For many years I have felt lucky. We have felt lucky. Lucky that, unlike our parents and grandparents, we have never had to live through war. War was something we saw on television, distanced and packaged through the media into palatable news items. Ten minute triumphant timeslots. War was something distant and remote both figuratively and practically.
And in that time since the end of the Second World War, radio bulletins and newspaper articles gradually gave way to television, its talking pictures lending a new immediacy to events in distant Korea and then Vietnam and Cambodia. A TV war.
Ideological wars stripped of their ideology by the practicalities of waging war in places outside comprehension. Obedience to the rules of war, whatever exotic concept that might be. Carpet bombing B-52s, strings of bombs pouring like rainfall from their bellies. Napalm burning bright in the sunset.
But no dead or dying. No bodies burnt beyond recognition by napalm. No torn off limbs, no brains splattered like blancmange (yes they really do look like that). Nothing to put to off your lunch or supper. A propaganda war, the might and right against the out of sight and the night.
Then the greatest advance, and at the same time, greatest journalistic tool of all time – the iPhone.
Everyone was a reporter. TV companies swiftly moved from open disdain to desperate inclusionism, recognising that without these half minute video clips and micro bulletins, they would have no news to report. Editorial input and journalistic perspective was replaced by the fierce urgency of speed. Corners cut to the bone, stories largely unverified, confusion reigned.
Everyone who had an iPhone was a reporter. War was no longer pasteurised, itemised, and televised. War was immediate. As long as you had 4G.
Democratisation of the media both clarifies and confuses. The immediacy of video clips, gone viral is undeniable. A weapon of truth. But at the same time a weapon of misinformation.
War is now on our doorsteps. Korea was on the other side of the world. Each days fighting was over in time to catch the morning news in the US and Europe. Vietnam the same. Cambodia ditto. These were distant wars with time to pasteurise the newsreel before broadcast. This is not the case here. Kiev or Kyiv is or was a two-hour flight from London by commercial airliner. Quicker by warplane. Tupolev Tu160 bombers could be over Heathrow in a little less than 40 minutes. Russian ICBMs are quicker still. And as for cruise missiles, well you work it out.
Putin’s declaration that, in essence, his nukes are only one button press away from visiting Hell on earth is chilling in the extreme. And ironically he is all the more likely to deploy them if these plans on the ground war are thwarted. A stalled offensive in Ukraine will stir memories of Russian defeat in Afghanistan all those years ago.
Let us be under no illusion. These would not be tactical nuclear weapons deployed on the battlefield in the Ukraine but potentially in a wider field of conflict. A strategic nuclear war. As that grim joke goes “Q when is a tactical nuclear war not a tactical nuclear war? A about 10 minutes after it starts.”
We should not falsely comfort ourselves with the notion that no sane person would start a strategic global nuclear war. Perhaps true but Putin is not, by any mark, sane. Recent history teaches us that, faced with his own personal liquidation, he is more than likely to opt for global annihilation. These are not subtle nuanced Western interpretations of his words. He has said as much himself.
I do not pretend to understand the extent and meaning of sanctions but I’m led, by those who profess to be in the know, to understand that this is the most extensive package of sanctions ever deployed and have already collapsed the ruble and, in consequence, the Russian economy. Sanctions however precisely targeted ultimately cannot help but bring hardship on the Russian people. The Kremlin has never historically been accountable to the population. As Napoleon and Hitler found to their cost, Russia was prepared to go to extreme measures, even amounting to the death of many of its subjects in order to protect its own existence.
In any case, this is not a Russian war. The people of Russia do not want this war. Many view this, with something approaching the consternation of the West, as the first stage in an expansionist blitzkrieg. To the west of the Ukraine stands Poland. To the north, Belarus and Lithuania. Next stop west beyond Poland lies Germany, Finland to the north. It’s hard to believe that the Russian war machine would come to a dignified halt in front of the Polish or Finnish border. After all, there are no sanctions left to impose.
Concerned yet? I certainly am. And to think that we worried about North Korea…