BEVERLY HILLS — Like any other American watching the recent D-Day celebrations and memorials, I was deeply moved at the remembrance of the courage and sacrifice of the American fighting man in World War II. Likewise, I was moved to tears at the dedication of the new (and long overdue) World War II memorial in Washington. The story of American heroism, struggle, and ingenuity in defeating our enemies in World War II is a story of glory for the ages.
But something enormous was missing from the stories and evocations. That something, in a word, was Russia. To discuss the defeat of Hitler without giving paramount importance to the efforts and sacrifice of the Russian people (including all of the nationalities then held captive in the Soviet Union) is to miss the truth of how the war was fought and won.
The magnitude of the Russian contribution to winning over Hitlerism can be hinted at by the statistics. The United States lost 292,000 men in battle deaths. This was a staggering total and every one of them is a heartbreak. The Soviets lost over 25 million by most estimates, including millions of civilians. There were a number of battles on what the Germans called the Eastern Front that dwarfed anything going on in the west. In several individual campaigns such as Stalingrad, Leningrad, the Battle of Berlin, and others without names, millions of Russians were involved and more Soviet lives were lost in each campaign than the U.S. lost in the whole war.
It was in the east that the Nazi war machine was decisively broken. It was in the east, fighting against the Red Army, that the Wehrmacht was bled white. The turning point of the war, the point at which Nazism was more or less permanently in retreat until V-E Day, came at Stalingrad. By the time the U.S. and the Western Allies invaded Normandy, the USSR had already pushed the Germans back to Poland and had beaten to a pulp the best units of the German Army in enormous battles like the Kursk Salient.
The war was won in very large measure by the limitless effusion of Russian, Ukrainian, Belorussian and other blood, along with miracles of Soviet war production.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not fan of Marxism in any form. Stalin was in his own way even more of a butcher than Hitler and fully as cruel. He was a demon in charge of a demonic system. His cruelty in Eastern Europe, especially to the Poles, who also deserved major mention for their heroic resistance to fascism and their sacrifice, was satanic. But the peoples he ruled, and the Red Army he exploited mercilessly, were the bludgeon that broke Nazism.
This in no way belittles the heroism of the American, British, Canadian, and Polish forces fighting Nazism in North Africa, Italy, France, and elsewhere. (By the way, there was precious little about our English and French speaking allies in the ceremonies either.)
The Nazi armies in the West were still a formidable, deadly, and extremely tenacious foe. Defeating them was a gigantic feat of arms by any standard at all. And Russia certainly had little (though not nothing) to do with the Pacific War, a hideously bloody affair won mostly by the U.S. and the Australians and New Zealanders. But it simply is incorrect to omit the major Soviet contribution to the war effort. And in these days when the U.S., needs to rally friends in the war against terror, why belittle a potential major friend and ally?
Eisenhower was never shy about sharing credit with the Russians, and neither should we be now. We stood shoulder to shoulder against Nazism then. Perhaps we might again stand shoulder to shoulder, this time against the terrorists. The first step might be to give credit where it’s due.
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