Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Red Army at Stalingrad

I suspect Michael Kuznetsov would say the ends justify the means. After all, the Red Army did defeat the German Army there, but listen to the “means”:

The following is from pages 106-7 of Norman Davies, No Simple Victory, but Davies is quoting from Beevor’s Stalingrad, which I have on order but don’t have yet:

“The Soviet authorities were pitiless. ‘In the blazing city,’ wrote Chuikov, ‘we did not suffer cowards, we had no room for them.’ Soldiers and civilians alike were warned with Stalin’s quotation from Lenin: ‘Those who do not assist the Red Army in every way . . . are traitors and must be killed without pity.’ All ‘sentimentalism’ was rejected. . .

“Establishing a ferocious discipline was hard at first. Not until 8 October did the political department of the Stalingrad Front feel able to report to Moscow the ‘defeatist mood is almost eliminated, and the number of treasonous incidents is getting lower’. That the Soviet regime was almost as unforgiving towards its own soldiers as towards the enemy is demonstrated by the total figure of 13,500 executions, both summary and judicial, during the battle of Stalingrad. . . .”

“Sometimes deserters were shot in front of an audience of a couple of hundred fellow soldiers from their division. More usually, however, the condemned man was led off by (an NKVD) squad to a convenient spot behind the lines. There, he was told to strip so that his uniform and boots could be re-used. . . .”

“The ultimate self-inflicted wound was suicide. Like the Wehrmacht, the Soviet authorities defined it as ‘a sign of cowardice’ or the product of ‘unhealthy moods’ . . .

“The NVKD and the political department of Stalingrad Front worked extremely closely on any hint of ‘anti-Soviet activity’ . . . Most of the cases took place behind the lines. Newly arrived conscripts were more likely to be denounced by fellow conscripts. A Stalingrad civilian in Training Battalion 178, who ventured to say that they would freeze and starve when winter came, was quickly arrested ‘thanks to the political consciousness of Trainee K and I’ . . . .”

“The many thousands of women and children left behind in the city sought shelter in the cellars of ruins, in sewers and caves . . . [They] faced the virtual impossibility of finding food and water. Each time there was a lull in the bombardments, [they] appeared out of holes in the ground to cut slabs of meat off dead horses. . . The chief foragers were children . . . German soldiers made use of Stalingrad orphans. Daily tasks, such as filling water-bottles were dangerous when Russian snipers lay in wait for any movement. So, for the promise of a crust of bread, they would get Russian boys and girls to take their water-bottles down to the Volga’s edge to fill them. When the Soviet side realized what was happening, Red Army soldiers shot children on such missions. . . .”


I recall that George Patton, probably America’s best fighting general, was relieved of his command for slapping a soldier who claimed to have battle fatigue. The German generals simply did not believe that we would take our best general out of the fight for something like that; so they thought the Americans were up to something. The Americans made use of that German belief and had Patton pretend to be assembling a force for invasion. The Germans watched Patton rather than the real force which was intending to invade at Normandy.

American troops prefer to “volunteer” and be “citizen soldiers” rather than endure the sort of coercion described as occurring in the Red Army at Stalingrad or as occurred commonly in the German Army. The U.S. Marine Corps exemplifies this. It doesn’t like the draft. Some will say that it drafted men for Korea, but that isn’t quite true. There was one “draftee” in my boot camp platoon in 1952. He was drafted sure enough, but he was given the choice of choosing the Marine Corps if he wanted to. Otherwise he would have gone into the Army. He chose the Marine Corps because he had more confidence in their competence. He would rather trust the Marines with his life than the US Army. The US Army, however, weeded out their less competent troops and sent them out of harm’s way to the rear. It didn’t shoot them.

But as Michael would be quick to point out, we weren’t defending our homeland. We were defending Britain and other European nations we were fond of. We travelled across the Atlantic ocean, risking the perils of German submarines to fight an enemy who had attacked our friends. Perhaps we would have behaved differently if some force like the Nazis had invaded American soil. However, someone else might observe that America had precluded that possibility by assembling the most powerful navy in the world.

I’ll grant that Soviet Russia didn’t have those options; so we can concede that America wasn’t put to the same sort of test that Russia was. It is like the “Donner Pass” question. A group of pilgrims going west was stranded at Donner Pass in the winter. The survivors were later rescued, but it was discovered that they had resorted to cannibalism to stay alive. Their actions were deplored by everyone. They were humans after all and not beasts. They should never have resorted to cannibalism. But on dark nights, when they are alone with no peers to judge them, these people who condemned the Donner Pass survivors wonder if they would really be willing to die than do what the survivors did. And they can’t answer with absolute certainty because they are posing this question to themselves in a warm house with a full belly and additional food no further away than the refrigerator.

Another thing we might observe is that much of Europe recoiled from war after World War One. Germany didn’t suffer the way it did later in World War Two; so it didn’t believe it had really lost the first world war. The argument Hitler made that they were betrayed seemed plausible in the minds of perhaps a majority of Germans. But now Germany has joined the rest of Western Europe in deploring war and taking a semi-pacifistic view toward it. Many of them deplore America in the process for being too warlike – even though we will still discipline a general who slaps a malingerer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


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