no others had been bringing,
For whether with a pick or with a gun,
They lightened every labor with a wondrous sort of singing,
And turned the pall of battle into fun.
O the Frenchman was a marvel, and the Yankee was a wonder,
And the British line was like a granite wall,
But for singing as they leaped away to draw the Kaisers thunder,
The swarthy sons of Dixie beat them all.

And now that they have helped to break the rattling Hunnish sabre,
Theyll trail the Suwanee River back again
To Dixie home, and native song, and school and honest labor,
To be as men among their fellow men.
No special thanks or praise they’ll ask, no clapping on the shoulder
They did their bit, and won, and all men know it
And Dixie will be proud of them, and grown a little older,
And wiser, too, will welcome them and show it.

A Contemporary Moment

I read this poem about wartime duty and on Monday, received these two pictures from an event at the Lincoln Memorial.  It honored wounded Ukrainian soldiers sent to the US for treatment.

Hill’s words again:

“He has advanced against all opposition by a certain elevation of his spirit. He has been made strong in tribulation. He has constrained oppression to give him wings.”

And wiser, too, (we) will welcome them and show it.

Ukraine in the Third Year of Russia’s Invasion

President Zelensky’s assessment: we are 730  days closer to victory.

I have periodically commented on this war with pictures and accounts from the country.  I believe the Russian invasion of Ukraine February 22, 2022 is an event that will affect Americans for a generation.

A Tutorial Question

My undergraduate major was in international relations.  I took a course two years later at Oxford on European international evens between  WW I  and WW II which explored the origins of the second world war: inevitable or not?

For the final paper my tutor assigned the question, Did the conquering of Poland  (by Germany and Russia) so radically alter the European balance of power that a negotiated peace was  an impossibility from a political and military point of view?

The question arose because there was a period   after Russia & Germany’s division of Poland that brought a relative calm.  This seemed to indicate that further Nazi aggression westward might be avoided, even though England and France had declared war on Germany after the Polish invasion.

My tutor was a graduate student, Martin Gilbert, who had been asked to complete Churchill’s biography after his son Randolph was unable to do so.  I  had to leave college   early(Uncle Sam calling) before he could go over my essay in person.  He wrote me a one-page cover letter as well as marking up my paper.

In his letter he suggested the following  event might  have been cited, which he was aware of because of his work on Churchill’s papers:

You might note that when Russian invaded Finland,  many  western observers hoped to  turn  the war (vs. Germany) against Russia.  The idea being that if France and Britain were at war with Russia, Hitler might join in and the “western” war forgotten.   But these were wild imaginings that would not come to anything—although the Supreme War Council (UK) discussed an Anglo-French war on Russia very seriously in December 1939. 

What does this have to do with Ukraine?   Simply there will always be a time of calm or uncertainty when some will push to accept the current status to avoid further conflict.  One has to understand the nature and motivations of an adversary, not hope for peace at any price.  Churchill never doubted who Hitler was.

If we leave Ukraine and believe we can avoid the consequences of our abandonment, we will, in my view, be involved in greater international crises in the near future.

Why believe that a positive outcome is possible?

A View of a Journalist who Adopted Ukraine

Francis Farrell is an Australian who went to Ukraine a month prior to February 2022.  He became a full time correspondent for The Kyiv Independent a daily digital news organization.

Here are his reflections on this anniversary:

I want to just mention a few little things, a couple of little observations about the Ukraine we live in today.

People sometimes say that life in Kyiv goes on as if there is no war. In my circle of male friends, almost everyone is learning how to build and fly drones, preparing to take the plunge into the military sooner rather than later.

People sometimes say that donations are down. All over my social media, I see the opposite: Ukrainians have built a practice of splitting up large fundraisers between friends, using cards with slick graphics, and see donating not as charity, but as civic duty.

People sometimes say that internally displaced people are being left behind. My friend, alongside a full-time job in marketing, has established a non-profit resettling people they evacuate from front-line settlements to villages in the rear, offering them free housing and revitalizing local economies.

People sometimes say that the free world is abandoning Ukraine. In the space of the past week, three more countries have signed security agreements with Kyiv, and more are on the way.

All we need is for someone on the other side of the Atlantic to shake some sense into a certain House Speaker and Putin will be fuming.

And, of course, people say that Ukraine can never take control of the skies, and that F-16s won’t make a difference. Well, Ukraine is now shooting down Russian planes at a rate not seen since the early months of the full-scale invasion, including, oh hello, what looks like a second priceless A-50 early warning and control jet just a few hours ago!

That’s it from me for now, I was never great at giving lavish speeches on big occasions.

I don’t know what the third year of Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine will bring.

A lot of pain and a lot of pride, probably.

