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Friday, November 17, 2017

The months leading up the Hitler's biggest mistake

Legend has it that Stalin, faced with the German's sacking Moscow in October 1941, contemplated his next move during a staff meeting. And he looked outside the window and saw a snow starting to fall. Then the General Secretary looked at this generals and announced, "Gentlemen, General Winter has arrived..." Knowing the Germans had to succeed quickly before the harsh Russian weather, Stalin knew he could hold on. While Germany had the technology, the Soviet Union had the numbers. And Uncle Joe has no issue with sending his men into a bloodbath.

Late last year I subscribed to Foreign Affairs and enjoy their in depth articles on current issues. I found this interesting, a look at what Hitler should have known was an error. He criticized Napoleon for fighting a war on two fronts. And he did the same, over lines of communication that stretched thousands of miles.

Excerpts from this month's article.
When Stalin Faced Hitler

Who Fooled Whom?

Stephen Kotkin
STEPHEN KOTKIN is John P. Birkelund ‘52 Professor in History and International Affairs at Princeton University and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. This essay is adapted from his most recent book, Stalin: Waiting for Hitler, 1929–1941 (Penguin Press, 2017), the second in a three-volume biography of the Soviet leader.
Through the first four decades of his life, Joseph Stalin achieved little. He was born in 1878 to a poor family in Gori, Georgia, then part of the Russian empire. His father was a cobbler; his mother, a cleaning lady and seamstress. Stalin’s childhood, illnesses and mishaps included, was largely normal for the time. He received good marks in school and, as a teenager, got his poems published in well-regarded Georgian periodicals. (“To this day his beautiful, sonorous lyrics echo in my ears,” one reader would later recall.) But he did not sit for his final-year exams at the Tiflis Seminary and failed to graduate. Instead of becoming a priest, he became an underground revolutionary fighting tsarist oppression, spending the next 20 years hiding, organizing, and serving time in prison and internal exile in Siberia.

Stalin’s life was altered forever by the outbreak of total war in 1914, which helped precipitate the Russian tsar’s abdication in February 1917 and, later that year, a putsch by radical leftists led by Vladimir Lenin. Suddenly, the 39-year-old Stalin was a leading member of the new Bolshevik regime.

He played a central role in the Russian Civil War and the creation of the Soviet Union. In 1922, Lenin appointed him head of the Communist Party. A month later, Lenin was incapacitated by a stroke, and Stalin seized his chance to create his own personal dictatorship inside the larger Bolshevik one. Beginning in the late 1920s, he forced through the building of a socialist state, herding 120 million peasants onto collective farms or into the gulag and arresting and murdering immense numbers of loyal people in the officer corps, the secret police, embassies, spy networks, scientific and artistic circles, and party organizations.

The vast shadow of Stalin the despot often hides Stalin the human being. He collected watches. He played skittles and billiards. He loved gardening and Russian steam baths. He liked colored pencils—blue, red, and green. He drank mineral water and wines from his native Georgia. He smoked a pipe, using tobacco from cigarettes, which he would unroll and slide into the pipe—usually two cigarettes’ worth—and then light with matches. He kept his desk in order.

Stalin had a passion for books, which he marked up and filled with placeholders to find particular passages. His personal library would ultimately grow to more than 20,000 volumes. He annotated works by Karl Marx and Lenin, of course, but also Russian translations of Plato and Clausewitz, as well as the writings of Alexander Svechin, a former tsarist officer whom Stalin never trusted but who demonstrated that the only constant in war was an absence of constants. Among Russian authors, Stalin’s favorite was probably Anton Chekhov, who portrayed villains, and not just heroes, with complexity. Still, judging by the references scattered among his writings and speeches, he spent more time reading Soviet-era literature. His jottings in whatever he read were often irreverent: “Rubbish,” “fool,” “scumbag,” “piss off,” “ha-ha!”

Stalin’s manners were coarse, and his sense of humor perverse. But he cultivated a statesmanlike appearance, editing out his jokes and foul language from the transcripts of official gatherings. He appears to have had few mistresses, and definitely no harem. His family life was neither particularly happy nor unhappy. Personal life was subsumed in politics.

Stalin spoke softly, sometimes inaudibly, because of a defect in his vocal cords. He relished being called Koba, after the Georgian folk-hero avenger (and a real-life benefactor who had underwritten Stalin’s education). But one childhood chum had called him Geza, a Gori-dialect term for the unusual gait Stalin had developed after an accident. He had to swing his hip all the way around to walk. A childhood bout with smallpox had left lifelong scars on his nose, lower lip, chin, and cheeks.

It is tempting to find in such deformities the wellsprings of bloody tyranny: torment, self-loathing, inner rage, bluster, a mania for adulation. His pockmarks were airbrushed out of public photographs, and his awkward stride was hidden from public view. (Film of him walking was prohibited.) But people who met him saw the facial disfigurement and odd movement; they also discovered that he had a limp handshake and was not as tall as he appeared in photographs. He stood five feet seven inches, roughly the same as Napoleon and one inch shorter than Adolf Hitler. And yet, despite their initial shock on seeing him for the first time—could this be Stalin?—most people found that they could not take their gaze off him, especially his expressive eyes...

