BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

So, dat's your story, comrade?

Ah, the mysterious joys of digging into my "to be read" cases of books ... this one could very well have been sitting around for over a quarter century, as it's a "book club edition" (that was likely a throw-in with another order) with a publication date of 1983!

The Russian Version of the Second World War: The History of the War As Taught to Soviet Schoolchildren, edited by Graham Lyons, is a window into (as one would gather from the subtitle) how the Soviets defined the war to their youth. The material in this book is taken from two standard Soviet text books, aimed at highschool-aged students, one which focuses on the military history, and one that focuses on the political history. These materials were developed in 1956, following the death and official denouncement of Joseph Stalin. Prior to that, what few Soviet military histories there were, were "all about Stalin" and he only gets mentioned in passing a few times in these texts.

This was very much like reading an "alternative reality" book ... where the general outlines of events were familiar, but all the detail and framing had changed. There were multiple points that just seemed strange. The one that most stood out to me was the constant inclusion of political operatives in various military operations ... as though nothing could happen unless a Communist Party functionary was on hand and making sure that everybody was in a "revolutionary fervor" ... sort of like a union foreman on a job site or something! It was also odd seeing the term "Hitlerites" when referring to the Germans ... of course, when these texts were written, half of Germany was a Soviet puppet state, so I guess they didn't want to smear the German people with the Nazi acts, but also didn't want to use "Nazi" as that would besmirch Socialism!

The other notable aspect is the flip-flop of how we tend to view things ... the Allies are seen as collaborators with the Nazis in the case of Finland, the Soviet annexation of much of Poland is framed as just "neighbors moving through to fight the Germans". The book constantly harps on how "easy" the Allies had it, how the Germans hardly fought at all on the Western front, and how there was a Big Huge Conspiracy to have the Nazis and the Communists pretty much destroy each other (OK, so that's not so far-fetched). The Japanese (and Pacific theater) are scarcely mentioned unless in context of their being a threat on the far eastern edges of the Soviet empire, and the Allied campaigns around the Mediterranean are pretty much just dismissed. Now, admittedly, the Soviets did fend off the Germans, and broke the power of the "Nazi war machine", but the book plays it out like they did it unassisted, or even with one hand tied behind their back.

And, as one would expect, none of the Soviet atrocities are even alluded to ... while the "Hitlerites" were painted with that brush at every opportunity. Frankly, reading this was a little bit like watching The Sopranos ... it's a look inside a system where brutality, suppression, and the like are just part of the furnishings, and only get brought up when one of your guys gets whacked; a look into a world where totalitarian communist dictatorships are needed to be installed in every corner of the planet, and anything that goes against that is somehow criminal. Hmmm ... sounds like a faculty lounge at most universities!

Anyway, The Russian Version of the Second World War is, understandably (after so many years) out of print, but "very good" copies can be had from the Amazon new/used vendors for under three bucks (plus shipping), and there are even some "like new" copies kicking around out there for a bit more. Again, this is sort of a trip down the rabbit-hole, so will appeal to a wider range of readers than one might think, if any of the above sounds like it's for you, it'll be a fascinating read!

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Tags: book review
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