VE Day, 75 Years Later

W.J. Astore

It’s worth pausing this month to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, marked by Adolf Hitler’s suicide and Germany’s unconditional surrender.  The Allied victory was a triumph of coalition warfare, the “Big Three” represented by the Soviet Union, the United States, and Great Britain, joined by so many other countries and peoples.

The Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, Dwight D. Eisenhower, sent a disarmingly simple message to mark Germany’s total defeat and surrender:

“The mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 0241, local time, May 7th, 1945.”

It was a true “mission accomplished” moment — perhaps the last clear one America has had in any major war or conflict since then.

Eisenhower was a complex man who presented himself as a simple one.  One thing he knew was how to lead, to bring people together, to keep hotheads like Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and General George Patton under control while maximizing their gifts.  It’s difficult to imagine a better coalition commander than Ike.

I love this image of Ike from May 7, 1945 (Ike is seen here with his deputy commander, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder of the Royal Air Force):

Ike

Note the simplicity of Ike’s uniform (just three rows of ribbons, and no badges, devices, or other military gewgaws).  The same can be said of Tedder’s uniform (a few ribbons, his wings, and that’s about it).  Compare their uniforms to America’s current Chairman of the JCS, Mark Milley:

mark-milley

With all this self-congratulation and self-glorification, is it any wonder America’s generals found stalemate in Korea and defeat in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan?

VE Day represented enormous sacrifices by peoples around the world to defeat a murderous fascistic regime in Germany.  Well should we remember it and learn from it.

44 thoughts on “VE Day, 75 Years Later

  1. There have been some TV Programs from time to time about V-E Day and the Normandy Invasion. It shocks but does not surprise me the Soviet Union is rarely given the credit for their efforts during WW 2. It was understandable from a Western Propaganda standpoint during the Cold War to downplay the Soviet effort and sacrifices. From Leningrad, Moscow and south to Stalingrad and then West to Berlin and Central Europe the devastation of infrastructure and human lives was beyond anything the world had ever seen.

    I still see these recent documentaries that push the idea out that Normandy was the “turning point” or the decisive battle of WW 2. The turning point in Europe at least happened at the battle of Stalingrad, from then on the Soviets were superior. The Battle of Kursk was the exclamation point.

    You have to have a great deal of empathy for the average Soviet Soldier – Ivan – who after the war was over, went back to a ruined country and the Stalinist Police State. A complete contrast to what GI Joe came home to.

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    1. Yes, that’s true, ML. The Soviet Union truly defeated the German Wehrmacht, experiencing death and destruction that the U.S. has never experienced (even in our Civil War). Estimates vary, but the USSR perhaps suffered 25 million killed in the war. Even when the U.S.-led coalition invaded Normandy in June 1944 and raced across that country after being bogged for weeks in the Bocage, the Soviets were still fighting (and destroying) roughly 75% of the German Army on the Eastern Front.

      U.S. forces were lucky indeed not to face the full might of the German military. By the middle of 1944, the Germans were obviously losing, hence the attempt on Hitler’s life that July. German generals only acted against Hitler when the war was clearly lost and when they recognized Hitler preferred total defeat to negotiated surrender. When Hitler was winning (1939-42), they were all-too-happy to go along with the worst of his policies, including the annihilation of the Jews as well as the mass murder of gypsies, commissars, Soviet POWs, and indeed anyone the Nazis (and the generals) had no use for.

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    2. In his, “Winter of the World,” Ken Follett tells the story of WWII through the eyes of three families: English, German, and Russian. One gains a true appreciation of the devastation of the USSR in reading about the turmoil and deprivations the Soviets went through. Endless death and sacrifice on one hand; ruthless, relentless control by Stalin on the other. Troops sent into battle with no weapons, with orders to die to the last man—no surrender. The book personalizes your comments about the USSR’s part in the war, Monotonous.

