An Unpleasant Reverie on War upon Seeing the Russian Tanks Invading Ukraine – Prof John Whitehall

A Personal Reflection

11 MINUTE READ

From Luke’s Journal Timeless Articles

Image: Corona Borealis Studio

The Luke’s Journal editorial team is aware that this article has political implications and that, since publication, legislation may have changed nationally or in your state of residence and practice. Luke’s Journal advises that you contact your State chair if you have any questions or concerns regarding implications for your clinical practice.

I imagine the ‘heart of God’ is appalled by this current behaviour of some of His creation. It was, I believe, for the human ‘heart of darkness’  that there was a crucifixion, long ago. But that dark side continues and man’s inhumanity to man continues to make countless mourn in countless wars. 

I grew up in the shadow of war

I never met my father because he was killed in Singapore before I was born. But I lived with its effect on my mother and on my stepfather who had joined the Air Force when he was only 17. Their wounds remained until they died. As a child, I could not understand why, at the sound of even distant thunder, he would go around the house, making sure the windows and doors were locked. My mother was emotionally unsound; their relationship conflictual.

We lived with an uncle who had also been in the army. One day, when I was about 8, I came upon him crying in the kitchen. He had learned that war had broken out in Korea. Bewildered, I stared at him, for I did not understand. From then, the family would follow the progress of the war on the maps published in newspapers. The progress of the North was denoted in black on a map of the peninsular: the retreat of the South in an ever-shrinking region of white. I could feel the tension when only a bit of white surrounded the southern city of Pusan. Now, I see things more clearly, and share my uncle’s primordial fear.

Experiences in Vietnam

I went on to have more experiences: in Vietnam in a refugee camp and then in a village around which bombs fell, people fled and children were burned. Knowing ‘nothing’ for I had only recently graduated, I joined futile surgical efforts to save the wounded, cutting flayed feet from civilians who had trodden on mines, and working in crowded hovels to curtail the spread of disease in refugees. I was so ignorant that I did not recognise bubonic plague when it erupted, even though I had observed children playing with rats, and people frying them for dinner, lacking alternatives. 

“I joined futile surgical efforts to save the wounded, cutting flayed feet from civilians who had trodden on mines, and working in crowded hovels to curtail the spread of disease in refugees.”

I was confounded by intentional cruelty. One day, I and others in a convoy of civilian vehicles, had driven over a command-detonated mine implanted in an elevated road through rice paddies. The target was the civilian bus. Remains were brought to the hospital where I was working.

I have never gotten over Vietnam, remaining guilty for impotence in the face of such need.

When South Vietnam fell, I worked in an aid project in Guam for boatloads of refugees and listened to their terror and heartbreak as they had watched families drown. Later, in the Philippines, I inspected a boat that had just washed up with a load of barely-conscious refugees. They had been presumed dead, for they were all lying in the gunwales. Their desperation could be judged by the rottenness of the boat: you could pull nails from the planks with your fingers. I was then working as a paediatrician in Fairfield, near the refugee camp, and again imbibed the testimonies of the suffering of war and subsequent subjugation.  

The first war in East Timor

Later, for some months, I was caught up in the first war in East Timor. I had arrived in a fishing boat with TV magnate Kerry Packer and for some days was the only doctor in the country…all the others had fled. The hospital was a place of hopeless destitution. Over 70 men, women and children were lying in their beds, untended, with no medicines, and little food. Their wounds gaped, discharged and fed flies. In pain, they awaited death. 

In my first operation, I amputated the leg of an 8 year old who miraculously was surviving gangrene from a bullet wound in his thigh. My second was on a similar leg in an older lady, who did not… I then continued day and night. 

In the middle of the third night, on the little stone fence surrounding the hospital, I sat with the only other Westerner on the island, my friend Bill Bancroft. We listened to explosions in the town below and watched tracer fire cross the harbour. We wondered what we would do if we were engulfed.

Lebanon

Then I spent six months in Lebanon, leading an aid team that worked in an intensive care unit and in a spinal injuries unit. Not only did I see people die, I observed and learned of unimaginable cruelties. It was as if human character had been as destroyed as the city itself.  I, myself, was nearly executed by a crazed crowd, but that is another story. The point is, I experienced the funk of terror, and the debilitating effect of chronic fear.  Almost every night, artillery shells would explode in manifestation of apparently crazed attempts of humans trying to kill each other.

Philippines

Later, I spent six months in the Philippines, providing aid to mostly Christian people who were being selectively threatened in a Maoist revolution. At one stage we were able to provide housing for families whose children had been slaughtered when the Maoists opened their weapons on a Sunday School, knocking the children into bits, before they turned on parents working in the fields. The Maoists were making an example of those who did not provide ‘revolutionary tax’.

At another stage, I was able to interview four captured Maoist executioners, and listen to their emotionless recall of how they had murdered what appeared to be hundreds of their opponents. They would make a chicken squawk in the middle of the night, and then shoot its owner when he got up to check on his brood. Or, in a dreadful purge in their own party, they would torture for ‘confessions’, make the victim dig his or her own grave and dispatch them with a broad knife in the neck. 

