“Ayatollahs in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan”

“Ayatollahs in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan” Billy Joel’s reference in his hit song “We Didn’t Start the Fire” was the motivation/inspiration for this blogpost. 1979 was a turbulent year in world politics, especially on this front in central/south Asia. There are a few universally accepted adages through the course of human history. Never invade Russia in the winter, never go to the senate during the Ides of March, and never EVER invade Afghanistan. Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it, and the Soviet Union should have been more aware of the fact that the only people to have conquered Afghanistan in centuries were the Mongols.

As I was thinking about what to write in regards to my blogpost this week, I gravitated immediately to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. I have always found it fascinating that the Soviet Union experienced a similar conquest and defeat in Afghanistan much like the United States would in the decades to come. However, James Von Geldern’s subject essay, specifically the last paragraph gave me my focus this week:

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend”

The consequences of the Cold War in terms of blowback for either the citizens affected or the regimes propped up had devastating ramifications. Von Geldern sums up the sentiments of the Cold War well :”The war, fueled by and fueler of Cold War anxieties, operated on the law of unintended consequences.” In the case of the Soviet invasion, the United States essentially created the Taliban by way of funding & propping up the forces fighting against the Red Army, the “mujahideen”. One of these fighters/leaders funded was none other than Osama Bin Laden, in a similar way to Saddam Hussein in the 1980s.  I feel as if more people in the United States should be aware of facts like these, rather than buying into the narratives our government tells us about why we are involved in certain conflicts. Understanding the history involved in foreign policy decisions helps paint a much clearer picture of the world we live in. 

 

 

Stalingrad (Never Again)

I originally was planning on skipping this blogpost, but I could not refuse writing about Russia and World War Two. The Russian role in World War Two has always been of interest, Russia acting as “the enemy of my enemy” quite possibly shifting the entire course of the war.

If there was a dictionary definition for the quote about those not knowing history being doomed to repeat it, the Battle of Stalingrad would appear next to the definition. If Hitler had thought back to the numerous tries and failures of armies invading Russia, He could of made a much more informed decision. The decision he made to invade Russia, more specifically all the way to Stalingrad proved to be a costly mistake. Had he succeeded in what Siegelbaum referred to as “The main object of the Nazi offensive in the summer of 1942 were the oil fields of Baku, the seizure of which would have deprived the Red Army — and the rest of the Soviet Union — of its principal fuel supply.” (The Nazi Tide Stops, Siegelbaum) he could have inflicted a huge wound in Soviet supplies, as well as “the symbolism of capturing the city that bore the Soviet leader’s name…” (Siegelbaum) to hurt soviet morale. Diverting these troops just for a morale blow in hindsight clearly was not worth the loss of human life, Stalingrad being one of the deadliest battles in the history of warfare.

The Battle of Stalingrad represents a turning point of sorts in the war not just on the eastern front, but of the entire conflict as a whole. Stalingrad is a “household name” of battles in World War Two, perhaps to the vast majority of people the only one not involving American/British troops they know much about. This unfortunate notoriety is most likely a result of how deadly this battle was for both sides. World War Two being so violent, and Stalingrad being the deadliest battle of the war, hopefully people educate themselves on this battle so something of its magnitude never has to happen again. The battle is so scarily fascinating because of the intense, close quarters urban combat. I cannot imagine the conditions these troops fought in, and the trauma they suffered after being in combat in such close quarters. To me, it represents an unfortunate pinnacle of human horror.

This picture from Stalingrad forced me to do a double take. Thinking of the themes from my last blogpost, I questioned if it was doctored or not. Also, at first I thought this was a group of live children, but upon a closer look it became clear it depicts a statue that survived the Battle of Stalingrad. Unfortunately, the statue was probably one of the few things that survived this battle, living and non-living.

 

Statue in the center of Stalingrad after Nazi air strikes, 1942.jpg

https://rarehistoricalphotos.com/statue-center-stalingrad-1942/

( Emmanuil Yevzerikhin, Rare Historical Photos)

Works Citied:

Lewis Siegelbaum, “The Nazi Tide Stops”

(Rare Historical Photos, Emmaniul Yevzerikhin)

Mass Manipulation

From Khrushchev’s first usage of the term to the umbrella that it has turned into, I have always been intrigued by various “Cults of Personalties” of regimes across history. A Cult of Personality refers to all the strategies, tactics, manipulation, and propaganda a leader and or government will use to maintain control and influence over its people.  No better example of a Cult of Personality is that of Joseph Stalin,  the man being responsible for the phrase coming into existence in the first place. Going through the 1939 module there were connections I made, as well as themes I picked up on I would like to address further in this post.

