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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

Fragments from a War Diary, Part #353



This afternoon I visited the Field of Fallen Warrior, next to the Lychakiv Cemetery in Lviv. Once a patch of grassland adjacent to Ukraine’s and possibly Europe’s most famous cemetery dedicated to artists, scholars, political revolutionaries and those who have contributed towards the humanities in word or in deed, the field is now a sombre series of rows of graves, simple coffins laid in rows with monuments to the fallen heroes of the Ukrainian resistance of Russia’s invasion, virtually all of them young men. Yet each coffin is adorned with gifts and symbols of the heroism of the fallen, with lamps and photographs showing the personal love and affection of the families and loved ones of the individuals who have fallen in service for their country. My friend and I walked slowly amongst the rows of coffins, taking in the enormity in silence of the catastrophe that has befallen a nation in the destruction of its young men.


A number of Ukrainian men who are of an age eligible for service have escaped Ukraine to avoid conscription by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and they have created a national controversy. Many of them are held in disgrace by the communities of Ukrainian diaspora, it being felt that they owe it to their countries to risk their lives and to die if need be. For others the matter is more straightforward: they are not suitable for military life and they have no wish to die or to participate in the sort of military regimen that it takes a certain sort of mentality to embrace. It is not always easy to work with military people; I have done it myself and it requires the capacity unflinchingly to follow instructions that one may consider unwise, a very difficult skill for an enquiring mind such as myself but essential if one is to maximise the safety of oneself and one’s team. It also requires a collective camaraderie and concern for one’s fellow men and common goals and objectives that one places above individual self-interest. Soldiers need these sorts of psychological disciplines as well as being physically fit and if they don’t have these qualities then they may not be suitable for military service - or they may not be suitable for every role within the military.


This is a debate within every country that has conscription when their country is at war and it is a debate modern Europe must have with itself as we plunge ever further into World War III with the inevitability that the only way to prevent land conflict overwhelming Europe is mass NATO mobilisation across all NATO member states in order to resist the enormous size of the Russian Armed Forces with its seemingly limitless capacity to absorb the losses of men and matériel. In World War III, just as in World Wars I and II, conscription across Europe and beyond is inevitable and it is not just the Ukrainians who must have debates about the extent of National Service and whether young men are obliged to die for their country, but all Europeans and ultimately in all likelihood American men too. Because that is the size of the enormous armies the NATO member states must compose in order to resist the ever-growing Russian momentum. I recall once more that Russia has tripled her military spending between 2023 and 2024 and she palpably intends full mobilisation of her entire country to satisfy her military ambitions. We are dealing with by far the most dangerous threat to global security since the end of World War II and nuclear weapons no longer have the deterrent effect they once did because all sides in World War III have demonstrated that notwithstanding rhetoric to the contrary, they are not prepared to use them.


Nor are armies in the air or sea of much use in the face of such comprehensive ballistic missile technology and drones that can be deployed by all sides, that render ships and aircraft mostly useless because while hugely expensive to develop and manufacture, they can be shot down or sunk with such comparative ease. Hence World War III, like World War I, is a land war, and that requires enormous numbers of young men together with logistical supply lines providing them with the ammunition, armour, food, medical supplies and everything else necessary to maintain a colossal land army. This is the face of contemporary symmetric land warfare. It is not at all what we expected but now its face is clear and it requires huge numbers of men and hence it requires conscription. This is what the war in Ukraine is teaching us.


My admiration and respect for the fallen heroes of Ukraine and for their families, friends and loved ones who mourn their loss is gargantuan and I can see myself returning to the Field of Fallen Heroes to pay my respects on a regular basis, as ever more plots are being prepared daily for new graves for those who will inevitably fall in the weeks, months and even years coming.


However my own tolerance for risk was tested in a different way this afternoon. After my friend and I visited the Field of Fallen Heroes, she persuaded me to ride home on one of these zippy electric motor scooters in which you perch precariously standing on a small bar of metal while shooting across the pavements and cobblestones of old Lviv. You can send me to Kherson to face the shelling at any time, but these motor scooters, a staple of local transport for Lviv’s youth and appealing to a distinctive Ukrainian anarchism, were too much for me. I was convinced I was going to fall off as I went hurtling across town bumping up and down and following my friend at high speed. You power them with your credit card, and they are very cheap; but you have to swerve out of the way of pedestrians and cars alike and they are quite terrifying. I emerged from the end of my ride rigid in every muscle; staggered back to my front door, and immediately fell asleep from exhaustion. My friend had flattered me that I was a brilliant rider for my first time; but I’ll be damned if I ever step back on such a wretched device. It was only by a miracle that I didn’t break my neck.



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