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      1. I’ll have to add that book to my collection. I acquired one of a similar subject, “Бессмертный Полк,” (“Immortal Regiment”) a few months ago, but still haven’t cracked it open (CovID-19 has been keeping me quite busy). Apparently, it’s the story of a regiment that was completely wiped out, but pieced together from soldiers’ journals, official letters, and anything else that historians were able to get their hands on. Tragic losses like that were commonplace, and I don’t think Americans can relate. Russia is still feeling the effects of losing such a large percentage of her population even to this day.

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          1. The pathological hatred of the Jews promoted by the Nazi regime, preying on age-old prejudices, with its resulting “Final Solution” program of extermination, was remarkable for its virulence. There is reason to believe, though, that the Hitler regime hated “Bolshevism” even more. This is why one encountered the concept of “the International Jew-Bolshevik Conspiracy” to dominate the world (the Jews being bankers). And it came to pass that notorious American Jew-haters like Henry Ford signed onto that “program.” They hungered for an alliance with Hitler/Mussolini to squash organized labor in the name of anti-Communism. Squash “labor agitators” at home and invade and defeat the USSR, that was the nub of Nazism. And guess what? In the most extreme rightwing groups today, one still hears about “the International Jew-Bolshevik Conspiracy.” Since there are so precious few of us actual Bolsheviks still around, we can expect to hear of “the International Jew-Liberal Conspiracy.” Examine any social media outlet and against whom are the ubiquitous wingnuts ranting? Liberals, liberals, liberals. “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

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          2. kaja–I almost never follow links, but I made an exception for what you posted concerning anti-Jewish prejudices and policies. (Personally, I prefer “Jew-hatred” to “anti-semitism,” since the Arabs are also Semites, much as Benyamin Netanyahu and his ilk are reluctant to acknowledge it!) Once I grasped the length of your article, I had to revert to skimming mode (sorry!). I absolutely am NOT seeking to open a raging, prolonged debate with you–I’ve had this happen with other posters here and it’s pretty counterproductive in my view–however, several glaring errors did leap off the monitor at me. (Note that on the whole, I think your history is accurate.) Trotsky did not “flee” the USSR. He was forcibly expelled on Stalin’s orders. Trotsky was considered Lenin’s equal in popularity during Lenin’s lifetime; Stalin (born Djugashvili in the Georgia region), maneuvering behind the scenes, could never claim such a mantle. Trotsky and Lenin agreed on the need to try to spread the overthrow of the rule of capital beyond Russia’s borders (via the Third, or Communist, International, formally founded in 1919–Ho Chi Minh attended!). Trotsky argued for “permanent revolution,” not “permanent war.” War would be inevitable, since the capitalist ruling class will never peacefully surrender their privileges, but please, let’s not paint Trotsky as a war-lover! As for Nazi and Italian Fascist economic policies being “leftwing,” that is absurd. You are looking at the concept of state control of economic matters and trying to put an equal sign between Nazi Germany and the USSR. That doesn’t cut the mustard with me. Nazi propaganda promised the German masses “a society without class distinctions” (this phrase is almost verbatim; get ahold of a DVD of “Triumph of the Will” with commentary track by a historian of the period). This was a Big Lie, of course. The German elites cleaned up manufacturing and selling arms to the regime, the (non-Jewish, obviously) bankers did nicely, thank you, and the “old money” crowd likewise made out nicely under Hitler (all those guys bearing the title of “Count”!), provided they didn’t fall out of favor personally with the leadership. Notoriously, on Stalin’s watch, a “new class” of the privileged grew up in the USSR. In that regard, we can say that the promise of a “classless” society failed to be delivered in Russia and Nazi Germany. Both countries would end up in physical and emotional ruin as German leadership madly insisted on trying to conquer Moscow and the conveniently late-arriving US troops pressed eastward from the coast of Normandy.

            At this point I have written way too much, no doubt, and most visitors to Bracing Views probably won’t read this entire commentary. Sorry, I must have a hangup about trying to correct historical distortions!

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          3. Have to agree about Nazi and Fascist policies: they are most assuredly, by definition, right-wing ideologies. I’ve seen many people conflate Nazism with Communism, however. While the end effects on the populations may have turned out to be similar, the concepts themselves are not, per my understanding.

