War’s sleight of hand

Nishita Jha


The Son of Man, René Magritte 1964. Creative Commons (CC BY-NC_SA 2.0) / flickr / Rob Corder 


It is difficult to recall the exact moment when collectively, our new normal became seeing images of wounded, decapitated and dead children on the news, alongside bombed out remains of buildings that were once homes, schools and hospitals. On July 8, a Kh-101 cruise missile, launched by Russia, struck the Okhmatdyt Children’s Hospital in Kyiv as part of a barrage of missile attacks across Ukrainian cities. The missile at the children’s hospital killed at least three children and injured 16 others. But the actual number of people killed and injured cannot be counted, because people are still trapped under the rubble of the bombed hospital–a horrifying forensic detail we now know all too well. We have read versions of this story of death over and over again in the past months. Nearly 2000 children have been killed or injured in Russia’s bombardment of Ukraine (again, the actual death toll of people killed is likely to be much higher). In Gaza, the Ministry of Health estimates that at least 38,000 people have already been killed since Israel launched its military offensive in October, an offensive in which children and hospitals have become repeated targets of war. In the coming months, Lancet estimates that the death toll in Gaza, exacerbated by disease and hunger, will eventually exceed 186,000 people. How does the cycle of war end?

As United States President Joe Biden hosts NATO leaders in Washington DC this week, some of these deaths will be more visible and others will be ignored. This trick of concealment and selective revelation does not exist solely in the domain of politicians, and the increasing relevance of surrealism to make sense of the world today feels right. Speaking about his painting The Son of Man, the Belgian painter, René Magritte described the nature of what we see and how it conceals what we cannot confront:

“Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in what is hidden and what the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a fairly intense feeling, a sort of struggle, I would say, between the hidden visible and the apparent visible.”

Vocal critic of Putin, high profile politician and Pulitzer-winning journalist Vladimir Kara Murza is currently a prisoner in Russia, where his lawyers fear he will be killed like Alexei Navalny. Read his interview from March with Coda’s Editor-in-Chief here.

Decisive elections in France and the UK have voted against the far-right. What does it all mean for the world, and specifically, elections in the US? Vox argues that there is no ideological throughline, and we are inclined to agree, while also keeping in mind this piece of hopeful optimism from Scottish satirist and writer Armando Iannucci: the Right is loud, not necessarily popular. Amplifying them makes the problem worse.  

Men from nearly 50 Indian families were duped into fighting Russia’s war under the pretext of jobs in Russia that would allow them to support their families back home. This week, even as Russia bombarded Ukraine, Indian Prime Minister Modi paid a visit to Russian President Vladimir Putin, embraced him and negotiated the release of all the Indians serving in Russia’s army. Putin, who described Modi as his “dear friend”, also bestowed the Indian PM with Russia’s highest civilian honor, the Order of St. Andrew. The visit has been a tactical tightrope for Modi, who hopes to remain BFFs with Putin while maintaining diplomatic ties with Biden and his allies who continue to pledge support for Ukraine.

You might need to take a deep breath as you consider the enormity of what humanity loses when countries go to war. Artist Taryn Simon considers the Art of Mourning in this interview. Take a look at her soundscape installation, Start Against the Lament. As a viewer moves through isolation, darkness, water, recorded laments of professional mourners reverberate in the enormous underground water reservoir in Copenhagen. 

You might gasp: as you read this origin story about disinformation, which began with Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” and eventually changed our relationship with how we consume (and believe) media forever. If you want to skip the analysis and go straight for the (remastered) experience of listening to Welles describe the end of the world, go here. 

Or sigh: as you read my personal illustrated newsletter, Now and Zen, where I write about staying peaceful in a chaotic world, attending Coda’s Zeg Storytelling Festival in Tbilisi and falling back in love with journalism.