Wednesday, May 27, 2009

History 112: World War II

1. The Soviet Union seems to be largely ignored and get away with all that they did during WWII in the end being one of the allies defeating Germany and keeping largely what they had won. Despite the fact that this led to the Cold War between the US and USSR, overall it seems as if the USSR got away with a lot because Germany was once again set as the major instigator of the conflicts. So, I guess the question is why that is?

Once the Soviet Union was attacked it became our good ally. Watch the Frank Capra films “Why We Fight World War II.” These were American propaganda films made for the army during the war. Soviet atrocities are completely ignored. Capra even ignores the existence of Ribbentrop-Molotov. You will hear nothing about how the Soviets were co-conspirators in this.

2. In the text it mentions a friendship pact between Hitler and Stalin. I was slightly confused by this section having never learned this throughout my schooling. So did USSR have concentration camps that they sent Polish people too? Did USSR invade countries also before the war started?

Yes the Soviet Union had concentration camps. They were called Gulags. Yes the Soviet Union engaged in genocidal activities to destroy the cultures of subjugated peoples like the Poles and the Ukrainians. The Soviet Union engaged in acts of aggression, just like the Nazis, against nations such as Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Romania. Unlike the Nazis, Soviet oppression did not end with 1945. It continued all the way up to the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989. The fact that your teacher did not see fit to pass this information on to you means that either you were not paying attention or that your teacher was some liberal with an ideological interest in ignoring Communist crimes. This is different from Nazi crimes which have the implicit lesson on the inherent evils of Fascism. Some people have a problem with unapologetically saying that Communism is an inherent evil.

3. American children learn about the atrocities of the Holocaust at an early age. Yet some may never learn about the genocide in the Ukraine we discussed last week. I was wondering if in other places, this is reversed. Do we learn more about the Holocaust because it was more terrible or because we have a large and powerful Jewish population? I find it bothersome that so many other instances of genocide, both past and current, remain largely unknown among the general American population. I'd like to know how you feel about this subject, especially since you are Jewish and you are more closely tied to these events than me.

“The Jewish lobby” plays a major role in putting the Holocaust front and center in American culture. I do not see anything sinister in this. There are many Jews in positions of cultural influence and they use it to their advantage. It helps if you can have Steven Spielberg to make movies for you. I am sure the Armenians and the Ukrainians would love to have him. That being said there is something special about the Holocaust. This was not a case of millions of people dying due to extreme government negligence nor is this a case of a breakdown in government order with armed soldiers or mobs going out of control and massacring people. The Holocaust happened because some very smart people in suits, ties and with college degrees sat down and planned it. They wished to annihilate a specific group of people and, armed with the full resources of a modern state, they pursued that goal with remarkable efficiency.

4. Davies said "The Poles thought that their task was to hold off the German advance for fifteen days until the French crossed the German frontier in the West; in fact, they faced the impossible task of holding off both the Wehrmacht and the Red Army on their own. The French launched no offensive; the British limited their assistance to dropping leaflets over Berlin," (1000-1001). Davies doesn't really go into any further detail about this, but has any other historian explored this? Was it another instance of miscommunication--as was seen in WWI with the telegraph system? Or can the British and French be partially blamed for the devastation that engulfed Poland? It seems like perhaps England and France's disregard for their Polish ally has been buried underneath their eventual victory. Why didn't they help Poland as the Polish were expecting?

Neither the British nor the French were prepared for any serious military action. This was one of the reasons why Hitler decided to make his move against Poland in September of 1939 instead of waiting. There was a French “invasion” which I am familiar with from reading William Shirer. He was an American correspondent, who worked in Germany into the war. He reports how the French made a big deal about their actions. He then went and talked to some of his contacts in the German army and find out in great detail how little the French were doing. Shirer would later go on to write the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

5. Wouldn't it have been obvious to the German's that turning against the Soviet Union was a bad idea? I mean, it caused them to be land locked between enemies on the East and West, plus the Soviet Union, from what we read, seemed to be a world power. Why didn't Germany try to formulate a peaceful position with the Soviet Union?

You have to keep in mind that Germany was at war with England and it was a reasonable assumption that the United States would eventually come into the war on the side of England. You have to admit that there is a certain logic to trying to take out the Soviet Union while the situation in the West was still relatively quiet. This plan almost succeeded; the Soviet army was almost completely annihilated in a matter of months. You would be hard pressed to find a country that ever suffered a military disaster like what the Soviet Union did. You are not going to find a country that ever managed to come back from such a disaster.

6. This questions isn't really about the reading but over the weekend I watched the movie "Valkyrie." I was just curious to know how historically accurate the movie is? Also I am curious to know if you think the plan to overthrow Hitler ever had a good chance of success?

I have not seen the movie so I will refrain from commenting on it. The case of Valkyrie is a good litmus test as to ones views on the power of individuals. Let us imagine that everything had gone according to plan and the bomb had eliminated Hitler. Now what? The German staff officers, who planned this, put a lot of thought into how to get Hitler and they planned that part well. It failed for reasons outside of their control. They made an utter mess out of trying to seize power in the hours after the bomb went off. That was the important part, not their ability to assassinate one man. I imagine that if Hitler had died in the blast then Goebbels, Himmler and Goering would have stepped in and the Third Reich would have continued.

7. Do you believe Germany planted spies within the French/British governments?

It is not a question if they did or did not. We know for a fact that the Nazis did. The British counter-intelligence services were quite effective, though, in capturing German spies and forcing them to pass on false intelligence.

8. How did Switzerland manage to maintain its neutrality during WW2?

The official reason, at the times, was that Switzerland possessed a well trained army and an advantageous defensive position. What we now know is that the Swiss government was actively cooperating with Hitler. They helped launder gold plundered by the Nazis, some of it even from the teeth of dead concentration camp inmates.


RVA said...

In regards to your answer to question 5, are there any articles or books you could recommend that explain the near-defeat of the Soviet's and their resurgence? Preferably something accessible and engaging to read for a non-historian.

Izgad said...

A book that immediately jumps to my mind is Why the Allies Won by Richard Overy. It has a chapter devoted to the Russian turn around.