The Meaning of Victory in World War Two:
The Soviet Search for a Usable Past

© 1985, 2010, 2015 Alan Kimball
(text based on public lectures in the year 1985, early in Ronald Reagan's 2nd presidential term)

Table of Contents =
Then some related notes on the esthetics of war =



The 20th century was one hell of a century. I don't know how else to put it.

I'm sick of deceitful circumspection on this question. But I also know that the truth about this 20th century is just about -- I repeat = just about -- as damaging and difficult as the falsehoods. We have the story of our General Westmoreland [ID], we have My Lai [ID]. We have less well known cases = The active participation in the Nazi wartime industry by ITT and leading American automobile companies and their receipt of compensation from the US treasury for damage done to their German plants by our own bombers.

{_{ Charles Higham, Trading with the Enemy: The Nazi-American Money Plot, 1933-1949 (1983) [Preface | E-TXT = Chapter Five ("The Telephone Plot" [re-ITT]). The final paragraph of ch5 reads

On February 16, 1946, Major General Harry C. Ingles, Chief Signal Officer of the U.S. Army, acting on behalf of President Truman, presented the Medal of Merit, the nation's highest award to a civilian, to Behn [ID] .... As he pinned the medal on Colonel Behn, Ingles said, "You are honored for exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service to the United States.'' A few years later Behn received millions of dollars in compensation for war damage to his German plants in 1944. Westrick [ID] had obtained an equivalent amount from the Nazi government.

Also see Chapter Six ("The Car Connection" re-Ford and General Motors in Nazi Germany). F/April 15, 1942/ in the Higham.Trading E-TXT and read a couple of paragraphs| Further Excerpts from Higham.Trading | Glossary information on most important individuals and organizations listed in the index of Higham.Trading]. There are reasons to be cautious with Higham’s enthusiastic muck-raking [W], but his disturbing, detailed account does not suffer mortal damage from a critical reading. }_}

There are few clean and easy elements to incorporate into a usable history of that monstrous WW2. Thank goodness, there is this = "We" won. We won, but one influential and sophisticated mode of US remembrance of WW2 takes a “Catch 22” form. This phrase came into USA colloquial usage from the famous Joseph Heller novel "Catch 22". There Heller described WW2 in a bitter, comical and ironic tone, rather than a heroic tone. It is a tale of graft and corruption, rather than of valor and sacrifice. An alternative popular mode -- The celebration of “the greatest generation any society has ever produced” [ID] -- might in fact be more “useful” in an ill-informed public setting.

I'm pleased to have the opportunity to share with you some of my thoughts about “usable history” in this damaged century. When I say “usable past” or “usable history” I mean the coherent record of events which compile themselves in such a way as to help us understand where we have been, who we are, where we are now, and where we might hope to go, and whom we might hope to become. A usable past, in this sense, is a part of just about anyone's mental furniture. It is the key to self justification and self identity. It is at the same time the key to purposeful action toward the future. A usable past is easier for some peoples than for others. The publication in 1995 of the memoirs of President Lyndon Johnson's Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, in which he conceded, after a quarter century of silence, that the Vietnam war was a great error on the part of the USA, has had sobering impact on the American sense of usable past [EG]. Recent attention to the real story of the more distant “Indian relocation” [EG] and “Indian wars” [EG] has been a challenge too. But we all need to buck up, graduate from the kindergarten of historical consciousness into a more adult relationship to where we have been, who we are, where we are now, and where we might hope to go, and whom we might hope to become.

{_{ It seems that Van Wyck Brooks was the first to introduce and explain what "usable past" might mean = *1918au11:The Dial: A Fortnightly Journal of Criticism and Discussion of Literature and the Arts: pp. 337-341| VW Brooks, "On Creating a Usable Past" [E-TXT].}_}

But what's wrong with challenges? Are we still infants, requiring lullabies rather than tough truth? Are we intellectual hedonists requiring all experience to approximate titillation? [I cannot resist noting the puzzling way our culture has come to associate the adjective "adult" with pornography.]

Few peoples have been more damaged by this hellish century than the people of the old Soviet Union. Few peoples have left such a complex and riddled record of search for meaning. But the Soviet people are not alone in this regard, just as they are not alone in having suffered the heavy stroke of this maulish epoch.

Nine million people (maybe many more), largely the fittest young men and women throughout Europe, were killed in World War One. About 1.3 million, died between the two world wars, largely in the Russian Revolutionary Civil War and the Spanish Civil War. About 30 million of the next generation were killed in World War Two. Thirty million counts “just” the war casualties. These figures take no account of the deaths of so called “civilians”, from starvation and disease and other war-associated causes, including the several varieties of purposeful state slaughter of Jewish, Romani, deportee, and other defined populations. Nazi murder of Jews has become the most well-known instance of this auxiliary “civilian” death toll. Official Nazi social policy emblazoned the figure six million on the consciousness of the whole world. In comparison with the Nazi effort at Jewish genocide, we might with pitiful irony say that “only” about 1.25 million civilians died in Leningrad during the three-year Nazi blockade, or that “only” 1.1 million Soviet troops and 800,000 German troops died in the 200-day battle for Stalingrad (nearly 10,000 total casualties per day, on average). At least 13,500 Soviet troops were executed for cowardice. The total casualty figure for World War Two in Europe is set by some at nearly 60 million.

To get some sense of our century's clear superiority in this morose realm of human achievement, compare the following average annual deaths by war over the past four centuries. (The 20th c. through WW2) =

17th c. =  33,000 deaths per year
18th c. =  52,000
19th c. =  55,000
20th c. = 700,000

The consciousness of this deadly century was born pretty much with the century. Even earlier Friedrich Nietzsche foretold an era of cultural chaos and unrestrained military plunder. Norman Angell warned against modern war in 1910, but went unheeded [ID]. Notice the titles = Raymond Aron's Century of Total War or Gordon Wright's Ordeal of Total War or Peter Calvocoressi and Guy Wint's Total War: Causes and Courses of the Second World War.

Or consult Pitirim Sorokin's Social and Cultural Dynamics (which provided the statistics in the table just above). It was published before World War Two but was already able to assign the Twentieth Century the highest-ever numerical index for bellicosity. Measuring number of wars, their duration, the size of armies, the numbers killed and wounded, the number of countries involved and the percent of the population in military uniform, the first third of our century received the index figure 3000, fifteen times the figure for the whole 15th century.

