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What would Lafayette Do?

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 On April 15, 2022 the AFL presented United Help Ukraine with a donation of over $21,000 collected from American Friends of Lafayette members.

The UHU coordinators were grateful, and said these funds would be used to buy 2 ambulances in Poland.

In situations of national or international crisis, President Hoffman and I always ask “WWLD”,  What would Lafayette do? The answer to this question when posed about the horrible plight of the Ukrainians is clear – Lafayette would get involved and do all he could to help them.

            We know this because of his incredible and sustained response in favor of the Poles before and after the Russians crushed the Polish Revolution of 1830.

            Lloyd Kramer has written about this in his book, Lafayette in Two Worlds. To summarize, Lafayette swung into action. After failing to persuade the ministers to give diplomatic and material support to the Polish Nationalists, he got involved in two what we would call today NGOs.

            The first, The French-Polish Committee, organized in early 1831, with Lafayette as President spearheading the fund-raising effort, raised an amazing 420,000 francs, over $3,000,000 today.  The second, formed by American expatriate James Fenimore Cooper, was called the “American-Polish Committee”. Lafayette endorsed their work and assisted in their fund-raising efforts.   After the Polish Revolution was defeated, the money raised by these organizations was raised to support Polish refugees.

           Lafayette couldn't abide empty words. In the 18th century, when he stood around at countless parties and balls in the opulence of Versailles, his friends accused him of being aloof and disinterested. I believe that's because he was. Lafayette wasn't interested in hollow words on shallow subjects of fashion or idle gossip.  However, if topics like liberty or injustice were discussed, THEN he wouldn't be quiet.

            Lafayette wasn't a man of words; he was a man of action. All it took was one conversation at a dinner party in Metz for the young Frenchman to become so passionate about a people fighting for their freedom that he offered his sword to fight for them before dessert was even served. Then he put his money where his mouth was. He didn't bat an eye to give away a massive chunk of his wealth for the cause of freedom for people he had never met. He didn't bat an eye to defy his king and family and escape France to fight on the front lines for their freedom.

            So, what would Lafayette do today about Ukraine? What would he do if he were privy to a newscast of a tyrant destroying the freedom of a people he'd never met? Or a Facebook post with pictures showing destroyed homes and hospitals, orphaned children weeping in a bomb shelter, or weary refugees carrying all their remaining worldly possessions in a backpack? He wouldn't just say, "Oh, how terrible! Those poor people," and do nothing. He'd be the first to whip out his checkbook and immediately send aid. Then I bet he'd charter a jet and fly over to fight and order the jet to make endless trips and take refugees to safety. Let's take a cue from Lafayette about Ukraine. Let's not limit our reaction to this travesty to empty words. Let's give as we are able and do something about it.  

            In WWII, after the fall of France, the AFL governing council voted unanimously to send a telegraph message to President Roosevelt reaffirming its belief in the ideals which motivated Lafayette and requesting that immediate and full aid be extended to the Free French Forces fighting with General De Gaulle.

Here's an excerpt from the AFL Gazette dated February 1942:

We are obviously not a political organization, but the members of the council felt that the present crisis represented a fundamental challenge – not of politics, but of basic ideals. The Council unanimously voted to send a telegraph message to President Roosevelt reaffirming our belief in the ideals which motivated Lafayette and requesting that immediate and full aid be extended to the Free French forces fighting with General de Gaulle. Copies of the resolution were communicated to the principal news agencies and to the New York headquarter of the Free France movement.

            M. Jacques de Sieyes, personal representative of General de Gaulle in the United States, replied in part, under date of September 2: “the General, informed of your noble gesture, has sent us the following cable:


            Your act fills us with the deepest gratitude…An encouragement such as the resolution passed by your Executive Council adds to our ever-increasing confidence in final victory…Please extend to the members of your organization my heartfelt thanks for their great assistance. At the present moment, we can only thank those, such as you, who seek to encourage us, but a time will come when we prove that we are worthy of the faith entrusted in our leader and our cause.”

Here's an excerpt from the AFL Gazette dated February 1944:

The Lafayette Ambulance, presented to the American Field Service by Lafayette College and The American Friends of Lafayette in March 1943, has served through the desert campaigns and is now in Italy. More detailed news is lacking at this time.  So, reports Mr. Stephen Gallati of New York, Director General of the American Field Service. We may be assured that this ambulance, bearing the name of Lafayette, is doing its part with honor in the war.

          Members of the American Friends of Lafayette have a long tradition of giving aid to struggling democracies in honor of the French hero. During the First World War, Beatrice Chanler, who became an early AFL member, founded The Lafayette Fund, an extraordinarily successful organization that rallied public support and donated kits, medical equipment, and other supplies to France under siege, ultimately securing the purchase of Lafayette's birthplace in Chavaniac to care for child war refugees. In keeping with this proud tradition, we hope to direct our charitable efforts with laser focus on the current crisis in Eastern Europe.

           Consequently, we will be sponsoring United Help Ukraine, an organization based in Gaithersburg Maryland that is filling much the same role as The Lafayette Fund did during the First World War, making up kits for individuals, donating hospital equipment, and helping to raise awareness of what is at stake for western democracy. United Help Ukraine is an American registered non-profit vetted by Charity Navigator which spends more than ninety percent of the money collected on direct program services. As of just last week, their efforts included the delivery of 10,000 tourniquets to the front lines, hundreds of vests to the Ukrainian border awaiting delivery, and more than twenty pallets of humanitarian aid. 

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