Throughout the module, there was consistent theme of rewriting of history. It appears the phrase “history is written by the victor” reigns supreme across time. This concept of rewriting history is so intriguing for a fairly recent historical time period. Something rewritten or removed from history from the 12th century is far harder to detect than information from the time period we are studying from less than 100 years ago. Not only in Stalin’s regime was history changed, people were flat out removed from photographs, something I remembered reading about once that I want to connect to the module. It was from a piece from the History Channel website, about how photos were weaponized as a political tactic by Stalin. Below is a photo from that article, showing Nikolai Yezhov flat out removed from the original photograph.

Screen Shot 2019-03-31 at 6.53.54 PM.png

(Credit: Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images & AFP/GettyImages)

I was previously aware of the photo edits done in this time period, but going further through that article I discovered the very famous photo of the Soviet flag being raised over Berlin at the end of World War 2 was staged. I never knew this but have seen this image multiple times, and finding out it was staged and not captured in the moment was crushing. Like discovering the tooth fairy was not real. Despite not being completely flat out edited, it is still a genius “marketing” propaganda/patriotic tool wielded by Stalin.

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(Credit: Sovfoto/UIG via Getty Images)

This was a great article that I encourage anyone to check out! Here is the link:

https://www.history.com/news/josef-stalin-great-purge-photo-retouching

The module mentioned how Stalin was named “Man of The Year” by Time Magazine in 1939, something that in historical hindsight seems so intriguing / interesting to us in the west, or just across the world as a whole. Worth mentioning, as most people are probably aware, that Hitler was given the same title a year before. I would love in this class or another to discuss these controversial figures, and the process in which they were selected for these titles.

Important to note the rewrites carried into flat out executions and missing persons, a scary and sad effect of Stalin’s manic control of all things Soviet. The following quote from James Von Geldern’s subject essay sums this up: “The often bizarre accusations, reflecting the revisionist agenda of Stalinist history, were terribly unjust; but it must be noted that none of the victims had ever spoken out when earlier trials had devoured similarly innocent people.” This quote reminded me instantly of a very powerful poem I have came across many times about speaking out. There are a lot of variations of this poem, but I believe this is the original:

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(Martin Niemoller: “First they came for the Socialists…”)

Going forward, another quote from Von Geldern’s essay seemed to reign true in the present day. “The idealized figure of Stalin represented in mass culture also spoke to a perceived need for vigorous leadership in Soviet society.” Change the quote up a little, and would it not apply to the current Russian/US political climates?

The idealized figure of Putin represented in mass culture also spoke to a perceived need for vigorous leadership in Russian society.

The idealized figure of Trump represented in mass culture also spoke to a perceived need for vigorous leadership in American society.

The module mentioned how Stalin was named “Man of The Year” by Time Magazine in 1939, something that in historical hindsight seems so intriguing / interesting to us in the west, or just across the world as a whole. Worth mentioning, as most people are probably aware, that Hitler was given the same title a year before. I would love in this class or another to discuss these controversial figures, and the process in which they were selected for these titles.

 

Works Citied:

https://www.history.com/news/josef-stalin-great-purge-photo-retouching

https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/martin-niemoeller-first-they-came-for-the-socialists

http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1939-2/cult-of-personality/

 

The Interesting Case of Soviet Central Asia

RUSU1647.jpg

The image above of an Uzbek town square donned with soviet flags and a Soviet speaker, visualizes the process of making these central Asian part of the Soviet Union. The way in which the Soviet Union went about this directly dealt with an intertwinement of nationality and religion. I found an interesting parallel to some U.S policies/practices in regard to their “Americanization” of minorities, and or inclusion of them in both the past and present. Some of the practices on the part of the United States seemed to be backward in the early 20th century compared to their “Evil Empire” counterpart.

The Soviet Union did a fine job of preserving national identities of Central Asian countries in the formation of their new nation/government, but it appeared to be at the ironic expense of religion. The promotion of indigenous languages over Russian, and an almost Soviet version of Affirmative Action in governmental jobs, would lead one to the conclusion that the Soviet Union was showing tolerance to ethnic minorities. And this was probably true, if only to give the illusion of tolerance to wield more political control over further away places. I said illusion of tolerance because of the way in which religion was handled. According to Siegelbaum, religion as a tenant of nationality took a backseat to gender issues, Islam being viewed (by many to this day across the world as well) as sexist to women. Failing to ignore the veil’s purpose of modesty and respect for women, led to a direct disrespect of women in the form of violence after this ban on the veil. What the Soviet Union prioritized in the process of making Central Asian countries Soviet appeared to be as deliberate as random. Their priorities beg the question, why an emphasis on using indigenous languages over Islamic, Uzbek traditions?

 

I drew a contradiction between Soviet and American policies during the same time period while reading Lewis Siegelbaum’s subject essay “Making Central Asia Soviet”. While the Soviets were encouraging indigenous languages, the U.S was banning them via the Dawes Act and attempting to hinder the culture of Native Americans. It would not be until much later that the U.S had a similar policy of preferential leadership roles for minorities, like the Soviets did with Uzbeks.

 

Works Citied:

Rozhdestvenskiy, October Celebration in Samarkand, Hoover Political Poster Database, 2007