70 Years Since Victory In Europe-----Remembering The Unspeakable Cost Of Total War

 

70 Years Since the End of WW2

Last week Russia celebrated the 70th anniversary of “V Day” over Nazi Germany with a traditional huge military parade in Moscow.

 

resized_99265-russia-victory-parade_will_61-19595_t630Military parade in Moscow on May 9, celebrating the victory over Nazi Germany

Photo credit: RT

 

 

However, this year the celebrations were marred by the fact that many Western political leaders decided to stay away from Moscow in protest over the Ukraine situation. As Eric Margolis remarks, this snub seems quite churlish, especially if one considers that Russia made the biggest sacrifices by far in WW2 (Margolis’ article has all the grisly details, the most striking of which is the fact roughly 27 million Russians lost their lives between 1941 and 1945. Russia accounted for nearly 80% of all allied war casualties). Moreover, without Russia’s participation in the war, Hitler may well have ended up winning it. Eventually the political and economic system the Nazis had erected would have crashed and burned anyway, but without the expansion of the war to a second front, it would have been very difficult and costly to dislodge the Germans from the territories they had conquered.

To be sure, Hitler and Stalin – the dictators leading two of the most bloodthirsty and murderous governments in the history of the world – were allies before Hitler decided to unilaterally call the alliance off by invading Russia. When Hitler’s Wehrmacht began to attack Russia, Stalin at first simply couldn’t believe it. He allegedly literally denied that the reports of Hitler’s invasion were true. Hitler’s armies were already closing in on Moscow, when the other members of the Soviet Politburo arrived at Stalin’s dacha one day, in which he had hidden himself away for two weeks, refusing to communicate with anyone.

Stalin reportedly expected that they had come to arrest him for having advocated the pact with Hitler. He was undoubtedly astonished to no end when it turned out that they had actually come to receive their orders from him. They simply didn’t know what to do. The fact that Stalin was the undisputed leader had become so deeply ingrained in their minds that they didn’t even think of challenging him.

 

hitler-stalinAdolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin: birds of a feather, and two of history’s biggest murderers

Photo via streamhistory.com

 

Pining for Total War

And so one murderous dictator was suddenly set against another. Hitler probably knew that the only way he could win against the Soviet Union was by successfully duplicating the “Blitzkrieg” tactic the German Wehrmacht had employed in subduing most of continental Europe. Initially it actually looked like it might succeed in Russia as well. But then came the winters, made worse by Stalin’s scorched earth policy, the steady attacks by partisan fighters, and finally the massive defeat at Stalingrad, which destroyed the entire 6th army. The Soviet Red Army was poorly equipped and barely ready to fight, but Stalin ruthlessly used his soldiers as a nigh endless reserve of cannon fodder to wear the Germans down.

A friend recently pointed a short video of post-war Berlin out to us, which shows the extent of the destruction of Germany’s capital as seen in the summer of 1945, shortly after the end of the war. Especially noteworthy is the second half of the video, in which an aerial overview of the city can be seen. Nearly every building was lying in ruins. The Germans had paid dearly for blindly following Hitler and his henchmen:

 

Berlin shortly after the end of WW2

 

What had produced the mass hysteria that allowed the Hitler regime to instigate death and destruction on such a massive scale? Hitler was appointed chancellor of a coalition government in 1933, after the Nazis had achieved a relative majority in the November 1932 election, actually receiving a slightly lower percentage of the vote than in the immediately preceding election of July 1932 (33% vs. 37% respectively). However, once the Nazis were in power, both their opposition and their coalition partners soon learned that they had severely underestimated them. They had frequently expressed their disdain for democracy, and it turned out they had really meant it. The Nazi dictatorship began with the adoption of the “enabling law”. All other political parties were banned within months of its enactment.

goebbelsGerman propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels

Photo credit: Georg Pahl

 

The German people had at that juncture lost faith in democracy anyway – they weren’t really accustomed to it yet, and the parade of seemingly ineffective governments during the Weimar Republic made many yearn for a strongman who would be able to impose order. The Weimar Republic was marked by one economic crisis following on the heels of another – first a hyperinflation episode that destroyed the middle class and then the deflationary depression of the early 1930s, which once again saw unemployment soar. The corporatist economy based on war socialism instituted by the Nazi government appeared to be working at first, as the economy recovered and unemployment declined sharply. Of course no-one seemed to have considered that the aim of adopting war socialism is to actually wage war.

By 1943, Germany had begun to suffer from the repercussions of the war, which by this time was already lost, although the Germans didn’t realize it yet. Once Hitler’s armies were busy with Russia, allied bombers found it much easier to bombard German cities. For a while it was erroneously assumed that these bombardments would erode popular support for the Nazis. As should have been expected, support for them actually increased. Whenever a country is attacked from the outside, people will rally around their political leaders, regardless of who they are.

An example showing how utterly transfixed many Germans were by Nazi propaganda is the famous speech held by propaganda minister Josef Goebbels in the Berlin Sportpalast in 1943. As noted above, by this time the Germans had already learned the hard way that the war meant not only that the Wehrmacht would rush from one victory to the next, but that they would have to pay a price as well. Below is a brief and infamous excerpt of the speech (subtitles are included), preceded by narration explaining the circumstances.

In the excerpt, Goebbels asks the audience: “Wollt ihr den totalen Krieg?” – “Do you want total war?” – and the crowd greets the question with the most enthusiastic approval imaginable.

 

Do you want total war? Nazi propaganda minister Goebbels in 1943

The previous video showing the destroyed German capital documents that this was a very bad idea indeed. They should have chased Goebbels and the other Nazis from the podium instead of excitedly agreeing with them.

 

Conclusion

The mayhem and destruction of WW2 should forever stand as a stark warning. War brings nothing but sorrow, often both for the victors and the vanquished. The average citizen has nothing to gain from supporting a warmongering political leadership. The emotional attachment to one’s country shouldn’t blind one to the fact that “war is the health of the State” as Randolph Bourne has so trenchantly put it. It is highly detrimental to everybody else’s health.

 

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