Sorokin had the insight to compare modern war with modern revolution, sensing that 20th century revolution might best be understood as “internal war” (though the phrase was not used until later). The distinction between war and revolution in our time has been drawn largely according the somewhat refined definitions of sovereignty. The conceptually un-limitable power of the nation-state, or aspiring national political powers, to exercise themselves on people who live beyond what are called borders -- that's war -- or to exercise themselves on people who live within what are called borders -- that's revolution. Sometimes wars and revolutions are inevitable and even good = But in our century they have, Nietzsche might say, gone beyond good and evil. Beyond good and evil is either heaven or hell. I've concluded that this has been one hell of a century. And the Soviet people have had a full share of both revolution and war.

{_{ More recent studies have brought Sorokin's gloomy figures up to date. J. F. C. Fuller, The Conduct of War, 1789-1961 (London, 1961), Lewis F. Richardson, Statistics of Deadly Quarrels (Pittsburg, 1960), David J. Singer and Melvin Small, The Wages of War, 1816-1965, and Boris Urlanis, Wars and Population combine to extend and deepen the gravity of the situation as described first in simple numerical terms by Sorokin. Consider this detailed statistic website on 20th century “Hemoclysm”.}_}

[I will not extend the tolling litany of numbers. We have lost much of our ability to be hurt by big numbers anyway. None of the more recent titles are recent enough to have included the reign of Pol Pot in Kampuchea. Pol Pot was portrayed graphically at the time he “happened” pretty much exclusively in the Manchester Guardian. Another generation of sated but naive Americans were thus surprised by the film “The Killing Fields” [FLM]. Millions died at the hands of another of this century’s sovereign states, yes, once again, millions = Our sensibilities scab over, grow dull, come to accept with ease casualty figures like 241 marines killed in Lebanon [EG] when the numbers fall so short of the century's high, high standards.]

[When the Israeli air force and torpedo boats purposefully attacked the US naval vessel Liberty and killed 34 and wounded 171 young American sailors, the nation hardly blinked [W]. Our nation-state, for one thing, was an ally of the Israeli nation-state and the Liberty incident had to be “down-played”. When a Soviet guard shot and killed a US military spy recently, the nation was properly distressed, hurried or restrained in this direction by our nation-state which [in the year 1985] holds the Soviet nation-state to be a mortal enemy and seeks always to “up-play” this sort of incident [EG]. It seems certain that we will have forgotten both episodes soon. There will be others to vie for our attentions, either real mortal events or the constant deluge of such events in our national entertainments. On the average, I am told [in 1985], our national TV networks portray 27 instances of mortal assault (not all successful) every night. There would probably be more if time were not given to explosive, war-like destruction of materiel, usually late model automobiles.]

[I used to call my introductory course to 19th and 20th century European and world history “The machine in the garden”, borrowing from the American cultural historian Leo Marx. By the 20th century, “Killing fields” might be more appropriate, preserving the garden imagery. The 20th century has so far been just about the cruelest of all time. And it still has (as of 1985) fifteen years to go. As we now move ahead in the 21st century, there is still no guarantee that the achievements of the 20th might not be equaled or exceeded.]



Officially, the Soviet Union reports about 21 million deaths in WW2. Most specialists are inclined to think that the figure is short of reality by 2-4 million. Some recent estimates reach to 29 million. Russian Federation President charged a special inter-agency commission to come up with a best-possible estimate, and they reported about 27 million. These deaths occurred over the period from 21 June 1941 and 5 May 1945, just over 1400 days [ID]. On the basis just of the low official figures, Soviet citizens died during the war at a rate roughly equal to the death of the full student body of this university every day. [ca. 600 per hour, 10 per minute; everyone in this room (30) in three minutes, 20 times an hour, 480 times a day, 175,200 times a year.... Even as we try to make the numbers meaningful, we slide into magnitudes too great really to feel. Something like one out of every eight or nine citizens of the Soviet Union died [one out of every 7 if we go with the larger estimates]. When the imperial Roman armies executed only one in ten, they called it decimation.

Boris Urlanis, a Soviet demographer, has studied the Soviet population tree or pyramid.

{_{ Wars and Population:297-307.}_}

The Soviet population tree has been viciously pruned, its population pyramid has been cruelly dented or eroded away, particularly on the male side, but really everywhere. Disfigurement of a population pyramid is of two sorts = Dents caused directly by deaths and dents caused by drops in population fertility during and after war or other national disaster. Urlanis was unable or unwilling to share many of the details of the Soviet experience, but he did look closely at the German experience of World War Two. In Germany, forty-two percent of the male population and a nearly equal percentage of the female population who were between the ages 13-22 at the outbreak of WW2 perished. We do not have the exact percentages for the Soviet Union, but indications are that they are very close to those of Germany.

{_{ E-TXT article discusses and illustrates war-time population trees. Here is another example of a population tree.}_}

Population trees or pyramids, Urlanis says somewhat coyly, reflect “all the major events in the history of the country”. The Soviet population tree, even as of 1964, described a disastrous dent among the age-group who were of fighting age in 1941-1945, another disastrous dent among the age-group born during that time, and among other significant age-groups = Those who were fit and those born in the epoch of World War One, Revolution, and Civil War, and those who were fit and those who were born in the early 1930s, the era of collectivization.

Urlanis chose not to discuss these older dents at any length. Recent demographic studies done in the USA suggest that “there were 16.5 million aggregate excess deaths sustained in the Soviet Union between January 1 1929 and January 1, 1937”. The concept of “excess death” means population loss not predictable according to best actuarial computations and demographic trends. Listen to the concluding words of a recent study =

Some of these millions may be attributable to the famine of 1933-1934, others to Gulag and the terror. The possibility that a portion of these concealed excess deaths occurred during collectivization, however, cannot be ruled out. As a consequence it may be concluded that although official Soviet statistics validate the widely held impression that collectivization caused roughly 5 million excess deaths, they may still conceal the full extent of the demographic losses sustained during this tumultuous period.

