In Remembrance of Forests Past, Or How Aimless Wanderings Will Bring You Back Home

The street where I grew up ends in a dead end where the ground drops off into a ravine. The drop is steep, and as a child it scared me. Other kids in the neighborhood would hurl themselves tobogganing down into the precipice after it snowed, but I always opted for the gentler slope of the footpath next to the ravine, which connects the dead end of my street to the lower parts of another street a few blocks away.

I love to walk to explore. But living in South Florida where everything is built to accommodate cars rather than pedestrians, and where the climate makes parts of the year difficult for outdoors activities, the opportunities for aimless wanderings are limited.

When I went home to visit over the winter holidays, I made up for this by walking for hours, going wherever my feet–or indeed, someone else’s–would take me.

Standing at the dead end, I started down the gentle slope of the path of my childhood’s tobogganing to where it connects to a footpath across the ravine that on the other side meets the embankment of the railroad that runs behind all the houses on our street, ours included.

There was snow on the ground the day I decided to go all the way down to the bottom of the ravine, enough for the ground to be frozen and tracks to be visible, but not too much to make walking difficult. As I traversed the ravine, I discovered that someone wearing thick boots had gone there before me. The path and its tracks wound deeper into the ravine, downwards, always downwards, taking me closer to the railroad, and then further away, until I found myself at the bottom, where a creek gushes forth through the railroad embankment, strong, confident, and with such force that ice could never settle on it.

The name of the creek is Kvarnbäcken, or Mill Creek, and it runs from Lake Botered on the other side of the railroad to Lake Vänern, the third largest lake in Europe after Lakes Ladoga and Onega in Russia, and where town is.

At the bottom of the ravine, I lost track of the boots, but instead I picked up another set of tracks.

A fox’s paw prints.

I couldn’t tell where the fox had come from. Perhaps from the other side of the railroad. Or maybe it had crossed the creek, using the concrete of the embankment’s foundation as a bridge. Nevertheless, I could tell the direction in which it had been headed.

I decided to follow the tracks of the fox to see where they would take me.

The fox must have been a creature of comfort. Instead of blazing its own path through the trees, it followed the footpath as it wound its way through the forest along the banks of the creek. Together we walked, the fox in the past and I in the present, in the same direction as the gushing water. And then we reached an up slope in the ravine.

There was a small rapid here, making the creek jump down a step or two as it bent to accommodate the slope. Across the rapids were narrow planks, covered in snow and ice. The fox had easily trotted across, but I would have to wait for another time when the footing was safer.

Photo: Erika Harlitz Kern

I said goodbye to the fox and climbed up the slope where I found myself in the parking lot of the tenement building at the bottom of the street that connects to my street through the gentle footpath of tobogganing past. Here began a shorter, level street, that moved away from the ravine.

I walked all the way to the end of this street, took a right at the hillock I always thought unremarkable until my Dad showed me that it is a fort from World War II, and found myself at another dead end. I was back at the ravine. Here, the even braver children would go tobogganing on the footpath that hurled itself into the precipice. The challenge was to control your toboggan mid-flight so that you could turn with the footpath and not end up in the creek or break your leg on the ruins of the mill that has given the creek its name.

I started down the hill, remembering the times I had tried to navigate my bicycle up and down it, never succeeding entirely. Downwards, the slope made it too difficult to steer. Upwards, too difficult to pedal. Or the time when it rained so hard that parts of the path washed away and you couldn’t ride a bike at all, and when you walked you had to jump over the furrows as if playing the floor is lava.

Where the footpath turned, the ruin and the creek greeted me. The ruin silent, overgrown and covered in snow, the creek roaring onward, down towards the lake. In the summer, the creek is silent, almost dry. In the winter, not so.

Here were more rapids, larger, steeper, rambunctious, covered in foam. It’s the perfect place for a mill that runs on water power. A neighbor once went to the local archives to learn more about the mill. He traced it to the eighteenth century. Maybe it’s older than that. The hollow road that leads to it through what remains of the forest that once surrounded it bears witness to a time of activity in these now empty woods. The school nearby, where I went, my sister went, my Dad and Uncle went, and for a short while one of my cousins, is expanding. Houses are being built everywhere. The town is expecting more people to move in now that the trains to the city run more often.

