What Is An Ukrainian Soldier’s Life Worth in Bahkmut?
Depends on Which Generation You’re Asking
Warning: Please don’t read if you know people who have died in Ukraine. If I was in your shoes, I wouldn’t be able to read this story, calmly.
In order to address the question, I need to take you on a film-criticism journey. Let’s look at the 1930 film “All Quiet On The Western Front” (which we’ll compare to the one released in 2022)
In the 1930 version, Kat is a young man who is talked into enlisting by his high school teacher. He ends up on the front, witnesses all the horrors and strange interludes of happiness. He gets injured and comes home. He tries to tell people what it was like at the front, but they either don’t believe him or don’t want to know. He returns to the front where he’s killed by a sniper while reaching for a butterfly.
My interpretation of the film:
Society sends young men to fight a war “on the front” to defend that society’s honor. They suffer many horrors. When they come back into society, they explain that those values are not being fought over. Everyone is doing everything they can to survive while they’re ordered to kill each other.
Society responds that such a soldier only understands the small picture, that indeed, the war IS being waged for the benefit of that society, even if the soldier doesn’t understand it.
The 2022 version
Men end up on “the front”. It doesn’t matter how they got there. The young men, children, women, and so forth, suffer many horrors. If everyone understood just how gruesome those horrors were, they’d stop the war.
The 1930 film addresses the prime problem.
Societies must communicate and do everything they can to prevent war. If war begins, best to stop it as soon as possible and talk, because in the final analysis, societies will pour as much men and equipment as they have until one side runs out.
The 1930 film recognizes that the horrors of war are not communicable to the general public because society will remain fixated on its rationalizations to the point that it would rather see people die than admit it is losing.
I’ll now return to the war in Ukraine.
A year later and I remain in the dark about which side has what number or strength of troops and equipment. Naturally, for “operational security (OPSEC)” reasons, both sides work overtime to cover their tracks.
What that means is society is free to create facts to fit its narrative.
Until a war is completed, each side will not want it known how well, or poorly, any tactic has worked — even from the beginning. This seems lost on most people. Ukraine (rightfully) only explains a victory or loss to achieve a political goal. It might be to pry more weapons from the West. Or to sow doubt in the Russian leadership. Or scare Russian men from fighting. Or give Ukrainians confidence that Ukraine will win.
Ukraine or the U.S. is not going to release information, or allow it to be made public, just because people have a right to know.
News programs used to do a better job of reporting, “this is what Government Dept X says … and this is what our experts speculate is happening.” Instead, these days they commingle both and it makes it even more difficult to understand what’s going on.
Most experts agree that Bahkmut has little tactical importance. It only has strategic importance in that if Russia demonstrates it can regain territory it can push Ukraine (and its backers) closer to accepting a ceasefire on Russian terms.
What about Ukraine? What is its strategic goal?
I’m confident that in autumn of 2022, Russia performed large retreats from Kharkiv in the north and Kherson in the south. What I don’t know is the strength of the Ukrainian combined-arms force bearing down on the Russians. I speculate that it was quite large, but that has been kept out of view.
Strategically, I believe the most important territory to control is that in the South. If Russia could land-lock Ukraine, Ukraine becomes another Belarus. Ukraine must prevent that. They must divide and conquer Russian-held territories in the south.
Unfortunately, Ukraine must wait. Most military experts agree that the best (if not only) time to mount a serious assault is during the summer. If Ukraine is planning to take back Crimea, it will need a huge fighting force and it will need to do it in the summer — at least four months away.
Ukraine has the best chance of getting support from the West, and preventing China from getting involved, if it appears to be winning up until the time it launches it big counter-offensive in the south.
If one accepts this as true, then Ukrainian soldiers have been fighting and dying simply to buy time.
Would you want to die for a strategic reason few understand? For a battle, like the drawn-out one for Mariupol, that is already heading for the footnotes?
Even within the Ukrainian government and military, there must be a conflict between people who want to buy time, and those who want to take a hit perceptually to save Ukrainian lives.
Let’s return to All Quiet. Do we recognize that no matter how justified Ukraine is for fighting Russia we only have a front line because everyone is paying their soldiers to fight there?
If everyone stopped buying Russian oil and gas the war would be over tomorrow. Okay, so China is buying the oil. Then why are we buying anything from China that was made from that oil? Same for Germany early on when they were still buying Russian gas. Why didn’t we boycott German industry?
I have no solution. Those who fought in World War II believed the United Nations could be a solution. What they didn’t foresee is that once they died no one would remember the lessons that lead to its creation. The lessons glossed over by this generation’s All Quiet.
We believe the 2022 version of All Quiet is the masterpiece when its actually an enabler of war. Those who watch it it can believe they suffered at the front too, that they understand the horror. Once that box is checked off, they go back to focusing on the economy and myths that fund the war…until the other side is exhausted.