Posted by Richard on  UTC 2023-03-01 14:11

Everything else being equal, we could sit back and observe the spectacle of two of the most corrupt countries in the world knocking seven bells out of each other with indifference. The same indifference we bring to the 44 other sizeable conflicts which, according to Wikipedia, are currently going on around the world. You can have a pat on the back if you can name one of them, a gold star for five.

Everything else is not equal, however, because this is war – and war is hell.

We read voyeuristic accounts of the hell of civilian life in the Ukrainian war zones. We read much less about the dehumanising hell it is for combatants. Wolfgang Borchert, who was wounded on the Eastern Front during the last years of World War II and who, in the two years that were left to his wrecked body after the war ended, wrote of the deep psychological wounds which war inflicts on the soldiery, wounds arguably just as bad as the physical damage.

The soldier's re-entry into a postwar world now at peace, a world which now only wishes to put those horrors behind it, picks at the scabs of his mental scars. Ask any veteran foot soldier how quickly one goes from valiant hero to has-been once the fighting stops. Draußen vor der Tür, 'Shut out', was Borchert's phrase. More than half a century before, Kipling wrote of the universal private, Tommy Atkins, fêted in war and shunned and shut out in peacetime.

One thing is sure: When the smoke of the Russia-Ukraine conflict finally lifts, both sides will have to cope not only with traumatised civilians but also with hundreds of thousands of young men and women with devastating physical and mental injuries. Both sides.

I am not a pacifist. The best guarantor of peace is a credible defensive capability with a will to survival. But war is hell and no sane person wants it. When war breaks out between other countries our duty is, in cases where we can realistically help, to mediate to restore peace as quickly as possible. Sometimes we do our duty a bit, in the majority of cases hardly at all.

But in the case of Russia and Ukraine a strange thing has happened. We haven't ignored the conflict, we haven't tried to end it – we have taken sides. Worse, we have taken sides for no reason, either strategic or tactical and for no discernible goal. No one has any idea how this conflict should or will end. Russia should not have invaded Ukraine, true, but the humane, farsighted response to that is not to join in the conflict and in so doing make everything much, much worse.

Not only have we taken sides, we are fuelling the continuation of the war by supplying arms, money and goods to one side and hindering the other side with sanctions. The flow of Russian propaganda has been stifled; the flow of Ukrainian propaganda has been channelled into the public address system. We have shut our ears and eyes to Russia whilst propagating whatever stories Ukraine feeds us.

We have become so deranged that when Ukraine feeds the Western media with some triumphalist war porn – armoured vehicles being blown up, aircraft and helicopters brought down or Russian soldiers running under fire for their lives – we cheer and gloat. Not a word is wasted over the young Russians incinerated, blown apart, wounded dreadfully in these scenes, their parents and spouses bereaved and their children orphaned. And because the West is tuned only to receive and disseminate Ukrainian propaganda, its people hear next to nothing of Ukranian military losses.

It is ironic that a new filming of Remarque's anti-war novel All Quiet on the Western Front received rave reviews for its realism. This level of irony is quite troubling: the rave reviews of the anti-war film and the rave reviews of Ukraine's war effort seem to cause no cognitive dissonance at all.

And no, I am not a Russian apologist, paid or unpaid. The point is, surely, that if the Western powers want to exercise an ethical foreign policy, they should be deflating the conflict, not inflating it by acting as arms suppliers.

Shaking down the Swiss

Even Switzerland, a country with a 170 year-old constitution which embodies not only the principle of neutrality but also the duty of the Swiss government to offer its 'good offices' in conflict resolution around the world has been reprogrammed to get with the new reality. Not only is Switzerland in almost complete lockstep with EU sanctions against Russia, it is even considering delivering weapons and ammunition which will ultimately be used by the Ukrainians in the conflict. To keep neutral Switzerland's hands clean, this will be done via third-party countries. The idea is basically that these countries will send their Swiss-made weapons to Ukraine and the Swiss will supply them with replacements. Business is business!