I saw the changes from where I stood next to the ruined mill. This used to be old forests, gravel paths, ponds with frogs and salamanders, cow pastures. Now, the trees were gone. The footpath was closed off and had become part of the schoolyard. The pond was overgrown, and the cows grazed elsewhere. In J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring when the four Hobbits set out for Rivendell, I always imagine in my head that they walk through the pastures and the trees along this footpath, next to the creek and the ruin. I look at the changed landscape before me, and I think of Sam and Frodo and what they felt when Saruman took over the Shire.

I continued down to the banks of the creek where there was another bridge across the rapids. Though this bridge was also covered in ice and snow, it was wider with a railing, so I walked across and climbed the slope on the other side.

At the top of slope, I discovered a lean-to and a fireplace with logs for seats surrounding it. I saw traces in the snow everywhere. Boots from several people. Tire tracks. Coals and ash in the fireplace. But no garbage. From growing up here, I knew that the boots were from teenagers in the area and the tire tracks were from mopeds.

Unsure of what to do next, I saw that someone walked away from this party, through the forest in the direction of the railway. I decided to follow.

My eyes fixed to the snow, I walked together with this new stranger through the trees and up the slope where I once again reached the railroad. To the right in the distance was the creek, the embankment with the fox’s tracks, and beyond that the dead end where it all started.

I listened for the hiss in the metal rails that signal an approaching train. The rails were silent, and so I crossed. On the other side, the tracks continued down the slope, through more trees, and then I walked out onto a field. The tracks continued in a straight line, past the watch tower for the moose hunt, no stopping, no meandering. This person was headed somewhere (home?) and knew how to get there.

At the other end of the field was the highway, the E45 that runs in a north-south direction from the Swedish Arctic to Sicily in Italy. The E45 used to run through town, like roads did before heavy traffic. Since 1991, the E45 by-passes the town and instead, it cuts through here, adding noise to our up-until-then tranquil garden, leveling yet another ravine where I struggled to handle my bicycle, shifting the small gravel road that for centuries had run through the farm from which our neighborhood got its name.

On hot summer days in kindergarten, we used to go swimming in the lake where the creek begins. Sometimes we would drive there in the teachers’ cars, other times we would walk and be pushed in carts. The walk took us through trees and along a gravel road with clover growing along its banks and along fields of oats. Ripening oats smell sweet in the sun; they taste sweet, too.

The highway changed all that. The gravel road disappeared. The oats were replaced by fields of grass. You could no longer drive across the railroad behind our street, and so the neighbors we used to have on that side were no longer our neighbors.

The construction of the highway all those years ago confused my inner geography to such an extent that when I reached the other end of the field and stood at the wildlife fence watching the stranger I had been following walk through the gate in the fence to cross the road, it took me more than one moment to realize what I was looking at.

It was another one of the forts from World War II.

We used to walk past this fort on our way to the lake. Back then, nobody cared about it. It was in the middle of nowhere. The only people passing by were people like us, on our way to go swimming. Or people like the ones who one time had left their empty bottles behind and what looked like a blood-stained shirt.

When the highway was built, I lost track of the fort. I had no idea how to get back to it. And yet, here it was. Suddenly, my inner geography snapped back into place. Standing there by the fence, I knew exactly where I was because I recognized where I once had been. I also realized something else I had never known. Walking to the lake in the summer with the teachers and other children, I had always felt that I was far from home. But standing there next to this fort as this December-day moved towards its rapid, early-afternoon end, I realized that my house was very close.

With the setting sun to my back, I followed the wildlife fence along the highway, following nobody’s tracks but my own. When I reached the steps of the house, I came from the other direction from where I had started. My aimless wanderings had taken me in a circle back home.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.


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The War that Showed Us How an Underdog Can Beat the Russian Army, Or My Latest for The Daily Beast about the War in Ukraine

It’s been a while since last time, but this weekend I had another piece published by The Daily Beast. This time I wrote about The Winter War, which was fought between Finland and the Soviet Union from November 1939 to March 1940. The Winter War was a war of aggression where the Soviet Union attacked Finland with the intention of occupying territory and installing a puppet government.

Outside of the Nordic countries, The Winter War is pretty much an unknown conflict, but it is important to know about it because of the parallels to Russia’s war on Ukraine. Not only has Putin used the same fictional reasons for war as Josef Stalin, the Ukrainians’ fight to repel the Russians share similarities with how the Finns managed to fight off the Red Army.

