WHERE DOES PAIN, rage and guilt go? At the level of the individual human-being, psychologists are confident that they go to the construction of a personality which reflects and all-too-often reproduces these searing experiences.
As the British poet W.H. Auden wrote on the eve of war in September 1939:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
The truth of this bleak observation is borne out in virtually every programme screened on the Crime & Investigation channel of Sky Television. In the back-story behind the most terrible crimes there are almost always harrowing tales of childhood trauma and abuse. As the branch is bent, so grows the tree. Serial killers are not born, they are made.
But what about whole collectivities of human-beings? What about the peoples and nations that have experienced pain, rage and guilt? Where does it go?
At this moment our television screens are filled with stories featuring Ukrainians and Russians. Over the course of the past century, both of these peoples have endured almost unbelievable levels of pain, rage and guilt. It stretches credulity well beyond its breaking-point to suggest that what happened between the outbreak of the First World War and the end of the Second did not leave its mark on both Russia and Ukraine.
The deliberate creation of famine in Ukraine by the Soviet government of Russia is estimated to have led directly to the deaths of between 3 and 7 million people – most of them peasant farmers.
The details of this political crime, almost too awful to read, have been compiled by historian Timothy Snyder in his book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.
Those fortunate enough to live in Ukraine’s towns and cities did not die in anything like the same numbers. But their survival came at a price. They were forbidden by the Communist Party commissars from feeding the skeletal creatures that appeared like wraith’s in their streets and squares. They died where they fell, were loaded on to trucks, and buried under cover of darkness in mass graves.
What does that do to people? Where do the emotions stirred up by such behaviour go?
A partial answer to that question came in 1941 when the Wehrmacht rolled across the Soviet border into Ukraine. Hundreds-of-thousands of Ukrainian nationalists collaborated with the German invaders. It was the local knowledge of these Ukrainians which allowed the German Einsatzgruppen to round up and kill their communist neighbours.
Seeking retribution from those they held responsible for the needless deaths of family and friends is, at least, comprehensible. But the ferocity with which Ukrainians fell upon their Jewish compatriots is beyond rational explanation. Only recently has grainy film footage of these 1941 pogroms come to light. It is the stuff of nightmares. The Holocaust had many helpers.
Russians and Ukrainians are not, of course, alone in perpetrating the most heinous of crimes against their neighbours. Like so many others guilty of similar atrocities, however, the perpetrators were required to bury the terrible memories that came with them. Years of silence. Decades of nightmares. Lifetimes of unacknowledged trauma. How can their effects not have bled into the social tissue of the nations involved? A moral gangrene that spread and spreads.
Not only that, but among the many thousands of historical killers were some who actually enjoyed the killing. Deriving pleasure from causing pain and suffering is not information most human-beings are all that eager to share – at least not explicitly. The intergenerational consequences of such psychopathology’s indirect communication can only be guessed at. How have the children of these monsters been spending their emotional inheritance?
For most Westerners, the war unfolding in Ukraine makes no sense. Russians and Ukrainians look the same, speak the same languages, have lived lives that were, until very recently, culturally indistinguishable. Why are they fighting?
The chilling answer is that both sides are commanded by ghosts. It is the unquiet dead, the unpunished crimes, the gagged memories of countless perpetrators and their victims that drive these armies forward. Impulses barely understood, inherited from parents and grandparents who could neither speak about nor forget the horrors they had witnessed or performed.
Two nations to whom great evil has been done are being driven, by dead hands, to do evil in return.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 29 April 2022.
Your last two paragraphs come to mind often as people rail against Putin and the war. I dislike the argument that 'They did it before' etc but there are so many words for 'justification' under Word Hippo it bamboozles me. I have been reading of past wars and tragedies lately and I can't help saying that it's all happened before, or every day there are disasters or people in pain are sidestepped and we look past them so how do we come down hard on Russia as the villains to top all. The next cliche is 'Two wrongs don't make a right' or some great misdemeanour is displayed of one kind ie poisoning, and can then is counter-balanced by one on the other side.
There are two aphorisms I like to bear in mind in respect of matters of controversy:
1. "If you find yourself in agreement with everyone else, it is time to rethink your position" (attributed to Mark Twain, whom I know to have inveighed against the tyranny of majority opinion).
2. "Believe nothing until it is officially denied."
To these I would like to add a third.
3. "If the government is bragging about it, accept it as a confession."
(This goes beyond mere self-praise, you understand, which, as we all know, is no praise at all).
I strongly suspect that as far as the conflict going on in Ukraine is concerned, there is less to this than meets the eye. "We are winning the information war", sayeth the US. Now, what does that brag tell you? I know what it's telling me!
Ion A. Dowman
Things done in the past that were horrific and influencing the present. Chernobyl is in the middle of Ukraine (though the name is a bit different). The Russians building this in their midst with all the sorrow it has brought would be likely to set them against Russia. Why would any ordinary human gathering intelligence on Ukraine overlook the likely attitude towards Russian return?
There has been a miniseries made in 2019.
This is the trailer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9APLXM9Ei8
After - Animals and Plants.
I remember ex WWII men, friends of my father's, carrying a hatred for their old enemy. Dad wasn't like that but some of them, for example, refused to own a Japanese car. You would be hard pressed today to find anyone thinking and feeling like that about the Japanese.
It's important to learn from history but the real feelings of resentment, fear and hate are healed by time. Sometimes though they are revived by the evil for evil - the will to power I guess mostly.
As Christ said “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” –Luke 9:60
I hate your letter-writers as much as Monte Holcroft did his, I'm not letting myself out of it. Flies around an Australian's head, remorae around a shark.
This is a bland piece equivocating the Ukrainians with the Russians for the soft 'News'.
Where you get it right is the deep psychosis of the Russians from their history. Stalin and then that terrible war. From Solzhynitsyn, the hereditary criminals came to the fore in that environment. When you over-hear Russian soldier conversations with their families you hear that sort of verbal violence from both parties.
Ukraine has already won. Why Putin, a matter of one, one person who matters entirely but doesn't matter at all, is a danger. Make him emperor of everywhere, or whatever the scoundrel wants.
Im with you. Its terrifying how easily folks that I thought had serious antiwar credentials have so easily been able to swallow the endless shallow imperial propaganda and become cheerleaders for an escalation that I fear will now start WW3 and a nuclear exchange....the first war that will end with us all as losers and where negotiations that ended previous wars become irrelevant in an irradiated lifeless world. Its that serious.
First mentioned in Matthew 8:22, "follow me; and let the dead bury the dead" is one of the cultist inclusion in the Gospels. A Jewish man wishes to undertake the familial duties of Judiaism specified in the Tobit in burying his father.
The instruction is to abandon family duties and follow the cult. This is common in new religious movements, where a complete break from family and former friends is required. The passages in both Matthew and Luke are also seen as undermining Jewish traditions. Again, forcing recruits to act against both family and transgress against previous beliefs is cult recruitment 101.
Ukraine has proved her nationhood. Russia has lost. A new democratic Russia would have our unconditional support. Maiz ben zur, Russia is not capable of that immediate step. We're all up for the intermediate, or a revolution.
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