Deeds of Men
“Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look around and see.” – Lamentations 1:12
It was brought to my attention that yet another wave of systematic violence was enacted upon yet another group of innocent, non-combative, civilians. The town of Bucha, in the outer regions of Ukraine’s capital city of Kyiv, has become another name on a long list of city-towns that has fallen prey to men’s susceptibility to animalistic behaviors. We needn’t blame the devil for this. This is man’s doing. The one pulling the trigger was not a spiritual being. The force behind the man tying up women and children before shooting them in the head was not metaphysical. It was a physical force driven by a physical need, a chemical need, an interpersonal need on the part of a soldier and his compatriots to kill. But this was not the ordinary killing we witness on the battlefield. No. This was not a mortar bomb that mutilates the body and soul of a soldier mid-combat. This was not the sort of killing spree where men in uniform gun down other men in uniform, bullets ricocheting from bunker walls, tank impediment structures, and dirt. Not the kind of killing where man faces man, grit visible, rage present, teeth bare, and bayonet bloodied. No. This was not that kind of killing. There was no trench warfare here. No bunker, unless, that is, you consider a home a bunker. Its drywall and wooden frame protecting its resident from wind and rain showers. But what of bullets and bombs?
These killings were done by men, soldiers, the youth turned violent killing machine ready warriors aimed at bystanders, civilians, grocers, salesmen, chefs, custodians, dads, moms, daughters, and sons, who just so happened to exist on one side of a field at the wrong time. Their crime is their geography.
What do we say of this? What can we say of this? What words are wordy enough to explain away this horror? Are words only useful for us to explain horrors away? Are we to use them to then accept horrible deeds? Perhaps. But if we do not want to accept these egregious horrors are we to then understand them? But what is the point in attempting to understand the mutilated body of a child, mutilated not by teeth of wild beasts in a forest or a jungle but by bullets from the guns of domesticated beasts in uniform? Are we to produce bookcases worth of information to help us categorize, stylize, name, organize, timestamp, and geo-stamp these events, the belligerent party(ies), antagonists, victims, method(s) of death, method(s) of torture, method(s) of desecration, and method(s) of burial or cremation simply for us to understand what happened at site A to group B?
Where do we store this information? What library, what cloud provider service, what server room, or what entity is responsible enough, ethical enough, mature enough, selfless enough to manage this information?
What will we do with all of this horror?
My wife and I got into an argument over whether we should call Russian soldiers guilty of crimes against humanity Nazis. Are they Nazis?
My wife said yes, she believes they are. The killings were systematized enough. The tying up men, women, and children, then rounding them up on city streets or in dank basements, not far from torture chambers to shoot them behind the head was cruel enough to liken these killers and their acts to that of Nazi SS soldiers from World War II. The indiscriminate killing of civilians is likened to what the Germans did in Poland, Russia, France, and more.
But I disagreed. I do not think the Russians are like the Nazis. No, of course, I understand just the same way you do. My wife is German. She was born in that majestic country, she was raised in it, educated there, and formed by its Teutonic culture. She knows the history connected to her native land, she was informed of the societal guilt and shame that once lingered but has since dissipated from the German social conscience. Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung! They’ve worked off their past. My wife is aware of the responsibility she bears in knowing that history but not being guilted by it. There is no collective shame or guilt in her heart about it but there is a collective responsibility of making sure what the Germans of yesteryear did will not be forgotten nor excused, ever.
Yet, I disagree.
I do not believe Russian civilians want this war, this, what shall I call it, waste of resources, and the international debacle that Putin has enacted upon the Ukrainian people. Russian citizens disdain their military’s conduct in the Kyiv Oblast region whereas others have come out in protest of the entire series of events, many facing arrests, torture, perhaps, too. There is not a collective sentiment in Russia to eradicate Ukrainians. Ukrainians are not seen as sub-human, although many of them have been treated as such by Russian soldiers. Russian civilians do not attend university to learn about the facial structure of Ukrainians and how they might resemble rats. They’re not taught that the Ukrainians are responsible for Russia’s financial woes. They’re not taught that to woo, romance, date, court, wed, or sleep with a Ukrainian man or a woman is a crime punishable with imprisonment on top of hefty fines because to mix with them is a moral offense. One cannot visit St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Samara, or Kazan and find concentration camps where Ukrainians are held as enemies of the state and forced into back-breaking manual labor. One cannot find death camps in the remotest regions of Russia’s snow-covered tundras where Ukrainian nationals are tossed into industrial ovens and burnt to a crisp, their ash littering the sky above. There are no mass graves consisting of Ukrainian bodies in Russia nor are there people in Russia digging up holes for Ukrainian corpses to fill them.
