|Captured German soldiers being lead to prisoner camps in Stalingrad, 1943. In the background is the grain silo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
|From left to right: Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill on the portico of the Russian Embassy during the Tehran Conference. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
|American and Soviet troops meet east of the Elbe River (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
|USSR Medal defense of Stalingrad Crop of Wikimedia Commons picture: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
I have never been one to watch military parades, or to think with anything but hostility and dismay of the whole militaristic view of life. But there was something both poignant and shaming about the massive parade held today in the Russian capital, Moscow, in commemoration of the immense and costly Soviet effort in destroying the Nazi war machine.
Even I have known for many years that the Soviet victory over the invading Germans was achieved with at least 20 million deaths, a figure that has recently been upgraded to as much as 27 million, of which less than half were military, and the rest civilian deaths, suffered in such horrendous circumstances as the two-year siege of Leningrad and the immense battle in defence of Stalingrad. Though it is true that great quantities of materiél helped the Soviet defence of their homeland, nevertheless, in human terms, there is no comparison between the price paid by the Russians and that paid by their Western allies, notably the Americans and British. (I have often thought how different modern global history might have been had the Americans lost 25 million of their people in the sort of scorched earth war that the Russians had to endure).
The latest generally-agreed figures suggest that whereas more than 34 million Soviet citizens were mobilized in the effort to throw back the German divisions, only 175,000 men were mobilized, of half of them American, in the D-day invasion of Europe in June 1944, which is usually celebrated in the West as the decisive event in ending the war. The total loss of life of Americans in the war is estimated to have been 420,000 --- not an inconsiderable number, it is true, but far short of the casualties suffered by the Russians.
The British are estimated to have lost a similar number, and the Germans between an estimated seven and nine million people.
The immense fuss that has been made over this 70 year celebration of the Allied victory is motivated by the fact that this is the last such celebration at which survivors of the great World War II battles will be able to be present, and there was certainly something impressive in seeing the faces of these grizzled, ailing, but proud old Russians, whose memories of the war must have been of unforgettable experiences that they must hope should never be repeated anywhere.
That was the poignant element; but what was shaming to me was that the leaders of the Western powers refused the invitation to take part in this commemoration, because President Obama of the United States had, in effect, organized a boycott of the event by putting heavy pressure on other Western leaders to absent themselves.
This is so mean-spirited that even I, unsympathetic as I am to the commemoration of battles won or lost, felt quite ashamed that our leaders could have bowed to such pressures by absenting themselves. In his speech, President Putin gave generous acknowledgement to the share of other nations --- even to many Germans themselves --- in defeating the Nazi doctrine and its armies ,and he made only an oblique reference to the change in his country’s relationship with the former Allies, by remarking on the “exceptionalism” which had motivated the Nazi power, and which he hoped would never again motivate any nation in foreign relations.
The fact is, in the West, American propaganda, by way of films especially, has been working on our populations to suggest that it was the Americans, almost alone, who won the war, something that most Americans seem to believe. It was certainly true that without American economic might the war would have been more difficult to win, but there can be little debate with the proposition that it was the Soviet army that broke the back of the Nazi war machine.
A recent article on the Information Clearing House site by Ezequeil Adamovsky, an Argentinian historian, who recalled how he had been influenced as a child by films depicting American heroism, gave some startling facts as to how American propaganda has shaped Western concepts of the Second World War. He writes about “the shift in historical memory “ in France, a country that was directly liberated largely by American military intervention:
In 1945, immediately after the end of the war, a poll was conducted among French people. One of the main questions was “Which country do you think played the most important role in the defeat of Germany?” 57% of the interviewees responded that it was the Soviet Union, 20% chose the US and 12% the UK. The same poll was conducted again in 1994. Interestingly enough, only 26% chose the Soviet Union this time, while 49% responded it was the US. The poll was repeated in 2004. By then the reversal was even more noticeable, with only 20% choosing the Soviet Union and 58% the US (the perception of the British role did not change much).
He adds something I find it impossible to disagree with:
Obama and several European heads of State have organized a boycott against Russia’s official parade of Victory Day, which will be held this May 9 in Moscow. The boycott, they say, comes because of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. This would perhaps be a valid reason, if it was not for the fact that no boycotts are in order when the US bombs other countries or forces changes of their governments, or when US allies –like Israel– occupy other nation’s lands by military force.
So let us profit from this opportunity to remember history beyond propaganda. If there was such a thing as a “Free world” in 1945, it was to a great extent thanks to the armies of a communist country and to the irregular forces of anti-fascist partisans in France, Italy and other nations, a good deal of which were also communists. Our grateful memory of those who died fighting fascism should include all of them.