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          4. Thanks for that! Hitler’s rule put Germany on a war footing, with the insane dream of conquering “the Known World.” The Soviets were accused by “Western” propagandists of seeking the same objective. But in actuality, as soon as the USSR was “declared,” it came under economic (sanctions) and direct military attack by the capitalist powers–and yes, US forces were involved. Remarkably, without prior military experience himself, Trotsky reorganized the military as the Red Army and successfully beat back the counter-revolution. [If the reader has concluded by now that I am a great admirer of Trotsky, nee Lev Davidovich Bronstein in 1879, the reader is correct!] So the economy, weak as it was as inherited from the Tsars, was put on an emergency war footing, dubbed “war communism”: “We need to requisition X number of tons of chemicals for our artillery shells to save the revolution! Get it done! We’ll worry about compensation later!” So that was added to the fundamental Socialist concept of the state guiding economic activity in the interests of the working class, the overwhelming majority of the population. We could go on and on about the distortions of ideology introduced by the Stalin gang, but again, LET’S NOT! We all have tasks to which we should be attending, yes?

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          5. Well, it’s nice to know that we can at least have this discussion, despite our previous arguments. I must admit, however, that your critique sounds like a ‘you didn’t say “x,” therefore bias’ argument. I could have made that article a hell of a lot longer, but it’s already way too long for the audience I originally intended it for. Brevity breeds bias, unfortunately, and vicious, overly emotional ideologues like to keep things short and sweet. History is way too complicated for that.

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          6. No, no, my concern was for historical accuracy! I am rather well read in these matters. Heck, I don’t mind admitting that mere typos kind of incense me! My ancient paperback copy of “The Catcher in the Rye” was something like the 23rd Edition and still contained what were obviously gross typos! (Whole wrong words. Familiarity with Salinger’s writing style was not required for someone to recognize that these had to be errors.) Okay, so correcting those woulda required rejiggering the galleys, but for such a revered book was that asking too much? The obvious answer is YES! But in my value system, that answer is pitifully inadequate.

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          7. Sorry, just to clarify: my concern was over the historical INACCURACY of some of what you DID write, not what you didn’t. To conjure the great Donald Rumsfeld, how can we argue over “the unknown unknowns”??

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          8. Elaborate, point by point, please. I have a feeling that I know what you’re going to say, but I think strict enumeration might make this easier.

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          9. Exactly what I said I was not seeking: a prolonged, detailed argument! I pointed out that Trotsky was expelled from, he did not “flee,” the USSR (this was 1928). Such an error leaps out at me. Remember, I didn’t even read every word of your piece (take no offense; likely we all feel we spend too much time online as it is!)–the one you’d provided a link to. Enough already.

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          10. Ha-ha! You might consider reading Trotsky’s autobiography, “My Life.” It’s only about 600 pages! IMHO, he was a brilliant writer (tagged with nickname ‘The Pen’ in his youth), and combined with Max Eastman’s translation, it’s hard to beat. Again, in my opinion. Eastman, who ended up pretty anti-communist, also translated Trotsky’s three-volume “History of the Russian Revolution.” A riveting read for me when I myself was a mere lad in my twenties, soon after finishing my hitch in the US Army.

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          11. All on my bookshelf, I simply haven’t read them yet (the original Russian, I don’t read English translations). By the way, I remembered my mistake: I forgot that Trotsky was expelled from the USSR completely in 1929. I was under the impression that you were referring to his exile to Sakha (still part of Russia, BTW) the previous year, before he ultimately ended up in Mexico. My bad. I have made a correction to my post: how does “was forced to flee the country” work for you?

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          12. Why not be more factual? Trotsky was escorted under armed guard to an island (if memory serves) off the coast of Turkey initially. Biographer Isaac Deutscher wrote that the escorts were apologetic, but they felt compelled to obey their orders to preserve their own necks. To say Trotsky “fled” sounds like a Stalinistic smear, a hint at cowardice. After the expulsion, Trotsky found himself on a “Planet Without a Visa”–this is English title of a chapter in Eastman’s translation of “My Life.” It took some wandering before he found refuge in sunny Mexico, only to be assassinated there in 1940. I am impressed that you read Russian! Beware of reading literature published in the USSR on Stalin’s watch if the subject is Trotsky!!

