A worker collects Egyptian traditional 'baladi' flatbread, at a bakery, in el-Sharabia, Shubra district, Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, March 2, 2022. The Russian tanks and missiles besieging Ukraine also are threatening the food supply and livelihoods of people in Europe, Africa and Asia who rely on the vast, fertile farmlands of the Black Sea region. That could create food insecurity and throw more people into poverty in places like Egypt and Lebanon, where diets are dominated by government-subsidized bread. Credit: Nariman El-Mofty / AP

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“Americans will always do the right thing after they have tried everything else.”

Winston Churchill was an amazing orator and pithy quipmaster. That quote has famously been attributed to him, apparently incorrectly.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has drawn comparisons to old Winnie. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has drawn comparisons to Hitler’s invasion of Poland. “World War III” is thrown about as a possibility.  

As always, history is instructive. And Russia’s history — or, more particularly, the Soviet Union’s — with Ukraine provides a valuable lesson we can learn from today.

The Holodomor.    

Ukraine has some of the most fertile soils on Earth. Because of that, it plays a major role in feeding the world. That was true in the 1930s as well, when America’s Midwestern breadbasket was caught in the throes of the Dust Bowl.  

Josef Stalin’s Soviet regime was faced with a Ukrainian independence movement. While the specific causes are  the subject of debate, there is no dispute that Ukraine suffered a massive famine after the imposition of Soviet collectivism. Millions died; no one is sure exactly how many. It could be 2.5 million, it could be 10 million.  

The Holodomor is overshadowed — understandably — by the Holocaust. Hitler’s “final solution” was an intentional genocide executed with ruthless efficiency. American GIs witnessed the horror first hand as they reached the death camps.  

The Soviet genocide may have been intentional, or it may have been ignorance. Many American communists and journalists at the time denied reports of mass starvation, hiding the truth from those stateside. Regardless, the deaths remain all the same.  

Putin’s Ukrainian folly threatens to make the Holodomor relevant for a new generation. The World Food Programme told people to prepare for “hell” due to the loss of Ukrainian grain exports.  

This is where America can play a role.

Stalin claimed that World War II was won by “British brains, American brawn, and Russian blood.” It was America’s industrial prowess that supplied the Allied nations with everything needed for victory. In fact, to boost morale, the Navy built an ice cream barge to make 10 gallons of ice cream every 7 minutes in the Pacific Theater.    

In the midst of a world war, we ensured sailors had ice cream. Things are just better with a full belly.

In the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war, the United States has tried to do the right thing by supplying arms and armament to the defenders. We have sent billions in aid. It appears that the Russian advance is stalled and that their once-certain victory is now a hoped-for dream.

After World War II, America won the peace. The Marshall Plan restored Europe. It made Americans prosperous, as strong trade partners rebuilding their own nations gave us markets to sell things to. It cemented relationships that still exist today; NATO’s resurgence is built on 70-year old foundations.

It is time for Congress to pick their head up and look past today’s aid packages and towards the horizon. America can play a leading role in preventing – or at least greatly reducing – famine in Africa, the Middle East, and elsewhere. Putin’s aggression need not create a new Holodomor.  

A concerted, concentrated effort to help American agriculture grow, process, and ship food abroad will help our domestic economy. Stepping into the void can build relationships and trust across the developing world. We have an opportunity to provide sharp contrast from China and Russia in the lives of many.  

This is in our national interest. The world order is realigning. Laying foundations for the next century of friendship is crucial to cement America’s leadership position. And like the aftermath of World War II, those foundations abroad can be used to build prosperity at home.

We have a chance to remind the world that we always do the right thing, eventually. Feeding hungry people is definitely the right thing to do.

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Michael Cianchette, Opinion columnist

Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.