To read the article in its entirety, please click here.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.

Photo by Baptiste Valthier on


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Conferencing in the Third Year of the Age of COVID, Or Reflections on the 97th Annual Meeting of the Medieval Academy of America 2022

Ceiling decorations in Gökhem parish church, Västergötland, Sweden. The decorations are fromthe 15th century, and are probably the work of Master Amund. Photo: Erika Harlitz-Kern

I have always enjoyed going to conferences. Even though I am an introvert and not particularly good at networking, I go to conferences anyway. I do it to meet new people, put a face to a name I already know, and to get an idea of the newest and latest research.

When I was a doctoral student, I went to conferences all the time. At that stage of your scholarly career in Sweden, it is comparatively easy to get funding for attending conferences, and with Europe literally on your doorstep, there are plenty of gatherings to choose from.

After I moved to the United States, I stopped going. There were several reasons for this. First, I dedicated my first few years to getting a Green Card and finding a job.

Second, for a medievalist there aren’t that many conferences to choose from. There is the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, MI, the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association, which changes location, and the Annual Meeting of the Medieval Academy of America, which is also ambulatory. There are of course workshops at universities here and there, but they usually cater to small, specialized groups.

Third, money. Traveling to any conference costs money and as contingent faculty, there is little to no funding to apply for. As for time, the conferences tend to be during the semester, which means that while the conference is happening, I am busy teaching. Or, as in the case of the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Society, the conference takes place in the first week of January, usually a day or two after the New Year, when travel tends to be more expensive because people are traveling after the holidays.

Also, the hotel deals on offer for conference participants (again, I am looking at you AHA) are still very expensive. Add to that the fee to attend the conference, which can be pretty hefty. Most conferences do offer tiered conference fees where the fee is reduced for students and contingent faculty, but not all do. And then there is the International Medieval Congress in Leeds, UK, which offers a discounted rate but only for a limited number of attendees who first need to submit paper work of proof of income to demonstrate that they are of the deserving. (They do know that the Victorian and Edwardian eras are over, right?)

Then, COVID happened. Everything shut down and there was total confusion everywhere. Organizers of academic conferences scrambled to find a solution. Some canceled out right. Others went ahead as planned. Others hooked themselves up to various online conference platforms with varying success rates.

By 2021, things had settled. The pandemic was still raging, but vaccines were rolling out, and we had all become Zoom aficionados. As for conferences, they all went virtual. And for the first time in many years, I could start attending them again. So, I signed up for the Medieval Academy of America, the ICMS in Kalamazoo, and the IMC in Leeds (where I paid the full fee because the IMC discount requirements are undignified).

Now, in 2022, the pandemic is still going on, some of us are vaccinated, and we are slowly learning to live with COVID-19 as an unwanted, intrusive presence in our lives. As for conferences, they are either virtual or hybrid, that is to say, they are in person and virtual at the same time. Which means that I can attend conferences this year as well.

Last weekend I attended the 97th Annual Meeting of the Medieval Academy of America, a hybrid conference that took place at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and on the Whova virtual conference platform. What follows are my thoughts and experiences of this and other MAA meetings that I have attended.

Over the years, I have had an on-off relationship with the MAA. I first joined out of curiosity as a doctoral student and even attended the annual meeting when it was held at Yale University in New Haven, CT, in 2010. I felt then that the MAA as an organization was outdated, and eventually, I let my membership lapse. Recently, though, the MAA has developed into one of the more interesting academic organizations, and to support the work they are doing to make the field of medieval studies more inclusive towards contingent faculty and scholars of color, I am a member once again.

The MAA’s work towards inclusivity is visible in the program of the 97th annual meeting, at least when it comes to topics. Medieval studies is a notoriously white-dominated field, which has not changed much despite the MAA’s new direction. This is a systemic problem in medieval studies as a whole, and to address this issue, we all need to work towards a solution, not just the MAA. However, the annual meeting does show in distilled form how homogeneous the field currently is, and, judging by the doctoral students and early career scholars who participated, will continue to be for quite some time.

As for the sessions I attended, I chose which to attend based on the teaching and research that I am currently doing. I ended up attending four sessions out of 65, not counting breakfasts, social gatherings, and committee meetings of which I attended none. (What am I going to do, watch people while they eat?)

