The Russian Perspective: WWII

Among their “new books” A&L Daily notes I Saw It (Ya Eto Videl), reviewed by Kevin O’Flynn in the Moscow Times. Two Izvestia reporters, Anatoly Danilevich and Ella Maximova, edit letters sent to the newspaper from soldiers and their families; “published earlier this year to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.”

“In a searing new book, Soviet veterans challenge the official mythology of World War II.” Obviously, these reinforce points made in various discussions here. O’Flynn observes

Svetlana Alexievich — a Belarussian writer who has herself collected eyewitness accounts of the atrocities of the war — writes in her foreword that the book is not about extraordinary heroes, but about the “proletariat of the war.” Still, to a Western reader with little knowledge of the brutalities of the eastern front, many of the letters seem extraordinarily heroic.

A Sideshow 60 Years Ago

Lex’s post, as always, gives us much history and even more thought. His picture of the laconic Ike and the eloquent Churchill take us back to that period. And the sense of relief, of heroism that earned that triumph resonates. Much as I would rather emphasize the elections in Iraq than Abu Ghraib (in part because the former is far more important), I believe the great celebration for today should be V-E Day and the history to be noted his. But this note isn’t only about the dark side of VE day, but the bright side of today – of free and independent Baltic nations. Bush’s speech looks to the past, but mostly it aims at the present – aims at an audience of Putin, of those in the Middle East. He notes that Yalta was based on the belief stability could be bought by using others. In that, it was wrong.

And we remember part of the history that lead to that treaty was another one by which Hitler & Stalin divided Europe–giving Germany Poland, while Stalin would “protect” Estonia and Latvia (eventually the two added a clause for Lithuania). Bush celebrates Baltic independence, certain principles, and defines American policy.

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VE Day: 60

After the Germans had signed the surrender, Eisenhower’s staff approached him with a draft of an announcement. It was an elaborate speech which they believed was appropriate to the magnitude of the occasion. Eisenhower glanced at it, and instead made only the following announcement:

The mission of this Allied force was fulfilled at 0241 local time, May 7, 1945.

John Keegan wrote that “War is a form of work, and America makes war, however reluctantly, however unwillingly, in a particularly workmanlike way.” To Eisenhower the surrender was the completion of a job, a hard and dirty one, and he let that speak for itself, for him, and for his army.

Churchill was a man for speeches. He made the announcement in the House of Commons. (Audio here.)

Yesterday morning at 2:41 a.m. at Headquarters, General Jodl, the representative of the German High Command, and Grand Admiral Doenitz, the designated head of the German State, signed the act of unconditional surrender of all German Land, sea, and air forces in Europe to the Allied Expeditionary Force, and simultaneously to the Soviet High Command …

The German war is therefore at an end. After years of intense preparation, Germany hurled herself on Poland at the beginning of September, 1939; and, in pursuance of our guarantee to Poland and in agreement with the French Republic, Great Britain, the British Empire and Commonwealth of Nations, declared war upon this foul aggression. After gallant France had been struck down we, from this Island and from our united Empire, maintained the struggle single-handed for a whole year until we were joined by the military might of Soviet Russia, and later by the overwhelming power and resources of the United States of America … .

Churchill acknowledged that “We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing”, before turning their attentions to the Japanese enemy.

Following the speech, on Churchill’s motion, the House adjourned “to the Church of St. Margaret, Westminster, to give humble and reverent thanks to Almighty God for our deliverance from the threat of German domination.” This same motion had been made and carried at the end of the previous war.

Churchill spoke twice to the crowds on VE Day.

There we stood, alone. Did anyone want to give in? [The crowd shouted “No.”] Were we down-hearted? [“No!”] The lights went out and the bombs came down. But every man, woman and child in the country had no thought of quitting the struggle. London can take it. So we came back after long months from the jaws of death, out of the mouth of hell, while all the world wondered. When shall the reputation and faith of this generation of English men and women fail?

“In all our long history we have never seen a greater day than this. …”

As Churchill’s car was traveling through the crowds an Irish Guardsman was pushed onto the running board of the car. He extended his hand to Churchill and gave the Irish Guard’s war cry, “Up, the Micks”. Churchill grasped his hand and replied, “well done the Micks”.

(Photos of Churchill and the London crowds on VE Day, here.)

In Moscow, the people crowded into Red Square, cheering and carrying soldiers on their shoulders, and a one-thousand gun salute was fired. (Some photos here.)

In Washington, the lights came on at night, and the dome of the Capital was illuminated for the first time since December, 1941.

On Okinawa, this kind of thing was happening:

[T]he 1st Battalion again seized How Hill and gained more ground on Kochi. Rain began on the afternoon of the 7th and continued into the next day, but the tired men of the 17th Infantry did not give up the attack. The platoon of 2d Lt. William T. Coburn, who had joined Company G nine days before as a replacement, followed him to Knob 4 but was soon driven back by mortars and machine guns. Infuriated by the loss of two men killed and three wounded, Coburn and S/Sgt. George Hills returned to Knob 4 and hurled grenades at an enemy mortar crew in the road cut below. Although a mortar shell had severely wounded Hills, he and Coburn killed the Japanese in the cut.

The Japanese were far from beaten yet.

(More details about the day here. Richard Overy’s thoughts here. Austin Bay’s post here.)

Dialogue on the Crusades

Tom Smith and Maimon Schwarzschild of the excellent The Right Coast blog had an interesting exchange about the Crusades, which I link to partly because it reminds me of a couple of conversations I had with Lex:

Tom Smith on the Crusades

Maimon Schwarzschild’s Response

Smith’s rejoinder to Schwarzschild’s response

Schwarzschild’s reply to Smith’s rejoinder

Smith’s reply

Smith’s interjection

Schwarzschild’s reply

Saigon: 30

The Vietnamese communists won their long, hard, cruel, bloody war thirty years ago today. The United States suffered its most humiliating defeat. Hundreds of thousands of Americans had fought, and tens of thousands of Americans had died, for a failed cause. These Americans had been ordered to kill, and they had killed millions in that same failed cause. They had been betrayed by their government and their commanders and by the people who supported their enemies, and by those who shunned them or despised them upon their return.

The Cold War, a real war, a war we could have lost, was at its nadir.

I remember the day. I was 12. My mother cried. The American leftists on TV cheered and put their fists in the air. They were smug. This was their victory, too.

The fall of Saigon is not an event in the distant past. It is not yet history. It was yesterday. It is part of now.

I tried repeatedly over the last few days to type up a coherent and thoughtful and analytic post on this topic. But after three tries I am giving up. All I do is type an angry rambling rant and elevate my pulse rate.

It is bad to hate. But as I contemplate this day, and what it meant, and how and why it happened, and those who want it to happen again, that is the only emotion I feel.