MOSCOW — I’m sure I’ll take a lot of flack for this article, probably from both sides, Russian and American. But that’s good! That way, I know that I’m encouraging debate on the issue, and that is what the Behind the Curtain blog is meant to accomplish.
So let’s talk about Russia and, more specifically, the Russian role in the Great Patriotic War, as they call World War II.
Americans are rightfully proud and for the most part patriotic when it comes to America’s outsized role in defeating the Axis powers in the last great war of the 20th century. For the fighting in Europe and in the Pacific, the United States owes its Greatest Generation a huge debt of gratitude. America liberated Western Europe and transformed Japan and Germany into economic powerhouses and allies. However, the American meme of the United States single-handedly saving the world is inaccurate.
Part of the reason is that young Americans are not being taught enough history in our failing schools. The priority seem to be women’s studies and other nebulous subjects, taught with an unspoken, hidden agenda from our leftist university faculties, rather than reading, writing, history, etc. In addition, when history is taught, it tends to be incomplete at best.
Russia is estimated to have lost close to 30 million people to the Germans during the war. The true tally could be even much higher. Americans cannot even fathom the scale of such a loss. The United States lost approximately a half-million during World War II. An entire Russian generation, villages, families, all wiped from the face of the Earth, buried in mass graves all around the former Soviet Union. Most of the Jews killed by Adolf Hitler were killed in the USSR. Even though as many members of the USSR were just as brutally killed by Josef Stalin in the ensuing years after the war ended, this does not erase what Hitler did to Russia.
It is safe to say, the Allied Powers would have had a much more difficult time in defeating Nazi Germany without the Soviet Union’s efforts and sacrifice. In fact, one could make the case that the only way the same outcome would have manifested itself would have been the use of nuclear weapons against Germany. Russia killed approximately 9 million German soldiers. The existence of the Eastern Front saved many American and allied soldiers’ lives.
The high number of Russian casualties partly stems from the strategies the Red Army used during the war. Russia literally defeated the Nazi war machine in Russia by throwing bodies at them. Stalin infamously issued orders to kill any who surrendered or deserted or refused to fight. The war in Russia was not won by generals, Stalin, or anyone else. It was won by the soul of the Russian people determined to eject Hitler from their homeland. It was won by wave upon wave of Russian boys and men sacrificing their lives.
I am not trying to excuse the brutal and repressive behavior of the Red Army after the war in the occupied countries of Eastern Europe. The historical record is quite available for all to see. I am not trying to excuse current Russian behavior in Ukraine or anywhere else. I am not trying to further the Kremlin’s propaganda, which has used the war as an excuse, very effectively I might add, to whip up anti-Western fever in a bid to maintain power and control.
What I am saying is that the Soviet Union’s contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany needs to be recognized by the West.
The pain of World War II is still raw in Russia. I have been to the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow and seen elderly Russians and young adults alike silently weeping as they watch the films of Jewish children being lined up before the pits by the Germans and hear the stories of the survivors. I have seen the pride the victory instills in the ordinary citizen. The war is engraved upon the Russian soul. The Victory Day parade in Red Square on May 9th is meant to honor Russian sacrifice.
Somehow the West needs to find a way to recognize this Russian contribution while at the same time confronting the nationalistic behavior it breeds. We cannot move forward toward peace until we find a way to deal with the past
Russia obviously has to do its part as well to find a way to live in cohesion with the developed world. It seems to me, Russia needs to evolve into a country that can maintain pride in its history but find a way to add the talent of its people to the world’s coffers.
For at the end of the day, what Russia really wants deep down is respect.
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