What I do know is that I am so grateful for all of you who are still with us, with Ukraine and with the Kyiv Independent. Good night

Pictures of Hope, Courage and Sacrifice


School goes underground

Blown bridges to protect Kyiv in initial days of war

Evacation from Bakhmut

A military cemetary outside Kyiv

The Gerdan Ensemble in a concert of Ukrainian folk and dance music Sunday at Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church. All standing for the Ukrainian national anthem.

The Bells on Christmas Day-In Ukraine

From James Russell Lowell’s poem:

I heard the bells on Christmas dayTheir old familiar carols playAnd mild and sweet their songs repeatOf peace on Earth, good will to men. . .

And in despair I bowed my head“There is no peace on Earth, ” I saidFor hate is strong and mocks the songOf peace on Earth, good will to men. . .

Ukrainian Christmas Scenes

This year Ukraine moved the celebration of Orthodox Christmas to December 25.

“The trident, or “tryzub,” remains one of Ukraine’s most iconic symbols. Shaped like a spear with three prongs, its history goes back centuries. Volodymyr the Great included the symbol on coins when he ruled Kyiv from 980 to 1015.” (wikipedia)

McDonald’s deliveries.

A tree of shell canisters.

A video report from the Kiev Independent that captures the spirit of hope.

Then rang the bells more loud and deepGod is not dead, nor doth He sleep(Peace on Earth)(Peace on Earth)The wrong shall fail, the right prevailWith peace on Earth, good will to men
Then ringing, singing on its wayThe world revolved from night to dayA voice, a chime, a chant sublimeOf peace on Earth, good will to men

Freedom’s Reality

The last two weekends Joan and I have gone to two Ukrainian events.  The first was a three-day folk festival at St. Andrew’s Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Silver Spring, Maryland.

A tote bag from the festival.

Yesterday we attended the Sunday service at the First Baptist Church of Alexandria, Virginia  which featured the women of the Kiev Symphony Orchestra.  They are on a 35-day tour of the Eastern US.  The men of the chorus are unable to leave the country,

The women in concert.

Why Ukraine Matters

Timothy Snyder is a Yale history professor who has written extensively on Ukraine.

His course, The Making of Modern Ukraine, is 23 lectures on the country’s  history, completed in December 2022.  Every lecture can be viewed here.

This article is from last week.  The author presents Snyder’s brief historical context for the war.  More immediate, he addresses current political debates including Musk’s recent “non-activation” of his starlink satellite network stopping a Ukrainian attack on the Russian navy in Crimea.

Snyder provides the logic for why this war matters for America.  In the following paragraphs he presents an essential fact about freedom, whether in Ukraine, in America or even in the governance of credit unions.

“The freedom that Ukraine seeks today is “the value of values” because it is a “condition in which you are able to make choices among other values and realize those choices.”

“Americans (and many others) owe Ukrainians a huge debt of gratitude for their resistance to Russian aggression. .  .

“The greatest debt concerns freedom. This is a word that we Americans use quite a lot, but we sometimes lose track of what it really means.

“For the past thirty years or so, we have fallen into a very bad habit of believing that freedom is something that is delivered to us by larger forces, for example by capitalism. This is simply not true, and believing it has made us less free.

“The whole history of the progress of human liberty,” Frederick Douglass said, “shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle.” It will always be the case that freedom depends upon some kind of risky effort made against the larger forces.

“Freedom, in other words, will always depend upon an ethical commitment to a different and better world, and will always suffer when we believe that the world itself will do the work for us.“

Or, as the Ukrainian sailor defending a Snake Island outpost gestures in defiance  to a Russian warship’s  demand they surrender–an action portrayed on a commemorative stamp:

Labor Day from Ukraine

The first day of school.  Pupils of the first grade attend a lesson in a classroom set up in a subway station in Kharkiv, on September 4, 2023. Children in Kharkiv attend classes in subway stations due to the threat of Russian shelling.

The road ahead.


Ukraine Update From the Weekend

On Sunday I heard two presentations by Dr. Ivan Rusyn, President, Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary in Bucha.  The seminary sends help throughout the front lines.  Over 20 military chaplains have been killed in the war.

The country has adopted a policy that the men will not wear ties until the war is over-no politicians, no businessmen, no diplomats.   So he began wearing a priest’s collar so his vocation can be immediately identified.  “Our role is not just spiritual but to serve the whole person.”

Assistance-medical, meals, transportation- is extended to all persons regardless of any religious affiliation, a ministry he calls responding to the “unfamiliar neighbor.”

“Democracy is now a global affair.  It is tested everywhere if it fails anywhere.”

Meanwhile In Russia

Uneasy lies the head of an authoritarian government.  The Putin and Yevgeny Prigozhin relationship changes quickly.

