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Thursday, July 18, 2024
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All soldiers are humans, Harry – even Russians

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WHILE everyone was expecting Prince Harry’s book to cause intense discomfort for the Royal Family, few foresaw it upsetting the Army and causing an international incident. Harry’s claim that he killed 25 Taliban and viewed enemy combatants as ‘chess pieces’ has been condemned by military figures and the public. There are concerns not only about Harry exacerbating his own security risk but also creating a heightened risk to the Royal Family and British military everywhere. 

What was especially striking was Harry’s assertion that ‘they trained me to “other” them and they trained me well’. Clearly there must be great sympathy for soldiers having to come to terms with taking human life and a certain amount of emotional distancing from the person at the end of your gun or bomb is understandable. Yet Harry does seem to be describing an instructed dehumanisation of the enemy, the ‘they’ who trained him being his military superiors. It is therefore little wonder so many have spoken against Harry’s statements. The British military have a proud tradition of adhering to the Geneva convention whose raison d’être is to prevent, as far as possible, inhumane military practices.

However all this outrage is in striking contrast to the current ‘accepted narrative’ amongst politicians, mainstream media and even some senior army figures, on Russia and Ukraine. Russian soldiers are often not seen as chess pieces but as evil monsters. Every claim by the Ukrainian side of atrocities by Russian troops is immediately accepted as gospel truth. In contrast claims from the Russian side of war crimes committed by Ukrainian forces, such as torturing or shooting surrendering soldiers and defectors, are dismissed or ignored. A few months ago my fellow writer for TCW, Frederick Edward, penned these powerful words in a Substack piece.

‘Each burnt-out vehicle and each disembowelled conscript – oh Slava Ukraina! – they’re just Russians after all. Online, each opinion piece and every comment under the line positively ecstatic in this obliteration of human potential.’ 

Through travel and friends, Frederick Edward has a good knowledge of the ordinary folk in the land of Dostoevsky. That greatest of Russian writers said ‘it is the most civilised gentlemen who have been the subtlest slaughterers’. Dostoevsky also criticised what he saw as a modern civilisation which created men who gave moving speeches about patriotism and freedom but then showed themselves to be ‘more bloodthirsty’ than their ancestors. The Ukrainian government and its official spokesmen celebrate each Russian death with the enthusiasm of a goal scored at a World Cup. Their social media accounts overflow with delight when they can trumpet an increased body count. One of the recent offerings was the gleeful announcement on December 22, 2022, that 100,000 Russian soldiers had been killed. Characteristically this was done in a tweet of an almost playful tone, trolling the Russian Defence Minister. In August of that year Nicola Sturgeon suffered a ripple of criticism for liking a similar tweet glorifying the deaths of 41,170 Russian personnel. This was barely noticed by media outside Scotland or by the general public, largely because in today’s world the Russian soldier isn’t thought of as a human life that is as valuable as any other. The fact that more than 134,000 conscripts were drafted into the Russian army in spring 2022 with an autumn push towards 300,000 (making up one quarter of the entire forces), doesn’t appear to matter. Avoiding conscription in Russia is officially punishable by two years’ imprisonment but one imagines that now you’d be lucky to escape with all your limbs intact or even with your life. Indeed Frederick Edward mentions his friend cutting off his own finger to avoid conscription, obviously considered preferable to both the battlefield and outright refusal.

Some might assume I would tend towards hating Russians. After all it wasagents of that nation who killed my German great-uncle and made my grandma’s Sudetenland family into refugees while committing horrendous acts against her ethnic fellows. Some of them also committed the most vile atrocities against my fellow Germans as they marched across Germany in 1945. However it is my German blood, my German family, who have always made me recognise that whoever your enemies are, they are humans too. Never dehumanise them, even those carrying guns and dropping bombs. Tragically that is a lesson which has not been learnt by the Western cheerleaders of the Ukrainian conflict.

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Romy Cerratti
Romy Cerratti
Romy Cerratti is half German, a quarter Italian and a quarter Peruvian but is proud to be British. She has a masters degree in medieval history from Oxford and is a passionate campaigner on issues of mental health and NHS reform.

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