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Happy Stalingrad Day! Remembering Stalingrad – February 2, 1943

February 2, 2020

Soviet soldiers advancing in Stalingrad, late January, 1943

This evening, as a part of a tradition handed down by my father to drink over-priced Scotch, with my bottle of Colorado-brewed stuff, I shall lift a glass or two – all I can drink these days – to the heroic defenders of Stalingrad.

I intend to make February 2 a personal family holiday every year now, between today and when I pass from the scene. As I have already done this morning, I’ll spend an hour reading and thinking about Stalingrad, of the greatness of the victory over German Nazism, of the terrible almost unimaginable price paid for that victory.

Well frankly, it would be difficult for me to “remember” Stalingrad. It, the epic battle that broke the back of German Nazism, ended with the Nazi unconditional surrender on this day, February 2, 1943. Since I was born some 17 months later, in November of 1944, still before World War 2 in Europe or Asia had ended it is impossible for me to remember the event.

So it is not a question of a “personal” remembrance, rather it should be a historical remembrance – like a holiday that comes around once a year. The date should be celebrated worldwide including here in the United States, and in that sense “remembered” historically at least. Why? Because it marks the major turning point in WW2 on the European front, nothing less. Until Stalingrad, the Nazis were piling up victory after victory and had rolled to victory through almost all of Europe.

At Stalingrad after 4 1/2 months of some of the bitterest fighting the world had every known, Hitler and Nazism were stopped dead in their tracks, the progress ended not far from the Volga River and from there they were pushed back so that two years and three months later, in May 1945, the Third Reich was put to rest, smashed to smithereens. It was at Stalingrad that the Soviets – essentially singlehandedly – wiped the smirk off of Hitler’s face; in fact from February 2, 1943 until his death in early May, 1945 he couldn’t stop peeing in his pants every time the Soviets moved that much closer to Berlin.

The victory at Stalingrad gave the world hope that Nazism could and would be defeated in large measure because it was defeated, “Defeated” is perhaps too modest a description. The German military was utterly trounced at Stalingrad.

People the world round were uncertain of that fact in 1941 and 1942 when the German war machine rolled to victory. And not just victories but lightening quick ones, But at Stalingrad the juggernaut first sputtered and then died although the price was breathtakingly high, so great that it is impossible to count them.The sources of casualties vary. One source claims that 1.1 million Soviets and 800,000 Nazis died. Whatever the number, one thing stands out: the casualties of the Battle of Stalingrad were so great that it is impossible to count them.

Why mention this particular battle today, 77 years on – and not just mention it but celebrate it.

In part it is to remind people in the United States intellectually soaked with anti-Russian hysteria that in World War II the Soviet Union was our ally, and a faithful one at that. In some ways it even more pronounced than during the Cold War, and led, for the moment, by moderate Democrats trying to explain their own failures by blaming the Russians in general and its president, Vladimir Putin, in particular.

Hillary Clinton did not lose the 2016 election because of Russian meddling but because of political gerrymandering, Republican voter suppression, but mostly because of the failures of her own campaign to win the support of more Americans. Her message simply didn’t resonate. The wave of anti-Russian hysteria that she and hubby Bill and their political allies have unleashed besides being both cynical and unprincipled will continue to do great damage to U.S. foreign policy and magnify its shrinking respect worldwide.

So admittedly, I write a short praise of Stalingrad to throw a monkey wrench into the current anti-Russian hysteria, as a reminder. Then of course given the current state – or lack there of – of political discourse, corruption, the unprecedented wave of racism and jingoism, the anti-immigration Nazi like policies of the Trump Administration it’s a reminder to “my fellow Americans’ the old adage about people in glass houses throwing stones (at Russia).

But beyond these current pre-occupations…

Beyond the horrific number of casualties, something else stands out about Stalingrad: had the Soviets not won in spite of the horrible price paid, we would be living in a different world today, either under the yoke of Nazism itself, or, if not, heavily influenced and pressured by it – and that includes the United States. The courage, the boldness, the organizational brilliance of its generals and the indescribable tenacity of the entire Soviet nation, didn’t just save the Soviets, it saved the whole world.

And the Soviets managed that victory alone in large measure. The opening of the “second front” – the U.S.-UK-Canadian D-Day offensive of June 6, 1944 was still sixteen months off in the future.

There was a bit of Lend Lease aid – some trucks and planes – but at Stalingrad nothing much to speak of. Soviet arms were Soviet made and a good part of the story of the Stalingrad victory -beyond the battlefield was – was the amazing productive capacity of Soviet industry that was able to turn out tanks, kashukas, fighter planes enough to match and eventually overwhelm the Nazi arsenal.

There are a number of versions that recount the battle well, in detail but understandable to the layman (like myself). My favorite history, by far, the hundred and twenty pages of Alexander Werth’s Russia at WarFor those who want to dig deeper, try the 1900 pages of Vasily Grossman’s duology (a series of two related book) Stalingrad and Life and Fate. Yes that is a lot of reading, but if you are like me, the story will grip you from the first page of Stalingrad to the last of Life and Fate.

So………..

A very Happy Stalingrad Day to you all!

 

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Phil Jones permalink
    February 2, 2020 9:18 am

    As I recall, only one US president ever acknowledged what Nazi Germany did to Russia in WWII. It was Jack Kennedy who, in explaining the damage, asked Americans to imagine a foreign power causing near total devastation from the east coast to Chicago.

    • February 2, 2020 9:24 am

      Haven’t studied the question Phil… Do remember reading Kennedy making such statements … and Roosevelt, with no illusion, seemed to get along better with Stalin than Churchill. What I did notice is that after the USSR collapsed in 1991, for a few years anyhow the high Soviet casualties from the war – both civilian and military – were admitted. During the Cold War to claim that the USSR lost 20 million during World War II opened one up to all kinds of unkind attacks, but by 1992,3 not only was the 20 million figure accepted, but it started to rise to 25 million or even 27 million. Haven’t noticed if during the current craze if the numbers have decreased again…

  2. margy stewart permalink
    February 2, 2020 9:48 am

    A moving commentary

  3. William Watts permalink
    February 2, 2020 10:59 am

    Very interesting and educational.

    • February 2, 2020 11:10 am

      the Grossman books were the titles I promised to send you (and forgot to)…

  4. Tom Moore permalink
    February 2, 2020 4:55 pm

    Thanks Rob, as usual, for your insightful work!

  5. JIM permalink
    February 8, 2020 8:57 pm

    Recall, the USA uses the Russian Space station. Also, Russia is losing population.
    Thanks for the informative history. Russia did not adapt to Capitalism, due to some OLIGOP Crony twists. Don’t be fooled, however, the Military welfare state in the USA is not free market, it is a transfer of wealth to the usual COMPLEX.
    Saudi arms dealers fuel the arms transfers that keep the MidE mired in a spiral of
    blood letting.

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