This week I finished reading Stewart Binns, Barbarossa and the bloodiest war in history (2021). It tells the story of the of the Eastern Front during World War II, and makes extensive use of accounts of the participants from Eastern Europe. We read the first-hand reports of General Zhukov, Beria’s son, front-line soldiers, victims of the Siege of Leningrad, victims of the extermination camps, rape victims, and so many more. It is an easy read, and mixed with too many lazy tropes of the Western journalistic mind; but still is a profoundly important and simple popular corrective to the understanding of World War II.
Binns tends to sentimentalize the “Russian soul”, but at least it is done with empathy and compassion for the extraordinary suffering and heroism of all nations and cultures engaged on the Eastern Front. It is a moving reminder that Russia or the Soviet Union defeated Hitler’s Germany, not Britain, not America. Binns writes:
The war on the Eastern Front between 1941 and 1945, which began with Operation Barbarossa in the early hours of Sunday 22 June 1941, was the epitome of human savagery let loose on an unprecedented scale. But it was also an extraordinary example of the strength and resolve of the human spirit, the power of the collective will and a belief in the common good. It led to an astonishing victory, but it was won at a terrible price.Binns, Barbarossa, p. 7.
He reports the estimate that this conflict cost more lives, military and civilian than any other conflict in history. It is complex and difficult to estimate the numbers of deaths, but there is a broad consensus. Estimated German military losses were 5.1 million and there were 4.5 million soldiers whose fate was exile, imprisonment, abandonment and often death. Soviet military losses were between 8.7 and 10 million, with 5.7 million prisoners of war who faced execution, starvation or internment. Civilian deaths were between 20 and 25 million. Two-thirds of all deaths for the whole of World War II were the 40 million Soviet people who perished after Hitler’s surprise attack in Operation Barbarossa, which began six months before America had even entered the war after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The combined total deaths of the United Kingdom and the United States in World War II was less than one million.
It is shameful that so many in the Anglo-American world continue to misrepresent the Great Patriotic War as a victory of English aristocratic spies, diplomats and politicians and of late arriving American marines. Barbarossa and the bloodiest war in history is a helpful corrective to this tiresome misrepresentation of the near past.
Coincidentally, the way the history of the Second World War is told, especially by the American secutiry state and some of its more extreme NATO partners was raised at the Summit of the Leaders of China and Russia (Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin) held on the day of the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics. The joint statement issued by the leaders included paragraphs on the history of this war and recent efforts by American and Polish and Baltic State historians, politicians and diplomats to claim it was Stalin’s War, and part of an offensive plan by the Soviet Union.
“The parties intend to firmly uphold the inviolability of the results of the Second World War and the established post-war world order, to defend the authority of the UN and justice in international relations, and to resist attempts to deny, distort and falsify the history of the Second World War.
In order to prevent a repetition of the tragedy of the world war, the Parties will resolutely condemn actions aimed at leveling the responsibility for the atrocities of the fascist aggressors, militaristic invaders and their accomplices, defile and tarnish the honor of the victorious countries .”Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on the International Relations Entering a New Era and the Global Sustainable Development, 4 February 2022
This history remains relevant to the security of Europe (which includes Russia) and the peace of the world. In June 2020 Vladimir Putin published a major essay on the National Interest on the “The Real Lessons of the 75th Anniversary of World War II“. In this essay, he wrote:
Today, European politicians, and Polish leaders in particular, wish to sweep the Munich Betrayal under the carpet. The Munich Betrayal showed to the Soviet Union that the Western countries would deal with security issues without taking its interests into account.Vladimir Putin
Some Polish leaders did not play an entirely innocent role in the start of World War II. Today they play in both Europe and America an outsized role in activating aggression towards Russia, driven by historical emotional grievances, like all grievances not without reason but better not nursed. While the Anglo-American world produces sentimental propaganda like Munich: the edge of war, Russia and China have learnt the true lessons of bitter wars: that peace and security is indivisible.
I watched Munich: the edge of war during the week, oddly after watching the far more compelling Sobibor, which tells the story of the revolt and breakout from the Sobibor extermination camp in Poland. While Jeremy Irons provides a compelling performance as Neville Chamberlain, the film ultimately angered me. Poland is never mentioned from my recollection, nor Hitler’s hatred of the Slavs and the Communists. The closing scenes include some text that suggest that Chamberlain’s agreement and the activities of the aristocratic diplomats featured in the show “bought time” that ultimately helped to save the war. After reading the history of the War on the Eastern Front it is a profoundly delusional story.
I wonder if the illusions about Russia and global history among the Anglo-American political, security and intellectual elites have driven the death-spiral of Anglo-American diplomacy that we have seen over the last twelve months. Its most extreme form is the crazy Russophobia that has infected American – and sadly Australian – political discourse, and that reached its zenith in the RussiaGate and UkraineGate hoaxes.
Another day, possibly on my podcast I will explore the nature of this illusion, and the roots and causes, the institutional complex that chants the recycled slogans of the Cold War, the interests that drive it, and the misunderstandings of history that stamp it. All I will say for now is I see growing evidence that this illusion is unravelling, and the multi-polar world is forming around the collapse of this intellectual ruin. The latest example is the questions posed by a journalist – returning to their true role – to Ned Price USA State Department spokesperson. Price had tried to plant a story that Russia would stage a false flag event (I guess it takes an American to know about false flags) in Ukraine to justify invasion. At last the journalists at the press conference asked simple questions of Price to show us some evidence in support of this claim. Price said his declaration of the claim itself was the information. In effect he declared “The evidence, c’est moi!” He has been widely mocked since. Perhaps the American media-theatre state is crumbling?