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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #166

Today was a frustrating and disruptive day, full of inconveniences and stupidities: dealing with stupid people and stupid situations and when you are cooperating together and working with good people to pursue a nation’s war goals you really shouldn’t be bogged down in such trivia. Nevertheless life has its downsides and sometimes people are awkward and they do things they shouldn’t do and they get riled up by petty rivalries and they become defensive and awkward and this is typically because they are scared. Fear motivates people so much more than anything else, and it is one of the most depressing features of the human spirit that I ever encounter because I think that people ought to be brave and courageous and speak out for their beliefs if they are noble and decent and they shouldn’t just be a bucket of fish heads.

I get tired of doing all this stuff relating to the war in Ukraine, I really do. I’m not going to pretend that I wake up with a cheery smile and hardened altruistic determination every day. I don’t do that. I often wake up early in the morning and I feel depressed and sad and I want to see my family and I go to see my Ukrainian friends and I see the secret or not-so-secret tears in their eyes as they try to talk to me normally but really they don’t care about me and they are thinking about their brothers or their boyfriends or their husbands or whoever it might be on the front lines and the only thought on their minds is whether they will ever see their family or their friends or their loved ones ever again. In the bar I go to routinely in Lviv there is a young barmaid - less than half my age - who routinely hugs me. She just comes up to me and hugs me. I see it in her eyes. She has lost someone or she is worried about someone that she loves. I see it in her eyes. I hug her back. I give her all the affection and the love that I can consistently with her being a total stranger to me. She is hurting and I want to make her feel better.

I went into work late today because I was busy with all sorts of stupid administrative stuff. I am a lawyer by profession and we lawyers love writing silly correspondence to one-another. We think this is somehow important. “I am astonished by”, “I am concerned by”, all this ridiculous talk. When you live and work in a war zone, you realise how irrelevant all of this is. You just don’t give a damn. The bare essentials and necessities of life become important: surviving each day; waking up each morning after an inevitably troubled night’s sleep; getting something to eat; not feeling so depressed and lonely that suicidal thoughts enter your head. You want to spend some time with friends or family - if you can. Or you dream about these things. And you try to jam out of your mind and lock it in the darkest corners and recesses of your brain, all these negative thoughts, these feelings of hatred, this sense of despair, the anger you inevitably feel that your life and your world and your thoughts and your friends have been turned upside down, inevitably, forever. It all makes you so angry and upset and you don’t know how to cope and you get enraged and you get drunk and round and round it goes but none of it makes any difference. You have to lump it. This is war and this is how life is in war. And it sucks.

When I got into work it was so damned cold that we all had to work in the garage. Only that wasn’t heated either. I strapped on coat after coat, gloves, hat, jacket. The light inside the garage was grimy, grey and gritty. The floor was afloat with those fish head carcasses and other bits of entrails and nasty bits of this and that. At about 4pm or so, all the other volunteers left apart from me and a guy called P++++. He’s a religious kind of fellow and he’s from the other side of the Pond and he’s retired and he’s ex-military and maybe he’s not to everyone’s taste but he is an honest and decent and hard-working and God-fearing man and I respect that. And he and I worked on those bloody mushrooms until 7pm in that dark and cold and dank garage with no heating and in the cold and we did our bloody duty. And while we were cutting and chopping these damned mushrooms in the dark, we chatted through the history of air battles and the Second World War and this sort of history and that sort of history and I liked listening to this man who while undoubtedly unusual - he didn’t even know how to use his iPhone - he taught me something. He taught me that he was a decent and humane man with his own set of values and he was self-educated and while he was retired he knew a lot of things about British and American history that a lot of these youngsters just know nothing about because they haven’t read any books. Nobody these days has read any books and this guy my new friend had read books.

People are too quick to condemn. Ok my new friend doesn’t know how to use his iPhone but hey I don’t know how to use a bloody iPhone either. I am some stupid middle aged guy pretending to be a boy in a war zone and I am just some damned fool only my brain is a bit bigger than the average damned fool and these youngsters shouldn’t write us off. I am proud to meet my new friend and as we chopped and cut mushrooms in the freezing cold of this garage under a neon light into the early hours of the evening he taught me a lot about World War Two aviation and I found this fascinating because I also learned to fly a ‘plane and not a lot of people know that about me but here it is and I have told you now. We reminisced about how war used to be and how it is now and we depressingly recounted to one-another our shared feelings that war is regressing back to the gory and horrific standards of World War One and the trenches because contemporary military technology has screwed us all up and made it too easy for cheap missiles to shoot down expensive jets. And so we are going backwards and we are in the trenches and the bodies are piling up and this is what modern war is all about.

As Albert Einstein infamously stated in his allegedly apocryphal letter to US President Harry S. Truman, “I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.


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