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The moral dilemmas of war

Feb 1, 2024 | Featured, The View From Here - Walter Kish

War presents moral dilemmas on many different levels – international, national and personal. Leaving aside any broader discourse on whether war itself is moral, amoral or immoral per se, we are still left with the reality that war often places individuals caught up in it in difficult and painful situations where they must make tough decisions that can mean life or death as a consequence.

This current war in Ukraine is no exception, and its effects have devastated the country in ways that most of us here in the peaceful west can hardly begin to understand or appreciate. As I think most of you know, I follow the war closely on a daily basis and am fully conversant of the price most Ukrainians are paying to defend their homes and their country from their brutal and evil Russian neighbour. However, I cannot begin to feel the pain that a Ukrainian mother must feel knowing her son is on the front lines facing Russian bullets, shells, missiles and bombs on a daily basis. How can I even begin to understand the suffering of those families whose homes have been totally destroyed and close family members killed or wounded. Though I can sympathize with the many millions of my countrymen that have been forced to flee and are now refugees scattered throughout the world, I would be foolish to claim that I understand how they must feel. My life here in the peaceful west has not prepared me for the kind of tragedy that is unfolding in my ancestral homeland.

The media and the various news sources have been very good at keeping us current with all the major developments in the war over these past two years, however, they are neither geared to or able to give us a comprehensive picture of what the individual Ukrainian has been dealing with on a day to day basis, and the hard decisions they have been asked to make. We all know that millions of Ukrainians have fled their country to escape the ravages of war, but we know little about the context or reasons each refugee was faced with when they did so.

It is easy to understand the motivations of those living near the front lines who did not wait for the bombs or shells to land on their homes, which most certainly would happen, as the Russians are known for their brutal and total destruction of cities, town and villages that stand in their way. The Russian military make no effort to distinguish between military and civilian targets. Millions of people living in Eastern Ukraine had no choice but to flee. But I also know that there were many Ukrainians in Western Ukraine which has been mostly untouched, that also fled even though the risk to them was relatively minor. Should I judge them for doing so? Not knowing their personal circumstances, I am reluctant to do so.

Perhaps more problematic is the case of all the young men that fled the country to avoid being conscripted into the armed forces. Not everyone has the mettle to be a hero, and I am sure that the heavy toll of those killed and wounded on the front lines is bound to make a young man think twice about whether to go or stay and fight. In the early stages of the war, the Ukrainian armed forces relied primarily on volunteers to join the forces, but the longer the war went on, the more the source of volunteers began to dry up, and the government authorities were forced to resort to mandatory conscription to fill the military ranks. Again, I find it hard to put myself in the shoes of those young men facing that dilemma, or even more so, the mothers and fathers of those young men who understandably would be quite reluctant to see their children put in harms way on the front.

I have many cousins of mine serving on the front lines in Kharkiv, Bakhmut, Zaporizhia and other places. Some have already been wounded and others greatly affected by their experiences in battle. I have a cousin who is a priest living near the front lines, who regularly visits the troops, brings them needed supplies, provides moral support and helps bury the dead. The toll it takes on people directly involved in the war is enormous, and I feel immensely grateful that I have not been put into the kind of situations that they are forced to deal with daily.

War is cruel, and it behooves us to help those caught up in it as much as we can, without passing simplistic judgments on the decisions these individuals are often forced to make. I do not know how I would react in similar circumstances, so I will refrain from any criticism I might otherwise be tempted to make.

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