{_{ Steven Rosefielde, “Excess Collectivization Deaths 1929-1933: New Demographic Evidence”, 1984sp:SlR:83-88.}_}

It is a badly pruned population tree, this 20th century Soviet tree. It is a dramatically sculpted population pyramid. And the worse dent is WW2. As best as Urlanis can estimate, the population of the Soviet Union in 1950 was 45.2 million short of what it would have been without the war. It will be years before the tree or pyramid fills itself out, before it returns to its standard Christmas tree shape. Even without any further depredations, the new born stratum of the current tree is expressing a new dent = The fewer children of the war generation's fewer children, and the compounded influences of other deadly times. Into the 1980s, the Soviet government took measures to reward motherly “over fulfillment of the plan”. Urlanis concludes that, so long as no new dents are put by awful events, the self-replicating dents will not disappear from the Soviet population tree until sometime well into the 21st century [EG#1 | EG#2 | NB! some comparisons with USA population tree, and NB! WW2 was not the sole cause of radical pruning of the Russian population tree].

The 20th century was one hell of a century, and I use the word “hell” in its Biblical rather than bar-room sense.



It's been easier for the USA, but right now as we prepare simultaneously to observe the 40th anniversary of the end of World War Two in Europe and the 10th anniversary of the end of US intervention into the Vietnam war, our hearts are badly divided, our enthusiasms compromised. We hardly dare remind ourselves that this is also the 15th anniversary of the murder by the Ohio national guard of four students on the Kent State campus [ID]. Even as late as 2015, the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two presents much the same division.

What we helped happen in Europe these many years ago seems so good. But in these days we are restrained as we try with a clean conscience to win our way back to those good times. Only a few survivors, perhaps only a few because there was no official US encouragement or support, joined with fellow soldiers a week or so ago to celebrate the US-Soviet meeting at Torgau on the Elbe [YouTube].

Pravda commemorated that event on April 25, 1985. Under a double headline, “The Clasping of Hands” and “A Great Debt”, Major General A. Gorlinskii, representing the Soviet Union, and Paul Albert, representing USA, remember the meeting. In one of the most prominent sections of this official Soviet news publication, covering one fourth of a page, the two memoirs are introduced by the following text =

Forty years ago at the center where the Nazi reich was experiencing its final days, Soviet and American soldiers with hands clasped demonstrated their wartime friendship which had been strengthened in the struggle against a common foe. The echo of that meeting on the Elbe has carried through the decades as an invocation to all peoples to live in peace, has voiced the decisive imperative to end the arms race, to prevent a nuclear catastrophe.

Nowhere in the article do the words German or Germany appear, in any of their Russian forms. In this regard, these words almost never appear in official Soviet accounts of the war. When they do, they are always modified by the adjectives “Nazi”, “fascist, ” or “Hitler, ” as in “Hitler Germany”. The victory in this formula is therefore not over an ethnic, linguistic, or national group. The victory is not over a defined “people”, narod or Volk. It is victory over a malignant political force. Here we discover the first of the two most important meanings for the Soviet people of victory forty years ago = Nazism and Fascism represent forces of such unquestionable evil that those who aided in their defeat may celebrate Victory (capital “V”) with evident, expansive joy, alloyed with reverence for the memory of those millions and millions of fellow humans who perished in the struggle or as victims. The second meaning follows directly from this = In the name of very general values acceptable in principle to all ethnic, linguistic, and national groupings on this globe, including the great German people, everyone can celebrate.

Only the friends of Nazism and Fascism need slink or shirk.

General Gorlinskii and Mr. Albert -- the Soviet representative a general, the USA representative a "Mr." -- both refer to the oath taken on the Elbe by US and Soviet troops =

Gorlinskii: We will reaffirm our adherence to the oath of the Soviet and American participants in the meeting on the Elbe to work together for the strengthening of friendship between the peoples of the USSR and the USA. It seems to me that this is a particularly good time to reflect over and over again on that oath.

Albert: Soon we will note the 40th anniversary of Victory over Hitler fascism. This anniversary should reflect the spirit of love and friendship between the Soviet and American soldiers who were the first to embrace one another on the banks of the Elbe as a symbolic greeting of Victory over fascism.

Time requires that veterans of the great battle once again bow their heads and repeat the sacred oath to struggle for peace in the name of our fallen comrades and future generations.

It is true, these are ceremonial utterances. Like Fourth-of-July orations and the like, their relationship to actuality is ceremonial rather than critically analytical. But in truth, that does not subtract from their deep importance. Much of history, much of what we have by way of a usable past tends toward the ceremonial, it speaks not just to the precise record of what happened, but to what we want from the past to fill our present and to project into our future. The usable past often depends on a crafty imprecision. I suppose we need to acknowledge with some sadness that a crafty imprecision is necessary also to render the past unusable.

But reflect on the sense of the usable past that was projected from our USA side in 1985. While nearly the whole world has joined in the series of commemorations of important anniversaries in the winding down of that great war, official US representatives have been notably absent. The President of the United States of America [Reagan] has had to be compelled by public outrage at least to add a visit to a concentration camp this weekend, and he refuses to hear the astonished pleas not to visit a cemetery where SS officers and troops are buried [ID]. I introduce this disappointing, and by now tiresome, episode into this discussion with my theme very much in mind. The President with this act added yet another incredible and arrogantly insensitive gaffe to his long contrail of gaffes over the years when he asserted that we need not worry about German or European sensibilities since there is nearly no one there in 1985 who remembered the war anyway. It is hard to say which brutalizes our usable past more gravely = His errors of commission or his errors of omission. I will not try to guess what this important world leader's sense of usable history is. He may simply be as culpably ignorant of his own time as that statement suggests. I will say this = He is very clear about the shape of the usable past which he would like to insinuate into, or force upon, your and my senses.

His preference for a certain shape of American history motivated him to refuse to join any official commemoration of US-Soviet victory, or even to utter one small official word about cooperation in the defeat of a noxious thing that any two neighbors, even neighbors who do not ordinarily get along, should be proud to have defeated together.

In part, he said, the Soviets do not admit that anyone helped them. They are thankless for the $10.8 billion that Americans sent in the lend-lease program. The Soviets belittle the efforts of the Western European allies. They exaggerate their own accomplishment. This is the main content of official statements that emanated from the White House and other official spokesmen.

This position was a deceit. Like most effective pernicious deceit, it has some truth to it. However, consider the official Soviet welcome to participants in a scholarly conference which convened on the question of the “Victory of the Soviet People in the Great Fatherland War, 1941-1945”. This formal welcome gave a clear sense both of how Soviet officialdom viewed the meaning of the war and how they viewed the role of allies =

The Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union greets the participants in the scholarly conference in commemoration of a very significant date -- the fortieth anniversary of Victory of the Soviet people in the Great Fatherland War.

