Saturday 30 September 2023

To Think Harder About This War

War makes people lose their marbles. As soon as the shooting starts, the thinking stops. This is understandable (if often unwise) if you are directly involved. But the rest of us should be more careful.

I have argued for years that the Ukraine crisis is far more tangled than most people think. It is not a simple battle of good against evil. Very wicked things have been done on both sides.

I believe that if this was more widely grasped, there would be a better chance of ending the fighting and dying in this dangerous part of the world.

But for saying so, I am told I must be a Russian agent. Well, an event last week showed just how crazy most of us have gone on this subject. Almost nobody involved was actually bad.

But a lot of people were deluded. It began when the Canadian parliament, and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, found themselves giving a standing ovation to a veteran of Hitler’s Waffen SS. They did not know what they were doing. Then they found out.

As a result of this, the Speaker of that parliament, Anthony Rota, has quit. And the Canadian government has apologised to the worldwide Jewish community for applauding the 98-year-old former SS volunteer Yaroslav Hunka.

President Zelensky, himself Jewish, has in the past rightly condemned some of his own citizens for honouring the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (also sometimes known as the 1st Galician or 1st Ukrainian).

In 2021, much to his credit, he objected to a march in Kiev celebrating the SS Division, saying: ‘We categorically condemn any manifestation of propaganda of totalitarian regimes, in particular the National Socialists, and attempts to revise truth about the Second World War.’

Speaker Rota’s mistake resulted from a historically ignorant and crude belief now worryingly common among Western politicians and media. They think that the Ukraine crisis is like The Lord Of The Rings, with sweet furry hobbits fighting off horrible bloodthirsty orcs.

Bad things about Ukraine – its corruption, its oligarchs, its thuggish factions of Nazi sympathisers, its increasingly feeble democracy and flickering freedom of speech – are simply ignored or suppressed. And now this fantasy has invaded the past, transforming Nazi soldiers into heroes of liberation.

Mr Rota told MPs in Ottawa that Hunka was ‘a Ukrainian-Canadian veteran from the Second World War who fought for Ukrainian independence against the Russians and continues to support the troops today, even at his age of 98’.

Rota declared that Hunka (who rose from his gallery seat to acknowledge the applause), was ‘a Ukrainian hero, a Canadian hero, and we thank him for all his service’.

And then (whoops!) it was gently pointed out by better-informed people that Hunka had been wearing Hitler’s uniform when he ‘fought for Ukrainian independence’, and had, in fact, been fighting for Hitler. (Hunka’s unit, he reveals in a curious and troubling blog post, surrendered to the British Army in Styria, Austria, more than 300 miles from Ukraine.)

The episode (quickly smoothed over in Canada and largely unnoticed here) reminds me of the much deeper trouble US President Ronald Reagan got into in 1985 when he foolishly visited the graves of SS soldiers in Germany.

The supposed Great Communicator for once faced an explosion of truly serious public criticism. He laid a wreath at the Bitburg cemetery in which SS troops were buried.

Idiotically, when challenged, he burbled of the dead troops: ‘They were victims just as surely as the victims in the concentration camps.’ In the end, he quickly changed plans to include a visit to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, something he had dismissed as ‘unnecessary’.

But the anger, quite rightly, rumbled for months afterwards. So it should in this case. I hope the episode of SS-man Yaroslav Hunka causes Western public opinion to think harder about this war. That way, we might get the lasting peace which Ukraine and its people need.