The sessions I attended were session 19. Technologies of High Medieval Science, which I selected based on my research into the Codex Gigas; session 21: Northern Seas and Liminalities, which I selected based on my expertise in the Scandinavian Middle Ages; 47. Teaching (and Learning) the Global Middle Ages; and finally, 57. New Religious Histories. I had also wanted to attend session 20. Finding Meaning in Global Medievalism, but since it was scheduled at the same time as session 21, I had to make a choice.

As for what I got out of these sessions, the results were mixed. A recurring issue with the sessions at the MAA is that the session titles promise a wider scope than the individual presentations ultimately deliver. A case in point is session 19 of this year’s program where the title was the far-reaching “Technologies in High Medieval Science,” which ended up consisting of three papers that focused on specific aspects of specific primary sources.

Session 21 was very interesting, mostly because all three presentations, and the discussion that followed, succeeded in balancing the narrow with the broad. For example, Jonas Wellendorf’s presentation about the mythical island of Hvítamannaland, imagined to be located off the Atlantic coast of Ireland, taught me something new about the medieval Icelandic worldview, while Krystin Christy’s presentation on slavery among badgers and beavers in the writings of Gerald of Wales provided me with a deeper understanding of bestiaries and animals as medieval allegories. Session 47, meanwhile, made me want to write an op-ed on how the Global Middle Ages so easily become Western Imperialism by another name, even when the scholars involved consider themselves proponents of post-colonial scholarship. Session 57 was interesting, mainly because an argument was made in favor of taking seriously how people of the Middle Ages related to the supernatural; we need to take it seriously, because they took it seriously.

As for the hybrid format, I support the continuation of a virtual component because it enables so many more people to attend conferences. Starting last year, conferences like the annual meeting of the MAA have extended their reach with scholars and attendees connecting from all parts of the world, which is great.

However, when comparing the hybrid format to a complete virtual format or a conference that is entirely in-person, the hybrid format is the least productive when it comes to scholarly interaction.

In session 47, all speakers were virtual, as were the attendees, which resulted in a group of people speaking on a screen in front of an empty classroom. When I logged out of that session after it had run almost 10 minutes over time and showed no signs of stopping, it had become a fully-virtual conversation between the speakers, who also had written a book together.

In session 57, the speakers were both virtual and in-person, but at the start the mic was picking up sounds in the room and it was difficult to hear the speakers before it could be fixed. Also, one of the in-person speakers had a weaker voice, and because there was only one mic in the room, it was difficult to hear parts of his presentation. In this session, the classroom was full, and the audience was in a good mood and talkative. All this is great, but the result was, as a remote participant, the session ended up an experience similar to watching live-TV. One of the moderators addressed us who were attending virtually and asked if we had any questions, but if I had turned on my camera and unmuted myself to speak, it would have felt as if I were intruding, rather than contributing.

Overall, my experience of the 2022 MAA annual meeting is similar to my experience of the 2021 and 2010 MAA annual meetings in that this is not a meeting for me. I don’t mean this as criticism of the MAA; they are doing a great job putting these meetings together in an age where everything is in flux while also working to make the field more welcoming towards scholars of color and scholars who, for one reason or another, are on a professional trajectory other than the traditional path.

The feeling I get when I attend the MAA, regardless of the conference format, is one of alienation. I am on the outside looking in. I think the reason why is because the community of medievalists in the United States is small, and the group of scholars who would attend a meeting such as the MAA is even smaller. Personal contacts are key, and these personal contacts are mainly established during post-gradual studies.

Coming from the outside with no connections to any parts of the American educational system makes it nearly impossible to break into a conversation that has been going for decades, unless you yourself have participated in at least some part of it. (I am aware that all scholars who move between countries face challenges like this, but, what sets the American higher education system apart is that universities here claim to be places where scholars can come from anywhere and thrive, which is not true. Classism and xenophobia is rife, is what I’m saying.)

Also, the view of the medieval world that is presented at the MAA, whether it be in its original Eurocentric form or in its expanded Global form, is decidedly American. At its core, the study of the Middle Ages is the study of European history, but as a person from Europe with a terminal degree in medieval history from a university in Europe, what I find when I attend the MAA are ideas about an abstract Europe in the distant past with little to no connection to the actual Europe existing today and how this Europe interacts with its own past.

