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The Year of Stalingrad by Alexander Werth – a brief review.

February 18, 2020

Who reads about WW2 anymore, and if they do, who reads about the war on the eastern front, the Nazi military offensive against the former Soviet Union?

I do and frequently.

There are a number of reasons. First and foremost – it is a personal act of gratitude for what in the USA is often an unappreciated – the Soviet contribution to the defeat of fascism, the monumental effort involved, the oft unappreciated human suffering and sacrifice it entailed. Watching how people react – or don’t – under extreme pressure, crises – has long fascinated me.

Then there is the fact that fascist tendencies have emerged in recent years the world round, including in the USA; important to learn from history fascism’s strange journey, from the environment in which it took birth to how it was defeated. The country where I live seems to be lurching in that direction.

And then there is all this Russia bashing – done frankly even more by the leadership of the Democratic Party than even the Republicans these days. I understand it in many ways (Hillary’s failure to look at her own campaign for its failures, Russia’s refusal to simply implode in the 1990s – and its rebound outside of the influence of Washington). Most importantly there is the growing danger of a U.S.-Russian nuclear confrontation that few take seriously in this country, but I do, very much so. Part of avoiding, preventing such a conflict is to study the period when the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were actually allies – almost but not quite – friends

Why? Because I still believe that that war, now over 75 years ago, continues to shape the world in which we live, no matter where we live and that the decisive effort to defeat fascism took place, there in places like Stalingrad and Kursk, on Seelow Heights over the Oder River. It ended with the liberation of Berlin, the meeting of US and Soviet troops at Torgau. The sacrifices the Soviets made – in dead, wounded, in the destruction of their country by the Nazis were unequaled.

Besides, the key turning point in WW 2 is where the Nazi armies were put on the defensive was a place then called Stalingrad (today Volgograd) on a bend of the Volga River in southern Russia.

One of the better historians of WW2 on the Eastern Front was British journalist Alexander Werth. His “Russia At War” is outstanding on the whole – despite the fact that he misread the what was Stalin’s massacre of thousands of Polish officers at the forests of Katyn – which was revealed only in the late 1980s – he wasn’t the only one to get that one wrong. But apart that – the ebb and flow of the fighting, the human element – in my view, no one does it better.

Werth – fluent in Russian – was given a great deal of freedom to interview Soviets at all levels of society. He knew the Soviets as few other Westerners did. He wasn’t an apologist – but an observer of a country at war. The Year of Stalingrad – other than its unacceptably small print – is well worth reading in these times.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Walter Tillow permalink
    February 18, 2020 7:17 am

    You should check out Grover Furr’s book
    On the Katyn events. He incorporates
    New research

  2. Phil Jones permalink
    February 18, 2020 7:52 am

    Won’t accept small print? Then you rule out some books from being published. In the early 70s I worked as an editor for a leftish book publisher who wanted to publish the first novel about the Viet Nam war written by a grunt. However, only by reducing the print size, hence number of pages, could I get the thing done at an acceptable price. So I did it. No one was y happy with the small print, but the book was published and read by, among others, a fair number of Vietnam vets. It was “The Big V.” It has been republished since then, but I’ve never checked the print size on later editions.

  3. William Conklin permalink
    February 18, 2020 8:26 am

    I am reading Grossman’s Stalingrad. It is too bad that Americans don’t understand that without the Russians, D-Day would have been an unlikely end to the European War. The Russians suffered more than we can imagine and what did they get for it: The forever cold war of the Fascist American Military Industrial Complex. In the end however, we will simply all freeze to death in the cold as the last remaining coal sits in ground for lack of enough diesel to make our insane civilization work. While our country is drowning with its interior drying up, Russians may be sunbathing on Arctic Beaches and happily pulling potatoes out of the warmed permafrost. On the real positive side: The desertification of the middle east and the demise of the oil will cause a mass exodus of Europeans from Israel, and Palestine will be free to eat its own olives.

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