Under the direction of the Communist Party, our people and their Armed Forces stood in defense of the freedom and independence of the socialist Fatherland and made the decisive contribution [vnesli reshaiushchii vklad] to the defeat of Hitler Germany, to the liberation of Europe from fascist slavery.

The glorious deeds of those who fought in the army and navy, and among the Soviet partisans and underground, and of those who labored on the home front, will not fade with the centuries. In the achievement of Victory, Soviet scholarship [nauki] played a decisive role. Thanks to the effort of scholars [uchenykh], builders, engineers, and the working class, our army was supplied with the most up-to-date varieties of weapons and military technology. Scholars actively participated in educational and political work at the front and in the rear to expose the fascist ideology, hateful to humanity.

The fighting forces of allies, the partisan armies and detachments of Yugoslavia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, and Hungary, and those who were active in the Resistance and the anti-fascist underground, all fought selflessly against fascist usurpers. [...] A great contribution to the achievement of Victory in the Second World War was made [Bol'shoi vklad...vnesli] by the peoples and armies of the USA, Great Britain, France, China, and other states in the anti-Hitler coalition.

{_{ 1985ap10:Pravda:1.}_}

In a more general setting, Grigorii Deborin's official history deals with these questions in this way =

We have a high regard for the courage of the British, who did not flinch before Nazi Germany during the days when Britain stood alone in the war and felt the iron grip of the German blockade around its throat, while being subjected to devastating attacks by the Luftwaffe. We have a high regard for the skill of the American and British military leaders, who organized the largest seaborne invasion of enemy-held territory in history. We have a high regard for the courage of the officers and men of the allied armies who were inspired by the emancipating aims of the war against axis powers. We mourn the allied dead who fell in the war against the common enemy.

{_{ Grigorii Deborin, Thirty Years of Victory:318.}_}

Deborin furthermore emphasizes the significance of Lend-Lease deliveries from the USA. Fourteen percent of all US military expenditures in WW2, over $46 billion, were Lend-Lease. The money was distributed thusly =

England received $21.5 billion, the rest of the British Empire received nearly $9 billion
The Soviet Union rec'd $10.8 billion
The rest of the world about $5 billion

This, in the Soviet view, represented an important part of the story of allied victory. But Deborin takes note of the disproportionate distribution of this critical aid, and he is sensitive to the disproportionate distribution of suffering. Lend-Lease support and levels of engagement and suffering were inversely related to one another.

While on the topic, we might look at the statistics on another aspect of allied aid to the Soviet Union -- British medical aid. These are a poignant reminder of that disproportionate distribution of suffering among the allies. England supplied the Soviet Union with 10 million surgical needles, a half million pairs of surgical gloves, 20,000 amputation knives, 15,000 amputation saws, more than a million doses of antibiotics, sedatives, heart and brain stimulants, 800,000 forceps for bone operations, instruments for brain and eye operations, and oilcloth for covering wounds, a length sufficient to stretch from Eugene to 100 miles south of San Francisco.{_{ Martin Gilbert, “Don't Forget the Suffering -- and Don't Forget the Aid”, 1985my19:MGW:10.}_}



The USSR bore the brunt of the war, it made the “decisive contribution” to the struggle against fascism. The Nazi war machine at no point until the last year of the war had more than one-third of its forces on the Western front. Through the winter of 1941-42, three-fourths (76.7%) of the Nazi divisional strength was concentrated on the Soviet Union. Through the war, Nazi German destroyed 1,710 Soviet towns and more than 70, 000 villages, 32,000 factories, nearly 100,000 collective and state farms, nearly 40,000 miles of railroad line along with 16,000 locomotives and 428,000 rail cars. The national wealth of the USSR was diminished by almost one third.

{_{ Velikaia Otechestvennaia voĭna Sovetskogo Soiuza 1941-1945; kratkaia istoriia. Consult this SAC summary of WW2 devastation [TXT].}_}

Yet the Soviet people, to the astonishment of many, prevailed. Small wonder that their pride should at times swell to exaggerated proportions. The principal armed forces of the world's most advanced war machine was smashed on the Soviet steppes. During the war, Soviet troops destroyed, captured or repulsed 506.5 Nazi divisions, a figure that equals 3 times the number of divisions that invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. An additional 100 divisions supplied by Nazi allies were also defeated. Over the same period, in Western Europe and North Africa, the Western allies fought against a cumulative total of 176 divisions.{_{ Deborin:308.}_} The Nazi military force that was hurled against the USSR was four times greater than that against all other allies.

The official Soviet view holds that certain Western leaders wanted it that way. Munich appeasement [ID] and the delay in opening the second front at Normandy [ID] provokes Soviet anger, much as the Hitler-Stalin pact [ID] provokes the anger of the other allies.



The pride in this Victory is not solely military bravado. Standard Soviet formulas always emphasize the contributions of workers and managers in the rear who planned, produced and transported the goods and services needed for victory. Tables that describe wartime growth in military industrial productivity are impressive. By late 1942, a little over one year into the Nazi-Soviet war, the USSR was out-producing Hitler Germany in all vital sectors. Allied bombing limited German production, and Studebaker trucks aided Soviet deliveries, but no one can argue that the Soviet achievement was based on help from outside.

Despite loss of territory and terrible destruction, total industrial output was higher in 1944 than it had been in 1940. The Soviet state squeezed the economy like never before, mobilized it through the mechanisms of the planned economy, the five-year plans, to produce the sorts of commodities it felt it needed. What grew, of course, was what we can call the military-industrial complex [ID].

Production in aircraft, tank, weapons and ammunition industries grew by 1944 to 251% their 1940 level. In 1943, state revenue (“taxes”) increased to 113% the 1940 level; 1944 = 149%; 1945 = 168%.

{_{ Velikaia Otechestvennaia voĭna Sovetskogo Soiuza 1941-1945; kratkaia istoriia.}_}

In a sense the Soviet economy had been mobilizing since the introduction of the five-year plans and the collectivization of agriculture in the early 1930s. But collectivization had disordered Soviet life as much as it had mobilized it. However stupendous the advance of the Soviet industrial economy prior to 1941, the war presented a great challenge.

