Ukraine: In praise of the dying
It was Nigerian, Chinua Achebe, that exquisite of writers that sounded a note of caution on the proclivities of the human person for uncommon and misplaced displays of courage. He was never bereft in the use of the words of the ancients to powerfully convey messages for the wise.
Despite the chaos and anarchy going on in Ukraine today, perhaps the living might yet learn a lesson from Achebe: “It is sometimes good to be brave and courageous, but sometimes it is better to be a coward. We often stand in the compound of the fool and point at the ruins where a brave man used to live”.
While the pogrom in Ukraine rages on and combatants and non-combatants die in a needless war, one of the recurring themes or fallouts of the conflict is the bravery and heroism of the Ukrainian people.
The American and European governments as well as their media are particularly proud that the Ukrainian people are willingly laying down their lives for their country. You hear of different stories of such bravery and uncommon courage by the Ukrainians, as they are goaded and exhorted more and more by America and Europe to sacrifice their lives in defence of a lost cause.
The latest story of exploit and bravery being celebrated by Western media is that of an old Ukrainian couple that physically confronted four heavily armed Russian soldiers who forced their way into their home. From their story of bravery, you would think that they chased off the invading soldiers with courage backed with superior firepower. Nothing of such happened. All they had was anger, matched with an equal dose of indignity at the sacrilegious violent actions of Russia in their country.
The couple is being described as heroes for defying Russian aggression in a wicked war being carried out under the leadership of Vladimir Putin. That the soldiers left the couple in peace was never down to the umbrage of the couple but the humanity of the soldiers. They allowed themselves to be intimidated by two old, harmless couples who perhaps reminded them of their parents or grandparents. As horribly bad as war is, as demeaning to the human person as war is, these are some of the strange but true stories of the other aspect of war – the occasional acts of compassion and humanity by soldiers trained to kill. We saw that during the forced evacuation of Afghanistan when American soldiers became emergency nursing mothers and fathers as they spirited children and babies to safety from the chaos of Afghanistan.
But what is perhaps unsettling and seemingly lost to those celebrating the couples’ heroic victory in the western media is the lack of appreciation of the couples’ foolishness and lack of wisdom in confronting heavily armed enemy soldiers in a war situation. Indeed, the late Nigerian president Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe had once declared: “You don’t argue with a man with a gun.” Outgunned and outmatched by the Russian military establishment, the direction of American and European intervention has been more in encouraging the Ukrainians to fight harder, rather than seek for ways to bring the conflict to an end. Eulogising their bravery while they are being cut down in their hundreds has been a constant theme since the war began. It is precisely this perverted understanding or distortion of heroism by the trio of American and European governments, as well as the media that has pushed the Ukraine government and peoples to avoidable suicide.
Hear the Pentagon speak: “The Ukrainians have also retained a lot of their combat power,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said during a news briefing a week into Vladimir Putin’s invasion. “And they’re fighting back. They’re fighting back bravely.” To what end? The outcome of the war from the beginning was a foregone conclusion: The Americans and Europeans knew that Ukraine was going to be destroyed and pulverised in record time by the Russians. They knew that children, the aged, and innocents, like in all wars, would-be victims. They also knew that while they tried to damage the economy of the Russian bear, the Ukrainian economy would almost be wiped out, and social and public infrastructure laid waste.
And lastly, as the war escalated, they knew that thousands and millions of refugees would pour into European countries in search of safety. To have then gone ahead to allow the invasion and subsequent war in the Eastern European nation could only mean one thing: there was an objective that was far more important and compelling than the destruction of Ukraine and subsequent loss of lives. But like all human conjectures and schemes, especially of the socio-political kind, the attainment of desired objectives was always going to be dependent on all projections going to plan, all things being equal. And in a world of constantly changing variables, all things are usually not always equal. Eventually, the Russia/Ukraine conflict will come to an end and the combatants, both victor and vanquished as well as third-party intermediaries will sit down at the negotiating table to talk (they always do). They would now be forced to do at the end, what they should have done willingly at the beginning. And the inevitable questions to all sides would be: was it worth it, the killings, the destruction, the displacements?
While the Americans and Europeans and Russians would perhaps find it easier to provide these answers, for the Ukrainians, there will be a greater degree and depth of soul searching. The feeling or belief that they were merely pawns in the midst of great power geopolitics can only grow with time. Their present political leadership, now being praised for their patriotic responses during the conflict, will come under greater scrutiny for not doing enough to prevent the war. And while the citizens of American, Western and Eastern European states not directly involved in the war stand and point at the ruins that was once a far more developed country, Ukrainians might not help thinking that this was perhaps one opportune moment when cowardice might have been the greatest virtue.
And finally, they would do well to remember the adage: “The man who gives you money and weapons to fight instead of coming to physically fight on your side is aware that you may not make it home alive.” That is what their American and European allies did with Ukraine.
Achike, writer, novelist, wrote from Lagos.