Yesterday, I started my radio show with two anti-war songs. This morning, I’m going to play a whole list of anti-war songs. That, and speaking out against the war in Ukraine, and all wars, seems all I can do at the moment; and writing poetry about war. I’m lucky. I’ve never been in a war. I don’t know the courage it takes to defend your home(land) against an aggressive expansionist and ultimately deluded neighbour. There has always been so much talk about the special soul of Mother Russia. That soul was stolen a long time ago, centuries ago, by its own rulers, communists no better than tsars. Everything always ends with the robbery of the poor, and with the young and poor as cannon fodder of the rich and powerful.
I have relatives in the part of Germany that was East Germany. When we lived in the then West Germany, we used to go and spend some holidays on their farm, their production supposedly exclusively for the state. They smiled at us and shared the secret that they’d always declare one less pig than they produced, or one sheep less, or 100kg less corn. And they’d rear the extra animal in the barn, scented with dry straw and corn, away from the prying eyes of the Party. The thing I remember most clearly is that we’d drive to see them – a long drive – and that, at the border crossing, we’d have to run the gauntlet of the Russian tanks and the soldiers with machine guns in their ready hands, and the watchtowers and the barbed wire, all in so-called No-Man’s Land. It scared us every time. That memory only came back to me this morning when I was wondering what to write. I have four DVDs full of my father’s photos from those days, but I’ve never spent time looking through them (partly because the soundtrack is dreadful; maybe I should overdub with Hans Zimmer). I’ve not seen those relatives since 1974. The kindly parents are probably long dead by now. One of my favourite uncles by marriage was Ukrainian. He died a long time ago, too. Just like all my mother’s siblings and most of their spouses. They fought a war, but they didn’t die in it.
The point is that war has never been far away from the centre of Europe. And that central Europe is and always has been the most likely theatre of war in any conflict between the superpowers. This is why I walked with CND. This is why I became a pacifist.
I write this to contextualise myself. Maybe that border crossing is why I like John Le Carre’s books so much. Maybe that’s why I mainly write historical fiction. For context. Without history we know nothing. Without understanding history, we are nothing. And keep making the same mistakes over and over again. War has always been driven, not by the needy struggling to survive, but by those who already have what they need to survive fighting to feed their greed.
AGGIE’S ART OF HAPPINESS – CHAPTER 14