The Blitzkrieg invasion in June, 1941, apparently caught the Soviet leadership by surprise. Stalin seemed at first to have disappeared, but the massive managerial bureaucracy finally bestirred itself =

*1941je23: Central Committee and Council of People's Komissars [TsK & SovNarKom] set up GHQ of High Command =
Timoshenko, SK. Kom for defence, Marshal, & Chairman of the wartime governing body
Zhukov, GK. Chief of the GSH, gnr
Stalin, JV.
Molotov, VM.
Voroshilov, KYe Marshal
Budennyi, SM. Marshal
Kuznetsov, NG. Admiral

*1941je30: State Defense Committee, single body to coordinate whole effort: military, civilian, economic,  etc.

For example, in the years just prior to the war, industrial plants were already being located in the more remote and secure Ural and Siberian regions, but the bigger part of this eastern industrial development occurred in the first months of the war and under highly stressed circumstances. As the Nazis advanced, whole populations were overrun or uprooted and shipped with factories and machinery in railcars to the more remote rear [TXT]. Factories often operated at full capacity at their original sites until the last minute. Valuable equipment of the Zaporozhstal, for example [ID], was loaded on railway cars when the western bank of the Dnieper was already visibly in German hands. Factory personnel, helped by local coal-miners, filled 8000 carloads with iron and steel, and lifted and transported the entire plant, under the very nose of the advancing enemy and in a matter of hours. The main plant was reinstalled at the Magnitogorsk iron-and-steel complex and was operating at previous levels in short while.

Labor shock brigades reestablished the coal mines in the Moscow basin the moment Nazi military pressure was relaxed in the winter of 1942. By that summer, coal production there exceeded prewar levels. Tank production trebled in 1942 to 24,688 tanks (half of which were the medium T-34s). Hitler Germany, by the way, produced only 9300 tanks that year.

Many of the most fit factory workers were pressed directly into military service. No more than 30-40% were evacuated with the factories. The shortage of specialists and fitters was near disastrous. New workers -- women, youths, those unfit for frontline service -- were trained under crash programs. The working day was extended and vacations replaced by promissory notes “deposited” in savings banks and not immediately available to the workers. All laborers in military production and related enterprises were declared mobilized, drafted, and attached to their places of employment.

Fundamentally all eating, at front and rear, was by canteen. Where there was no canteen, there was very little or no eating. While many people went hungry and some starved, Soviet collective farms delivered nearly 70 mill. tons of grain throughout the war, at rates far in excess of WW1 deliveries, despite the fact the over-all agricultural production in 1942 and 1943 was well below 40% the 1940 level and recovered by 1945 to only 60% the prewar level.

{_{ Velikaia Otechestvennaia voĭna Sovetskogo Soiuza 1941-1945; kratkaia istoriia.}_}

And the prewar level was already miserably low as a result of the death, disorder and destruction of collectivization. Serious famine, in many areas starvation, were the result as wartime rationing forced deliveries of foodstuff to the front and to the vital armaments industries.

While the needs of the people beyond the immediate fighting situation were ignored, cut back, and sacrificed, investments in heavy armaments industry doubled in 1943. This was total mobilization for total war. The price was nearly unspeakably high, but it worked. Soviet historians place this sort of fact at the center of their accounts, along with the action at Stalingrad.

One of the darker meanings of WW2 has been the continued militarization of the Soviet economy beyond the war years. Even into the final years of the Soviet Union, in such sectors as agricultural deliveries, from field to mill, the military plays a key role. Also, to this day, a large sector of the economy is administered under the Defense Ministry and the Kommitet dlia gosudarstvennoi bezopastnosti. There are sectors of the Soviet economy that could serve as unparalleled models of the military-industrial complex. But USA is not much in need of the models of other nations.



A native Oregonian, as a result of bizarre circumstances, was witness to the outer edges of these turbulent events in the Soviet Union. Robert Emmens, who lives today [1985] in Medford, was copilot on one of the Doolittle Raider B-25s that attacked Japan in the spring of 1942 [ID]. He and his fellow crew members crossed over into Soviet territory and landed safely (the only Doolittle ship that did not crash). They were taken into custody by the Soviets and not released for over one year. Moved constantly from place to place over 8000 miles of Soviet territory, Emmens saw much and remembered much. His book, Guests of the Kremlin, gives witness to Soviet conditions beyond the armaments factories and the front. Ironically, Emmens' intention (and that of his editors) was to portray the horrors and failures of communism.

Yet how differently his words speak once we stir the realities of the war itself into the mix. Emmens’ year was the darkest of the war. The largest part of the traditional Russian and Ukrainian agricultural villages and industrial sites were in rubble and behind Nazi lines. The Wehrmacht pressed at the gates of Stalingrad [ID]. Daily loss of life equaled in number all freshmen, sophomore, juniors, seniors, and graduate students at this university. War casualties, disease, starvation -- everywhere the turbulence of total mobilization, everything in motion. Emmens describes an episode, a splinter of this experience, during their transportation from the Pacific coast. A train that had stopped on the track next to their rail car catches their attention =

During the afternoon their train jockeyed back and forth a bit. Once it stopped so that a boxcar, straw on the floor exactly like the rest of them, but full of women, was practically within touching distance of our windows. We lowered our window and at least half a dozen curious faces peered in at us. The curtains on our windows must have seemed strange to them compared to their accommodations. They were in varying stages of dress and undress and there must have been at least twenty in that boxcar. And these evidently hadn't had the bath we had observed others like them taking earlier that day.

Khleb? khleb?” [bread] one of two of them asked, smiling. One was rather pretty. We managed to slip them a fair-sized chunk of black bread and the racket they made was too much. Mike [as the Doolittle crew called their guard or guide] came storming up the aisle and slammed the window shut.

“I tell you, you must not do this thing”. He went back to his section.

Ski [the pilot] and I slowly slipped the window open again and indicated “sh-h-h” to two of the girls who were still at their window.

The pretty blonde was there. “You -- German-prisoner?” she said slowly.

“No, American -- Americansky”, said Ski.

“You -- American-prisoner?” Her English was slow but understandable.

“No -- -” began Ski, but their train started moving. The blond girl still wore a look of puzzlement. I don't suppose she ever quite figured that out by herself, if she ever gave it a second thought. As their train went by, we noticed that about every fourth or fifth car was full of women.

