July 13, 2015
Russia and the New Cold War in Historical Context: Part II of Conversations With Russia Scholar Stephen Cohen
By Dan Kovalik
This past May, the world celebrated the 70th Anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany by Allied Forces. Professor Cohen and I began our interview with a discussion about the increasing downplaying of Russia's critical role as an ally of the U.S. and Britain in this victory. As Cohen explains, popular films like Saving Private Ryan deceptively portray World II as being won by the U.S. with the invasion of Normandy in 1944, while ignoring the three years prior in which the USSR drove the Nazis from the heart of Russia back to Germany.
Cohen cites Winston Churchill for the proposition that it was the Red Army that "tore the guts out of the German Army." And, while Cohen is quick to acknowledge and condemn Stalin's many crimes and his exertion of control over Eastern Europe after World War II, he notes that it is a factual reality, which can't be denied, that the USSR played a historic role in liberating Europe from the Nazis. As Cohen relates:
"I always taught historically . . . and it was very clear to me . . . that the Soviet Union destroyed and defeated Nazi Germany. And the United States won the war in the Pacific against Japan. . . . I have a vivid memory of a man I knew who became one of the great Western scholars of the Soviet Union, telling me . . . of knowing a number of people of his generation who vividly told him, because it was a fateful moment of their lives, that when they weighed something like 70 pounds and were dying in the camps liberated by the Red Army, some strapping, tall, young Red Army solider lifting them up and carrying them off to the makeshift infirmary where they were saved, and all of them saying to him then, no matter what Stalin did after that or before that -- and I know it all -- the fact is, it was this young Red Army soldier that saved my life. . . ."
In my view, the downplaying of the good that Russia did during World II (and it did so at the sacrifice of approximately 27 million Soviet lives) is a necessary part of attempting to vilify and demonize that country now. After all, it is difficult to manipulate Americans into equating the current Russian leader with Hitler (as Hillary Clinton has attempted to do) if we are reminded that Russia did more than any other country to eliminate Hitler and that Russia celebrates this triumph as its most important secular holiday. I might also add that the attempts to compare Putin to Hitler appear to be transparent attempt to deflect attention from the fact that the U.S. has been training neo-Nazis in the Ukraine.