Friday 24 February 2023

The truth of war.

Publicity about the prize-winning film version of “All Quiet on the Wester Front.” has prompted me to re-read Erich Remarque’s novel. Against the background of yet another modern, (even more) mechanised, war on European soil, it injects a frightening dose of reality which should temper the calls from both sides for a fight until “complete victory” is achieved. This is what the translator, Brian Murdoch, says about it in his “Afterword” published in 1994. “The novel shows us . . . war is not about heroism, but about terror, either waiting for death, or trying desperately to avoid it, even if it means killing a complete stranger to do so, about losing all human dignity and values, about becoming an automaton; it is not about falling bravely and nobly for one’s country (“he was killed instantly” was usually a lie), but about soiling oneself in terror under heavy shellfire, about losing a leg, crawling blinded in no man’s land, or (in those telling hospital scenes) being wounded in every conceivable part of the body.” Here are some of those “telling hospital scenes” “On the floor below us there are men with stomach and spinal wounds, men with head wounds and men with both legs or arms amputated. In the right-hand wing are men with wounds in the jaw, men who have been gassed and men wounded in the nose, ears or throat. In the left-hand wing are those who have been blinded and men who have been hit in the lungs or in the pelvis, in one of the joints, in the kidneys, in the testicles or in the stomach . . . It is only here that you realize all the different places where a man can be hit. Two men die of tetanus. Their skin becomes pale, their limbs stiffen, and at the end only their eyes remain alive – for a long time. . . Other men are in traction, with heavy weights pulling down at the end of the bed.. . I see wounds in the gut that are permanently full of matter.” (Pp243/4, 2011 large print edition, W F Howes, Ltd.) In the novel one of the 19 year old conscripts offers an alternative: “ . . . all declarations of war ought to be made into a kind of festival, with entrance tickets and music like they have at bullfights. Then the ministers and generals of the two countries would have to come into the ring, wearing boxing shorts, and armed with rubber truncheons, and have a go at each other. Whoever is left on his feet, his country is declared the winner.” (Ibid Pp38/8) From what we hear, I suspect President Zelenskiy would be up for this. But Johnson, he of the belligerent speeches but who hid in a freezer to avoid reporters? Fortunately, to counteract the belligerent rhetoric generated by most of our politicians to “celebrate” this first anniversary of the Ukraine war, some commentators are looking for the realistic compromises which will be necessary to bring it to an end. Martin Kettle in Wednesday’s Guardian, writes that: “The last thing that is needed is a crushing victors’ peace that makes Russians believe they and their children are being punished for losing. Magnanimity in victory always makes far better sense.” The Archbishop of Canterbury’s article in today’s Telegraph” is under the headline: "Russia must not be crushed in any Ukraine peace deal." Unfortunately Gordon Brown in today’s Guardian insists that “Putin and his henchmen” should be brought to face justice before an international tribunal for brutally invading another country. He doesn’t suggest submitting himself, Tony Blair, or G W Bush.

1 comment:

  1. Do you not understand that Putin believes he has a right to control Ukraine’s foreign policy — for instance, a veto over whether it can apply to join NATO?

    Therefore there can be no ‘negotiated peace’. Either Russia loses, and is punished severely enough that no future Russian leader will ever again think it worth trying to control Ukraine; or there is just a temporary ceasefire while Russia regroups its forces and invades again, maybe next year, maybe in ten years, but the timing is the only thing that is uncertain. Those are the only alternatives; there is no third option. Either victory now, or inevitable further bloodshed in the future.

    This article spells it out:

    ‘ A compromise that leaves Russia in control of Ukrainian territory would be inherently unstable. It would pose a continuing military threat and prevent Ukraine from rebuilding its economy and society along western lines.’

    For the Ukrainian view: