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A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE
When I was much younger, I lived in Germany for several years, went to school there, spoke the language and ate the food. Later, I lived in England, went to school there, spoke the language and tried to eat the food.
It was those early years in Germany that gave me happy memories that I still treasure today, lessons in art and culture that have served me well, and language skills that have enabled me to enjoy traveling, staying in touch with family and friends, and understanding world affairs.
It was, for a young and adventurous boy like me, an idyllic time. West Germany was going through its postwar economic miracle, and every city gleamed with new shops and offices, trains were fast and sleek, and the roads were crowded with shiny new cars. The countryside was pristine, lakes and parks were immaculate and picturesque, and even the cows and goats in the fields looked happy just to be there.
Perhaps they knew how lucky they were.
But there was still an ever-present darkness, just around the next corner, just over the placid river, just around that hill over there. It was as though everything we knew and cherished might yet be temporary, that at any moment the darkness would envelop the land again, the guns would thunder and the fires would consume the handsome cities.
West Germany was under an occupation at the time, and there was good reason for it.
At any moment, we knew, the Red Army could come plunging through the Fulda Gap and roll its tanks through the pretty little villages, take aim at the schools and churches and seats of local government, and pull the trigger.
Worse yet, someone in a bunker far away could press The Red Button and we’d all be blown to smithereens. Vaporized in an instant. Perhaps the last thing we’d see would be a wide-eyed cow, startled beyond belief yet somehow understanding that the bliss had only been fleeting.
Perhaps I’d be with my friends when it happened, playing in the garden or sharing a chocolate bar, shrieking with delight on the swings or exploring a forest, wobbling all gangly down a ski slope or tobogganing into a heap.
Perhaps I’d be with my grandparents, feeding breadcrumbs to the ducks on our way to the market, serving slices of almond cake on delicate porcelain platters, or gazing through the windows of a toy shop.
We would hear it sometimes, the sound of war machines in preparation for the slaughter. We’d feel the heavy thump in the ground, the air thick with growling, and we’d run to the end of the road and sit on the grass while the convoys passed. One by one they would trundle and crunch along the avenues, on their way to routine maneuvers, to practice laying pontoon bridges or advancing tanks across a heath.
Of course we would wave at the soldiers as they passed. After all, some of them were our fathers and our friends’ fathers. They would wave back from the tank turrets and through the bars on the sides of the personnel carriers, and of course they would smile when they recognized us, but their purpose was grim.
They were ready for the moment when the world as we knew it would be turned upside down, when the fields of flowers would run with blood, when the toys and games would be torn asunder, when all the beautiful things would be rendered to horror.
We had begun to understand how lucky we were. Looking back, I know it even more.
We cannot imagine a war on our home soil today. We cannot think of the destruction or fathom the loss. We cannot picture our friends and loved ones taken.
We cannot begin to understand the desperation and the fear that the children of Ukraine must feel in every waking minute and in every tortured nightmare.
We can only try to make it stop.
And in this we cannot fail them.