What war in Ukraine means for us here, and everywhere

The recent senseless killing in Ukraine of men, women, and children in the name of political ideology is a stark reminder that though man may be the smartest species, he can indeed be the most vicious and cruel.  Nazi Germany tested out their military capabilities in the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, and Russia is doing the same in Ukraine right now with the employment of hypersonic missiles.

My career in the United States Navy allowed me to hear of and witness unspeakable genocide in Rwanda and Somalia and see the results of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia.  As I type, this sort of thing continues around the globe.  Yes, Ukraine is in the spotlight for the moment, but let us not forget what is taking place in other spots where there are no reporters or television crews to record the anguish.  Many suffer and die in silence, out of our sight and unfortunately out of our minds.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway graphically describes the brutality of the Spanish Civil War.  Many consider it Hemingway's greatest work, with its theme of what it means to sacrifice oneself for a higher ideal.  The novel is told primarily through the thoughts and experiences of the protagonist, Robert Jordan, and his companion Maria, a young Spanish woman whose life has been shattered by her parents' execution and her rape at the hands of the Falangists (part of the fascist coalition).

The novel draws heavily on Hemingway's own experiences in the Spanish Civil War as a reporter for the North American Newspaper Alliance and is one of his best-selling novels.  As a side note, in 1940, the U.S. Post Office declared the book "nonmailable" due to its "graphic" depiction of sex and violence.  My, how times have changed!

As the novel closes, Jordan is maimed when a tank shoots his horse out from under him.  Knowing that his wound is so severe that it is highly unlikely that he will survive and that he would slow the others down, he bids farewell to Maria and ensures her escape to safety with the surviving guerrillas.  He assures her repeatedly that they are now one — where she goes, he will be too. 

At the end of the day, as Earnest Hemingway, channeling poet John Donne, cautioned us, like it or not, all of us are part of mankind, and the death of any man, no matter where on the planet, diminishes us all.  He admonishes us to "never send one to know for whom the bell tolls; for it tolls for thee" —  words we should strive to live by in this crazy, violent, and at times irrational world.

Image via Max Pixel.

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