Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Honoring Uncle Joe

Uncle Joe Stalin

Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, who was christened as Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili in his native Georgia, is better known to history as Josef Stalin. He was a Bolshevik revolutionary, and later the brutal dictator of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics from the late 1920s until his death in 1953. During that time he was directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of millions of people, most of them his own countrymen. And for four years of that period he was an esteemed ally of the United States and Great Britain in the fight against Nazi Germany.

Stalin bust at the D-Day memorialI bring all of this up because of an article in last night’s news feed and a subsequent discussion in the comments about the controversy over the bust of Stalin that was recently erected at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. The issue is of local as well as national significance for me, since the memorial is just down the road from us. On June 6, 1944, the “boys from Bedford” experienced the greatest casualty rate of any American outfit, which is why Bedford was chosen for the site of the D-Day memorial.

Given the long and bitter course of the Cold War, and the hundreds of thousands of Americans killed in Korea and Vietnam, it’s understandable that many Americans object to presence of Stalin on the sacred ground of the Bedford memorial. It’s galling for the millions of surviving victims of Communism to see Stalin honored alongside the British, American, Canadian, and other allied heroes of World War Two.

On Monday The Washington Times reported:

Opponents of the recently installed bust of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va., are not backing down and have started a worldwide petition.

The petition, which was started last week, calls on the officers and board of directors at the National D-Day Memorial Foundation to remove the bust. It had received 616 confirmed signatures as of Monday afternoon, with confirmation pending on more than 200 other signatures.

The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, with assistance from the Joint Baltic American National Committee, intends to marshal public opinion against the board’s decision, said Karl Altau, the committee’s managing director. Mr. Altau said that while no goal has been specified, 10,000 signatures would be “terrific.”

[…]

Mr. Altau said he has seen a strong response, especially from the countries hardest hit by Stalin’s dictatorship, such as Hungary, Poland and such former Soviet republics as Estonia, Latvia and Georgia…

Yesterday the same paper followed up with the memorial foundation’s response:
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Robin Reed, slated to become the next president of the National D-Day Memorial Foundation on Monday, is standing by his predecessor’s decision to install a bust of dictator Josef Stalin at the memorial in Bedford, Va.

“At this point in time I certainly am not going to re-evaluate that,” he said in an interview Tuesday with The Washington Times.

While Mr. Reed said he can “appreciate the concern” of locals who have voiced their opposition to the bust, he said the bust can serve as a teaching tool to make visitors recognize the importance of Stalin as one of the leaders in World War II.

To those who argue that Stalin’s force weren’t present on the beaches of Normandy in 1944 and had nothing to do with the D-Day invasion, Mr. Reed said Stalin still deserves credit as someone who contributed to the success of the war.

I’ll go off the reservation here and agree with Mr. Reed. Stalin deserves to be included as an equal partner with Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. Like it or not, he was a member of the trio of wartime leaders.

Stalin Roosevelt ChurchillNot only did Stalin occupy a co-equal position within the Allied leadership, but he was honored and acclaimed as a friend by the West during the war. Western propaganda turned him into “Uncle Joe”, a big affable Russian guy, beloved by own his people and a friend to the Western Allies. We were led to believe that Communist Russia was not that different from democratic America. The Soviets just carried around a lot of red flags and wore babushkas and furry hats; but otherwise they were more or less the same as us.

Dr. Seuss on Uncle JoeThere was no gulag. All those people convicted and shot during the show trials really were guilty. The Ukrainian famine didn’t happen — Walter Duranty told us it was a lie, and who could doubt Duranty? After all, he was a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.

From 1942 to 1945 we committed an enormous amount of men and materiel to bolster Stalin’s position on the Eastern Front. Thousands of American and British sailors died making the Murmansk run around northern Norway to bring weapons and equipment to the Russians. Almost all of the trucks used by the Soviets in their fight against the Nazis were manufactured in the United States.

Not only that, the participation of the USSR was crucial for Allied victory. Hitler could never have been totally defeated without the destruction of much of his army on the Eastern Front by the Red Army.

