Bucha Joins Srebrenica and Other World-Historical Atrocities

The World of Stationery, scheduled for this Tuesday in Ukraine, has been postponed due to unforeseen events. The outlook is not good for the Agile Rock Conference on Saturday, either. From the New York Times:

But the troops opened fire on Ms. Pomazanko, 56. Bullets ripped through the wooden gate and fence around her house, killing her instantly. Her body still lay in the garden on Sunday, where her 76-year-old mother had covered her as best she could with plastic sheeting and wooden boards. “They were driving up the street,” said her mother, Antonina Pomazanko. “She thought they were ours.” Ms. Pomazanko’s killing is just one of scores being uncovered days after Russian troops withdrew from the outlying suburbs of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, after weeks of fierce fighting. On Sunday, Ukrainians were still finding the dead in yards and on the roads amid mounting evidence that civilians had been killed purposely and indiscriminately.

Bucha has now joined Srebrenica, Lidice, the Katyn Forest, Osweicim, Nanking, My Lai, Wounded Knee, and thousands of other places the world probably has forgotten—or never knew about in the first place—in a bloody atlas of world barbarism. It is a scalding reminder that actual war does not consist of really cool videos of drone strikes. It is a shameful demonstration of what happens when war is brought down from the contrails of a B-52 to the fields and the asphalt on which tanks roll , and above which the bullets fly. Europe has not seen a full-on ground war since VE Day. And now, as the generation in this country who saw it back then is dying away, their grandchildren and great-grandchildren are getting a look at war beyond the vicarious thrill of watching things blow up in foreign lands.

On October 20, 1862, the New York Times reviewed a new photographic exhibition by Matthew Brady, who had returned only recently from the banks of Antietam Creek in Maryland.

We recognize the battle-field as a reality, but it stands as a remote one. It is like a funeral next door. The crape on the bell-pull tells there is death in the house, and in the close carriage that rolls away with muffled wheels you know there rides a woman to whom the world is very dark now…Those who lose friends in battle know what battle-fields are, and our Marylanders, with their door-yards strewed with the dead and dying, and their houses turned into hospitals for the wounded, know what battle-fields are. Mr. Brady has done something to bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war. If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our dooryards and along the streets, he has done something very like it.

That’s the point at which we arrived over the weekend, when the pictures and videos from the streets of Bucha rolled in.

Russia, under the rule of Vladmir Putin, has consciously chosen to be an outlaw nation. It has consciously chosen to make war in this place at this time. It has consciously decided that the opprobrium of the world is a small price to pay for whatever twisted imperial fantasies it has cherished since the days of the Tsars. And in this, it has allies at the highest levels of some European nations. It has economic partners who see none of this bloodletting as an obstacle to business. It has pundits and journalists in this country who are willing accomplices. It decided on killing because the impulse to kill to obtain what we want is hardwired into human evolution, and human advancement, and human technology, like a flaw in the manufacturing process.

Humans are doing these things to other humans, as they have since we first lurched out of the Rift Valley. We have evolved enough to be revolted by the whole business, at a remove, of course, and largely ex post facto. We have evolved enough to produce the technology that brings us the images of that of which our species is capable. But still the pictures come, and still the reminders echo with the words of the NYT reporter at that exhibition so long ago, but so present with us now, again.

Of all objects of horror one would think the battlefield should stand preeminent, that it should bear away the palm of repulsiveness. But, on the contrary, there is a terrible fascination about it that draws one near these pictures, and makes him loth to leave them. You will see hushed, reverend groups standing around these weird copies of carnage, bending down to look in the pale faces of the dead, chained by the strange spell that dwells in dead men’s eyes.

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