I find it touching that the young Emmens thought the puzzle presented by this scene consisted of him and his fellow Americans under guard in the relatively comfortable railroad carriage, not the boxcar after boxcar of castoff women shipped by rail to the east.



The price of Victory was high, but how could it ever be said to be too high? Victory had to be purchased at any price, whether measured in human or fiscal terms. Imagine the alternative. Soviet officials are retrospectively certain that the alternative, Hitler victory, could only be imaginary. Nazi defeat was historically inevitable.

The Defeat of Nazi Germany was not an accident, but a foregone conclusion. [...] The war revealed with particular clarity the power of the motive forces of Soviet society -- its social and ideological unity, socialist patriotism and friendship between the peoples of that multinational country.

As a result of victory in the war and the rapid postwar rehabilitation and development of the Soviet economy, the victory of socialism [NB!] in the Soviet Union became complete and final. This meant that the former danger of a restoration of capitalism by external imperialist forces had been eliminated once and for all.

{_{ Deborin:314 and 320.}_}

In this official version, the usefulness of this past, the mythic role that this great Victory plays, is one of confirmation and justification of the Soviet body politic. Explicitly, the war serves as the most important confirmation of the righteousness of the Revolution. Also, although without being able to say so outright, the war justifies in their mind the excesses and tyranny of the 1930s. Turning from the past to the future, on the pivot of Victory in 1945, the war justifies the stern dominion of the Victors over a long string of neighboring folk, in various ways “liberated” from fascism. And it is, in their view, the major shared historical experience of an otherwise extremely disparate multinational new Soviet people.

The Revolution in comparison was an isolated event, a bare beginning. The war was a painful fruition. The war signified the maturity of a system that had not achieved until that time any sense of security or permanence. For the Soviet official, WW2 provides the essential constituent moment, the truth that comes sparking from the crucible of history = The Soviet system survived the ultimate test and thus justified itself. That was the "usable" truth in USSR at least up to the late 20th century.



The history of the century is deplorable. The future gives only modest basis for hope. As the 21st century unfolds, the future becomes increasingly tense and problematic. Human survival is at stake in the days right now just ahead. And we need to know that as the future becomes ever more uncertain, it becomes all the more easy to make our past also more cloudy. The cheery liberal optimism and sometimes simple clarity of the 19th c. world have been shelled, gassed, vaporized, tortured, broiled, and executed, but also liberated, secured, and saved to utter death. And how often have villages been destroyed ostensibly to save them.

Appetite growing with the gory feast, the mechanized, militarized nation-state has been brought to near perfection. The statistical levels of death and destruction in the 20th century century could have been achieved only by an institution equal to the task, and our century has hatched in the hot incubator of total war its perfect institutional expression = The total state. The Soviet Union under Stalin and Germany under Hitler, even with their differences, must be understood as highest expressions yet of something essential to that hellish century. Not every nation-state reaches the same heights as these two, but partial imitations can be spotted all around, some further away from us than others. It is proper that a leading figure in that last great “world war” Eisenhower had the experience and security to name it when he saw its ugly beginnings in his own star-blessed land = The “military industrial complex”. The sociologist Harold Lasswell had predicted even earlier, in the first months of that last world war = The garrison state [ID].

We in USA seem to be hopelessly distanced from a clear, clean and globally generous celebration of WW2's end. Defeat in Vietnam and the skullduggery behind the failed and still ongoing, even expanding, Afghanistan and Iraq wars have driven a painful wedge between us and our old, long-term, positive, usable past. Our dear, resilient national spirit in this search for the lost, usable past might succeed if it were not harassed along the way of its quest by forces of apparent dark intent. One national figure grabbed the headlines in 1985 with an emotional analysis of the meaning of Vietnam that made anyone of knowledge cringe. The national spirit, in its poignant search, was further insulted by another influential national figure who claimed that "Nicaraguan Contras" were like USA “Founding Fathers” [ID], who claimed that military intervention is peace, that policy-less and purposeless sacrifice of young marines on other people’s shores [ID] was old-fashioned glory.

Perhaps the fundamental trick here has been to pretend that government and the military are different orders of reality. For better or worse, that's a trick that one could pull in the USA, but not in the Soviet Union. Government in this political sleight of hand is a bad old bureaucratic thing, detested by all celluloid, one-fisted cowboys. Such cowboys are after all another mythic but still usable past, the wild west. The military is not institutional, it is an ethereal expression of national will, national grandeur, easily substituted in fact for congressional majorities or constitutional restrictions. As total government expenditures expand (including $1800 bolts for airforce weaponry), this mentality can still claim to be cutting government.

A people's search for communion with their own usable past is difficult enough without the disruption and corruption of demagoguery. But our difficulties, however intensely you or I might feel them, are not as great as those of the Soviet people and the peoples of the post-Soviet world. Yet the 40-year anniversary and all subsequent anniversaries are great moments in which our usable pasts intersect in mutual victory. I must tell you a personal anecdote = I never failed upon arrival in the Soviet Union, after struggling mightily against the detestable bureaucracy for housing permits, library permits, entrance permits, work permits, travel permits, permit permits, after struggling against shortages for groceries or for a place in a restaurant, after all that I go with reverence to the tomb of the unknown Soviet soldier. I have continued this practice since the evaporation of the USSR, though bureaucracy has become much less detestable. There at the tomb along the outer Kremlin wall, as through all these years since the 1940s, in stone, in large letters, it reads = “Your name is not known, but your deed will live forever”. I, for one, salute that soldier and the whole Soviet citizenry on this occasion and wish them, their heirs and us an honest, usable past and a humane and usable future = Forty times forty years of peace. Seventy times seventy years of peace.







[Notes for a separate oral presentation that best might take up after the paragraph above = "The Revolution in comparison was an isolated event, a bare beginning. The war was a painful fruition. The war signified the maturity of a system that had not achieved until that time any sense of security or permanence. For the Soviet official, WW2 provides the essential constituent moment, the truth that comes sparking from the crucible of history = The Soviet system survived the ultimate test and thus justified itself. That's the "usable" truth in USSR at least up to the late 20th century."]

That's well and good for the official -- the Party boss or the industrial manager -- who could bask in the luxury of his country dacha, laden with medals for heroism, bragging about himself as a member of the generation of victors. What about the individual, the sad sack, GI Joe, man on the street, the fathers, brothers, sons of those women in the boxcars whom our fellow Oregonian Emmens saw [ID]??