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          13. If I ever write more about the subject, I’ll include those details. As I said, that article is already too long. I did actually skim through the story of Trotsky’s exile last night, so I’m aware of the fact that no country was particularly happy to have him after he was deported to Turkey. Hopefully that tidbit doesn’t slip my mind again!

            By the way, two things you may find interesting: first, Trotsky was one of the few individuals who fell victim to the Great Purge who was NOT rehabilited during the de-Stalinisation period. Even to this day, Russian historians have a very low opinion of him. Second: I was born in St. Petersburg. I grew up the US and I have a Czech name, but as it turns out, while you can take the boy out of Russia, you can’t take Russia out of the boy. I started to properly re-learn my mother tongue when I was eight.

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          14. Actually (here we go again!), there WAS a period around the time of Gorbachev when Trotsky was somewhat “un-demonized,” in certain Russian intellectual publications. Non-governmental publications, I believe, but they weren’t censored. I find your own background very interesting, by the way!

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          15. Really? I thought Trotsky wasn’t formally rehabilitated until 2001. If what you say is true, then there would have been a very small window of time for it, as Trotsky’s books remained banned until 1987. The following year was even more interesting regarding things that were un-banned, such as the book “We,” as well as ownership of private business.

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          16. Your timeline may very well be the accurate one. The way time flies by for me–it’s frightening, trust me!–I may indeed have juggled the decades in my head.

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          17. Oh, and before you finish your reply, perhaps we should move this to the comments section of MY post, in the interest of continuity.

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          18. I love the way my short articles stimulate long discussions!

            Generally speaking, communism is “left-wing” and Nazism is “right-wing,” but you could also consider them as different versions of totalitarianism, as Hannah Arendt did. There’s that old horseshoe model of political systems that puts communism on one “tip” of the shoe and Nazism on the other, suggesting that not much distance separates them, at least in some ways. It’s probably a better visual than “wings” (on a bird?).

            I’ve done a lot of reading on the Holocaust, attended a teaching seminar at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, and taught a course on the subject (a demanding course to teach; one must make careful distinctions while dealing with murderous events in history). Uniquely, the Nazis wanted to kill all Jews everywhere. In some cases, they kept Jews alive for a time, but the end goal was total extermination. This was not the case with homosexuals, or gypsies, or Slavs. For complicated reasons related to history but also uniquely to Hitler’s personal mania/madness, the Jews were seen as an existential threat — the most serious of all to the German/Aryan “blood” and “race.”

            Before Hitler came along, Germany was relatively mild in its anti-semitism, and most German Jews saw themselves as Germans first, Jews second, i.e. they were assimilated and accepted as such. (Of course, some Germans had been virulent anti-semites, including Martin Luther.)

            This simple equation is true: there is no Holocaust without Hitler.

            Again, there are some very complex issues here, and historians, of course, don’t all agree, i.e. they read the evidence differently. I’d say what truly surprised many people was that Hitler meant exactly what he said, e.g. that “International Jewry” had to be eliminated. Sometimes, we must take people at their word, even when they say things so horrific that they boggle the mind.

