Fragments from a War Diary, Part #171
War makes maniacs of us all. It really does. For the last two days I have been stuck in my apartment in central Lviv with bruised ribs, bruised kidneys, swelling here, swelling there, unable to get into bed, unable to get out of bed, unable to get into the bath tub, unable to get out of the bath tub, all these stupid problems. It takes me 30 minutes to get out of bed in the middle of the night to go to the lavatory, and then 30 minutes to get back into bed afterwards, because of some strange and stupid searing pains shooting down the right side of my back. I have spent all day locked into this solitary if comfortable apartment, it taking 30 minutes to put on my trousers and my boots and 30 minutes to take them off again. I have become used to the pain. Now it is part of me, and it feels natural to be in pain. I know I am in war, and all my anxieties have escaped me and flown off live some doves heading into the wind, because I know that all that really matters is the fact that I am in pain and I just have to wait, patiently, until that is over. Everything else becomes irrelevant.
My life in the past couple of days has become a tedious ritual of agonising pain to get out of bed and go to the bathroom and then to find something to do on my laptop computer, that thankfully keeps on working reliably, through the heaven and hell I have inflicted upon it by dragging it through Ukraine’s front lines and dangerous places stuffed flimsily in the top of my rucksack. I am amazed that it keeps going; but it is an invention of Steve Jobs, that late solitary genius who invented Apple, and Apple laptops are real survivors: much like the Ukrainian people. So I plough round Ukraine and all her dangerous and dicey areas with my laptop, and whenever I get a moment’s opportunity I open my laptop and I try to find some internet and I pace out these words in a trance-like state, in a stream of consciousness, trying to record the fleeting feelings and experiences I have as I wonder round a war zone trying to do good works but asking myself constantly, almost as though a bolt of guilt repeatedly strikes me from the heavens, whether any of it is worth it at all.
I have given nothing to my military kitchen in my last few days. I was not able to do so. I was in a state of intense pain and injury, and the idea of tramping up that hill in my trench boots to peel vegetables naked from the field did not strike me as realistic. I slept 12 hours last night. I don’t think I have slept that long for several years. This was a sign from my body that I am exhausted and that I am recovering and my body is healing my injuries naturally, and that is what sleep entails. Nevertheless every time I turn and twist in bed at night I feel a searing pain, and I realise that there is no doctor to help me or nurse to reassure me with calming words: I just have to get on with it and not bother other people because out there and not far from me in Lviv’s multiple military hospitals there are people with blown off limbs and blown off genitals and this sort of ghastly thing and that sort of ghastly thing and let’s face it I am lucky as hell.
My mobile ‘phone pings with all sorts of ridiculous messages from some dating App I signed up to a while ago. Probably I was drunk when my good friend suggested to me that really this was the way to meet true Ukrainian women. Like I need advice from a young man about how to meet Ukrainian women. I know them well. I lived with one for seven years, and I loved her with all the love a man can give, and it went wrong because of all these differences between Ukrainian and western culture that relatively few of the foreign volunteers here understand and which differences must be bridged and reconciled if Ukraine is to become an equal member of the European community of nations. You do not meet Ukrainian women using dating Apps. You need to get to know their families, their friends, and embrace their confidence. And, above all, you need to overcome the deep divisions in Ukrainian society between women and men, and the lack of confidence between the sexes that so frequently (but not inevitably) prevails.
I message my good friend and colleague who is now sleeping with some other military men in a cellar in downtown Kherson. I am pleased to hear from him; at least I know he is alive. He sends me reassuring and supportive messages about my own impending travel to the Bakhmut region in Donetsk Oblast. He is a true hero, supporting Ukraine in every way he can including spending the night sleeping amongst his comrades in a dark and humid bunker-cellar in central Kherson avoiding the Russian shells. Of this man, who shall remain nameless, I am an admirer. He may not be a high intellectual; but you do not need such qualities in order to be a purveyor of wisdom. He said to me, and a paraphrase, “you may be here to stop this war, but I am not. I am here to kill the enemy, until you have reached a solution.” And he is absolutely right.
These soldiers go into battle and their intention and their purpose is to kill the enemy. In one sense I find this horrifying; but in another sense it is natural and inevitable and war could not proceed in any other way. As the German military theoretician Carl von Clausewitz infamously observed, “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” There is no point to war, save to negotiate a better solution to the differences between nation states by way of the wanton killing of members of their rival armies to an extent that causes one’s opponents to give in and proffer concessions that, without the spillage of blood, would not be conceded.
War is so dark, deep, depressing and filthy. War is muck and hell and slaughter and misery and carnage. Yet we human beings seen unable to ween ourselves off it. It is as though war is some addictive, sinister narcotic that strikes our generations amidst the European polity from time to time, and we embrace this lunacy as though it were our very own children’s breasts. All we do, in continuing to covet this insanity, is inculcate hatred and the propensity to engage in senseless violence in our children, and their children, and their children beyond them.
Human beings make me want to vomit.