Remembering Bill and Ivan
Remembering Bill and Ivan
The decisive battle for the liberation of
Three days later, on 22 June -- the third anniversary of Hitler's invasion of the
But what American has ever heard of Operation Bagration? June 1944 signifies
By the end of summer, the Red Army (which included full divisions of Poles and Czechs) had reached the gates of
It is no disparagement of the brave men who died in the sinister hedgerows of
Yet the ordinary Soviet soldier -- the tractor mechanic from Samara, the actor from Orel, the miner from the Donetz, or even the high-school girl from Leningrad -- is invisible in the current celebration and mythologization of the "Greatest Generation." It is as if the "new American century" cannot be fully born without exorcising the central Soviet role in the epochal victory of the last century.
Indeed, most Americans are shockingly clueless about the relative burdens of combat and death in the Second World War. And even the minority who understand something of the enormity of the Soviet sacrifice tend to visualize it in terms of crude stereotypes of the Red Army: a barbarian horde driven by feral revenge and primitive Russian nationalism. Only G.I. Joe and Tommy are envisioned as truly fighting for civilized ideals of freedom and democracy.
It is thus all the more important to recall that -- despite Stalin, the NKVD, and the massacre of an entire generation of Bolshevik leaders -- the Red Army still retained powerful elements of revolutionary fraternity. In its own eyes, and that of the slaves it freed from Hitler, it was the greatest army of liberation in history.
Moreover, the Red Army of 1944 was still a Soviet Army. The generals who led the brilliant breakthrough on the
Anyone who doubts the revolutionary Ã©lan and rank-and-file humanity of the Red Army should consult the extraordinary memoirs by Primo Levi (The Reawakening) and K.S. Karol (Between Two Worlds). Both hated Stalinism but loved the ordinary Soviet soldier and saw in her/him the seeds of socialist renewal.
So, as George W. Bush demeans the memory of D-Day to solicit support for his war crimes in
I will recall, first, my kindhearted Uncle Bill, the salesman from
Two ordinary heroes: Bill and Ivan. Obscene to celebrate the first without also commemorating the second.
Mike Davis is the author of Dead Cities: And Other Tales, Ecology of Fear, and co-author of Under the Perfect Sun: the San Diego Tourists Never See, among other books.
Copyright C2004 Mike Davis
[This article first appeared on Tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing and author of The End of Victory Culture and The Last Days of Publishing.]