All of this manufactured friendship made it difficult to fire up the Cold War in later years. Since we were democracies, we couldn’t turn our propaganda machine on a dime and do an about-face. The Soviets didn’t have the same problem — up until the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on August 23, 1939, Hitler was a counterrevolutionary demon. After that he was a friend of international Socialism, right up until June 22, 1941, when the Wehrmacht crossed the border into the Ukraine. Then he became a demon again, and stayed that way until April 1945, when the Red Army found his charred body in the garden of the Reichskanzlei in Berlin.

The pro-Soviet propaganda in the USA had a lasting effect. The image of Uncle Joe lingered in the back of American popular consciousness throughout the Cold War, giving us a sneaking affection for ordinary Russians, those good-humored vodka-drinking guys in their long coats and fur hats who secretly didn’t like Communism any better than we did — or so we had to believe. That meme was dusted off and relaunched in 1991 when “democracy” suddenly bloomed in Russia.

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I believe in honesty in the reporting of history.

Of late it has become fashionable to airbrush Roosevelt’s cigarette holder and Churchill’s cigar out of the photos on display in museums and schoolbooks. This is a trivial instance of the renowned “memory hole”, the same oubliette to which Stalin consigned all the Old Bolsheviks. One by one they were edited out of the grainy photographs until no one was left standing in front of the carefully reconstructed background but Stalin himself.

Joe the GeorgianSo let the bust stand. Uncle Joe was there, and he was our ally. Recognizing him would be a welcome breath of historical accuracy in the thoroughly debased practice of 21st-century historiography.

And by all means include a prominent sign explaining to visitors what Stalin stood for. Let’s direct them to the Global Museum of Communism, which honors the more than one hundred million victims of Marxist totalitarianism.

But let’s tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It’s time to consign the airbrush to the ash heap of history.

It’s much too late to worry
That we never had a chance
And when Joe the Georgian gets here
We will dance, dance, dance
When Joe the Georgian gets here
We will dance


— Al Stewart, from “Joe the Georgian”

24 comments:

Ex-Dissident said...

Here is another "off the reservation" observation. If there was no landing in Normandy, much of Europe would have been speaking Russian for the past 60 years.

mriggs said...

Why not put up a bust of Adolf Hitler as well? It could serve as a teaching tool to make visitors recognize the importance of Hitler as one of the leaders in World War II.

Baron Bodissey said...

mriggs --

That's really cute. So apparently Nazi Germany was one of our allies in WW2? I never heard of that before.

Seriously, let's look at what actually happened. Stalin was our acclaimed ally in the war. Our propaganda painted him as a good guy. We supplied him with war materiel and helped him as much as we could.

All this despite the fact Stalin was a murderous communist thug.

So what do you think should have been done differently?

Should we not have allied with the USSR?

Should we have gone ahead with the alliance, but denounced Stalin as a murderous thug at the same time?

Should we have allied with him, but toned down the "Uncle Joe" propaganda a bit?

Or something else?

C'mon, tell us what your issue is with all this. Don't be shy.

admin_nds said...

I know I'm not a regular commenter, but I do appreciate this blog as standing for truth and the authors for discerning reality through political fog.

It makes me almost physically ill to see a bust of Stalin on any US memorial property. My old Jewish grandfather used to tell us how people were "disappeared" in old Uncle Joe's camps. Stalin was genocidal and ruthless. Recognizing him as a temporary ally in the fight against Nazism is obscene at best.

Anonymous said...

Baron, so what if Stalin was your ally? I mean, it's obvious that it was a grave mistake. It's kind of funny that Americans raise statues of genocidal mass murderers around. Still, what's even worse is raising statues of genocidal mass murderers that aren't even your own. Why not have a state of Eisenhower? He would be the proper person to put on that bust.

Statues are for people you celebrate and cherish, so the message this sends is that Stalin is cherished by Americans, especially D Day veterans, which is nonsense. I guess my country should start building statues of Hitler since they were our allies for a while... And near it one of Stalin since they were our allies too. I'm glad my relatives who died in that war won't have statues of genocidal mass murderers to watch over them.