Yes, the MAA is the Medieval Academy of America, so it makes sense that the participants are either Americans or based at an American university. However, to come across references to research done on medieval Europe in Europe by scholars at European universities that are not Oxford and Cambridge is rare.

The problem here is that positioning yourself among other American medieval scholars matters more than engaging with research outside of American medieval studies. After all, this is how careers are made, regardless of where your university is located. However, if you are studying a part of the world that is not where you live, you need to start paying attention to what is going on there. And here I’m not talking about American scholars traveling to European archives and reading the primary sources in the original languages; that they do and they are very good at it. But any kind of production of knowledge is ultimately a conversation among scholars, and that conversation is here being ignored.

With the 97th Annual Meeting of the Medieval Academy of America behind me, the question remains what I will do when the 98th annual meeting comes around in 2023. Right now, all I can say is that it remains to be determined.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.


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How Putin Is His Own Kind Of Monster, Or Why Nazi-Germany Is Not the Answer to Every Question

When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the first war of invasion in Europe since 1939 began. After decades of convincing themselves that Russia had been pacified and that wars of aggression in Europe would never happen again, people were searching for explanations to what was happening. Journalists, pundits, and arm-chair historians began scrambling for historical parallels and in doing so, they ended up where they usually end up: Hitler and Nazi-Germany.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is what Hitler did to Czechoslovakia in 1937, they said. No, it’s like the Nazi’s invasion of Poland in 1939. Putin is behaving like Hitler, beware.

Whereas I do agree that history is written to answer questions in the present, I disagree with Adolf Hitler and Nazi-Germany becoming the go-to answers for everything when people want to make themselves look more knowledgeable and insightful than they really are.

Because, the answers to Vladimir Putin and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine can’t be found by drawing parallels to Nazi-Germany. Putin is his own kind of monster who acts within a decidedly Russian paradigm of how to treat its own population and its neighboring countries.

As historians, we talk about history as the result of continuity and change, that is to say, things change while at the same time, they stay the same. Russia under Vladimir Putin is new, but it is also very old.

Putin is an old kind of Russian leader because he is a despot. But, he is a new kind of Russian leader because he is a despot who is neither royal nor communist. He is also a new kind of leader because the Russian state has become entirely based on him as a person.

The czars and the leaders of the Soviet Union had structures built up around them that survived the death of the individual person, the Romanov dynasty in the case of the former, the Communist Party in the case of the latter. When the Czar or the Secretary General of the Communist Party passed away or was ousted, the institutions survived the person and a new leader was recruited from its ranks, either by birth-right or as the result of political power struggles.

When historians study the development of the state, we make a distinction between the “state” and the “realm.” The realm is the geographical territory held together by customs and kinship. The realm speaks to our identity, which is the reason why the realm is often given a name: The Reich for the Holy Roman Empire and later Germany. Uncle Sam for the United States of America. Blighty for England. And Mother Russia for Russia.

The state is the political structure that governs the realm. For there to be a “state,” these structures need to be separate from the leader, as discussed above with the Romanovs and the Communists.

With Putin, there is reason to believe that when he either dies or is overthrown there is no structure that will survive him, which means that when Putin is gone, Russia the State might collapse. Mother Russia, on the other hand, will prevail.

But isn’t that what happened to Nazi-Germany after Hitler died by suicide? The state died when he died, right? Surely, we can draw a parallel here?

The answer to those questions is no. Hitler died by suicide, yes, but only after he had appointed his successor. He could do that because the state of Nazi-Germany was built on the structures of the Nazi party. Nazi-Germany as a state came crashing down because Nazi-Germany declared itself defeated, which happened after Hitler was gone.

In the case of Germany, the realm also disappeared when The Reich was divided into West and East Germany.

Just like we can’t draw parallels between Putin and Hitler, we can’t draw parallels between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Nazi-Germany’s annexation of the Sudetenland or its invasion of Poland either. Because this is not the first time Russia has gone into Ukraine with the intention to annihilate.