For the American, comparatively easy victory brought Motorola TV, ranch-style homes, two-car garages, GI Bill to fund higher education for veterans, a twenty-year flush of national prosperity. The nation had no desire to wallow in the suffering of returning demobilized vets. Hundreds of thousands of them returned to a USA that had no interest in learning about or coming to terms with the actualities of their trauma. Delayed stress, which later generations were to learn a great deal about out of far less traumatic military experience, was denied, suppressed, suffered largely in silence and agonizing personal isolation. The nation blanketed the wounds of actual war with the comforter "glory".

For the Soviet, higher levels of suffering caused more acute forms of delayed stress syndrome, but victory furthermore brought a new phase of Stalinist restrictions, continued rationing, constant shortages, a sluggish economy. The Soviet military-industrial complex did not demobilize, could not demobilize under conditions of thoroughgoing economic destruction.

But all the suffering brought at least this = A claim to the critical role in the victory over a very ugly thing. Is that enough for Soviet citizens or their heirs? How well does that victory fill the need for usable history among the people themselves?

The most popular piece of literature to deal with WW2 and, indirectly to raise these questions, has been “Man's Fate” =
*--The story (1957, "Man's Fate" [Sud'ba cheloveka], by Mikhail Sholokhov = misspelled in movie title).
*--The Movie (1959, SUD'BA CHELOVEKA (Fate of a Man) [ID]

Items unique to story = {}
Items unique to film = []

The family name of the fictional hero of the tale is Sokolov. Is there significance in the rhyme of Sokolov with Sholokhov?

Sokolov asks, Why has my life been broken like this? Born in 1900, he is the twentieth century. The 1917 Revolutions took place when he was 17. (NB = the fictional hero's son was 17 at the outbreak of WW2.) The family starved to death during Civil War & famine, 1922. ORPHANED. Met & married another orphan not long after that. Orphans, the reader knows, are not necessarily a coincidence in this hellish century.

Sokolov became a truck driver in 1929. “And so I lived for ten years without noticing how the time went by. Ask any man over forty if he's noticed how the years are slipping by. You'll find he hasn't noticed a damned thing! The past is like that distant steppe way out there in the haze.”

Why does Sokolov say “any man over forty”? At the time of this story, 1957, “Sokolov” was, like his century, 57. No Soviet reader could miss the point = 1957 minus 40 = 1917. Just as the 40th anniversary of the end of WW2 was being observed in 1985, so also the 40th ann. of the rev. was observed in 1957. This is a vital ceremonial setting for this story about WW2.

The 1930s -- the purges, collectivization and the first five-year plans -- have been kept on an especially distant and hazy horizon of self-consciousness for the whole Soviet people. The distance and the haze has made any longer historical vistas doubly difficult. Reaching further back, the pre-Revolutionary past has been scoured thoroughly and sanitized where possible, quarantined where not.

The Revolution itself seems fine enough. But the revolutionary events are still unfinished. What happened in 1917 was not a whole, finished event, not even after the awful suffering of the Civil War and the famine. The Revolution, as I have written elsewhere, is like a spiritual figura of becoming, an exhortation.

{_{ “Representation of Reality..., ” 1976de:SlR:715-23.}_}

The era that stretches from 1921 to 1928, the NEP period, was a retreat from the goals of the Revolution and therefore of less than glorious memory. The 1930s were a nightmare, especially for the several million who died as a result of the decision taken by the state to collectivize agriculture, to hasten economic modernization and to carry the class war to completion in the countryside [ID].

After the 1930s, World War Two perhaps vindicates the terrible suffering; the terror of Stalin's first decade in supreme power could now even be seen, however implausibly, as preparation for victory. And the Victory itself as a certification that the Soviet system could prevail over the strongest historical foe that it, or even its imperial predecessor, ever faced. Before the war, there was only the Soviet Union and the trembling Mongolian People's Republic, clinging fast to the Siberian flank of the USSR. After the war, there was a new Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. By 1985 the Soviet Union could even list Yugoslavia without evident grimace. And the list goes on = Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, in a sense Finland, and by 1949, China. Differences there clearly are among the states on this expanding list, but the expansion itself was a source of some deep historical pride. You and I may not be proud of our great World War Two ally's accomplishments in this regard, but they were, and they still are.

But even the mythic and also very real historical events of World War Two fail to give a fully satisfactory and “usable” past. Soviet citizen's are children of uncertain and/or lost parentage. This implies a question of legitimacy as well as orphanage.

The fictional character Sokolov suffers physical “breakage” in war. He was many times wounded, BUT, the break this movie is about is MEANING, memory, family both in the straight-forward nuclear sense and, more importantly, in the broadest sense, something like what is meant by “family of man”. Sokolov is orphaned from a full life as a man.

For Sokolov, the war further breaks his life, his family line, his line of usable history. Sokolov's wife and two daughters are killed instantly by a direct bomb hit on their little home near an aircraft factory. His son, a promising mathematician, volunteers immediately for war service and is killed in the last moments of the war. World War Two severs even the fledgling new beginnings of family. These are the microscopic cavities in the ghastly dents described by Urlanis' population tree [ID]. But the war simultaneously provides a setting, a tragic and compromised setting, for reforming his life, his family line, his line of usable history.

The movie lavishes abundant attention on scenes of war and imprisonment. [Adds a proper indication that Soviet troops in captivity always planned escapes.] A discordant scene depicts the dilemma of a Russian Orthodox soldier, held overnight in a bombed-out church, who refuses to relieve his bowels inside the church and dies trying unmanfully to get outside.

Includes justly famous drinking scene. Incidentally, a hardly veiled reference to the possibility that the commandant of the labor camp, Muller, was a Volga German who learned much of his grisly trade before the war. The story suggests the vague possibility that this happened while he was still a citizen of the Soviet Union (in the Soviet secret police?)

The uncertainty of this episode might point in another direction as well = Muller's bestiality might be taken as justification for the treatment of the Volga Germans during the war. That reading fades comparatively since Sokolov and Muller are reconciled in a way that blunts rather than sharpens our disgust at Nazi criminality. It seems oddly necessary to establish that Sokolov was a “worthy opponent” to the German. Soviet pride here overleaps a dangerous equation, but not without a certain mysterious concession to the dark side of Stalin's “overtaking and surpassing” the West, perhaps even including its demonic achievements.

