Was the Soviet Union the real “winner” of World War II?
This idea came up earlier this month, as it increasingly seems to be in recent years, around V-E Day commemorations. We now see tributes to Victory in Europe Day mixed with attempts to rewrite history and diminish the role played by the United States and Great Britain in ensuring victory.
Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote Britain and the U.S. out of his Victory Day speech, saying that Russia fought Nazi Germany alone during the most difficult time of the war.
To cement Soviet status in the “Great Patriotic War,” Russian lawmakers are considering banning comparisons between the USSR and Nazi Germany.
According to The Moscow Times, the proposed law would prohibit denying the Soviet Union’s “decisive” role in victory over the Third Reich and denying “the humanitarian mission of the USSR in the liberation of European countries.”
That Russian leaders want to embellish their people’s contribution to the war while diminishing geopolitical opponents is one thing.
What’s worse is that there are many in the West who buy into and peddle this line, seemingly in an effort to rehabilitate the reputation of Soviet communism and diminish the achievements of the U.S. and Britain.
In 2017, The New York Times ran a ridiculous section paying tribute to the 100-year anniversary of the Russian Revolution that was filled with more than a few absurdly romanticized pictures of the now defunct murderous, totalitarian dictatorship.
Is there any truth to this idea that we have the Soviet Union to thank for freeing the world from Hitlerism?
Undoubtedly, the Soviet Union played an enormous role in defeating Germany and paid a heavy price in blood to do so.
The total number of Soviet casualties, military and civilian, remain generally unknown. Some estimates put the number upward of 20 million. Staggering to say the least.
But these high casualty numbers are not simply an indicator of the Soviet Union’s contribution to victory. That would be a peculiar way of looking at war.
The high number, it also must be noted, is not just a result of the German war machine. The Soviets notoriously killed hundreds of thousands, and likely millions, of their own people in World War II and just before it.
Soviet rulers, to say the least, certainly had a casual disregard for human life.
The Soviet Union starved millions in the great famine in Ukraine in the early 1930s, one of the most terrible crimes of the 20th century and notoriously covered up by New York Times reporter Walter Duranty, who won the Pulitzer Prize.
It seems the Times has a real penchant for twisting the truth about communism.
The Great Purge of Soviet officers in 1937 was just one of many purges that took place once the war began. It no doubt produced much of the ineffectiveness and low morale that contributed to the astronomical Soviet casualty count and Germany’s near defeat of the Red Army in 1942.
The fact that Soviet troops were defending territory that they had just conquered from other countries, not their home soil, likely didn’t help either. And what allowed the Soviet Union to occupy parts of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland when Nazi Germany went to war with them?
The USSR may have ended World War II on the winning side, but it began the war conquering its neighbors alongside Hitler following the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop nonaggression pact signed in 1939 between Germany and the Soviet Union.
When Nazi Germany turned against the Soviet Union, the Red Army crumbled–despite its huge advantages in men, materiel, and resources over the German Wehrmacht.
As brave Russians fought for dear life in Stalingrad, Leningrad, and in front of Moscow, they were given a lifeline by the immense material aid delivered to them by the U.S. and Britain. This allowed the Soviet Union to stay in the fight, a fact that Soviet dictator Josef Stalin privately admitted.
The Red Army ground down Nazi Germany’s massive land army, but the Allied powers were choking off Germany and battering it economically from the West. The Allies destroyed its once vaunted air force and, of course, ultimately opened up fronts in North Africa, Italy, and France that pushed Germany to total collapse.
As the Red Army rode into Berlin, it did so riding American-made Jeeps and Studebaker trucks that were an essential component of the Soviet war effort.
The Soviet Union certainly shared in the victory of World War II. But V-E Day was not the end of the story.
The people who now found themselves living under the Soviets rather than the Nazis did not live happily ever after.
The Soviet victory was not a victory for free people. It helped rid the world of Hitlerism, but empowered Stalinism.
As the Red Army marched through Europe, it came not as liberator but conqueror. The Iron Curtain, as former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously said in a 1946 speech in America, descended upon Eastern Europe as millions traded Nazi tyranny for Soviet tyranny.
The alliance among the Soviet Union, the U.S., and Great Britain was a product of having a common enemy and little more. Many in Western governments naively, and in some cases perniciously, believed that the Soviet Union was a key component to building a better world after the war.
Fortunately, it eventually dawned on U.S. leaders—and certainly the American people—that Soviet communism was not going to usher in a brave new world, but one of terror and darkness.
It should now be clear, through the lens of history, that Ronald Reagan was right: The Soviet Union was an evil empire to be confronted and defeated.
In the half-century that the Soviet Union existed following victory in World War II, the only force truly capable of matching it was the United States. Though we did so sometimes unevenly and opened ourselves to criticism over our own faults and occasional hypocrisies, the difference between what these two systems produced should be obvious.
The USSR’s ruthless and malignant system may have aided in defeating Hitler, but it also turned millions of free men and women into slaves and left scars on countless peoples that have not healed decades after its collapse.
The Soviet Union was an abomination that deserved to fall onto the ash heap of history, as Reagan said in a 1982 speech to the British Parliament.
English journalist and physician Theodore Dalrymple, comparing criticisms of the West and Soviet communism, poignantly wrote in Law & Liberty:
The atrocities of the Soviet Union and other communist regimes were not hypocritical in the sense of being in contradiction to their ideology: They were, besides being greater, the logical and practical consequences of that ideology.
Debates about who “won” World War II may seem academic 75 years after that terrible human calamity ended. But that would be mistaken. It now is wrapped deeply in the larger debates about history and what we are.
Is the United States founded on liberty or on slavery and tyranny?
Perhaps America was born with the “original sin” of slavery, but it is worth remembering that it also was born with the biblical original sin, as all people are. And unlike Soviet Marxism, American principles made slaves into free men instead of free men into slaves.
Unfortunately, we have hit a moment in history where authoritarian regimes such as Russia and communist China proclaim their superiority, their victories, and their pride in their achievements even as they hide or ignore the ugly truths about the evils their systems produce. And not just evils from half a century or centuries ago, but today.
At the same time, countless countries throughout the West—the United States, Great Britain, and others—have crossed the line of self-criticism essential to a free society and into outright self-loathing. The triumphs of the free world are being forgotten and diminished, its sins heightened and embellished.
With the increasing power of authoritarian regimes, it is essential that we as Americans regain our self-confidence.
While many of the West’s elite institutions seemingly no longer are capable of justifying our own existence, it very well may be up to the millions of average Americans who still believe in freedom and self-government–who still cling to the notion that our system, our country, our way of life is far from perfect and certainly could be improved, but is still an incredible force for good.
It is worth saving and defending with pride.
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal.