Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Europe-Asia Studies: Soviet deaths in the Great Patriotic War: a note - World War II

It has been interesting to watch the VE Day anniversary celebrations from two sides. The Russians see things differently and regard the war losses of the other Allies as trivial. They have a point. More than 8 million Red Army soldiers died in battle.

The Western Allies can't quite forget however that the Soviet Union began the war on the Axis side and only joined the good guys when attacked. They know, but politely don't say, that if Hitler had not barmily turned on his Communist allies the "Great Patriotic War" would have continued to be against them and yesterday's victory parade might have had a different tone. But then, had the Japanese not barmily attacked Pearl Harbour...?

The Western Allies don't know quite how to take the claims of 26-27 million "war dead" in the former Soviet Union - although most press reports are politely accepting it in the current commemorative atmosphere. In truth, the numbers were huge and horrible but no-one really knows how high they were. The article referenced below outlines the methodology used by the Soviet authorities, essentially based on what the population should have been on pre-war trends, vs what it actually proved to be after the war was over.

It is clear that the number masks victims of Soviet repression (the authors estimate 2 million, but your own guess will be just as valid) and those who took the opportunity of war to emigrate (again, your guess is just as good). It also includes those Russians who died fighting on the Axis side.

None of this is to belittle the contribution of Russia to defeating Nazism. We must be glad Stalin was forced on to our side and (pace my friends in Poland) should be duly grateful to the Russian troops who helped us win our freedom - with no hope of any for themselves. It's just a shame that the Allies cannot commemorate the anniversary together in a spirit of historical truth - especially as the defence of historical fiction seems somehow to require the glorification of Stalin.

In the end, the numbers don't matter. The individual men and women who died do. We should honour their memory by trying to learn the right lessons from history so that our descendants don't suffer the fates of our ancestors.

Europe-Asia Studies: Soviet deaths in the Great Patriotic War: a note - World War II

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