In my second year as a full time faculty member at Seneca College in 1990, I was teaching a mathematics course for the General Arts and Science program. The content was remedial algebra and all the students were enrolled because they failed an aptitude test. The rest of their cohort were in higher levels while these students were relegated to the lowest rung and considered themselves to be less. No one wanted to be there and my role was as much about motivation and confidence building as it was in developing mastery of the subject matter. My casual banter with students was an attempt to establish comfort.
In one of those conversations I discovered that Anton oversaw the student radio station which broadcast inside the campus, piped into all of the cafeterias. We exchanged favourite music until I jokingly asked “so when can I get my own radio show?” He pondered the question for a moment and responded, “there is an opening for an hour on Friday afternoons. Can you start next week?” I accepted.
My DJ days continued in the fall into November on the Friday before Remembrance Day. I dedicated the entire hour to music about war as could be found in the studio’s collection along with a handful of my own records, hoping to raise some thoughtfulness and reflection. The play list included “Fortunate Son” (Credence Clearwater Revival), “Spanish Bombs” (The Clash), “Orange Crush” (REM), “Life During Wartime” (Talking Heads), “Imagine” (John Lennon) and “Us and Them” by Pink Floyd.
The war in Ukraine has resurrected that memory, making me realize the suffering of the people will be included in future commemorations. As I cringe with every new photograph of the bombings, as I watch the Ukrainian president plea for more help in closing the skies, as I listen to the rationale of Western leaders for not providing cover, I am reminded of the lyrics for “Us and Them”. Only in this scenario the Us and the Them are between countries on the same side and not between opposing combatants.
Listen to the tune in your head, sing the lyrics, follow the quotes and pictures.
“We seek no conflict. But if conflict comes to us, we are ready for it, and we will defend every inch of NATO territory.”U.S. Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin
“We are not part of this conflict.”NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, in denying Ukraine’s request for a No Fly Zone
And after all, we’re only ordinary men
Me and you
God only knows, it’s not what we would choose to do
“If it’s the intention of Moscow to try somehow to topple the government and install its own puppet regime, 45 million Ukrainians are going to reject that one way or the other.”US Secretary of State Antony Blinken
Forward he cried from the rear
And the front rank died
“This is the worst military aggression in Europe for decades … the days to come are likely to be worse, with more deaths, more suffering and more destruction.”NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
The General sat, and the lines on the map
Moved from side to side
Down and out
It can’t be helped, but there’s a lot of it about
And who’ll deny it’s what the fighting’s all about
Volodymyr Zelensky portrayed the role of the president of Ukraine in the television series Servant of the People before winning the 2019 election to become the real thing. The rhetoric surrounding the refusal of NATO to introduce a No Fly Zone, despite the constant pleas and the ongoing carnage, reminds me of another fictitious president who mused about involvement in an African genocide as part of West Wing, Episode 14, Season 4, Inauguration Part 1 in 2003. The discussion is about the content of President Bartlett’s second inauguration speech. Read and substitute Ukrainian for Kudanese:
President Bartlett: What’s hard is that foreign policy has become a statement of what we won’t do.
Will Bailey: Yes sir.
President Bartlett reading: “A new doctrine for a new century based not just on our interests but on our values across the world.” Wow, that’s pretty spicy stuff.
Will Bailey: You wrote it sir.
President Bartlett: Yeh, I know. … Why is a Kudanese life worth less to me than an American life?
Will Bailey: I don’t know sir, but it is.
It is easy to be an armchair prime minister or president especially from the comforts of my computer on the other side of the ocean from the war. It won’t be me or my children flying the jets or wearing the boots on the ground.
For want of the price of tea and a slice
The old man died
I don’t know how the war will end, yet it must. For us. And them.
The sky is falling, falling downDark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd
I’ll be waiting for you, for you, for you
On the dark side of the moon