Sri Lanka

I spent another six months in Sri Lanka, during a lull in their civil war, training doctors on one side in how to look after sick and wounded children. Again, I observed the psychological and physical traumas on the civilian populations of both sides. And the lonely suffering of a young man, just a boy, in a wheelchair deep in the jungle…the result of a bullet in his spine.

Cruelty can become a way of life

In these experiences, I observed a dark side of human nature which, when released, may show no pity or mercy, or any kind of softness, even to children. Cruelty can become a way of life. Moreover, it can be justified by ideology. For some, there is purpose in the infliction of terror. It becomes not merely a weapon of war but transcends into an act of creation. 

“In these experiences, I observed a dark side of human nature which, when released, may show no pity or mercy, or any kind of softness, even to children. Cruelty can become a way of life. Moreover, it can be justified by ideology.

Lenin asked “Do you really think that we shall come out victorious without any revolutionary terror?” From 1932-33, Joseph Stalin enforced a famine on Ukraine in which millions of men, women and children starved to death. He did so ‘to force the kulak to his knees…so he will never rise again’. Essentially, a ‘kulak’ was a person who opposed the imposition of Soviet physical and ideological rule. The kulak was standing in the way of communist utopia and, allegedly, had to be removed for the sake of mankind. 

The current bombardment of civilians in Ukraine is ‘justified terror’. The strangulation of cities and interruption of food, water and medicines will be the current attempt to drive the Ukrainian kulaks to their knees so they will never rise again. 

26th February, 2022, Ukraine, Uzhgorod-Vyshne Nemeckoe: Refugees from Ukraine on the border with Slovakia (checkpoint “Uzhgorod-Vyshne Nemeckoe”) in the Zakarpatya regions. — Photo by Fotoreserg

It should not be overlooked that the 1932-33 Ukrainian famine was only the second worst experienced in the history of man. The worst was inflicted by Mao from 1958-62 in his commitment to utopia. And Mao is still extolled by the Chinese regime.

The temptation for utopia has theological gravity. When Jesus was taken into the wilderness for temptation, he was offered a way of salvation for mankind that would exclude the crucifixion. All he had to do was bow down to (and utilise) the Force of darkness. Strangely, many of my  experiences have taught me more about God because of his apparent absence in the darkness. The world has, indeed, been blessed by the Way of the Cross.

What then should we pray for?

My wife (who was with me in many of the above scenarios) and I prayed this morning… 

  1. We lamented the inhumanity of man, which must surely break the Creator’s heart. 
  2. We recalled it is written that the Son of God assumed human form to be sacrificed for man’s redemption. We recalled the power of the resurrection and sought that Power to stop this war, and others that are plaguing us. 
  3. We recalled the command of the risen Lord to pray for ‘deliverance from evil’ and prayed that might be so in Ukraine, and other places of worldly suffering. 
  4. We pleaded that ‘your Kingdom may come’: soon, without delay. And that the world would  be restored to peace in which the ‘Lamb may, indeed, lie down with the lion’.  
  5. Recalling Old Testament injunction to pray for widows and orphans… we pray that no one would become either of these.
  6. Recalling the Beatitudes, we prayed for the sick and wounded in Ukraine, and those who have lost everything and are ‘naked’ and exposed,  and whose hunger and thirst will surely worsen when supplies to cities are cut, after which they will then be imprisoned.
  7. We prayed for those in Russia going to prison for their commitment to peace. For Light to shine in that country. We bear up the young Russian soldiers who are reported to ‘know not what they do’ and their mothers and fathers who will suffer.
  8. We prayed for the strength of the medical profession, working, doubtless, with decreasing supplies and increasing need. Overcome their despair, strengthen their ‘hands and feeble knees’.
  9. Many will turn to Him. We prayed for His comfort and light. We prayed for His people in Ukraine and Russia. 
  10. We recalled that Saul of Tarsus once declared ideological and physical war on Believers in Jerusalem and he watched at least one innocent man pitilessly executed by stoning. But, on his way to intensify the war in Damascus, we read he encountered the Risen Lord. That Saul would recognise his Challenger is one thing: that he would submit is an eternal blessing. Can we dare to pray that our Risen Lord would encounter Vladimir Putin and other Russian leaders, and that they would not merely recognise but submit? 
  11. In all of this and other worldly suffering, may His name turn out to be glorified.  May we, as almost insignificant instruments, plant our tiny seeds of mustard in instructed faith, that mighty trees may result.

Prof John Whitehall
John Whitehall is a long-term member of CMDFA who has worked in many different countries, some of which have been at war. In the process, he specialised in Paediatrics and has taught modules of care for children in such situations. Memories flooded back when he saw film of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and imagined the plight of children. Hence the emotive ‘reverie’ and the call for prayer. 


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