The recent attack by Russian forces on a maternity hospital in Mukachevo, Ukraine, killing three and injuring 17, has blackened Russia’s reputation around the world. Some are quoting Sergei Lavrov, Moscow’s foreign minister, who claimed there were Nazis in there.
It shows the increasing brutality of the Kremlin’s assault on Free Ukraine. President Volodymyr Zelensky jabbed at Moscow, “Is Russia afraid of maternity hospitals? Were pregnant women going to fire at [Russian city of] Rostov?”
Much is made of President Zelensky’s career as a television comic. But for centuries in such oppressed countries only comedians could tell the truth. Zelensky pointedly asked, “What kind of country is this, Russia?”
Now is the time for us to show Russia what kind of country America is. We can show the Russians and the world by sending our naval hospitals USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy to Odessa. We can provide humanitarian help the Ukrainians desperately need.
At the outset of the pandemic, Comfort was sent to New York City. There were some questions about how much practical help this great ship could be. But she offered a visual demonstration of the heart of America steaming to help the Big Apple in its throes.
We can do more than bring Ukrainian patients on board. We can also treat wounded Russians. This would be entirely consistent with our best traditions.
When we take Russian soldiers on board for treatment, we can offer them Bread and Salt—the age-old welcome gesture for Ukrainians and Russians. We can give them cell phones, too. They can call their mа́тушки (mothers) at home in Russia. They can reassure them. Word will spread—even via samizdat, the underground communication channels of Russia.
Military historian John Keegan has written about the treatment of prisoners in the Second World War. Sir John noted that the best of all fates was to be a German taken prisoner by the Americans.
The worst fate by far was to be a Soviet prisoner taken by the Germans. Millions of Russians died, and were deliberately starved and exposed to temperatures 40 degrees below zero. Similarly horrible conditions awaited any prisoners held by the Japanese.
My father knew all about this. Leslie Morrison survived being torpedoed by the German submarine U-516 off South Africa. He and his shipmates encountered one of the most humane of all the Germans. All but two of his shipmates survived the attack. And those casualties seemed to have been accidents on entering the boats.
Ironically, Pop’s later ship was tasked with ferrying U-boat POWs back to the States. Les was a non-smoker, so he gave his free cartons of Lucky Striketo the Germans. They were so grateful to him; they gave him the strangest of gifts. We keep his bronze U-boat plaque—which displays a Nazi swastika flag, symbol of the Kriegsmarine.
Not all in our family survived submarine warfare. Uncle Harry was also a merchant mariner. Harry had been torpedoed twice. After Harry’s rescue by the Dutch vessel Zandamme, that ship was sunk and Harry was lost.
Still, my dad loved to recite the story of Seaman 2/C Basil Dominic Izzi. After the Zandamme sank, this 20-year-old Italian-American sailor endured 83 days on a raft hundreds of miles off Recife, Brazil. Izzi soon recovered and became a hero to factory workers at home.
Pop’s kindness toward his German prisoners amazed me. Didn’t you hate those Nazis, I asked him? He answered with a wave and a laconic phrase: It was war.
We can recognize in my dad’s reply the spirit of President Abraham Lincoln’s General Order 100. The substance of that order was drafted by the scholar of international law, Francis Lieber. This Prussian immigrant spoke of “der Krieg ohne Haß,” war without hatred.
This spirit of Americans and Pop’s Very Great Generation made it possible to reconcile with the Germans and the Japanese. We will need to show that the reconciling spirit is not dead here. Let’s send Comfort and Mercy to Odessa. These sister ships will minister to our souls, too.