I have to say I found this section an interesting read. I've never read a bio of Uncle Joe and found the details of his personal life interesting. I can only speculate he was not much of a "lady's man" because he was too busy to be as widespread as say Kennedy or Clinton.
...Stalin personified communism’s lofty vision. A cult would be built around him, singling him out as vozhd, an ancient Slavic word that came to mean something like “supreme leader”—the Russian equivalent of “duce” or “führer.” Stalin resisted the cult, calling himself “shit compared with Lenin.” According to his close associate Anastas Mikoyan, Stalin once rebuked another Soviet official, saying, “Why do you praise me alone, as if one man decides everything?” Whether Stalin’s objections reflected false modesty or genuine embarrassment remains hard to say, but he indulged the prolonged ovations he received in public. “At first,” recalled Vyacheslav Molotov, who served as Stalin’s principal lieutenant for decades, “he resisted the cult of personality, but then he came to like it a bit...”

Very believable, even those who start off "legitimately" uncomfortable to acclamation grow to like it. But to borrow the quote from Patton, "...all glory is fleeting."
...Stalin did what winning leaders do: he articulated and drove toward a consistent goal, in his case a powerful state backed by a unified society that had eradicated capitalism and built industrial socialism. “Murderous” and “mendacious” do not begin to describe him. At the same time, Stalin galvanized millions. His colossal authority was rooted in a dedicated party, a formidable governing apparatus, and Marxist-Leninist ideology. But his power was magnified many times over by ordinary people, who projected onto him their ambitions for social justice, peace, abundance, and national greatness. Dictators who amass great power often retreat into pet pursuits, expounding interminably on their obsessions and paralyzing the state. But Stalin’s obsession was a socialist great power, and he labored day and night to build one. Stalin was a myth, but he proved equal to the myth...

Can't argue that, we was a hard working SOB. And millions are dead thanks to him.
"...Then, in 1933, Hitler was handed the wheel of the great state Stalin admired. The lives of the two dictators had run in parallel, as the historian Alan Bullock wrote. But it was the intersection that would matter: two very different men from the peripheries of their societies who were bloodily reviving and remaking their countries, all while unknowingly (and then knowingly) drawing ever closer. It was not only the German people who turned out to be waiting for Hitler....

...In the summer of 1941, it seemed clear that Hitler had won World War II. He had annexed his native Austria, the Czech lands, much of Poland, and a strip of Lithuania, creating the Greater Germany that in 1871 Otto von Bismarck had deliberately avoided forging during the wars of German unification (deeming Austria-Hungary’s existence vital for the balance of power). Hitler’s troops had occupied the Balkans, Denmark, the Low Countries, Norway, and northern France. Leaders loyal to the führer ruled Bulgaria, Croatia, Finland, Hungary, Italy, Romania, and Spain. Hitler essentially controlled all of Europe from the English Channel to the Soviet border; only Sweden and Switzerland remained neutral, and both were cooperating with Nazi Germany economically. True, the defiant British still refused to come to terms, but London could never overturn Berlin’s continental dominance.

Stalin was strictly observing the nonaggression pact that Germany and the Soviet Union had signed in August 1939. At that time, Hitler, who had decided to swallow Poland by force, needed to keep the Soviet Union out of a possible anti-German coalition with France and the United Kingdom. Stalin extracted a highly favorable bargain. As Hitler rampaged across the rest of Europe, Stalin avoided having to face Germany’s military might and, taking advantage of the situation, occupied and soon annexed the Baltic states, eastern Poland, and the eastern European regions of Bukovina and Bessarabia. Moreover, in exchange for Soviet grain and oil, Stalin received advanced machine tools and state-of-the-art weaponry from Germany.

Stalin’s apprenticeship in high-stakes diplomacy had shown him to be cunning but also opportunistic, avaricious, obdurate. His approach had remained the same: prepare for war with a massive armaments buildup, yet do everything to avoid fighting while allowing the British and the Germans to go at each other. This had worked, until Germany—aided by the cornucopia of Soviet raw materials—conquered France in the summer of 1940, and Germany was freed up to turn its troops toward the Soviet Union. The two geopolitical and ideological rivals, as a result of their shared aggrandizement, had acquired a common border.

Now, after half a year of contradictory secret reports about a possible German invasion of the Soviet Union, intelligence warnings of an imminent titanic war were coming from everywhere. In Moscow, German embassy personnel were evacuating, taking with them oil paintings, antique rugs, and silver. The Soviet secret police reported that the Italian embassy, too, had received instructions to evacuate. Earlier in the day, a Soviet agent in Bulgaria had reported that a German emissary had said that “a military confrontation is expected on June 21 or 22.” The Chinese Communist leader Zhou Enlai reported to officials at the Comintern, the international communist organization, that his nationalist rival, Chiang Kai-shek, “is declaring insistently that Germany will attack the USSR, and is even giving a date: June 21, 1941!” This prompted the head of the Comintern to call Molotov. “The situation is unclear,” Molotov told him. “There is a major game under way. Not everything depends on us...”

I gotta stop here, there are limits to fair use on a very long article. However, you get the ides that Stalin was hoping for time, and Hitler didn't give him that time. Fortunately for history (hey, at the time, we needed the deal with the devil to defeat the current pure evil, Hitler) distance and weather made up for Stalin's pact with evil and allowed the Soviets to play a critical role in the outcome of WWII. It could be argued it was decisive, without the Russians on his east flank, Hitler easily would have held at least continental Europe. And the world would be very different today. How two men can have a very large influence over millions of men.

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