Actually, this honouring would be the same as Germans honouring the Nazis with Hitler statues.

Baron Bodissey said...

Rebel --

Eisenhower is in a different category: he was an in-theater military commander, and not a head of state. Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin were all of equivalent rank and function in WW2.

As for whether it was a "grave mistake": it depends on whether one thinks the Allies should have totally defeated Nazi Germany. There are people who think that such a goal was misguided -- in fact, some of them comment here from time to time.

If I were in charge of the D-Day memorial I would have tried to figure out a rationale that excluded Stalin. For example, we could have focused solely on the theater commanders; that would have ruled out the Russians.

But if we are going to include the national leaders among the Allies, then Stalin must be among them. We could add the prime ministers of Australia, New Zealand, and Canada for the sake of full accuracy.

And your country should erect statues to Hitler if you revere him and/or count him as necessary to your national survival. Why not?

Anonymous said...

And your country should erect statues to Hitler if you revere him and/or count him as necessary to your national survival. Why not?
That's the point. You(Americans) revere Stalin? If you don't, that statue doesn't belong there.

And no, the real choice isn't if you think the Nazis should have totally defeated. The real choice is in between which genocide you prefer - the one done by Hitler or the one done by Stalin. When you said that you overlooked the other side of the scales.

You could have included only people who have been in D Day. Last time I checked, the Russians weren't. Like this, you should get a bust of Michael of Romania too since we shortened the war by six months. It would be just as much of a joke, the only difference being that the king of my country wasn't a proponent of genocide.

Profitsbeard said...

The truth about Stalin removes him from the possibility of being honored with anything more than a tin plaque, crudely stamped, and embedded in the ground saying:

"JOSEF STALIN, strategic wartime ally, later acknowledged as mass-murdering despot".

Baron Bodissey said...

Heh. I like Profitsbeard's solution.

Rebellious vanilla, I'm really surprised at you: you're letting normative language creep into your analyses. You don't usually do that.

I don't say we should include Stalin because we like him now, or approve of him, or think he did good things. But, for better or worse, he was our ally in the war, and was considered equal to Roosevelt and Churchill at the time. That's all.

If we made an error, then we made an error. But history should be out there for all to peruse, warts and all.

The real choice is in between which genocide you prefer - the one done by Hitler or the one done by Stalin. When you said that you overlooked the other side of the scales.

This is a good topic of discussion, and one that we could argue at length. Stalin gets the prize based on sheer numbers -- he exterminated more people than Hitler did. Add Mao, Castro, the Kims, and Pol Pot, and Communism wins by several lengths.

You could have included only people who have been in D Day.

Yes, that's the way I would have dome it if the choice were mine. Included statues of the theater commanders and left it at that.

1389 said...

I agree that Profitsbeard's suggestion makes good sense. It deals properly with your concern about not whitewashing history, while at the same time, it avoids glorifying Stalin in any way.

Right now, though, I'm even more upset about a bust of an entirely different allied leader in World. It's the bust of Winston Churchill that Obama banished from the White House. There was absolutely NO excuse whatsoever for his doing that.

1389 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
1389 said...

I agree that Profitsbeard's suggestion makes good sense. It deals properly with your concern about not whitewashing history, while at the same time, it avoids glorifying Stalin in any way.

Right now, though, I'm even more upset about a bust of an entirely different allied leader in the Second World War. I am speaking of the bust of Winston Churchill that Obama banished from the White House. There was absolutely NO excuse whatsoever for his doing that.

Zenster said...

We were led to believe that Communist Russia was not that different from democratic America. The Soviets just carried around a lot of red flags and wore babushkas and furry hats; but otherwise they were more or less the same as us.

Unfortunately, Stalin's bust will not be used to teach the most important lesson of all. Namely, how insanely foolish it was of free nations to ever accept Communism as an acceptable alternative form of government.

The legitimizing of Communism allowed for Socialism to continue its little charade throughout Europe and just like how the Soviets drank their people's blood, so are the EU's elite. No lessons have been learned.

