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Faces of war. 1941-1945
April 13, 2010 11:38 PM   Subscribe

On the eve of the 65rd anniversary of the end of World War II, RIA Novosti presents images in memory of WWII heroes compiled from photographs taken by war correspondents in 1941-1945 Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany. Ships trains planes and people
posted by hortense (19 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Incredible photographs. The sheer scale and sustained heroism of the Great Patriotic War is often forgotten and/or glossed over here in America, to our great shame.
posted by vorfeed at 12:12 AM on April 14, 2010


The planes link brings up the question: why not more women fighter pilots? Like jockeys, their low mass is an advantage for speed and maneuverability. I think the fear on the US side, is that if the pilot is downed and captured, a female prisoner would give more bargaining power to the enemy.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:58 AM on April 14, 2010


The sheer scale and sustained heroism of the Great Patriotic War is often forgotten and/or glossed over here in America, to our great shame.

It would destroy the American post-war narrative of the "greatest generation" rolling up the old sleeves and "saving" Europe from Hitler's evil menace.

America's contribution to the defeat of Nazism and the "saving" of Europe from fascism was actually rather small as compared to Russia's. 2 out of 3 German casualties were caused by the Red Army and the number of Red Army soldiers killed fighting Hitler's armies vastly exceeds those of all other countries combined.

It is true that America "saved" part of western Europe from the unhappy experiment in Bolshevism, but it was the Red Army who defeated Hitler.
posted by three blind mice at 4:30 AM on April 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


fwiw, tbm, I think that there's plenty of fodder for the greatest generation myth in the Pacific, where the American and British role in halting and rolling back the Japanese advance was much more significant. Sure, one could make the argument that the Chinese were instrumental in being a huge manpower drain for the Imperial Japanese Army and had certainly shouldered their share of casualties, atrocities and suffering before Pearl Harbor even happened, but Midway and Leyte were Japan's equivalent to Stalingrad and Kursk and I think that America can justly take pride in defeating Tojo.

With Europe, I think it's too easy to forget how easy it would've been to tilt all of Western Europe into the communist camp in 1945. Most of the signficant and best organized resistance forces on Continental Europe were Communists, and it's easy to imagine that if, say, de Gaulle was not quite as stubborn as he was, that the leadership of France would've fractured in the same way that Afghanistan or Iraq did shortly after the 2004 war.

Your statement that they "'saved' part of Western Europe" makes it sound like some insignificant corner, but France, West Germany, Italy and the Netherlands counts for a fair bit. I don't think that we'd have seen an end to the Cold War as soon as we did if this happened.

With that said, the Allied campaign through North Africa and Italy, as brutal as it may have been for those who fought in those theatres, really was a bit of a sideshow. As much as some American historians may like to play up the role that Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge played in crippling the Wehrmacht's offensive power, the US and Commonwealth forces were already facing Panzer divisions that had been mauled by the Soviets in Bagration and Kursk. If anything, getting transferred to the Ardennes to get strafed and bombed by American fighter-bombers was probably a nice relief from getting encircled in East Prussia and given a one-way ticket to a Siberian gulag.

So, yes, fair credit to all ... and that means honor and respect to the Russians at Stalingrad as well as to Americans who fought on Bataan and Brits at Dunkirk and Canadians in Caen and Chinese in Shanghai and the Free Polish who returned via Normandy and Arnhem only to see their country not-quite-liberated. And respect to any poor grunt in the Wehrmacht or Imperial Japanese Army who may not have bought into the propaganda but was just drafted into serving and was fighting to preserve what little of their home remained at the end of it all.
posted by bl1nk at 5:48 AM on April 14, 2010


America's contribution to the defeat of Nazism and the "saving" of Europe from fascism was actually rather small as compared to Russia's. 2 out of 3 German casualties were caused by the Red Army and the number of Red Army soldiers killed fighting Hitler's armies vastly exceeds those of all other countries combined.

