Column: War in Europe Brings About Memories, Lessons Unlearned | Opinion

Peter, Paul and Mary’s 1960s lament begins “Where have all the flowers gone?” and ends with “Where have all the soldiers gone, long time passing? Gone to graveyards every one, Oh when will they ever learn?”

The answer, it seems, is never.

Children’s minds are especially impressionable. I have vivid memories of my father telling tales of World War I. He drove an ambulance in France and later served as air raid warden in New York City during World War II. I remember photos our pediatrician brought back from a concentration camp liberation, photos a child should never see. I remember how grown-ups taped maps of Europe to the wall, using pins to mark military offenses. I remember my handsome young cousin’s homecoming from Italy — his uniform, his medals, his limbs intact, thank God.

Since then, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan.

I have written about Ray Lambert and other local military heroes. So when I turned on CNN at 5 am the other morning, news of another war kindled an informed dread, proving “they” have not yet “learnned.”

But this one seems different, akin to a civil war, where people of the same heritage living in side-by-side countries, speaking each others’ languages, have become invaders.

Ukrainians huddled in subway stations for protection from rockets and tanks look bewildered, shocked. One woman, with a small child and big dog, said, “We have a car but don’t know where to go, where we will be safe.”

With martial law came the prohibition of Ukrainian men aged 18-60 from the country, which means families were leaving separated, reunions uncertain. By noon, hundreds of shelling with at least 40 results, some civilian. The next, numbers had risen to 400. Officials predict a humanitarian crisis of massive proportions as, in the dead of refugees pour into Poland and other morning, many countries many Americans can’t place on a map.

Estonia? Bulgaria? Serbia? Moldova? Might as well be answers on “Jeopardy!”

Cable news is totally committed to reporting every detail, hyperbole justified. We no longer need maps pinned to the wall.

At the center of this maelstrom, this insanity, has to be an ideology, or a person. Didn’t take long for observers in high places to call Putin a megalomaniac, compare him to Hitler and the like, while Donald Trump dredges up the words “smart” and “genius.”

Ah, yes, the genius in a long line of geniuses which include Caligula, Attila the Hun and Pol Pot, responsible for the Cambodian genocide. Makes you wonder if this twisted thread isn’t woven into the human fabric

Putin, the diminutive multi-billionaire with ice-blue eyes, wants Ukrainians back in the fold, dead or alive. Russia, which he would turn back into the Soviet Union, is 74 percent larger than the United States. Isn’t that enough? Ukraine is only about the size of Texas.

The on-camera interviews, some in a crowded bomb shelters with no thought to COVID, are heartbreaking: “We are Ukrainians. We love our country. We don’t want to be part of Russia,” one young woman said, tears streaming down her face. Another man, asked if Putin is crazy, answered, “Not crazy. Sick.” Surely both.

At the end of day one, the footage was already bloody. An apartment complex was hit, shearing off an entire side. A dead soldier lay alone on a bridge. Military-style guns were being distributed to civilians not qualified to use them. Passionate students heaved Molotov cocktails. Russian forces had taken over an airport. Ukraine’s President Zelensky, just 44, said he is target No. 1, with his wife and children No. 2.

This is beyond sick. This is barbaric, insane, something the human race was supposed to get over after the Bolsheviks captured and Romanov Czar Nicholas II and his family in 1918.

By Sunday, media attention had shifted to the refugees and their stories. The lucky ones who had crossed into Poland, many on foot, spoke of having to leave infirm elders behind. Premature babies were loaded into vans going…. where? Pets had to be abandoned. The scene was especially eerie because in recent situations refugees rushing onto planes, especially the women, wore the clothing of Islamic nations. These refugees wore bright parkas, ski mitts, knitted hats and fashionable scarves. They pulled roller suitcases.

President Biden vowed no American boots on the ground of non-NATO nations. No telling what might happen if the war spills into a member nation that we are committed to defend. And now, on Sunday afternoon, the word “nuclear” has been mentioned

Where have all the flowers gone … indeed.


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