A Sea of Lights

22 Aug

As I watched the images of the individual marchers filter across the news channels, I wondered briefly how many of their grandparents had fought against these very ideas that they seemingly espoused, those grandparents that gave their youth, and in some cases their lives, to stop the cancer of fascism and racism from spreading across the world.  To have a leader of a polarized and diverse country unable to condemn white nationalists, whilst at the same time bask in their popular support, only led an air of farce to the proceedings.  It was a depressing moment watching one of the world’s largest democracies forget its own history.

Coincidentally I’ve recently finished reading a new English translation of Svetlana Alexievich’s The Unwomanly Face of War, a collection of testimonies and memories from the female participants of the Red Army of the Soviet Union who fought in World War Two.  The voices of who, and experiences of, had largely been purged from the official records following the defeat of Nazi Germany.

As it can be imagined from reading survivors accounts of the Eastern Front it wasn’t particularly joyful reading, but it is enlightening to learn about the thoughts and feelings of these individuals and their roles within the Red Army or in underground partisan units.  One memory in particular moved me and reminded of the horror of dehumanizing the enemy:

I didn’t want to kill, I wasn’t born to kill.  I wanted to be a teacher.  But I saw how they burned a village . . .  I couldn’t scream, I couldn’t weep loudly: we were on a scouting mission and came close to that village.  I could only bite my hands; I still have the scars; I bit them til they bled.  Till the raw flesh showed.  I remember how the people screamed . . .  The cows screamed . . .  The chickens screamed . . .  It seemed to me they were all screaming with human voices.  All of them alive.  Burning and screaming.’

– Valentina Mikhailovna Ilkevich, Partisan Liaison.

From the flames of hatred nothing particularly good comes.


Alexievich, S. 2017. The Unwomanly Face of War. Translated from Russian by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky. London: Penguin Classics.

6 Responses to “A Sea of Lights”

  1. Maria Eloisa Damele August 23, 2017 at 3:11 am #

    I was born in Uruguay in February, 1945. My country received hundreds of Jewish during the Nazi Holocaust. The Government helped them to get to Uruguay and to settle down there. I grew up among survivors from the camps. Many used to go to my mom’s store and I heard day after day the horrifying stories of what they had gone through. I was 4, 5 and little more years old. I always wonder why, people wanted to kill them only because they had a different religion or a different origin. I believe those stories marked my personality in a profound way. Then, in the 50s, I started to learn about the African American struggle to be accepted as equal. I didn’t understand why they had to be treated different, why they had to go to a different bathroom, or a different bar, or go at the back in the buses. Inside me, there was only one race, “the Human Race.” Those were my feelings, although I was too small to be able to express it in words. Years passed and I saw changes for the better and I started to think that finally, we were all the same under the sun. Until a couple of years ago that all these waves of racism attacks started and I can’t understand why we are going backwards. We are supposed to improve ourselves as a society. Why?

    • These Bones Of Mine August 23, 2017 at 1:16 pm #

      Hi Maria, Thank you one again for commenting. As I’ve replied below to Jessica there are no simple answers and no simple histories – my post is perhaps a bit too clean cut, but it is a depressing time for sure.

  2. Jessica (Diverting Journeys) August 23, 2017 at 1:02 pm #

    I’m completely appalled by the things that are happening in America right now, but I’m not at all surprised. There’s always been an undercurrent of racism in American society, and a certain segment of the population has never really tried to hide it, but now more people feel justified in bringing it out in the open. I’m sure many of their grandparents did fight in WWII, but most Americans don’t really have a sense of history in that way (which is why they’re clinging to the alleged “historic” value of statues that aren’t even a century old, and weren’t erected by people who had anything to do with the Civil War); besides, the US Army was still segregated in WWII, and I think a lot of Americans were quietly sympathetic towards the Germans while being openly racist towards the Japanese. They went to fight because it was the patriotic thing to do, but I don’t think many people did it specifically to combat fascism, and they didn’t spend much time reflecting or talking it over with their families once they were back home, if they made it back. And now you have another generation of white men with a misplaced sense of entitlement, and they’re angry because life isn’t easy, but even they don’t really understand why they’re so angry. So basically, the problems go back generations, and it’s hard to pinpoint one root cause, which is why this racism is so hard to combat. The future’s looking bleak.

    • These Bones Of Mine August 23, 2017 at 1:15 pm #

      Hi Jessica, thanks for the insightful comment! I totally agree, with this mini-post I tried to shoehorn too many strands of thought into a few simple lines and failed – my interest in Russian history and literature were only meant to serve as ideas for the extremes of suffering and ideologies imposed, and to get the point across about the suffering as the result of pure unadulterated racial hatred that tends to be inherent in fascist ideologies.

      You’ve concisely presented the problems of American racial histories, from the viewpoint of the modern angry white men, and the truly difficult task of engaging, educating and eliminating it – where the hell does the USA go from here? The two recent speeches gave by him just show openly how he fluctuates between a person in office who can appear presidential (almost) and a person who has all the rhetorical elements of authoritarianism and a disdain for democracy, fact, and engagement. That’s just within his own country. Goddamn.

      • Jessica (Diverting Journeys) August 23, 2017 at 1:25 pm #

        I don’t think you failed! It was an interesting post and your opening paragraph was rather poetic!
        As far as where the US goes from here, I don’t know! I’m sorry to say that a number of my own family members, both extended and close, are racist themselves; they’re not the type that would ever attend a Neo-Nazi rally or anything; it’s more of a quiet kind of racism that only rears its ugly head now and again. I’ve done my best to try to change their way of thinking, but nothing seems to work. I literally don’t understand how anyone can still support Trump (I mean, I don’t understand how they could have supported him in the first place, but now it’s really grim), and sometimes it seems like the divide in America is just too great, which I know is exactly what Trump and his cronies are counting on. Divide and conquer.

        • These Bones Of Mine August 23, 2017 at 1:48 pm #

          Thanks! Could probably be edited together a bit better, but I’ll leave it for now.

          Indeed,unfortunately we all have quiet racists in the family, the ones who would do no harm but mutter anyway. It’s a strange thing to watch when you know their background and where the influence comes from (hint, a big newspaper!). I could see the appeal originally, a crazy outsider, but not now, not with how much has gone on. As a complete outside to the USA I respect the democratic process and the choice of the American people, however as a member of an allied country (militarily/culturally/politically, etc.) I worry regarding this administrations influence on my country. We shall see how it goes on and how it ends.

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