Which means the Soviets were spared an additional 1/3 of Hitler's forces in the Eastern theater. The Soviets can rightfully be contributed the biggest share of defeating the Wehrmacht, but it was useful to have the American and other Western forces opening up the second front (as the Soviets' wanted). The Battle of the Bulge was Germany's attempt to end the second front by wiping out that second threat. It failed and Germany only hastened its demise.

With that said, the Allied campaign through North Africa and Italy, as brutal as it may have been for those who fought in those theatres, really was a bit of a sideshow.

I'll be sure to tell my great-uncle that he participated in a sideshow. Granted, again, other theaters had a much greater impact, but that doesn't mean these campaigns were insignificant enough to be relegated to the term "sideshow." According to Wikipedia at least, the Axis sustained over 300k casualties in trying to defend against the Allied invasion in the Italian campaign. That's up there with some of the disastrous defeats the Soviets handed the Germans in a battle on the Easter Front. Essentially, it kept what amounted to as an entire German army from being put to use elsewhere.
posted by Atreides at 6:22 AM on April 14, 2010


65rd? Is that like 2th or 4nd?
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:26 AM on April 14, 2010


Also -- great stuff, as photos from the Russian theatre are rare enough -- they were a little bit busy at the time -- but too bad about the huge watermarks.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:34 AM on April 14, 2010


They did what they had to do. And it's good to remember what happened and what it meant to the people who lived through it and died because of it. But to pretend that war or any other war was noble or patriotic or anything other than a gaping abyss of pure monstrous horror is a disservice to the memory of the past and future dead.

Mr. Zinn explains better than I can.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:37 AM on April 14, 2010


And I'm not implying that's what hortense was doing, either. Just...the epithet "Great Patriotic War" sets my teeth on edge.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:39 AM on April 14, 2010


Also also: I have probably already flogged the Hardcore History podcast enough, but the 4-part series "Ghosts of the Ostfront" is absolutely gripping, if you want a pretty complete overview of the German/Soviet war.

The German's biggest mistake, apparently, was thinking that they were more brutal & cold-blooded than the Soviets. The whole thing was one giant interwoven web of horrific atrocities one upon the other, from start to finish.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:57 AM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Good find. Thanks for the post.
posted by MarshallPoe at 9:01 AM on April 14, 2010


Forgot to add that the pictures are interesting, thanks for finding them. As well devils rancher is right on the mark. The four parter from Dan Carlin is pretty darn good.
posted by Atreides at 9:56 AM on April 14, 2010


one could make the argument that the Chinese were instrumental in being a huge manpower drain for the Imperial Japanese Army

China and Japan had been at war for over four years before the attack on Pearl Harbor. (Yes, the Japanese started it. They also invaded the Soviet Union and Manchuria around the same time.) The Kuomintang's National Revolutionary Army deployed about 4.3 million troops (515 divisions) total during the war and the Communists' People's Liberation Army deployed about 1.3 million, versus Japan's 3.2 million plus 900,000 Chinese collaborators. "At the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, the IJA had 51 divisions, of which 35 were in China, and 39 independent brigades, of which all but one were in China. This represented roughly 80% of the IJA's manpower." The chinese has about 1.8 million KIA in the Second Sino-Japanese War; Japan had 480,000 KIA. Japan launched a major offensive in mid- to late-1944 with over half a million men.

So China was a major drain on Japanese manpower, but was largely a stalemate. (China was taking a break from the civil war between the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) and the Communist Party of China that started in 1927.)

In the Guadalcanal Campaign, 60,000 American ground troops fought 36,200 Japanese, with 7,100 Americans and 31,000 Japanese KIA. In the Philippines Campaign there were 13,973 Allied and 336,352 Japanese KIA. Iwo Jima: 6,800 American and 18,000 Japanese KIA. Okinawa: 12,513 American and 110,000 Japanese KIA.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:08 AM on April 14, 2010


They did what they had to do. And it's good to remember what happened and what it meant to the people who lived through it and died because of it. But to pretend that war or any other war was noble or patriotic or anything other than a gaping abyss of pure monstrous horror is a disservice to the memory of the past and future dead.