What happened in Germany in the 1910s and 1920s made what happened in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s possible. What I mean is that Germans who survived World War I and dealt with the shame of their loss and financial ruination were ripe in body, mind, and soul for what Hitler offered them in the 1930s. The nation, collectively, voted in a demagogue and followed him into hell. Those who made it back alive were still stained with the soot of the devil’s work on their lives. Germans came together to make what happened in Europe possible. It would not have been possible if only the Gestapo set out to arrest Jews, political dissidents, homosexuals, gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and people with mental health issues. It required a national and cultural effort on the part of German citizens of every stripe.
The Nazi regime existed because the German people as a collective made it possible. Germany’s politicized Christianity, its state religion, its sciences, its cultural make-up, its racial make-up, its ethnic composition, and its mythical understanding of itself made Nazism as we understand it today, as it was understood then, possible.
Russians, civilians at home and abroad, do not want to harm Ukrainians.
Their soldiers, the ones who are committing these crimes, are not acting like Nazis because before Nazis existed, soldiers killed civilians this way. We must be wary, cautious, even, of thinking the pinnacle of evil existed for a quick and short-lived period of thirteen years in Germany alone. The Schutzstaffel (SS), Gestapo, Luftwaffe, and the Wehrmacht are not the only exemplars of human cruelty and evil.
They’re just our easiest scapegoats.
The greatest indicator of human evil stands tall in the mirror, gazing back, hoping not to be seen in the limelight of opportunity and intent. Seldom are we placed in the same positions, under the same conditions, infused with the same intentions, driven by the same social-cultural motivations, and incensed by opportunity, impunity, and heroism no matter the act we’re asked, no, obligated to achieve for God, king, and country.
So we stand, looking at the mirror or rather, being studied by he or her who looks back, hoping, praying, begging, that we are never given the same graces to murder because God knows we would, with impunity.
I say these things not to excuse the horrors perpetrated by Russian murderers. No. Their acts are damnable. Their crimes will not go unpunished. Should they die on the battlefield, they will then face God. Should they die in a prison cell, they will then face God. Should they live a long, hearty, and fulfilling life after this war, moving on to attain wealth and prosperity, fathering many children, and becoming members of high repute in their communities, they will, at the end of their days, face God for their crimes against humanity.
God will not allow a person to pierce a child through with a spear or a bayonet and escape judgment. God will not allow a man to ravage a woman and not face consequences for such a vile act. God will not allow men who sit in rooms pointing to maps and nodding commands, as bombs drop on residential buildings mutilating some and displacing uncountable others. God will not sit idly by as thousands upon thousands of people are erased from the face of this earth for the sake of lucre and land.
That is without question, Bucha. That is without question.
Your men, women, and children are not forgotten dear city. Your corpse-ridden streets have not gone unseen. Your blood-soaked gardens are not invisible. The basements you harbor where bodies were tied up and shot dead are known to us. We know. We have seen. We are witnesses to your demise.
But you are not alone.
The same way Abel’s blood cried out to God from the earth so does the earth beneath Bucha cry out to God for justice! Justice! Justice!
Bucha, your daughters will not have died in vain. Their sufferings, their screams, their catatonic fixated faces are not in vain. Their ravaged bodies, assaulted and violated, their souls violated, also, are not forgotten.
Your children, burned alive, executed in cold blood, tossed and desecrated as if they were filthy rags, are not forgotten. Their last moments of life, moments of fear, uncertainty, shattered dreams, shattered hope, tears, and wet diapers, will not, will not, cannot be forgotten.
Your elderly, your brittle, your infirm, your wise ones, who were killed by bombs, others killed by exposure as they fled those same bombs, are not forgotten.
Those gaunt faces who stare into infinity seek and cry for justice, their bloodless appearances begging for a reason, a cause, a purpose, an explanation for all of this senseless violence that took from them that which was most precious, life. They beg for words, for a meaning to it all.
Bucha, we have looked upon your misery and we see you. One of many, many in one. Your horrors are here to stay and we will gaze upon them.
We will gaze and we will weep.
God will act on your behalf.
Featured Image of a victim of the Bucha masssacre. Her name is Iryna Filkina.