Then after escape from Nazi captivity and return home, the story/film re-establishes and fully develops its central motive. The orphaned hero deceives an orphaned young boy he meets, all in the cause of saving the young boy and perhaps himself.

“I am your father”. He must tell this lie if he is to survive at all.

“Daddy, Daddy, I knew you'd find me”. The boy must believe him if survival is to be achieved at all.

But the boy, against all his hope, cannot suppress doubts. “What about your leather coat daddy? Why did it take you so long to find me?”

“A kid's memory is like summer lightning, you know. It flashes and lights things up for a bit, then dies away”. The little boy instinctively tries to make his usable past coherent, believable. So also the memory of a whole people, who need to know why their lives have been so broken.

Then, in the movie MAN"S FATE, but not in the story, the boy looks full into the camera = “Did you tell me the truth?”

No answer is uttered, either by father or narrator. The answer will have to be given in the success of this new-formed family. The “truth” must be found in an uncertain series of tomorrows, not in tragic, hazy yesterdays. This father and this son, we might say, face an unknown history as well as an unknown future. Their past is not just unknown; it is unknown because it is either passed over in silence (like distance) or told in a faulty way (the haze). The past is untrue, at least in the standard way of seeing “truth”. But the future, however unknown, might depend on a certain untruth told now in order to achieve something that will not be faulty, thus suggesting another way of judging the truth. Orphaned, perhaps forever, from the past, Sokolov and his “son” are trothed to the future = a promise, like all troths unsure, but in this case doubly endangered. The orphaned condition must be sealed forever if the troth is to bear fruit. Yesterday is unfortunately as unpredictable as tomorrow. Thus the old Soviet joke = We work to “predict the past” and succumb to “nostalgia for the future”.

As the story comes to a close, Sokolov, ailing seriously with heart disease, sets off with son in tow toward some vague destination. The little boy turns to wave at the movie's narrator “with his little rosy hand”.

I felt sad as I watched them go. ...suddenly a soft but taloned paw seemed to grip my heart, and I turned hastily away. No, not only in their sleep do they weep, these [forty-year-old] elderly men whose hair grew grey in the years of war. They weep, too, in their waking hours. The thing is to be able to turn away in time. The important thing is not to wound a child's heart, not to let him see the unwilling tear that burns the cheek of a man.

Thus the story ends on a chord far more complex than the film.



Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory, says that educated "Western" sensibilities cannot think of war in the heroic mode any longer, not since WW1. In fabricating our own usable past, we employ tropes of hulking obscenity and gore in a bent effort to touch something tender or “responsible” beneath scabs of cynicism
*--Naked and the Dead, Catch Twenty-Two, Gravity's Rainbow = No previous literature (or drama) employed this splatter irony.
*--“The Killing Fields” and “Man's Fate” [above] are so very different in this regard
*--Obscenity and gore in “Man's Fate” are sub-textual realities, in a sense denied or contradicted by an old-fashioned chauvinism. The soldiers in their uniforms can almost be described as “well pressed”
*--The official Soviet esthetic and the post-war trends in our world are very different. We have the basis for serious misunderstanding on the question of war between those still captivated by the older "heroic" vision of modern war and those who are not
*--Victorious allies of WW2 have seriously diverged in the search for a useable past.

So our irony has its irony too. Our national life has been touched by modern war. Soviet and Russian national life has been bashed. Yet, our trained sensibilities seem best provoked by Mailer, Heller, and Pynchonesque ravagement, by a sickly ironic stance with respect to the simple and sad suffering of plain men and women in the jaws of mechanized war -- the result is cynicism, either that or tabloid paper-doll chauvinism and nostalgia for the days of the "greatest generation".

Compare the popular Soviet war film "Ballada o soldate" [ID] with "Saving Private Ryan" [FLM]. "Balada o soldate" asks that our sensibilities react to a striking and clean portrait of concentration camp ovens. [Scenes introduced in the movie, along with the details of German bands at disembarkation points, the division of prisoners into specific categories = Russians, Jews, Others. This was, you see, not just a war against Jews.] Our outrage should perhaps not require the broil of flesh.

But = It might be useful to contemplate the greater complexity of “Sophie's Choice” which explores the hellish inner circles of a mother's experience [FLM excerpt]. Man's Fate depicts in a second or two that whole scene = the film assumes that the brief portrait of a uniformed goon forcibly separating mother from children should say all that needs to be said to the healthy conscience. Should it? "Sophie's Choice" wants to make sure we come as close as movie-goers can to the horrid realities of this situation, and the clip above from "Sophie's Choice" gives us one of the great moments in which acting cuts to the heart of the matter. In its waning years, the Soviet film establishment allowed the release of Elem Klimov's jarring film IDI I SMOTRI [Come and See] [YouTube] which was a great big step for Soviet cinema into the esthetic atmosphere described by Fussell.

Though we may feel in "Man's Fate" that war is made to seem extraordinarily antiseptic, we should still be able to see through to the central and disturbing question that it asks, but does not answer for the Soviet viewer. The question gains most of its power from recent wartime experiences, but is not limited to them =

“Did you tell me the truth?” [ID]




*--VELIKAIA VOINA [The Great War] [FLM]
*--A gallery of photos depicts women of the Soviet "greatest generation" [SlideShow], and their children [SlideShow]
*--And one must also remember the role of irregular guerilla forces mobilized, sometimes spontaneously, from the civilian population under Nazi attack [FLM]
*--But also remember the contribution of Soviet workers in weapons factories relocated in the Urals [pix]
*--Documentary film on 1941fa Battle for Moscow [W] [FLM]. Moscow was saved [ID]
*--Film footage of the 1942-43 Battle of Stalingrad [FLM
*--Soviet footage of 1943 Kursk battle [FLM#1 | FLM#2 | FLM#3]
*--Victory in the Ukraine, 1943-44 [FLM
*--Soviet Red Army took Berlin, 1945sp [FLM
*1945je24:Moscow victory parade. Early in this documentary film (pt1) you see Marshall Zhukov ride his white horse across Red Square to the cheers of many thousand uniformed veterans, at attention on the sidelines before they in their turn marched in the parade [FLM#1]. Early in pt2 you see the troops piling thousands of captured Nazi banners and other symbolic paraphernalia on the ground before Lenin's Tomb [FLM#2]