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          19. Bill–You’ve indicated you saw the German movie “Downfall.” Perhaps it was in a movie theater back when those were still operating. If you were to get your hands on the DVD and listen to the historian commentary track, I think you’d find him agreeing with my assertion that the Hitler regime was even more virulently opposed to “Bolshevism” than to Jews. Indeed, my assertion is based on his assertion in that commentary. The German followers of Lenin/Trotsky in the aftermath of the October Revolution in Russia gave the German ruling class a pretty good fright before they were crushed. World War I veteran Hitler was eager to offer himself up as a street-fighting thug–or at least an organizer of gangs of anti-communist thugs, if he didn’t have that personal a taste for hand-to-hand combat–to defend the privileges of the elites. So anti-“Bolshevism” was his foundation, and only later did he and “Minister for People’s Enlightenment” (!!) Goebbels and other twisted ideologues fine-tune the Jew-hatred, drawing upon all the old shibboleths like “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and the ancient prejudices of ignorant Christians who called Jews the murderers of Jesus of Nazareth. Even a century ago, those who thumped their bibles loudest were those least acquainted with that book’s actual contents! Assuming for sake of argument that the story of JC told in the Gospels is essentially accurate–excluding the business of miracle cures and the Resurrection–any intelligent reader should be able to understand that Jesus was himself a Jew (addressed as “Rabbi” among his own people) and got into trouble with the Jewish establishment because he criticized them for NOT living up to proper traditions and practices (turning over the tables of the moneychangers at the Temple being a prime example). The corrupt, it seems, have never taken kindly to whistleblowers!

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          20. Greg: As you know, Hitler tended to conflate Jews and Bolshevism, seeing them as one vast conspiracy. Of course, some Jews were Bolsheviks, but most weren’t, yet for propaganda purposes, who cares, right?

            Historians have looked at the roots of Hitler’s anti-semitism. They predate World War I. Another telling factoid is that, when Hitler made his last will and testament, he emphatically declared the most important war was against “international Jewry.” Here’s the line: “Above all, I enjoin the government and the people to uphold the race laws to the limit and to resist mercilessly the poisoner of all nations, international Jewry.”

            When you look at World War II, you come to realize the Nazis were killing Jews on a mass scale even when it hurt the “normal” war effort, and even when they knew they were losing the war. Indeed, the death machinery kept chugging away until the camps were liberated early in 1945.

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          21. Yes, note the degree of delusion: Every German member of the high command recognized the war was utterly lost–heck, the movie “Downfall” is about the Soviet Red Army relentlessly closing in on Berlin. Hitler couldn’t face the prospect of being captured by Bolsheviks and opted for suicide, followed by unceremonious cremation. Yet he issued this fantastical appeal to “the government”–what government?!?–and his mythical “Aryan Nation” to carry on the struggle against the enemy. Right down to 12-year-old soldiers. Was Hitler, the individual, insane? I believe we must conclude in the affirmative, but this does not neatly, in and of itself, explain (with a pretty bow tied on) the rise and fall of the Third Reich. Was Richard Nixon, who rose in politics by sniffing out 100 out of every one actual Red or Fellow Traveler, insane? To a degree, yes is my answer, and just about completely unhinged as Watergate collapsed his little bubble reality. Donald J. Trump? I’ve been describing him for several years already as DERANGED, and his recent conduct sure doesn’t change my mind on that question. Hitler and Nixon found themselves removed from the world stage, which finally put limits on the harm they could do. Unfortunately, we appear to be stuck with Trump indefinitely. The apparent fact that he simply cannot be removed from office thru legal channels makes of the USA a mockery before the world community.

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          22. Most insane people are more dangerous to themselves than others. They are often victims of violence because they are vulnerable and detached from society. A high-functioning, “insane,” person is a rarity; I suppose this idea is captured in movies like “American Psycho.”

            Perhaps “sociopath” is a better word, and there are different types of these. A common trait is lack of empathy, which is certainly true of Trump.

            A caution: If we say Hitler was “insane,” does it not suggest he wasn’t responsible for his actions? Not guilty by reason of insanity?

            I think Hitler was fanatical, twisted, obsessional, maniacal, murderous, and ruthless, among other words we might use, but I also think he was sane. He knew what he was doing, and he didn’t care. Indeed, he said if the German people couldn’t win the war, they all deserved to suffer and die.

            I’d add that Nixon, to me, was sane, and Trump is sane. But I’d also say they were/are hollow men, one-dimensional, not without talents of a sort, but lacking in humanity and decency. And Nixon, despite his faults, was certainly smarter than Trump, i.e. he had a much broader base of knowledge. Nixon read and wrote books! Nixon spoke clearly! Trump’s level of reading, writing, and speaking is, by comparison, abysmally low.

