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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #131

Anthem for a Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?

— Only the monstrous anger of the guns.

Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons.

No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;

Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—

The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;

And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?

Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes

Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.

The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,

And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Wilfred Owen

War degrades and degenerates the young people of any society, and in this it does more injury than in any other sphere. Young people, susceptible to new influences, naive and seeking a moral tether to values they find familiar, find themselves completely lost within the gross and disgraceful norms that inflict themselves upon and become commonplace within any society scarred with the incidents of war. All normal values of trust, being true to one’s word, human decency, honesty and honour fade in the face of the ugly cruel realities of war. Because everyone is living on a day to day basis, just seeking to survive until they can get some rest and then start again with the same dull tedious repetitive stressful and frightful routine once again the next day, war reduces us all to the animals.

The more mature and elderly of us have had certain elements of culture and civilisation welded into our personalities and our habits, and we maintain a certain element of moral stature and our values notwithstanding the curses and horrors of war. But for the youth, they have no such moral certainty and no such moral standing. They stand barren and alone, without any ethical compass, fending for themselves as best they can but also raping themselves of their intrinsic human decency as they normalise behaviour that by the standards of their parents and grandparents and society and civilisation is wholly unacceptable. War is a form of relentless cultural degradation upon the malleable youth of society who know no better than to sink to the lowest common denominator amidst their experiences of and reactions to conflict.

Tonight I went out to spend some time with the youth of Lviv. I found an aggressive girl leaning over me in an unpleasant way, plucking food off my plate without the slightest airs and graces. I found a drunk young man, so slaughtered with his shots of vodka that he had fallen asleep standing up with his head rested in snoring slumber upon a pile of bricks. I walked home past a drunk slob of a man lying on a park bench on Lviv’s cobbled streets with headphones over his ears and a bottle of some anonymous grog perched between his knees. I saw to women with their skirts hoisted high, drunk on booze or life or both together, reaching out for some imagined encounter. I received messages on my phone telling my I was a fool for not accepting some unsolicited offer of sex from an unknown girl, who could only make it for an hour, presumably slipping out from her husband or family for whatever illicit purpose be it gratification or money or both. I had people let me down in the promises they had made me. It all smelt like the stale sick on the cobbled streets.

But I cannot blame these people. The youth of Lviv have started to act like barbarians, imagining that in wartime conditions all principles of civilisation, and every value that their parents and guardians and loved ones taught them as children to honour as sacred, are worthless and irrelevant because there is war and therefore, somehow as some sort of warped syllogism in terminal free-fall, values do not mater and all you have a duty, and licence, and liberty, to do is to steal and lie and take whatever you can for yourself. And therein, in these recurrent patterns of cultural degradation of the youth, stripped naked of the discipline and care in the essential years of their lives in which moral calibre is properly formed, lies the future desolation of society. Because if young people lose all sense of dignity and value in times of war, then they will never regrow these values at a later date and society will be permanently impoverished as a result.

The dangers to society from war are not just a matter of the consequences of deaths of young men (and women) on the front line. They are also a question of permanent damage to the ethical structure of society, arising from the lack of moral structure that usually permeates the lives of young people in peacetime as they grow up through their most vulnerable and formative years surrounded by icons and people to whom it is natural to afford respect. Now, surrounded by licentious foreigners with dubious motives; soldiers with their psychoses; poverty around every nook and cranny; and all the horrors of war and everything it does to corrode the social fabric and the moral integrity of the individual, these young people that I see around me, acting so reprehensibly and without regard to fundamental principles of human decency and respect for their fellow human beings, fills me with profound dismay and I am disconcerted by what is going on around me and what Ukrainian society will be like once this war is over.

Some of the more reflective young Ukrainian people I have met have inspired me with optimism and commitment. Many of the younger generation - and it is they who will form the social and political classes that will shape post-war Ukraine - have dismayed me with their poor performances amidst the nightmare that war inevitably brings. Many of them strike me as having the ethics of bandits, enjoying war for the thrills of the moment and the opportunities to be dishonest and steal and take advantage of the foreigners and others that are here to help them. This is profoundly disappointing.

One young lady tonight was so rude to me that I told her flatly these words. “If you don’t like the European way, go back to the Russians.


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