Switzerland's armed neutrality is a political and moral position that survived every conflict since 1848: the Franco-Prussian War, the First and Second World Wars, the Korean War, the Cold War etc. For example, whatever the private feelings of its citizens – and there were plenty of Nazis, Fascists, Anarchists and Bolsheviks among them – the Swiss nation as such neither praised nor condemned Hitler or Churchill. Somehow the little postage stamp of a country got through World War II more or less unscathed.

That was then. Now, silky, internationalist voices inside the country are arguing that it would be immoral not to help plucky little Ukraine, menaced as it is by the Russian bear; neutrality isn't about being neutral, it's about doing the right thing, the moral thing. Particularly persuasive when not doing the right thing, the moral thing, means losing Swiss banking, commercial and trade access to the EU and the US. It will be interesting to see how long the postage stamp will hold out against this pressure.

The Russian bogeyman

Where has this mental reprogramming of the West come from? I don't know – a big book with lots of footnotes would have to be written to approach that question.

In the UK there was, of course, the noisy, opportunistic boosterism of Boris Johnson, the poundshop Churchill, who even told us that Putin threatened to have him assassinated. There may even have been some people who felt a tingle of pleasure at that prospect.

But the roots of the reprogramming seem to lead to the United States. We recall the crazed demonisation of Russia by the Democrats after Hilary Clinton's loss to Donald Trump: Russian meddling had 'hacked' the DNC mail server and had rigged the election for Trump through social media, or even 'hacked' voting machines or… well, on and on it went. As we know now, during this time there was as good as no Russian interference with anything. If anything was hacked, it was not done by the Russians.

Then the Democrats tried to bring Trump down with a dossier alleging links between Trump and the Russians. It is now clear beyond any doubt that this, too, was a fairy story commissioned by the Democrats and boosted by the supportive security institutions and media in the US. During this crazed period there were a few wise heads who pointed out that today's Russia was much diminished and was no longer the feared foe the Soviet Union had been. No one listened, it seemed. Russia, Russia, Russia – the handy bogeyman for the times.

Joe and Hunter

We are now learning, bit by bit, of the enormous and outrageous corruption in the Biden family, with Joe Biden's crackhead, depraved son, Hunter, as the principal actor. Over at least a decade in various ways the oligarchs of – where was it? Oh yes, Ukraine – paid breathtaking sums of money in various ways to the Biden family, usually via Hunter. Now we find President Biden and the Democrats cheering for their paymaster and the US government planning to ship some old tanks to Ukraine.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion – Caesar's wife and all that – that given the gung-ho adventure of the USA's participation and concomitant NATO involvement in the present conflict, and given that international money in dizzying amounts is now flowing back into Ukraine, that those backhanders were money well spent. It appears to have been managed by a job, and a good job, too.

Lest we forget

War is hell. For the avoidance of all doubt let us repeat some of the illustrations that accompanied our account of Operation Michael, the great, bloodsoaked resolution of the First World War.

You can be assured that, after a century of technical progress – homo faber, his devilries – the meat-grinder works even better now than it did then.

Normal people will find the following photos distressing. That may be so – but sometimes a charming red poppy once a year just isn't enough. Consider what 'territorial gains and losses' really look like.

Dead Scottish soldiers on the battlefield near Longueval, March 1918

Dead Scottish soldiers on the battlefield near Longueval, March 1918.

A dead soldier in the Spring Offensive 1918

Yes, they are what you think they are – one of the few beneficiaries of war.

The body of a dead German covered in flies

The body of a dead German covered in flies. He was killed whilst emerging from his dugout in a trench which was captured by the 2nd Battalion, King's Own Scottish Borderers at La Becque. Arrewage, 4 July 1918.

A dead soldier in the Spring Offensive 1918

Still with his pipe in his mouth.

British dead waiting to be buried at the Windmill British Cemetery

British dead waiting to be buried at the Windmill British Cemetery, near Monchy-le-Preux, during the German Spring Offensive.

British dead being prepared for burial, April 1918

British dead being prepared for burial, April 1918. On the corpse at the front, the helmet is there as a placeholder for the head. A few weeks more and they would have been back home with their families – your sons, your fathers, your brothers, your husbands. (All the images in this section: Imperial War Museums).

An earlier version of this article was published on the website The Conservative Woman on 7 February 2023.

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