Friday, February 2, 2007

Stalin's Wars by Geoffrey Roberts

This is one of the few books that takes a more objective view of Stalin. Taken is the fact that the man was responsible for many deaths throughout his tenure as leader of the Soviet Union. But at the same time it is presented that there was much more to him than simply being labeled a 'killer.' Starting from the beginning of the Second World War the reader is presented with the activities within the Soviet Union to first avert the war, that is make an alliance with England and France against Germany, and then to create the best possible position for the USSR to be in, that is to make a pact with Nazi Germany.

Some might think this a betrayal of some sort but the fact remains that Stalin and the USSR were the first to propose an alliance against Hitler, when the Munich conference went through without Stalin even being invited this in essence showed what the west thought of him. Up until 1941 the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany had trade relations from which both benefited and Stalin was trying his best to avert war even when told that it was imminent. While he made mistakes in this instance it is also true that he authorized troop movements, the calling up of reserves, etc that were meant to help the Red Army combat any enemy activity. Sadly, this proved to have been unable to stem the tide of the German advance into the Soviet Union.

Throughout the beginning period of war, that is up until the battle of Stalingrad, Stalin was responsible for some of the mistakes which cost the Red Army hundreds of thousands of casualties. But it should be kept in mind that Stalin never took a decision on his own. There were also those that choose to side with a certain action and those who wanted to go against it, at times Stalin would choose the worse action but he was never a sole figure advocating for it. While this doesn't excuse him it sheds light on the fact that he was not the only one making mistakes at this point in time. Eventually he would relegate more control to his generals and Marshals with the outcome being greater and better organized operations like Uranus, Bagration, etc. The military takes up a large chunk of the book but it should also be noted that this is also a political history. Mainly looking at the activities of Stalin and his wartime allies, the US and England. Various meetings were held throughout the war; Tehran, Yalta, and Potsdam which made arrangements for what relations would be like after the war was over.

The Polish question was on everyone's mind as well as the question of what would happen to Germany and of course the USSR and her entry into the war against Japan was always a main point for Roosevelt. One of the interesting aspects of this book are the ideas behind Stalin's insistence that Eastern Europe should be a Soviet sphere of influence. What's interesting is that when asked to leave Greece to England, he agreed. He took little interest in the developments in Norway, Holland, and a number of other territories freed by the western allies and established once more as independent states and within the US and England's sphere of influence. Yet when it came to Poland or Hungary and Bulgaria there were the allies having to voice their opinions about what should be going on there. Stalin's thinking was that it took Germany 20 years to get into another war, it could take another 20 for WWIII to begin so why shouldn't the USSR do the most to protect itself?

These Eastern European states would become the buffer zone for her to protect her from future German aggression, especially since Germany wasn't going to be broken up as he had proposed again and again. Of course I am only presented details from here and there in the book, there is much more useful information to be found in this work about Stalin's thinking and actions and how they fit into the grand scheme of things. Many archival sources are used which adds a lot of interesting information as well as recent works on the Soviet Union which can't be tainted, as is sometimes done by some, as 'propaganda.' In my opinion an excellent addition to literature on this time period and especially on Stalin.

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