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          23. Not to wander too far from the subject, but…I had been planning to ignore the recent movie “Joker,” but its number of Oscar nominations swayed me to check it out. It’s a revision of the previous origin story employed in the Batman saga. The protagonist, who is clearly slipping into severe mental illness, is beaten to a pulp a few times before he finally snaps and becomes a menace to more than just himself. “American Psycho” I never bothered with.

            Hitler’s apparent ability to function effectively–of course, he had a brain trust at his command–in seeking his evil goals does not prove he was sane, as generally understood. And no one sitting in judgment at Nuremberg would have let him off the hook, had he ever been tried there, on the grounds of his mental state. Do you recall when Nixon slipped away from the White House in the wee hours of the morning one day and attempted to “reason with,” to win over, anti-war protesters camped out in D.C.?!? For me, that marked the beginning of his mental unraveling. You really expect me to believe Trump is NOT mentally deranged?? Though neither of us is a psychiatrist by profession, Bill, I feel very confident that my “diagnosis” of this POTUS’s mental health is the correct one. Opinions, opinions, opinions!

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    3. The opening scenes of “Enemy at the Gates” are excellent. Harrowing depiction of street fighting in Stalingrad from the Russian perspective. Not enough rifles, so one man got a rifle, the other carried cartridges, and off they went to fight the Germans. If they retreated, they got machine gunned by their own army. This actually happened, as I had to explain to my bewildered students. A good book is Antony Beevor’s “Stalingrad.”

      The Soviets paid a staggering price — but they won.

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      1. Reading the accounts of the battle of Stalingrad are chilling. Numbers killed in a single day exceed anything seen on the Western Front in entire battles. And they continued to fight on, pushed into battle by the NKVD troops, month after bloody month.

        And today, we ignore their history and NATO conducts live fire exercises on their borders. It’s madness to prod a people who carry the memory and sadness of the Great Patriotic War in their bones, and who will never surrender their lands to anyone.

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        1. Part of the MIC’s Master Game Plan, to “justify” Pentagon’s budget, is to keep tensions alive around the world. Place military assets close enuf to China, to Iran, to the DPRK (“north” Korea), Venezuela (such a dangerous threat to Fortress Amerika, right?!), etc., so that those militaries feel compelled to buzz those US assets, with constant possibility of a shooting war breaking out. Yeah, now about those tensions on the Korean Peninsula: the solution was available 75 years ago: DON’T occupy the southern half of the Korean nation with your troops because you don’t care for the leadership of Kim Il Sung!! Yeah, that opportunity kind of slipped away, huh?

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      2. Another good book is – The Year of Stalingrad – by Alexander Werth from WIKI: he spent the war there as the BBC’s correspondent, and had unrivalled access due to the combination of his BBC press credentials and his ability to function as a native Russian speaker. He was one of the first outsiders to be allowed into Stalingrad after the battle.

        His book was published after the WW 2 ended. It is written as timeline from his arrival in the USSR in early 1942 on a convoy, until just past the Battle of Stalingrad. It was during this time the Soviet War time propaganda went into high gear and he documents it very well, including in some places the denigration of the Western Allies failure to establish a “Second Front”.

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  2. At the risk of some folks assuming I make a financial gain from this, I must again give the strongest possible recommendation to the German movie, “Downfall,” starring the late Bruno Ganz as Hitler while his fantasy world collapsed around him in the final days of the war. Based as closely as possible on the historical facts. The DVD also has a running commentary on the personalities involved and the historical accuracy. I’m sure readers of Bracing Views are capable of reading English subtitles for foreign language films, yes? I also think “Patton” (now 50 years old!), with screenplay by Francis Ford Coppola, is a tremendous movie. Surely one of the all-time great War Movies. Is it “pro-” or “anti-war”? I say it doesn’t matter. It’s a great film about war, period, and the ego duel between Patton and Field Marshal Montgomery.

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  3. Lots of wasted $$$$$ — multi billions — could have been put towards building a much better America. Certainly, public education — including basic critical thinking skills —- has been vastly underfunded, given that 62.9 million imbeciles thought Trump would be a good President.

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