How to Truly Celebrate Defeating Nazism

Yesterday, May 8, marked our 70th celebration of VE Day – Victory in Europe over Nazism – while today, May 9, is celebrated as Victory Day in Russia. The difference of one day is due to time in Moscow being eight hours later than in Washington, but the difference in perception goes much deeper. If more Americans tried to understand the Russian perspective, it would be an excellent first step toward “defusing the nuclear threat” (as this blog is called) because, out of such seemingly small disagreements, nuclear threats can grow. Read on to find out why.

As noted in my June 2014 post on the the 70th anniversary of D-Day, our tendency to view that momentous operation as “the battle that won the war” is seen by Russians as dishonoring the sacrifices of their 20+ million dead . (In contrast, American dead totaled 405,000 including both theaters of operation.) That post includes a letter by a veteran of D-Day’s Omaha Beach, who wrote:

I probably owe my life to the Russians’ heroic actions in weakening Nazi Germany prior to our opening the Western Front. It is a mistake to celebrate D-Day as the battle which turned the tide of war without fully recognizing the role the Soviet Union played. It belittles their millions of dead. Stalingrad, Moscow, and Leningrad turned the tide of war every bit as much as D-Day, and did so earlier. … 

As bad as [our D-Day losses were], it would have been far worse if our Russian allies hadn’t kept most of the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front. Imagine how Omaha Beach would have been with two to three times the number of defending Germans! Our invasion might well have failed, and my unit probably would have been mauled as badly as my friends in “E” Company, which suffered a 2/3 casualty rate, half of those dead.

The sacrifices endured by our Soviet allies are made clear in an unusually revealing article by Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which he describes his family’s experiences during the Siege of Leningrad. It’s in Russian, and I don’t yet have a good translation – when I do have one I’ll post it here – but, in the meantime, there’s English language coverage in Russia Beyond the Headlines, including Putin’s talking about the death of his older brother, his father losing five of his six brothers during the war, and more. None of this excuses Putin’s mistakes, but it helps us better understand where he is coming from, and why our belittling Russia’s wartime losses is both wrong and dangerous.

While I deplore many actions of the current Russian government, 48 years of marriage have taught me that trying to correct the faults of “the other” while ignoring my own is a recipe for disaster. In that same spirit, I call on my fellow Americans to reach out in whatever way they can to thank our Russian World War II allies for their tremendous sacrifices and their contribution to allowing us to celebrate this 70th anniversary of the victory over Nazism. Link to this article or post your own thoughts on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, asking friends to do the same. Write letters to the editor. But, please do something to offset the short-sighted actions of our government in snubbing Moscow’s 70th celebration of Victory Day. If enough of us do that, hopefully our children and grandchildren will be able to celebrate the 100th anniversary and beyond.

Martin Hellman

About Martin Hellman

I am a professor at Stanford University, best known for my invention of public key cryptography -- the technology that protects the secure part of the Internet, such as electronic banking. But, for almost 30 years, my primary interest has been how fallible human beings can survive possessing nuclear weapons, where even one mistake could be catastrophic. My latest project is a book with the audacious subtitle "Creating True Love at Home & Peace on the Planet." Its soon to open website explains: https://anewmap.com.
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One Response to How to Truly Celebrate Defeating Nazism

  1. Barbara Kyser says:

    I just read an article about Russia’s Victory Day parade yesterday and how Russia’s WWII allies stayed away in protest of Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine. What a huge mistake to stay away. Russia invited 68 heads of state and only 20 came. The ones that should have been there were the allies (including the US), who chose not to come when 20 million Soviet troops died defeating the Nazis.

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