The Picture Of Evil

March 22nd, 2022 by Tom Lynch

It’s a beautiful day here in the Berkshire mountains. A trifle cold — 27 degrees Fahrenheit this morning — but not a cloud in the sky. It’s the second day of Spring. I’m watching a red squirrel doing its best to steal as much seed as it can from the carefully hung, but not carefully hung enough, bird feeder. This provides entertainment for the dog Lancelot (at 80 pounds he’s not Lance-a-little) and irritation for me as I have to constantly let the big guy out to chase, but never catch, the fastest thing on four tiny legs.

In Washington DC, where Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson is about to run the gauntlet in her first day of “questions” at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Kabuki Theatre confirmation hearing, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

I don’t usually spend a morning like this listening to Giuseppe Verdi’s monumentally powerful Requiem Mass, but that is what I’m doing. The Dies Irae, Day of Wrath, in particular. That is pulverizing music that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck. It’s Verdi forcing us to stare into the jaws of death.

I’m listening to Verdi’s Requiem, the Claudio Abbado 1970 version with Luciano Pavarotti doing the tenor, rather than the gloriously triumphant one written by Mozart on his deathbed, or the delicately French Requiem of Gabriel Faure with its sweet and transportive “In Paradisum.” No, it’s the terrifying Verdi today for me.

Why? Because I just read the gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, photo-journalistic Dies Irae of Mstyslav Chernov and Evgeniy Maloletka of the Associated Press, the last two journalists inside the besieged city of Mariupol, Ukraine. They told their story to AP colleague Lori Hinnant. This is how the piece begins:

“The Russians were hunting us down. They had a list of names, including ours, and they were closing in. We were the only international journalists left in the Ukrainian city, and we had been documenting its siege by Russian troops for more than two weeks. We were reporting inside the hospital when gunmen began stalking the corridors. Surgeons gave us white scrubs to wear as camouflage. Suddenly at dawn, a dozen soldiers burst in: ‘Where are the journalists, for fuck’s sake?’ I looked at their armbands, blue for Ukraine, and tried to calculate the odds that they were Russians in disguise. I stepped forward to identify myself. ‘We’re here to get you out,’ they said.”

Chernov and Maloletka did get out, but just barely. Their documentation of the siege of Mariupol, their bravery and devotion to the truth, is beyond heroic. If they had not been there, risking their lives every minute of the day, if they had not magically managed to evade the Russians hunting them, the world would not know the barbaric brutality of what Russia is doing inside a once beautiful city, all to satisfy Vladimir Putin’s ego and insatiable thirst for the good old days of empire. Without them, the world would only know the lies broadcast by Russian media over and over, over and over, over and over, every day.

In the Pantheon of the Wicked, there’s a new room being built in the Russian wing to memorialize Mr. Putin’s barbarism. It’s the room next door to Stalin’s. Although Putin has  miles to go to catch up with Stalin’s intentionally cruel and wanton killing of millions of Ukrainians, he’s not behind for want of trying. This devil in the Saville Row suit is doing his best to match the master. Do refugees count?

Dies Irae, indeed.