Putin’s Fixer:

Memorial Day 2023-Words in War’s Time

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, every day has been a “Memorial Day “ for a family somewhere in that country.

Four days ago Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave a surprise commencement address to graduates of Johns Hopkins University by a live video link.

His country is in a war for its freedom.  Yet he took time to speak to 10,00 students and families of an American university’s graduating class.

The following are short excerpts from his ten minute speech in English.  They offer insight for how he views his leadership role.  These are words of discernment and character.

To the Johns Hopkins University Graduating Class of 2023:

Time is of the essence, and it is that essence that I would like to talk about today. One of the most common truisms on Earth is the advice to value, or at least not waste time. Why has it become so widespread?

Every person eventually realizes that time is the most valuable resource on the planet, not oil or uranium, not lithium or anything else, but time. Time.

The very flow of time convinces us of this. Some people realize this sooner, and these are the lucky ones. Others realize it too late when they lose someone or something. People cannot avoid it. This is just a matter of time. . .

Will you be able not to waste this time of your life? This topic seems trivial, but these are very, very difficult questions for every person. How you answer them is how you live. And while it is still possible to find new deposits of oil or lithium, and if in the future humanity can start mining resources in space, it is still purely science fiction to live longer than has been given. . .

Of course, I do not wish anyone to feel like they are in my shoes, and it’s impossible to give a manual on how to go through life so as not to waste its time.

However, one piece of advice always works. You have to know exactly why you need today and how you want your tomorrows to look like. You have to know this when you are a politician and have to achieve a certain goal for your country. You have to know this when you are a soldier and you have to defend your position so that the whole country is protected.

You have to know this when you just have to go through life. Sometimes, however, when you are young and when you are a student, you still need to waste some time. What is life without it? But only sometimes, and when no one else depends on you.

And I’m certain you, as your forefathers, will continue to lead the free world. And this century will be our century, a century where freedom, innovation, and democratic values reign. A century where tyrannies that repress their own and seek to enslave their neighbors will vanish from us once and for all.

But all of our tomorrows, and the tomorrows of our children and grandchildren, depend on each of our todays. On each of our todays.”  END of speech.

A Prophecy

From the Book of Haggai:  “The glory of this latter house  shall be greater than of the former. . .and in this place will I give peace.”

We  can pray that this is Ukraine’s destiny on this day of memories of lives lost in past and present wars.  Dona Nobis Pacem


Easter Hope


A citizen inspects a partially destroyed residential building after Russian shelling in the Saltivka district of Kharkiv on April 9, 2023. A prayer for Ukraine.


A Prayer, Photos and The Kiev Independent

The day of the Allied landings in France, June 6, 1944 FDR gave a prayer via radio for the country.

This six minute “devotion” is especially pertinent  on the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as when it was first spoken in 1944.

Roosevelt talks of sacrifices and “pain, sorrow, faith and unity.”  He expresses everyone’s  longings and hopes for victory and peace. It is a prayer proper in any war and especially this day.


Why Ukraine Will Succeed

Love endures: Valentine’s Day 2023 Ukraine

The Next Generation Arrives: A Mother and Newborn in a Basement Maternity Room-Kiev

War’s Playground Today & for Tomorrow’s Peace

The Story of a New Journal: The Kiev Independent

This 29 minute video presents  the critical role this online English language startup has played in telling about events in Ukraine.  It includes reporters’ personal stories and presents videos of their on site coverage.  This is one of many new Ukrainian enterprises to support the country in this time of trial.



Practicing Faith at Christmas

Two days ago (January 15), the Orthodox Christian Church celebrated Christmas.

In the early hours of that same day, Russia launched ballistic missiles on Ukraine.  One strike hit an apartment complex in Dnipro killing over 40 civilian residents.

Some 12 hours later that Sunday afternoon, the Kiev Symphony Orchestra Chorus offered their annual Christmas concert, in a live broadcast on YouTube.

The program included dozens of familiar chorales but in very different musical arrangements.  Some had jazz rhythms; many had an almost martial beat with drums and other instruments asserting a very determined pace.

The church is full, fresh greens and wreaths are on the pillars, a snow covered house decorates the front of the stage. The audience all wear coats.  The 60 plus person choir appears young: mostly in their 30’s and 40’s. Men are in tuxes with red bow ties and women in beautiful holiday dresses.

The concert is sung in both Ukrainian and English with an Ukrainian narrator.  There are bell choir arrangements. It lasts one hour and 19 minutes.

You may want to scroll over to the 1:08 time in the program for the Chorus’ finale.  You will recognize this familiar excerpt from Handel.  The words are Ukrainian.  Their spirit will lift yours on this sacred day of celebration and human tragedy.

Courage, worship and hope in wartime.


Note: The KSOC was founded almost three decades ago by Music Mission Kiev following Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union.