For the Crew of The Moskva, My Memorial
Like most people who support peace, I’m happy to see Putin humiliated by the loss of his flagship. I enjoy the jokes circulating about the Moskva, f**ing itself. Other than that, I want to cry.
Is there any worse death than getting burnt alive, smoke filling your lungs, drowning in the ocean? I have never served in the military — I would have fled to Canada if drafted in my youth. If I did serve, I’d want to be in the Air Force. I love the technology. If not that, then Army Intelligence. Last on my list would be the Navy.
The Navy requires a special type of person. Even on the best of days, a ship is always at risk of sinking from a storm or accident, let alone an attack. You can parachute out of a plane. Or run as far as your legs can take you. In a ship your only option is to work together and keep the ship afloat, keep the wounded alive with whatever you have. There is no greater trust and belief in your fellow human, I wager, than on a Navy vessel.
How do I know this? I’ve watched many YouTube interviews of sailors. Also, sailors I’ve met over the years have always been extraordinarily non-confrontational and patient people. If I’m wrong someone will set this right in the comments.
What really keyed me into a sailor’s experience, on a ship-under-attack, are documentaries about the Falklands war. Like today, the British public weren’t shown the 26 disfigured and 20 dead from the HMS Sheffield, which was sunk by an Argentinian Exocet missile purchased from France.
Then there is the controversial sinking of Argentina's General Belgrano, where over 300 died, far from the front lines.
I’m not a naval historian. Does one need to view a ton of images or videos to get what death at sea looks like?
One might argue that we shouldn’t feel pity for the Russians. Look at Bucha and the many towns the Russians occupied. But think about it. If you have only 14 psychopaths running around, each torturing and killing 3 people a day, that’s 14 x 3 x 30 = 1,260 in a month. A number close to what’s, so-far, reported from Ukraine. Those 14 sickos would be 0.01% of the Russian forces.
I feel I must keep harping on this.
As a reader commented, “explanation is not excuse”. I believe most people are good, both Russians and Ukrainians. What politicians conveniently like to ignore is that a few “bad apples” do not represent a given population. And it isn’t even the psychopaths who are guilty — it is the governments who set them lose with weapons and uniforms.
In any case, I’m not aware of civilians tortured and killed on Navy ships. Glenn Rocess explains in his story that many Moskva sailors were conscripts. But I would think they must still adopt the ways of a sailor. And of course, officers of the Moskva may have been corrupt and evil megalomaniacs. Nonetheless, I still believe most sailors of all vessels the world over share a common reality.
In war, of course, one has to demonize their enemy to survive. That effort to defend oneself personally works against the one’s social desire to end a war they never wanted. So far, Russia claims all the sailors were rescued. I highly doubt that.
How The Weather Sunk The Moskva
The sinking of the Moskva also made me think of Richard Crim’s On Politics : War by other Means. The title doesn’t do justice to his make-me-piss my pants climate-change story. Two arguments: El Nino is currently suppressing a spike in global temperatures that might soon lead to the failure of one, or more, of the world’s eight breadbaskets. That would happen when the oceans finally “burp” up all that stored heat!
Why don’t more people read stories like Richard’s? I’ll explain using ants and dogs.
In New Hampshire I was walking into Hanover and came upon a line of ants crossing a walking path that is miles long. On each side of the path is grass. I bent down and noticed it wasn’t a line of ants going in one direction, but two lines of ants, meeting in the middle, and engaged in a full-out war.
I watched for so long that a car eventually stopped and the driver asked me if I was okay. He thought I was having a heart attack, bent over as I was.
I was trying to figure out why ants would fight each other when there was no shortage of space, all along the path, to set up colonies. I could find nothing special about that part of the path. All they had to do was march a few inches to the right or left and they’d have virtually unlimited space.
Why did the ants choose war over peace?
My dog… Pepper will bark and try to get at any dog she sees. It doesn’t matter if the dog is across the street and walking away.
Yet, should the distant sound of thunder be heard, my dog will bury herself in my wife’s closet. Not amount of soothing will calm her. My dog has never experience a lightning strike or any ill effects of a storm. What scares her so?
Perhaps some scientists have better explanations than this, but my take is that all animals feel safer battling other animals than facing the whims and un-matchable power of nature. Ant, dog, human — doesn’t matter. We all instinctively understand that if nature wants to kill us it will.
Getting back to the Moskva. My theory is that the rainy weather allowed the Ukrainians to position the Neptune missiles at an optimal location without Russian drones or satellites noticing. The rain disabled some of the Moskva’s defense sensors. The Ukrainians used some drones to distract what sensors were working. By the time the Moskva could see the Neptunes it was too late.
If the above is right, what sunk the Moskva was our ability — or flaw — that can suppress our fear of nature. Our overconfidence in technology. Dipping my toe into crazy land, perhaps mankind is at war to comfort itself in something winnable. Perhaps we all understand perfectly well what climate scientists are saying. We know that happens when we are helpless against nature — because we are.
Back to the sailors. Let me end with an excerpt from Spalding Grays 1987 “Swimming to Cambodia”. The first thing I thought of when I heard the Moskva go down. He starts out repeating what he’s being told by an American bigot.
[Jack Daniels] The Russians are stupid people, they’re backwards. You know on their ships, they don’t even have electrical intercoms? They still speak through tubes? [as himself, Spalding Gray] Suddenly, I had this enormous fondness for the Russian navy, for all of Mother Russia. The thought of these men like innocent children speaking through empty toilet paper rolls, empty paper towel rolls, where you can still hear doubt, confusion, brotherly love, ambivalence, all those human tones, coming through the tube.
If you want some solar optimism you might try Frederick Bott.