Wednesday, March 02, 2022


I have been in turmoil over the war in Ukraine, at times completely overwhelmed by the horror and the sadness and our impotence to stop it. This has been amplified by anxiety about the future. Will there be a nuclear war, with Russia and Europe wiped out? So much for the nuclear policy of 'mutually assured destruction.' (MAD)

But my turmoil has resulted from other things too. I've been wrestling with all kinds of questions - some by the response to the war from western politicians, the press and ordinary people - and some from challenges to my own way of thinking.

All war is horrific, with civilians being killed, whether it is in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Palestine or Yemen. Where has been the outrage in the last five cases? When, for example, does the western world chastise Israel for its everyday violence towards Palestinians, and when they bomb built up areas in Gaza? What about their use of white phosphorus in the bombing of Gaza? And cluster bombs in Lebanon?

Then there is the subject of Ukrainian refugees. The EU countries have stepped up swiftly and generously. The UK has been guarded and evasive, happy to wave the Ukrainian flag but not to waive the need for a visa for refugees.

A field of rape in Northumberland, 2008

At least many more of the UK public can now clearly see the inhumanity of Priti Patel's hostile environment, introduced by Theresa May, in putting up barriers to people fleeing from war. 

There is a bill going through parliament which wants to veer from the UN Refugee Convention, and to create two classes of refugees: ones which come here with a visa, and ones which arrive by whichever way they can. The latter would be criminalised. The Lords recently rejected these clauses, but when it goes back to the Commons, what will happen then?

Unfortunately, some commentators have been drawing their own disgusting distinctions between white, European refugees with clothes like ours, and people of colour who come from faraway countries outside Europe.

They are all people in a desperate plight.

They all deserve to be treated kindly.

There are other strands to my turmoil - how did we get here? This one about NATO expansion is interesting.

Then there is the question of my pacifism. My father and grandfather were COs, and I've been reading about conscientious objectors in WW1 and marvelling at their commitment and bravery. When Russia invaded Ukraine, I thought  - 'What use is a pacifist in the Ukraine?' 

But then I thought - it is always the politicians who decide on war. What if no-one was willing to fight?  What if there was a war and no-one came?

I leave it with you.

Today, I've got two poems:

Refugee blues

Say this city has ten million souls,
Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:
Yet there’s no place for us, my dear, yet there’s no place for us.

Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
Look in the atlas and you’ll find it there:
We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.

In the village churchyard there grows an old yew,
Every spring it blossoms anew;
Old passports can’t do that, my dear, old passports can’t do that.

The consul banged the table and said:
‘If you’ve got no passport, you’re officially dead’;
But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.

Went to a committee; they offered me a chair;
Asked me politely to return next year:
But where shall we go today, my dear, but where shall we go today?

Came to a public meeting; the speaker got up and said:
‘If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread’;
He was talking of you and me, my dear, he was talking of you and me.

Thought I heard the thunder rumbling in the sky;
It was Hitler over Europe, saying: ‘They must die’;
We were in his mind, my dear, we were in his mind.

Saw a poodle in a jacket fastened with a pin,
Saw a door opened and a cat let in:
But they weren’t German Jews, my dear, but they weren’t German Jews.

Went down the harbour and stood upon the quay,
Saw the fish swimming as if they were free:
Only ten feet away, my dear, only ten feet away.

Walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees;
They had no politicians and sang at their ease:
They weren’t the human race, my dear, they weren’t the human race.

Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,
A thousand windows and a thousand doors;
Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.

Stood on a great plain in the falling snow;
Ten thousand soldiers marched to and fro:
Looking for you and me, my dear, looking for you and me.


Luck in Sarajevo

In Sarajevo

in the spring of 1992,

everything is possible:


you go stand in a bread line

And end up in an emergency room

With your leg amputated.


Afterwards, you still maintain

That you were very lucky.


Izet Sarajlic

translated from the Serbo-Croat by Charles Simic



rowantree said...

Thank you for your thought provoking post. It's a desperate situation with no acceptable solutions. There's nothing I can add, but keep posting when you feel you can. Lois

Sue Hepworth said...

Thank you, Lois.

Anonymous said...

Such a dreadful situation. Thank you for sharing your reactions with us. Am still trying to understand how Britain can deny entry to Ukrainian refugees. Even our own right wing PM has fast tracked visas for them and we have already seen some Ukrainian arrivals here in Australia
Thank you also for the poetry