War is hell

Whatever happened to, Leon Trotsky
He got an ice-pick, that made his ears burn


Skimming through the headlines and I find myself with a whole range of emotions, depending on the story I’m reading. I don’t care, I really don’t, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is thinking about building a swimming pool complex in what the papers are calling his “£6.6m bolt-hole”. Any home-owner worth their salt these days will know they have to keep a weather-eye on the re-sale value of their properties and if you are likely to want someone else to shell out six million quid on your country pile, then you probably do want it to have a swimming pool. This being Britain, you’ll want it to have indoor and outdoor options, so it’ll likely be a jolly nice pool.

I do care that said chancellor’s largesse with tax-payers’ cash during the depths of the pandemic has been found to have been quite badly monitored in some cases; today’s Times has the result of an investigation into Covid Bounce-Back Loam fraud which makes me quite cross. Whose money did these people think they were stealing? These are the people who falsely claim for an extra top-of-the-range camera when their holiday hire car is broken into or for £8,000 for emotional distress after an accident that they caused themselves (true story: this happened to a friend of mine). They are the ‘because I want it’ generation, for whom the rules that the rest of us follow because, you know, it’s the right thing to do, don’t apply. Where have I heard that before….?

I am livid about the way that the Mail reported the “anonymous Tory MP” – who complained that Labours Deputy leader Angela Rayner was deliberately using g her legs to distract the Prime Minister during PMQs. It’s unacceptable and makes me feel slightly ashamed to call myself a journalist if this is the sort of thing that others of my profession get up to. But all these are nothing compared with the emotions I feel when I read some of the other stories. Stories that fill me with horror, with shame that I’m not doing more to help, but also with an element of pride about the journalistic profession that so many of them are out in Ukraine, putting themselves in danger to bring us news of the terrible things that are being meted out less than 4 hours’ flight away.

I worry that I will become inured to the news of death and destruction, of the horrific war crimes that are coming out of Ukraine. That it will all become just noise as it drags on. And then I read something else and the horror of it strikes me afresh. The old ladies who survived concentration camps in the Second World War only to suffocate in a concrete dungeon where the invading army had imprisoned them, with no air, water or food. I could barely read through my tears the diary report from one of the Times journalists on being shown by an old man the burned -out shell of a car, in which you could just see the charred remains of his son. His son. Reading the story of the man who went out to buy milk and returned to find his wife and new-born baby killed in an airstrike felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. He handed over the pack of nappies he’d bought because he said he had no need for them now.

There’s a mad-man, trying to systematically destroy a nation, many of whose citizens speak his own language, many of whom were old enough to have been born Russian citizens. This is what we need to be getting angry about. Getting angry and acting. We need to speed up the processing of the visas, we need to keep supporting Zelensky with whatever he needs. This war is costing us all dear, both economically and emotionally. But that emotional cost at least shows we are still human, that we have empathy – I weep for the mothers of those Russian conscripts too. Putin is not. He is a monster and we have to stop him. We didn;t before, but we have to now. He’s now getting Russian state TV to blame the West for the Bucha massacres and war crimes. Someone find me an ice-pick and a plane ticket.


About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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