Russia as an expansionist force can be traced far back in time, and every country or empire that has ever shared a border with Russia has been forced to contend with this, as seen in the relationship between Russia and Sweden. The earliest known border agreement between Russia (here in the form of one of its predecessors, the Republic of Novgorod) and Sweden is the Treaty of Nöteborg from 1323. The Treaty of Nöteborg marked the end of a series of conflicts during the thirteenth and early fourteenth century over control of the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic. Sweden and Russia would continue to wage wars over the Baltic until 1809, when Russia conquered Finland from Sweden, breaking the Swedish kingdom in half. Their contentious relationship continued during the Cold War, and is ramping up again today as a consequence of what is happening in Ukraine.

As for Ukraine, their complicated relationship with Russia can be traced even further back in time, involving much more suffering and bloodshed than in the case of Sweden. Putin’s argument for invading Ukraine in 2022 is that Ukraine does not exist as a country because of Kievan Rus.

Kievan Rus at its largest extent in the 11th and 12th c. Source: Wikipedia

Kievan Rus was a loose federation of geographical and ethnically-based territories that reached from the Black Sea to the Baltic, and which existed in different forms from the ninth century to 1240 when the Mongols invaded from the East. (The Republic of Novgorod, mentioned above, was part of this federation.) Kievan Rus got its name from the city from whence it grew–Kyiv–and the dynasty that is believed to have founded it–the Rus. The Rus belonged to a larger group known as Varangians, who, to make it simple, were Vikings from Sweden. The name “Rus” is believed to be the root of the name “Russia,” and consequently, there is an argument to be made that the roots of Russia are in Ukraine.

Over the centuries, Ukraine has gone back and forth between ruling itself to being cut up and governed by surrounding empires such as Poland, Poland-Lithuania, Austria-Hungary, Russia, and the Soviet Union. In the 1920s and 1930s, it suffered two mass-starvation disasters, both orchestrated by the Soviet Union with the intention of bringing Ukraine to its knees. During World War II, Nazi-Germany invaded Ukraine with much bloodshed as a result. When the Soviet Union recaptured Ukraine, a purge of real and imagined collaborators began, again with a great toll on human lives. In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed, and Ukraine declared itself an independent state based on the principles of democracy. This is the state that Russia now intends to annihilate. Again.

Even though the initial Russian military advance into Ukraine doesn’t seem to have gone as planned, and the reaction from the rest of the world has been a solid condemnation, when French President Emmanuel Macron after speaking to Putin declared that the worst is yet to come, we have every reason to be worried. All we need to do is look to Russian and Soviet history, and this time, we do need to look at what happened during World War II. But again, we need to look at the actions of the Soviet Union, not Nazi-Germany.

During World War II, after a brief stint as an ally to Nazi-Germany, the Soviet Union ended up fighting against them after Nazi-Germany invaded as part of Operation Barbarossa. The back of the up-until-then seemingly invincible Wehrmacht was broken as the German army pushed further into Soviet territory and found itself defeated after the six-month long battle of Stalingrad.

Soviet soldiers in a trench in the city center of Stalingrad. Photo: Wikipedia.

But the Soviet Union didn’t defeat the Wehrmacht because the Red Army was excellent at warfare. Rather, it was the opposite. Shrouded in a cloud of paranoia, Stalin had purged the army of all its generals and taken control of the war himself. The solution to ending the Nazi-German invasion was a tried and tested tactic of Russian warfare: the disregard for human lives, including those of Russians.

One example of how little Russian lives matter is the defense tactic known as scorched earth where people destroy their own homes and farms to break the morale of the enemy. Russian civilians have used this tactic to great success against the armies of Charles XII of Sweden, Napoleon of France, and Nazi-Germany. Unless the war on Ukraine turns and ends up on Russian territory, there is little reason to believe that scorched earth tactics is an option. However, the fact that this tactic exists, and has been used repeatedly, demonstrates that when it comes to winning a war, civilian lives do not matter.

As for the Soviet army during World War II, we feel the non-existent value of the individual soldier on our skins as we read Anthony Beevor’s excellent book Stalingrad, where the letters and diaries of Red Army soldiers give us first-hand accounts of the appalling conditions they were fighting under. In the end, the lives of more than one million Soviet soldiers were spilled to break the Wehrmacht.

Maya Angelou once famously said that when someone tells you who they are, believe them. Putin has made clear that he will not stop until Ukraine no longer exists. When we look at Russian and Soviet history for an explanation of what is happening, we have no choice but to believe him.

What matters now, is what we do next.

In the words of my friend, the Australian, I shall return.


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