Friday, August 24, 2012

Inferno by Max Hastings - Part Two (Russia)

In the TV series, Hogan’s Heroes, General Burkhalter frequently warns the incompetent Colonel Klink that he’ll send him to the Russian Front.  Max Hasting’s Inferno makes it very clear why this was such a terrible threat.  It was on the Eastern Front that 90 percent of all Germans killed in combat met their fate (p. 316)

Hastings contends that Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union was the defining event of the war because it diverted his attention away from the destruction of England and completely exhausted the resources he needed to win on other battle fronts.  I appreciated his analysis of Stalin, who although maniacal in much of his behavior, was very clear on the goals he wanted to accomplish and how he wanted to accomplish them.  Hastings also does a good job of expressing America’s ambivalence toward Russia’s involvement in the war.   Some relevant quotes:

Whatever the merits of the Russian people’s struggle to expel the invaders from their country, Stalin’s war aims were as selfish and inimical to human liberty as those of Hitler.  Soviet conduct could be deemed less barbaric than that of the Nazis only because it embraced no single enormity to match the Holocaust.  Nonetheless, the Western Allies were obliged to declare their gratitude, because Russia’s suffering and sacrifice saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of young British and American soldiers. (p. 178)

The British people, awed by Russian resistance, embraced the Soviet Union as an ally with an enthusiasm that dismayed and even frightened their own ruling caste. (177)

Russia’s vast blood sacrifice spared the lives of hundreds of thousands of British and American soldiers, but in consequence the Red Army secured physical possession of an eastern European empire.  The Americans and British had no choice save to acquiesce in this, since they lacked both military means and domestic support for a new war to expel the Soviet Union from its conquests. (638)

The Americans and British had delivered half of Europe from one totalitarian tyranny, but lacked the political will and military means to save 90 million people of the easterly nations from falling victim to new Soviet bondage that lasted almost half a century.  The price of having joined with Stalin to destroy Hitler was high indeed. (631)

As I’ve said before, Max Hastings overview of the war is fascinating, informative and eloquent.  A very worthwhile read for history buffs. (Part One of this book review is here.)

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