World War II: “The historical narrative is distorted with every generation”

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By:Chronicles | May 10, 2016

In his latest interview with Radio Sputnik International marking the V-E Day, Srdja Trifkovic discusses the gap between public perceptions of the Allied powers’ relative contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany and historical reality. [Audio file]

Sputnik: In recent opinion polls in the U.S. and Europe, only 15 percent of respondents named the USSR as the country that played the key role in defeating the Nazis in World War Two. The majority of respondents in the United States (79 percent), France (58 percent) and half of those in Germany (50 percent) said that the US Army played a pivotal role in the victory over Nazism. More than a half of Britons (59 percent) think that their country led the fight against Nazism, while only 11 percent named the United States and 15 percent mentioned the USSR.

ST: I would have expected the majority to opt for the U.S. in most Western countries, but not such a massive majority. It indicates that with each successive generation the historical narrative is being further and further distorted. Let me just recapitulate the facts: some 80 to 85 percent of the losses incurred by the Wehrmacht were inflicted by the Red Army. The role of Britain in the proceedings was relatively peripheral. Of course Britain played an important role in rejecting Hitler’s offer of peace after the fall of France in the summer of 1940, but thereafter it was really a Russian show – and in the west the Americans had the upper hand in Italy, the D-Day landings and thereafter. The USSR accounted for at least four-fifths of all German military losses during the war. Had it not been for D-Day, had it not been for the Normandy landings, many historians believe that the Red Army would have reached the English Channel by the summer of 1946.

Sputnik: Why is this being downplayed or hushed up, over the decades?

ST: In the immediate postwar period this certainly was not the case. In Paris, the capital of France, you have a metro station which is called “Stalingrad.” The awareness of the Russian, or Soviet role, was pretty much well recognized. By contrast, on the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in 2014, President Obama called that occasion “the turning point of the war”—which it wasn’t. In reality the turning point of the war, to all intents and purposes, was the battle of Stalingrad, the point of furtherest advance of the Wehrmacht into the depths of the Russian landmass, and thereafter—until the end of the war—Germany was more or less on the strategic defensive. At the same time we have to acknowledge the fact that many people, in the United States but also in western Europe, are woefully ignorant even of their own history. Not too long ago when Americans were asked not for the year, or the decade, but the century of the Revolution or the Civil War, the results were pretty amazing. The tendency to relativizing history and blurring historical memory is generally a hallmark of the postmodern era in which we live. The old dictum of Cicero’s, that those who do not know the past are doomed to stay children for ever, is no longer seen as valid.

Sputnik: Speaking of Cicero, who stands to gain from the rewriting of history?

ST: First of all those who want to systematically paint a negative picture of Russia and all things Russian in the perception of the Western public. They do understand that those who control the past also control the future. Since there is a consensus in the Western elite class that Russia is a Bad Thing, it suits their purposes to minimize Russia’s role in the war and to imply that between the Wehrmacht and the Red Army there was not much difference in the moral sense. Even during the war Nicholas Spykman, a well-known Dutch-American geopolitician and international relations theorist, said that—from our point of view—Russia from the Urals to the North Sea would not be much better than Germany from the North Sea to the Urals. So, in the geopolitical sense, even during the war we already had a degree of animus. By now, three-quarters of a century later, it is very hard to preserve and perpetuate the truth and understanding of the Second World War, just as the Great War of 1914-1918 has almost perished from the collective memory . . . The overall cultural trend in the postmodern, post-national world is to regard history as “bunk,” to quote Henry Ford from 90 years ago. This tendency has always been present in the American collective psyche, to regard the past as less important than most Europeans do, to believe that we are the builders of our own destiny and that you can be anything you want to be . . .   

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