Winning the War
Since the full-scale invasion of the Russian armada against Ukraine was launched on February 24, 2022, many people began uttering the alarming word "war" with increasing frequency. Even so, those the most observant kept legitimately reminding themselves and the others that the war in Ukraine had started sometime earlier, namely in 2014, on every slightest occasion. Yet in the long run, the roots of the Russian-Ukrainian confrontation could be easily traced back to the Russian empire’s origination or even deeper. This may have recently come as a revelation to somebody, but Russia and Ukraine had, in historical perspective, always been building not just dissimilar, but fundamentally different projects of social, political, and basically cultural life, related to wholly opposite choices of a civilizational focus. One is linked to the shaping values of the Western world since the classical era, freedom and establishing legal and social institutions in partnership with foreign associates among them. The other tends to passivity in social life and requirement for one-man leadership, meant to bring the country to supremacy over the rest of the world with the use of force. Nonetheless, even abstracted from such a clash of civilizations, one cannot help but conclude that any tension rises out of an elementary contact of minds, especially if the latter operate in the coordinates of different ideological systems. It means that a spark of struggle will always run wherever the smallest differentiation could be spotted. In other words, war is an embarrassing but primordial attribute of humanity.
Do such considerations assuage us? Not at all, because making an apology of war equals to thoughtless pouring oil into the flame and much resembles the frantic delight of total destruction of the whole world. Yet it’s impossible to tolerate war, too, just as pretend that it is a usual happenstance. Despite that Heraclitus of Ephesus called war the father of everything, he never strived for glorifying the militaristic madness of individual daredevils but grasped the basic feature of existence. People, in fact, had long learnt the Greek word "polemos" (i.e., war), at least on the daily communication basis – for whichever point of view does require its defending and refutation, disagreement and coherence. And speaking of social individuals or groups (societies and cultures, if you take it further), one will imminently notice a range of contradictions.
Thus, in every area of life, on every level of existence, be it physiological, chemical, spiritual, virtual, or whatever else, the war continues every minute, applying to any problem you would consider.
But still, even being aware of this, no one can ever get used to waking up comfortably from shots and explosions which are absolutely nothing like beautiful philosophical metaphors. Bizarre reality, able to strike a body and soul hard, comes together with these menacing characteristics, therefore. With something like this in mind, one naturally wants to give the next generation at least the shortest chance to make the arbitrary threat of war less tangible. To show them that a completely different reality can exist even now. No matter how much we hate war, no matter what calamity or visitations it brings, at some point it always becomes our test of endurance. In view of this, critical comments about independence, which Ukraine, supposedly, had gained bloodlessly, will always sound cynical – because those who think so never take neither prior experience of fighting for it, nor the necessity of defending it into account.
It is, of course, repulsive to excuse or support any invasive war. Somebody is always willing to make a universal bloodbath, while constantly finding excuses for their voracious cravings and barbaric deeds, just for self-exaltation. Although in history, such measures are stigmatized as savagery, it could have never stopped a butcher from committing crimes against humanity over and over again. At early stages of civilization development, war had rather been an opportunity to manifest valor and take the leading place in society henceforth. Armies had gotten onto the battlefield, headed by their kings; yet now predatory rulers prefer to learn about their subjects’ vile and despicable atrocities mainly from a deep bunker. A liberation war is quite a different matter. It’s honorable, though full of pain and irreparable losses. One, if unprepared to such developments, may find themselves paralyzed with dread at war because it’s time for their primeval instincts to awaken.
There will always be those eager to chant war, since for them, it’s a means of self-assertion. Nevertheless, invention of the heavy-duty mass destruction weaponry quickly eclipses any arguments for war allegedly disrupting faux conventionalities of life. We, certainly, could agree that war is a pure expression of nature – yet this assumption loses its relevance as an aggressor wages a war just to exercise in abuse. A transparent competitive constituent of war dissipates as soon as a warrior becomes a militant. In such an event, do any ethical criteria or other attributes of humanness, though nominally ranked culture, apply for it somehow? Not any natural man is used to be guided by these means or reasons, because culture is a stage for a human being to rise above themselves, not to subjugate everything else around. Thus, they take a challenging fight on the path of true culture – the fight for overcoming their own imperfection.
It's probably solely victory in the war with yourself that allows to enter a great people-to-people conflict if only the latter is absolutely necessary for defending the endangered human values. This is the kind of war that helps people not to numb or go in fearful squads but show signs of mobilized solidarity. Yet on the flip side, alas, every form of war brings about interpersonal separation between friends, lovers, or relatives. Forced to accept its challenges, people in the meantime try not to just protect the unity of their history and modernity, but also find new shapes of cohesion for the future.
The power of unanimity leads the society to salvation and implementing of its common cause. As a matter of course, the backbone of the enemy onslaught deterrence is concentrated primarily at the frontline; but meanwhile, we should not forget about the similar distribution of objectives to keep the defense in the rear as well.
It all attests to the fact that war gradually begins to highlight each nation’s commitment to making further steps towards its own development and reveals every level of its social organization, from being a community of disparate individuals to becoming capable of constituting an organic part of the entire humanity. Those unable to cope with themselves can never get along with the society in general and formulate the principles of its consolidation. In other words, they can never become free and responsible citizens, aimed at building up horizontal communication, and by no means tolerant to any forms of oppression or violent subjection. A fair war, therefore, starts with the people’s eagerness to escape from narrow-mindness and protect themselves from obscurity. Despite being endangered, they must continuously arrange their households at the community level and struggle for their right for self-governance. Then, passing all the stages of up-scaling, a state of culture gains mutual international support.
There is a couple of things for us to understand as a consequence of this war, launched on Ukraine by Russia. First and foremost, even the victory won’t secure us from coexistence with the territories of neither civil liberties nor interior agreement. So, we must consider the further ways to defend ourselves against an authoritarian state with its population, dependent on the idea of phantom grandeur and demanding, subsequently, propaganda as a regular emotional stimulant. Among its diverse powers, hostility against the outside world is preferred to healthy competition in Russia. This means that we should prepare to live under the constant threat posed by the neighboring war-possessed country. Besides, it’s important to always remember that war does not come only from outside and reveal our own failures while sustaining external attacks. We need to thoroughly reform all areas of our life – not just political, legal, or social but cultural too. Adoption of the new laws to prevent the slightest temptation to resort to corruption or nepotism is, in our case, no less important to reformat our very existence on the grassroots level than to fulfil requirements of our incorporation into the civilized world. Thus, we’ll have to make demands on ourselves and meet them; yet for this, it’s simply necessary to win mainly at the cultural frontline. We’ll have to personally realize the value of knowledge, reading, translation etc., for more profound regulation of education sector or book publishing at the legislative level.
Any human being is not just a fastidious consumer of practices and extensive cultural heritage. Their priority purpose is to create culture. Moreover, their denial of strengthening their own culture brings about total political defeat. And it’s not just up to the state support system. It’s an individual who’s resolute not to lose the war at least to themselves, that should initiate and control the process. In the meantime, they don’t have to see their mission in defeating themselves, but in discovering a talent for reinforcing joint effort of independent activists. This will help to preserve and nurture the culture, brought to life on the land of our common existence.
This guest essay is written within the PEN Ukraine "Dialogues on War" project, support by the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine.
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