This is Toon Traveler's response to Tim London's piece on the invasion of Ukraine, here.
As the genocide unfolds in Ukraine, and we see the pain and anguish as families having to decide, stay, often to help with sick relatives, usually elderly, or flee to a safety with a future generation, (their children). I struggle to even imagine how such decisions are made, let alone actually taken. But this is what families face in Ukraine today, flee, fight and maybe die, or stay and risk death in what follows, for Ukrainians the destruction of Grozny, 20 years ago, by Russia is a terrifyingly chilling prospect. Ukraine’s western facing roads fill with refugees EU bound, with (given Putin’s statements), all the hallmarks of a permanent outcome. There’s a tendency, I do it, friends do it, commentators do it – “my god, how did we get here”, and adopt a ‘we coulda, shoulda, woulda’ attitude. Hindsight, we all have it, mull it over, and despairingly hand wring, in our well-meaning way. But it gets us nowhere in the here and now, when people are dying in Ukraine.
Tim sets out experiences many of us share, that were, if I remember correctly, a formative experience for Billy Bragg when he, largely unskilled and lacking opportunities, joined the Army. Tim asks why people join the army and carry a gun. Well that depends on where you are. His points about Lord’s Resistance Army and Africa are well made, and apply to the wars in Central America, across Africa, and the Middle East. From my reading and listening, it appears that in many cases the young, those barely out of childhood, it’s join up, or be shot or be left to starve with your family. There are similar, less brutal scenarios being played out in the poor drug funded neighbourhoods of our ‘UK left behind, USA abandoned, cities’ where gun crime and gang recruitment are a growing, with a ‘you’re with us or against us’ ethos prevailing.
As Tim says, we’re the generation in charge, hands on the tiller of the ship of state, and yes, the ones, baby boomers all, increasingly likely to vote and shape policy, and politics. We supported, tactility or actively interventional bombing in Iraq, where the ‘peace’ dividend was horrific inter communal war. Yes, that also includes the intervention in Bosnia, where a very real genocidal catastrophe was eventually halted by air strikes and feet on the ground. I am somewhat more circumspect in judging ‘interventions’. The UK has intervened in Sierra Leone, and with France in Mali, in the face of inter-religious, and inter-ethnic conflict with an apparent degree of success in limiting innocent deaths. For me intervention is a more complex issue than Tim London’s article appears to suggest, (apologies to him if I’ve misunderstood, or misrepresented his views), but there are sometimes only ‘bad’ choices in life, and this strikes me as one of these times.
Tim celebrates past writers whose views were formed in a different time, and I’m not going to sneer, nor patronise deeply held views. Of course, it would be better if we were not involved in wars, and if we could lay down weapons, and if young people did refuse to ‘join up’ but how is that going to happen? What is going to change and how, never mind when? I hope this is not seen as a cynical sneer at heartfelt thoughts and hopes, it’s not meant as such. Our generation has helped create the world we see around us. With all its international politics, economic and social forces that drive events, and are responsible for outcomes consequences, intentional or not, unfolding around us across all the generations.
Tim talks of ‘play’, and lots of our baby boomers are the children of the ‘play generation’ that Tim eludes to, and looking at money, spend, travel, boys and girls’ toys, we can identify the extent to which many of ‘care’. All too many of us baby boomers, whether or not we voted for it, currently benefit from the venal governments, and we don’t want to give benefits up. When I look at the hopes of the 60’s (I was 9 during the first Summer of Love), through today’s pensionista eyes, one thing strikes me…
There was NO THREAT to the USA’s liberties, there was no possibility of invasion and that probably shaped future 60’s expectations. Whilst in Europe, there was still the revulsion at the WWII’s legacy, with perception that peace and stability were the same, and we could afford to have a more relaxed playful world, and for a few years it felt true. Unfortunately as subsequent events, political revision, social changes, and economic misfortunes revealed, our hopes have been dashed. Neo-liberal monetised values, post imperial neglect, national self-interest, or our own generational greed, wanting it all, wanting it all, and wanting it NOW, have changed that world and taken us to here and now in Ukraine, Yemen, and Syria. In the face of these conflicts we seem to have lost the hopes of those happy hippy dreams, sad to say.
When I read these heartfelt prayers for peace, I am left wondering what we can do now, or in the near future, in Ukraine, as the suffering and pain and death grow hourly, daily. For me, I feel as if there is almost nothing positive I can do. An instagram or facebook post won't cut it.
Reading and reflecting on Tim’s points in relation to guns, arming, and fighting, and I know that unlike Tim I have a the luxury of a whole week’s hindsight, I am left wondering what my reaction would have been 85 years ago in Barcelona, with Franco’s forces advancing on the City, and the republicans facing privation, and extermination in death camps, when I heard the words ringing out.
“Mas Vale Morir De Pie, Que Vivir De Rodillas”
(It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees)
Would I have volunteered and fought? or cowed and shrunk, I’m certain, fear and terror would have kept me in the cellars, hiding and crying, cowed and praying for a survival, that may not come. We can see in the Ukraine, many people, many young people are answering to that slogan, with all of it’s tragic consequences. This doesn’t really answer, what is to be done, nor refute calls for “no a la Guerra”, which I understand, but at these moments I see resorting to armed responses has been a basic survival response.
One thought resonates, Ukraine is not a problem – they have intellectually determined solutions.
Rather Ukraine is a conflict, that has outcomes, which may be uncertain, or here and now, binary winner and losers. With subsequent outcomes shaping futures for millions of Europeans, for years and maybe decades to come. In these circumstances, I am less sure the lessons of history are in favour of radical action, or for dreams to be dreamt as we move into, for me a more chilling, night terrors, time.
As the conflict moves to it’s tragic and bitter conclusion, and the calls for, ahem, re-sets (or is it re-boots, or re-jig or renewal?). I remember that, we had that re-birth, after the COVID pandemic, or so we were promised. The thing is we, (the people) have to start, and then learn, to keep our own promises to ourselves, and let’s face when it comes to tough choices, and unpleasant outcomes, we always believe Santa Claus gives an ‘obligation free’ ‘no trade off ‘ choice…