I disagree. This sort of "war is hell" rhetoric is no more or less a social construct than "dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori" -- both exist to downplay and explain away the aspects of war our culture isn't comfortable with.

The Great Patriotic War was great, noble, and patriotic. It was also a gaping abyss of pure monstrous horror. As far as I'm concerned, refusing to acknowledge either aspect of war is the true disservice to the dead.

War is much too complex to fit in one simplistic box.
posted by vorfeed at 11:26 AM on April 14, 2010


it was the Red Army who defeated Hitler.

Without doubt. Which is why the statement that "Europeans would be speaking German today were it not for America" is historical nonsense.
posted by bobbyelliott at 3:24 PM on April 14, 2010


The Great Patriotic War was great, noble, and patriotic. It was also a gaping abyss of pure monstrous horror. As far as I'm concerned, refusing to acknowledge either aspect of war is the true disservice to the dead.

War is never great. Or noble. It is sometimes necessary. And always hell.
posted by bobbyelliott at 3:28 PM on April 14, 2010


War is never great. Or noble. It is sometimes necessary. And always hell.

You can tell yourself that, but by doing so, you might consider that you put yourself at odds with generations of human beings of many different cultures and time periods, including ours, who a) went to war and b) disagree with you.

As far as I'm concerned, glib universal statements like these shrink to next to nothing in the face of what war is -- they are attempts to make war fit a narrative, not attempts to make a narrative which fits war.
posted by vorfeed at 3:56 PM on April 14, 2010


War is never great. Or noble. It is sometimes necessary. And always hell.

You can tell yourself that, but by doing so, you might consider that you put yourself at odds with generations of human beings of many different cultures and time periods, including ours, who a) went to war and b) disagree with you.

I'm comfortable with being at odds with the generations of warring humans.

If you step back from the emotionally charged rhetoric of patriotism, it becomes obvious that war is just great masses of monkeys ripping each other to pieces. I don't buy into the artifact of discrete wars - it's one long causal chain of violence tracing back to before we were humans. Sometimes the violence isn't obvious in history books, but it'll always resurface on the front page.

Refusing to celebrate violence won't by itself prevent war, but war will never stop until people stop celebrating it.

/derail
posted by Salvor Hardin at 5:01 PM on April 14, 2010


If you step back from the emotionally charged rhetoric of patriotism, it becomes obvious that war is just great masses of monkeys ripping each other to pieces. I don't buy into the artifact of discrete wars - it's one long causal chain of violence tracing back to before we were humans. Sometimes the violence isn't obvious in history books, but it'll always resurface on the front page.

Refusing to celebrate violence won't by itself prevent war, but war will never stop until people stop celebrating it.


To me, these two statements seem at odds with each other. If there's no such thing as discrete wars, and war is a long causal chain of violence tracing back to before we were humans -- and I largely agree with that assessment -- then war will never stop. Never. War is a simple fact of humanity... and more than that, it's a natural consequence of being thinking, mortal creatures in a world governed by the laws of physics.

So we can either pat ourselves on the back for "refusing to celebrate violence", or we can do our best to understand the multifaceted reality of war as it is, was, and most likely always will be. Me, I'll take the latter. The simplistic "war is hell" narrative has failed to prevent war or to make war less harmful for its participants or for bystanders. I'd even argue that it's at the root of many of the issues with war and warfighters America has had since Vietnam, for example. This all adds up to a pathological cultural disconnect between society and its wars... and our inability to be honest with ourselves about war seems to be causing yet more war and suffering, not less.

As far as I'm concerned, "war is hell" is the martial equivalent of "just say no to drugs": a near-empty slogan which is utterly incapable of addressing the depth or complexity of the issue at hand. Thanks to historians, anthropologists, and sociologists, we ought to know better by now -- we do our society no favors by living in denial.
posted by vorfeed at 6:20 PM on April 14, 2010


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