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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #138

Today at work in my military kitchen I got to work spending several hours in a row washing carrots, before chopping them and peeling them. In the course of my duties I got to know a new fellow volunteer, who like me is an attorney albeit from the other side of the water. Although his career and mine have followed very different directions, I think it can be said that we both work in the public interest. And therefore each as public interest lawyers in our own different ways, as we scrubbed and washed those giant carrots with flimsy pathetic bathroom nail brushes in the icy howling winds of the impending Ukrainian winter, we were able to agree upon a number of principles relating to the proper fair and just treatment of carrots and of those washing them in the course of our dutiful engagement.

Firstly, it is beyond doubt that carrots have rights of due process. This means that they have the right to be questioned individually and with the presence of an attorney in order to enquire of them as to whether they wish to be washed, chopped and peeled, and prepared as meals for soldiers. Their interrogations in these delicate matters must reflect the U.S. Bill of Rights and globally understood constitutional protections more generally, so that they may provide their informed consent before they begin the inevitable process of washing chopping and peeling.

Secondly, carrots, both giant ones and those of a more regular size, have the right to fair and human treatment and not to be the subject of arbitrary or inhumane punishments. They should be scrubbed delicately in the course of being washed in icy cold water in a giant plastic bucket filled up via an extended hosepipe that reaches into the street, and from time to time their freezing bathing receptacle ought to be emptied onto the floor all over the feet of the carrot washers, covered in soil and mud, so as to maximise the agony of all involved.

Thirdly, where the death penalty is prescribed by law for carrots, both large and small, a human procedure should be used and although there is a difference of opinion as to whether carrots should be boiled alive before being peeled and chopped, the general consensus is that it is more humane not to boil them alive and this also produces a more crisp and coherent peeling procedure that generates equipment efficiencies as less of the carrot skin becomes jammed in the peelers: a common problem with potatoes.

Fourthly, executions should be swift and not prolonged. The carrots should be taken from their final place of residence in large plastic crates to the buckets for the customary pre-execution washing procedure, before being quickly and comprehensively peeled and chopped and then left in different large plastic crates in a large plastic shed, whereupon the larger and stockier members of the kitchen team such as myself will have the privilege of mindlessly lifting and stacking all the carrots and their crates round and round in circles until we are ordered to place them in the backs of vans where they will be driven off to be chopped further and then dried and mixed up with lots of other things and at some point at the end of this interminable process somebody will actually eat them.

Yes, it was quite a boring day. Nevertheless the howling winds and dark gloomy skies, the flapping of doors in the wind, the haunted house atmosphere as we work to lights hanging by electricity cables from the roofs of makeshift huts, make the whole experience feel more dramatic and ominous. I stopped, looked round, and I suddenly wondered what I was doing in a military kitchen in a war zone chopping carrots with a fellow lawyer. I recalled the famous song lyrics written by David Bowie:

And it was cold and it rained so I felt like an actor

And I thought of Ma and I wanted to get back there

Your face, your race, the way that you talk

I kiss you, you’re beautiful, I want you to walk

We’ve got five years, stuck on my eyes

We’ve got five years, what a surprise

We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot

We’ve got five years, that’s all we’ve got*

This is going to be a long, cold and tough winter for the people of Ukraine and the process of producing food and distributing it to the suffering people of this country, both the valiant soldiers and the hardy and brave civilians along front line communities and elsewhere alike, will need to continue relentlessly. The kitchen where I am working is open seven days a week and it will be open on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve and on every other day and the weather will get colder and it will become ever more difficult but we must push on through the winter and we must survive. I was privileged to find myself working on so mundane an exercise in washing endless giant carrots with a fellow professional and I am privileged to be working with people of every profession, background and class who have come here to volunteer their time and their money and their efforts for the people of Ukraine in their darkest hour.

This is a collective effort and it is a wonderful thing that people of such diversity are working together in this collaborative and collective way. It is so welcome a respite from the petty dramas of daily life, no matter what material privations we might suffer and even having in mind the constant presence of danger. People have given up their vacations, a few days to a few weeks, taken career breaks, and made all manner of other life-adjusting changes to come to Ukraine and help with the war effort in this, the most just of all wars. I hope Bowie turns out to be wrong and the war does not last for five years although I am very well aware that it might do so. I am fortified daily by the kind words of appreciation and the spontaneous expressions of gratitude that I receive from all quarters of Ukrainian society, and the help and assistance Ukrainians offer me to show me that they appreciate that my colleagues and I are here to support them.

More than any other war in recent times, I truly believe that this war is a Just War and we are right in doing everything we can to resist Russian territorial ambitions to push westwards. We must understand their strategy of trying to wait us out, as they perceive our treasured democratic institutions as fragile and susceptible to crack under pressure, and we must demonstrate to them our collective idealistic determination to maintain the international global order fashioned in the aftermath of World War II as a rules-based world; and for Europe to be a continent in which freedom and democracy flourish unhindered by totalitarian barbarism of the kind that has so unpleasantly resurged recently in the Russian Federation.


* These are the closing lyrics of David Bowie's famous song Five Years that was the opening single on his groundbreaking 1972 album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. A video of the original 1972 rendition of the song can be found here:


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