[Marxism] Mike Davis on D-Day

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Jun 9 14:12:46 MDT 2004


Remembering Bill and Ivan
By Mike Davis

The decisive battle for the liberation of Europe began sixty years ago 
this month when a Soviet guerrilla army emerged from the forests and 
swamps of Belorussia to launch a bold surprise attack on the mighty 
Wehrmacht's rear. The partisan brigades, including thousands of Jewish 
fighters and concentration-camp escapees, devastated the rail lines 
linking the German Army Group Center to its bases in Poland and Eastern 

Three days later, on 22 June -- the third anniversary of Hitler's 
invasion of the Soviet Union -- Marshal Zhukov gave the order for the 
main assault on German front lines. Twenty-six thousand heavy guns and 
rocket launchers pulverized German fortifications in a matter of 
minutes. The banshee-like screams of the Katyusha rockets were 
punctually followed by the roar of 4000 tanks and the battle cries (in 
more than 40 languages!) of 1.6 million Soviet soldiers. Thus began 
Operation Bagration, an assault launched over a 500 hundred mile long 

But what American has ever heard of Operation Bagration? June 1944 
signifies Omaha Beach not the crossing of the Dvina River. Yet the 
Soviet summer offensive was almost an entire order of magnitude larger 
than Operation Overlord (the invasion of Normandy) in both the scale of 
forces engaged and the direct cost to the Germans.

By the end of summer, the Red Army (which included full divisions of 
Poles and Czechs) had reached the gates of Warsaw as well as the high 
passes of the Carpathians which command the entrance to Slovakia as well 
as Hungary. Soviet tanks, in a stunning reverse blitzkrieg, had caught 
Army Group Center in steel pincers and destroyed it. The Germans would 
lose more than 300,000 men in Belorussia alone. Another huge German army 
had been encircled and would soon be annihilated along the Baltic coast. 
The road to Berlin had been opened.

Thank Ivan.

It is no disparagement of the brave men who died in the sinister 
hedgerows of Normandy or in the cold forests around Bastogne, to recall 
that 70% of the Wehrmacht is buried on the Russian steppes not in French 
fields. In the struggle against Nazism, approximately forty "Ivans" died 
for every "Private Ryan."

Yet the ordinary Soviet soldier -- the tractor mechanic from Samara, the 
actor from Orel, the miner from the Donetz, or even the high-school girl 
from Leningrad -- is invisible in the current celebration and 
mythologization of the "Greatest Generation." It is as if the "new 
American century" cannot be fully born without exorcising the central 
Soviet role in the epochal victory of the last century.

Indeed, most Americans are shockingly clueless about the relative 
burdens of combat and death in the Second World War. And even the 
minority who understand something of the enormity of the Soviet 
sacrifice tend to visualize it in terms of crude stereotypes of the Red 
Army: a barbarian horde driven by feral revenge and primitive Russian 
nationalism. Only G.I. Joe and Tommy are envisioned as truly fighting 
for civilized ideals of freedom and democracy.

It is thus all the more important to recall that -- despite Stalin, the 
NKVD, and the massacre of an entire generation of Bolshevik leaders -- 
the Red Army still retained powerful elements of revolutionary 
fraternity. In its own eyes, and that of the slaves it freed from 
Hitler, it was the greatest army of liberation in history.

Moreover, the Red Army of 1944 was still a Soviet Army. The generals who 
led the brilliant breakthrough on the Dvina included a Jew 
(Chernyakovskii), an Armenian (Bagramyan), and a Pole (Rokossovskii). In 
contrast to the class-divided and racially segregated American forces, 
command in the Red Army was an open, if ruthless, ladder of opportunity.

Anyone who doubts the revolutionary élan and rank-and-file humanity of 
the Red Army should consult the extraordinary memoirs by Primo Levi (The 
Reawakening) and K.S. Karol (Between Two Worlds). Both hated Stalinism 
but loved the ordinary Soviet soldier and saw in her/him the seeds of 
socialist renewal.

So, as George W. Bush demeans the memory of D-Day to solicit support for 
his war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, I've decided to hold my own 
private commemoration.

I will recall, first, my kindhearted Uncle Bill, the salesman from 
Columbus, although it is hard to imagine such a gentle soul as a 
hell-for-leather teenage GI in Normandy. Second -- as I'm sure my Uncle 
Bill would've wished -- I will remember his comrade Ivan. The Ivan who 
drove his tank through the gates of Auschwitz and battled his way into 
Hitler's bunker.

Two ordinary heroes: Bill and Ivan. Obscene to celebrate the first 
without also commemorating the second.

Mike Davis is the author of Dead Cities: And Other Tales, Ecology of 
Fear, and co-author of Under the Perfect Sun: the San Diego Tourists 
Never See, among other books.


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