America has had to take a similar lesson from a different angle with Communist China but the song remains the same. Millions upon untold millions dead at the hands of an oligarchic kleptocracy whose self-preservation and entrenchment trumps all cultural or humanitarian imperatives.

1389: I am speaking of the bust of Winston Churchill that Obama banished from the White House. There was absolutely NO excuse whatsoever for his doing that.

Unless you count the obviously excruciating embarrassment an incompetent gangster like Obama must feel working under even the figurative gaze of one of the last century's truly great leaders. BHO's oratory doesn't merit so much as an honorable mention beside that of Winnie.

Given a hook and ladder fire truck to raise him, BHO still wouldn't even come up to Churchill's shoe tops.
And that's on a good day.

PS: Another vote for Profitsbeard's solution.

mriggs said...

Baron -

I said nothing about Hitler's allegiance during the war. I was simply reproducing exactly the justification for Stalin's inclusion and applying it to Hitler.

Baron Bodissey said...

mriggs --

Logically speaking, that is nonsense. It would only be the "exact justification" if Hitler had in fact been our ally during WW2, and not Stalin.

Your analogy has no meaning whatsoever.

mriggs said...

Baron -

I disagree. Here's a direct quote:

"While Mr. Reed said he can “appreciate the concern” of locals who have voiced their opposition to the bust, he said the bust can serve as a teaching tool to make visitors recognize the importance of Stalin as one of the leaders in World War II."

No mention here of whose side Stalin was on.

Now, when the battle of Waterloo is celebrated and remembered, it isn't just Wellington who gets a mention, even in England. Napoleon also gets remembered, despite his questionable record in many areas, to say the least.

Baron Bodissey said...

mriggs --

That's a disingenuous interpretation of Mr. Reed's words. It's clear from the context that he meant "one of the allied leaders", even if he left out the word.

mriggs said...

Baron -

I don't see that particularly, and I don't think it very relevant even if it is true. If it is a history lesson on WWII that is needed, which is how mr. Reed is presenting the case, then surely Hitler belongs in the mix.

Baron Bodissey said...

mriggs --

Once again, I find your arguments disingenuous. I don't think you're commenting in good faith, so there is no need on my part for any further discussion.

mriggs said...

Baron -

This is a 'reductio ad absurdum' argument. Of course it is not in good faith as such. I'm not actually arguing that someone should put up a bust of Adolf Hitler.

Sean O'Brian said...

There used to be a town in Arkansas called Napoleon but the Mississippi flooded it and by 1874 it was completely underwater. If absolute monarchy is a form of tyranny then isn't the state of Virginia itself named after a dictator?

There was a debate in the Irish Times letters page recently about renaming Victoria Quay in Dublin. I'm against this because I don't think that scrubbing out all traces of colonialist paraphernalia is a healthy response to the past.

I'm decidely more iffy about building new statues/busts to dictators today. I agree with reb-van above that this bust evokes reverence for Stalin, if only unintentionally. It may be understood by Mr. Reed to be a "teaching tool", but to everyone else a bust is ennolbing.

Rich Rostrom said...

As Robert Conquest wrote:

There was a great Marxist called Lenin
Who did two or three million men in.
That’s a lot to have done in
But where he did one in
That grand Marxist Stalin did ten in.

Anonymous said...

I'm loving the Stalin statue. Here's why:

1. It's controversial, and I so love controversial things.

2. As the Baron has pointed out, it's historically accurate. I mean, it is a historical fact that we allied with Stalin in the Great Patriotic War (or WWII, if you must). People love to just airbrush away that fact, but that's disingenuous.

As the ever-wise (in case it's not clear here, I'm being a tad facetious/sarcastic) mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, recently said: I'm not an admirer of Stalin, but I am an admirer of objectivity in the coverage historical events. (Я не являюсь почитателем Сталина, но являюсь почитателем объективности в освещении исторических событий.)

eiisha said...

For those who still have in your minds positive image of Uncle Joe - I suggest to read the book of Simon Sebag Montefiore "STALIN: The Court of the Red Tzar". You will got to know more about his cruelty and terror.