War in Europe

Yesterday I watched “Sound of Music” with my little boy. We are going systematically through the classics of American civilization, books and movies and ideas that made us who we are and more importantly keep us who we are. Some things may change, but most are passing fads and what really matters comes back around with each new generation.

Like “Sound of Music”.

Things do not change. Progress is an illusion. Perhaps the widget in your pocket might be able to access pictures of Mariupol more quickly than you would have in the past. But human nature doesn’t change; the human condition doesn’t change. War in Europe. That is what “Sound of Music” is about; the invasion by one country of another, and those who choose to flee rather than be subjected to the indignity, to the tyranny. War in Europe is back. In 1965 Rogers and Hammerstein and MGM portrayed for posterity a war already 30 years old. About a 1939 family forced to flee Austria from the Nazis.

World War II. The Soviet invasion of Czechslovakia. Their suppression of the Hungarian revolution. The Balkan wars of the 1990s. Wars in Europe are the norm.

Today Mariupol is being pounded to dust. It reminds us of the Siege of Leningrad.


“Who won the war?” my boy asks of “Sound of Music”. “We did,” I answer him. “With our allies in France and England and Canada. Now we’re trying to stop a war, so we don’t have to go back and fight again.”

And I’m struck by the last three years with my little boy. We’ve had to have conversations about pandemic, harkening to 1918. We’ve had to talk about war, first a small war in Armenia and now a bigger one in Ukraine. Pandemic and war in Europe, reminding us that while history does not necessarily repeat itself, it does rhyme.

On the war, which I will write about more later, and probably often, I am struck mostly these early days by my own incomprehension. To be sure, I didn’t believe that this war would start. I thought it was posturing. Because it doesn’t make any sense. By any objective standard the aggressor – Russia and more specifically Putin – not only will not get what he wants, he is almost guaranteed the opposite. Should he in fact win, which is in serious doubt, what will he get? Occupation of a country in rubble – 40,000,000 people who hate him. A burning insurgency that saps away soldiers and equipment. A Russia having lost 30% of its GDP through sanctions and having to pay alone for a brutal counter-insurgency. And a lesson to all his foes that his great Novorussia can’t even subdue a foe 20% of his population and 10% of his economic strength. How is any of this a “win”?

I believe in peace. The Lord said “Blessed are the peacemakers” and those have been the words that have guided my life for 25 years of adulthood, through many wars near and far. Not only because peace is more moral – it is more practical. Peace is cheap, war is expensive – by any metric or measure. Change wrought in peacetime is usually lasting, change wrought by war and violence is easily and often reversed. And any “greatness” achieved through war creates a blowback that will last the test of time.

Today the Siege of Mariupol goes on. More atrocities, images from a hundred years ago tweeted in technicolor, and we sorrow. Because war has returned to Europe; and it is not a Rogers and Hammerstein movie full of nostalgia and the comforting lacquer of time. War does not smell like an Edelweiss, it smells instead of blood and hair. And is the greatest affliction of the human condition.

About Joel D. Hirst

Joel D. Hirst is a novelist and a playwright. His most recently released work is "Dreams of the Defeated: A Play in Two Acts" about a political prisoner in a dystopian regime. His novels include "I, Charles, From the Camps" about the life of a young man in the African camps and "Lords of Misrule" about the making and unmaking of a jihadist in the Sahara. "The Lieutenant of San Porfirio" and its sequel "The Burning of San Porfirio" are about the rise and fall of socialist Venezuela (with magic).
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