Randi Kreiss

War in Ukraine evokes banality of evil


Suddenly, a weekly newspaper seems just the right place to be talking about a war unfolding in real time. As I wrote last week, the minute-to-minute news of the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine leaves us feeling both horrified and helpless. We are thousands of miles away, but the war can feel as close as the devices in our pockets pinging out the latest news.
Writing week to week offers some perspective. As a woman born just after World War II, I am seeing this time with some distance and even hope. I believe that somehow, the killing will stop, and the world will turn again.
Born in 1947, I have been a witness to the history of the Korean War (my dad was drafted), the Prague Spring, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the Vietnam War, the Six-Day War in Israel, the Iraq War, the 2013 uprisings in Egypt, the brief flame of democracy in Tiananmen Square, the Afghan War, the brutal wars in Rwanda and Congo, the uprisings in Cuba and Central America.
As we watch the Ukraine invasion, the wide-angle lens offers more hope than the micro view, which is excruciating. Just a few minutes ago, the media broadcast the most recent atrocity: Russian bombs destroyed a children’s hospital, burying an unknown number of children and maternity patients. This morning, the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl lost power, threatening radiation leaks, according to Ukraine authorities.
The images of war are iconic, and we have seen them before. It is the knowledge that we have been here and done that and will likely be here again that is a discouraging commentary on humanity’s inability to live in peace.

I saw a photo of parents putting young children on trains to neighboring Poland, mothers and fathers with hands pressed to the hands of the sons and daughters inside, saying goodbye. We have seen this before, too, when parents in Nazi-occupied European countries sent their children off in the arms of strangers.
War has its own language, its own imagery. There is a banality to the deaths and separations and loss. We get 24/7 news streaming live from the foreign correspondents who report from the ground war as bombs explode in the background. Their work also has precedent. It was the reporters on the ground in Vietnam, like the young Dan Rather, who broadcast the truth of the conflict home to America, even as our leaders were betting on the fog of war to garner support for a wrong-minded intervention.
I saw images yesterday of thousands of people sheltering in subway stations or the basements of buildings night after night as Russian bombs flattened their cities. That made me think of the Blitz in London, when Nazi planes flew overhead every night for 57 nights, destroying buildings while people took shelter in the city’s Underground.
A few days ago, The New York Times ran a front-page photo of a family hit by shrapnel as they ran down a street in Ukraine. Two children lay there dead on the sidewalk. You can see the blood on their heads and clothes. I couldn’t help but remember the 1972 Vietnam War photo of a naked 9-year-old girl running from a napalm attack. At the time, readers questioned the ethics and taste of publishing such a shocking and intrusive photograph. I thought about that when I saw the dead children on the front page of The Times.
The reporters on the ground in Ukraine are covering another war phenomenon: the displacement of more than 2 million people, fleeing the fighting. The big wars in my time have produced massive migrations, and this war, too, will destabilize the lives of all the neighboring countries. The refugees have no idea when or how they might return. How shameful that this dislocation has become almost a cliché over the course of human history.
We all want to help. Every agency needs money and, according to NBC, the best way to find a reliable charity is through websites like Charity Navigator or CharityWatch, which evaluate and track charitable organizations.
The war in Ukraine is like many others in its images of bombed-out buildings and traumatized families. It is unique, sadly, for those caught in the fighting, whose lives are irreparably changed. It has also become a moment for us Americans to remember who stands with us in support of democracy, and who wears the face of calculated aggression.

Copyright 2022 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.