Monday, December 24, 2012

Ollie and Uncle Joe


I guess what galls me the most about this series is the way Stone has elevated Stalin's role in WWII.  Stalingrad was a battle of attrition during a very bleak winter, much like Napoleon's Battle of Borodino.  Hitler, like Napoleon, had not only misjudged the Russian will to defend itself, but had seriously misjudged the exceedingly cruel winters.  It was hardly a great tactical victory.

A great book to read is Vassily Aksyonov's Generations of Winter, as he deals with this specific period in history.  It is a modern novel along the lines of War and Peace.

Fortunately for Uncle Joe, his forces prevailed and were able to drive the Germans back, seizing on the opportunity to snatch back much of Eastern Europe and a quarter of Germany in the process.  The Baltics were completely absorbed into the Soviet Union, as was the Ukraine, Belarus and a number of other former independent countries.  Stone doesn't mention this at all.

Stone seems to view Stalin as a coldly pragmatic man that could be worked with.  Most historians regard Stalin far less favorably, noting how he took full advantage of Roosevelt, much to Churchill's chagrin, using Yalta to lay claim to a great swathe of real estate.  As it turned out, Truman wasn't so accommodating, but by that point Eastern Europe was lost and the continent would remain divided for the better part of five decades.

I'm very curious to see how Stone treats the Cold War, because Stalin used this time to carry out some of his most punitive actions, with massive deportations throughout Eastern Europe and resettling large swathes of this area with new Soviet citizens.  It wasn't just Jews, as Yuri Slezkine writes about in his book, The Jewish Century, but Eastern Europeans and Central Asians as well, who found themselves being shuffled about the new Soviet Union.

Stalin wanted to amalgamate the far-flung and culturally diverse country into a whole and the only way to do that was to break down subordinated national identities.  You can still see the effects of this today in places like Kaliningrad, probably the only place where this cultural genocide succeeded.

So, when I see Stone making Stalin into a heroic figure, I just have to wonder from whose point of view is he  writing this "Untold History of the United States?"  It sounds pretty much like that which my wife told me was taught in Soviet schools.


16 comments:

  1. Maybe by "untold" Stone means untold here in the U. S.

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  2. The truth about Stalin was "untold"?

    Unless I am misreading all this, I would have to disagree.

    Back in the 1960s there was a left leaning radio station WBAI-FM in NYC (it still exists but more as a cultural channel today) which had a weekly segment by a professor who was an expert on the Soviet state. He was as honest about Stalin and the Soviets as anyone could get. All the stories about genocide against minorities, the forced displacement of many ethnic groupings, political repression of dissidents, all of these were discussed by him and by others at that time. Further, there were right wing critics who were even more vociferous in their condemnation of Stalin. All this came as a result of Khrushchev's revelations. If I recall correctly, it was he who initially called Stalin a "political monster" and revealed many atrocities and repressions conducted by the tyrant.

    There remained some extreme leftists at that time who still would not be convinced that Stalin deserved that appellation. But his supporters declined in numbers over those years thanks to all of these revelations. In Russia today the communist party remains and, I believe, represents about 1/3 of all voters. While some still seeth over Stalin's evils, believe it or not, the tyrant still has many defenders who revere him as some kind of saint.


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    1. What I meant is that many Americans might not be familiar with the positive spin Stone appears to be putting on Stalin.

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  3. Stone speaks quite favorably of Stalin, seeing him more as a pragmatist boxed into a corner by the the US and UK than a tyrant. I suppose this comes from hobnobbing with Castro and Chavez.

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    1. I wonder why he would take it upon himself to try to rehabilitate Stalin?

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    2. I think in Stone's case it is mostly a matter of counter history.

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  4. There seems to be a wave of that in current history -- humanizing the bad guys. There probably were some positive aspects to Stalin, but the negatives far outnumbered them.

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  5. Another great ww2 Russian Novel is "Life and Fate" by Vasily Grossman.It's a long one.

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  6. Still the best site IMO dealing with the Soviet Union:

    http://www.sovlit.net/

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    1. That's a good one! Thanks for sharing.

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    2. And Solzhenitsyn gets only disparaging mention via Sholokhov?

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    3. This is a link to a documentary about the Gulag books:

      http://www.blinkx.com/watch-video/secret-history-the-gulag-archipelago/u8LgZxdriv5U0f5gcCZeuw

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    4. The guy definitely has a taste for the obscure.

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    5. I really enjoyed Volkov's Magical Chorus,

      http://tolstoywarpeace.blogspot.com/2012/03/magical-chorus.html

      Great tour of 20th century Russian and Soviet lit, art, music, dance and theater.

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