book response: Stalin's Curse by Gellately (2013)

When I was in high school in the late 1980's, I worried about Mutual Assured Destruction (M.A.D.). The commies in Reagan's 2nd term were the bogeymen, and  our very real fear had to do with our proximity to a nuclear attack submarine base in Groton, Conn. I trace my fascination with Russia back to an elective class I took when I was a high school senior called Modern Russia. I keep coming back to this fascinating nation. It's history is full of horribleness. Stalin contribution to the horror is unmatched. His paranoid war against his own people, in pursuit of a utopian communist world, cost as many Russian lives as his war with Nazi Germany, 25 million each. It's this body count in World War 2 that has also attracted my attention.

As I've read more World War 2 history, and as Russian archives have been opened to Western historians, my understanding with the war's center of gravity has shifted east. The Nazi Reich's defeat came on the Russian front. The war in western Europe, although horrific in itself, was dwarfed by the scale on the eastern front. Both demagogues fought as amateurs, and crashed waves upon waves of soldiers against each other to their deaths. Fortunately for the world, Hitler ran out of soldiers before Stalin did. It's not that the United States did nothing, we supplied Stalin with tons of war matériel. But Stalin was convinced that the U.S. wanted the U.S.S.R. as exhausted as Germany by the end of the war. The author of Stalin's Curse, Robert Gellately, does not believe Stalin correct in such an assumption. It's hard to determine what Stalin believed to be true, other than the world needed to become Communist.

Gellately believes the documentation is sufficient to assert that Stalin always had his eye on the long game of world-wide Communism. Even as his troops were battling the Nazis to a bloody draw, he was gaining Roosevelt's confidence, circumventing Churchill's caution. Eventually, even Churchill negotiated a losing bargain on Eastern Europe with Stalin. It could be an especially Russian/Georgian ability to bargain hard and inefficiently to slow things down so much as to wear the other side down. For Stalin and his staff, this glacial negotiating pace, even to the side effect of greater loss of innocent lives, was their strong suit. They had no difficulty letting their own people starve to death while making their utopia. Likewise they had no difficulty letting Eastern Europeans also die while they slowed post-war negotiations on sphere's of influence. Utopia had to be grasped at all costs, contrary to all facts on the ground.

Stalin's curse is his devotion to his communist fantasy no matter what it cost. Twenty-five million of his own citizens was only part of the price in blood as the Soviet satellite states implemented his vision on their devastated countries. Gellately's book is another well-supported indictment of Communism.

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the Russian soldiers also committed gang rapes on women in Germany/berlin when the war was over. Our class studied the book, A Woman Alone in Berlin.
John Umland said…
Thanks for the book recommendation Jennifer

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