Tom Diaz

Victory Day, День Победы–May 9th

In Russia, War and Rumors of War on May 8, 2017 at 3:29 pm

Russian Officer o2

 

May 9th is celebrated in Russia as Victory Day, the final defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, and the conclusion of what Russians call The Great Patriotic War.

Putting wholly aside the political wars, cold and hot, that followed and still simmer, two things have to amaze anyone who has bothered to learn the real history of the Second World War. The first is the disparate weight that the Soviet Union carried in winning the war. The second is the shocking difference between the destruction and casualties in the West (including even “war-battered Britain”) and those of the East.

The Eisenhower Institute at Gettysburg College posted an excellent paper on this questions, The Soviet Experience in World War Two, by J.T. Dykman. What follows are relevant excerpts:

Overview

Americans have little conception of the Soviet Union’s experience in World War II. No cities in the United States were besieged, not a single bomb was dropped by an enemy airplane on any of our 48 states, no part of our population was enslaved, starved or murdered, and not one village, town or city was completely destroyed or even heard a shot fired in anger.

About the only way we can begin to understand is through imagination. The distance between Moscow and Berlin is about the same as that separating New York City and Atlanta. Imagine twenty million people being violently killed between those two American cities in four years. The Eastern Front in the war wound like a serpent from Sevastopol on the Black Sea to Leningrad on the Baltic. Including the twists, bulges and turns of the line of battle at the height of German penetration, November 1942, the line would have stretched from Baltimore to Cheyenne, Wyoming. In place of Leningrad, can you fathom Chicago under bitter siege and constant shelling for 900 days? Is it possible for us to mentally picture thousands of dead bodies lying on the frozen streets between Lake Shore Drive and Evanston? Could we endure seeing a million people die, mostly from starvation, during the Chicago siege or begin to fathom our own citizens engaging in cannibalism for profit? At the same time of the Chicago siege think of Cincinnati becoming a battleground such as Stalingrad where not a single structure was left habitable and several hundred thousand soldiers killed each other in the process of leveling the city. Mentally switch names such as Smolensk, Karkov, Minsk, Kiev and Rostov for American cities and picture them destroyed and silenced. If such images are possible for us to even conceive, we can begin to understand why Americans refer to the conflict as World War Two, but the Russians universally refer to it as the Great Patriotic War.

The Numbers

The populations of the United States and the USSR were about the same, 130,000,000, when both nations went to war within six months of each other in 1941. To Americans, we were sending our boys to fight a foreign war that we’d never experience. To the Soviets, it was an up front and personal war of monumental savagery. America would lose slightly more than 400,000 soldiers (killed or missing) and almost no civilians during World War II and the USSR, depending on which historian you believe, would lose at least 11,000,000 soldiers (killed and missing) as well as somewhere between 7,000,000 and 20,000,000 million of its civilian population during the Great Patriotic War.

Numbers of such dimensions are hard to grasp in the abstract. This graphic from Business Insider helps understand the relative losses of the principal combatants:

this-chart-shows-the-astounding-devastation-of-world-war-ii

War is Hell.

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