War in Ukraine

Just when the long shadow cast by the horrors of the twentieth century appears to be passing into history, a replay of the sternest days of the last world war begins in Ukraine. Anyone who, like me, has been alive for a couple of generations is a product of that vicious twentieth century. Whilst we are perhaps resigned to the savagery of war having grown up surrounded by its psychological and political aftermath, we are no less appalled when delusional, morally bankrupt Russian officials excuse the destruction of a large European democracy. They claim it is as necessary as the brutal invasion of Germany was to root out Nazism.

The Second World War killing fields, that ran down from the Baltic along the Oder Neisse corridor, expanding across the Steppe to the delta where the Volga meets the Caspian Sea, hosted death on a far greater scale than those in the West. My late Kazakh father-in-law grew up in Stalingrad. Aged three during the door to door, floor by floor battle for the city and the oil fields beyond, he suffered a lifelong chest injury from a German infantryman kicking him – either in anger or out of harm’s way. Quite by chance, we first met on February 23rd 2013, Defender Of The Fatherland Day and the seventieth anniversary of General von Paulus surrendering, at the end of a battle that was, in scale and intensity, the most savage in history.

Considering this magnitude of warfare on the Russian Steppe, and compared to the millions that died as the French and British empires retreated, how astonishing that the USSR was dismantled with so little bloodshed. Boris Yeltsin summoned his fellow Presidents of the Soviet republics to his dacha one August evening in 1991, just after the attempted coup, to calm their concerns about all the problems with becoming independent. Yeltsin kept the vodka flowing and reassured them not to worry, outlining commonsensical solutions. Cometh the hour…

If the war in Ukraine is a delayed reaction to Russian decolonisation and the Cold War resumes (with the added threat of new cyber and drone warfare), we need leadership from a fresh generation with a twenty-first century outlook. Exposure to kindness, freedom of expression and other positive values of schooling in the West is good. We should keep this soft power of influence accessible to children of the elite, particularly if they are being primed for responsibility in former communist countries and in other states, where corruption overrides democracy.

Advantageous as Western education may be, however, the sins of certain parents must be visited upon their children in terms of denying access to our independent schools. Fortunes secured by supplication to the overlordship of kleptocratic, genocidal tyrants need to be examined.

Severing all cultural and consumer access to the West – for entire families – is a moral and tactical imperative. Perhaps this may change if there is a process of reparation. Let’s help fund it with the billions squandered on ‘mega yacht’ maritime manifestations of capital outflows, from these oil cursed states where many live in abject poverty.

And, looking ahead, we need to ensure that proper due diligence processes are an integral part of the application to any of our educational establishments. It is impossibly difficult to know where to draw a line, because almost all wealth acquisition involves exploitation. Nevertheless, there are clever people developing due diligence products. We hope that bursars will join us in using them. 

by Charles Bonas, March 4th 2022