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War can’t give life it can only take it away

Monday 28 February 2022 | Written by Ruta Tangiiau Mave | Published in On the Street, Opinion

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War can’t give life it can only take it away
Ruta Tangiiau Mave. Photo: CI NEWS

People in countries that have suffered war are faced with the dilemma of packing what is most important in your life into one suitcase and start running.

I came to know that feeling when the 2011 Christchurch earthquake hit and the cliffs fell next to my kid’s school.

War, huh, yeah, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Say it again y’all. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Ooh war, I despise, ‘cause it means destruction of innocent lives. War means tears to thousands of mother’s eyes, when their sons go off to fight and lose their lives. Whoa-whoa Lord, War, it aint nothin’ but a heartbreaker, friend only for the undertaker, who wants to die? War has shattered many a young man’s dreams, made him disabled, bitter and mean. And life is much too short and precious to spend fighting wars each day. War can’t give life it can only take it away.

As a nod to the last day of Black History Month, Edwin Starr rocketed to number one in 1970 for his Motown version of this song, first recorded by the Temptations. It was a political commentary during the anger and rebellion of America’s prosecution of the Vietnam war which was continuing to stir among the country’s young.

I visited Kiev in 1991 during the leading months before Ukraine gained independence from the USSR United Soviet Socialist states of Russia. Once free it became the fifth largest populated country in the world with 52 million and Kiev with 2.5 million the newest capital in Europe. Unlike Russia who still sees themselves separate from Europe, Ukrainian’s love to associate with Europe, although they were unable to freely talk with foreigners as it was banned under Soviet rule. It was an interesting time to be in the country as the old Slavic values became more prominent. Bringing fresh flowers to hosts of dinner, making restaurant bookings in person and a date was a formal occasion involving dinner and dancing in a hotel with the inevitable caviar and sweet Russian champagne. 

My capacity as tour guide and no date, had me munching on the staple favourite of borsht (beetroot) soup served hot or cold and pork chops. The economy at the time meant you could have the above hotel meal for three people for $20, a handmade ceramic tea set for $6 or buy a dozen long stem red roses for $1. The uncertain times meant in order to make money people would stand in long lines at a market with possessions for sale. You would be encouraged to buy important items like a calculator for the changing exchange rate, and an umbrella to protect against the nuclear fallout thought more prominent when it rained from the 1986 Chernobyl Nuclear disaster, of a reactor meltdown. Although less than 100 deaths from the accident, increases in radiation-induced cancer deaths followed in the next 10 years.

Despite similarities of Ukrainians and Russians, they are as adamant of their differences as Australians and New Zealanders. They share the same high cheekbones and fondness for vodka and poetry especially folk hero Taras Shevchenko. They’re equally passionate about football, their countryside and good hearty food. But where Russians would most likely be Orthodox or atheists, Ukrainians are most likely to be Catholics or Baptists. Ukrainians are fonder of Western Europe so a mosaic of the Virgin Mary and child may be right next to a poster of the album Like a Virgin, mixing the old and new Madonna’s. The city itself is more than 1500 years old and their independence in 1992 gained after centuries of Russian domination, carved a strength and unity among the people that as has been recently witnessed on the media, hence the Russian invasion has not gone as smoothly as perhaps Putin had anticipated.

People in countries that have suffered war are faced with the dilemma of packing what is most important in your life into one suitcase and start running. I came to know that feeling when the 2011 Christchurch earthquake hit and the cliffs fell next to my kid’s school. You can’t know the extent of fear and panic that grips you in a dynamic you have no control over until you experience it.

We down under who have never had war on our shores, have never experienced our borders being invaded, apart from tourists visiting, sit pretty, protected and privileged. Parents who argue the wearing of masks have not had to send their children to school with their blood type sewn into their collars, or train their 9-year old’s on how to look out for their 5 and 3yr old siblings just in case.

Social comments from the Wellington protests demeaning the events overseas as not impacting on them or not as important as their need for freedom of speech, show a lack of knowledge of economic connections and empathy only previously found in 1789 when the poor and starving asked for bread at the gates of the Palace of Versailles and Marie Antoinette said, if there is no bread give them cake.