Why Stalin's Soldiers Fought: The Red Army's Military Effectiveness in World War II. By Roger R. Reese. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2011, 386 pages, $37.50.
Reviewed by Mark Thomas.
In a world of books in which the primary focus is tactics and strategy, Roger Reese gives us an in-depth look at the people who were actually fighting the war rather than purely focusing on the institutions that were involved. In Why Stalin's Soldiers Fought: The Red Army s Military Effectiveness in World War II, Reese confronts the enigma of how the Soviet army still achieved victory against the German onslaught while having to deal with a plethora of factors that were working against them.
In the first two years of the war, not only did the Red Army take a high number of casualties and a massive number of captured/ surrendered troops (approximately three million troops between June and December 1941), but they also had to deal with mass desertion, draft dodging, and self-inflicted wounds. The historical debate has to do with the amount of men that surrendered during the first six months of the war. Does this lead to a rejection of Stalinism and the Socialist state? Or does the fact that these people chose to fight in the first place show support of Stalinism? Reese's work uses an immense amount of research, as well as convincing personal commentary from Russian veterans, to try and pinpoint the answer to the question that is in the title of the book: Why did Stalin's soldiers fight?
Reese tries to break down all the factors that would motivate the Soldiers to fight. Many chose to fight in order to protect the rodina (Mother Russia), calling it the "great patriotic war;" some admitted that it was the fight for socialism against the ever-pressing capitalist Germany, while others just wanted to protect their families. There were also those who revealed that their motive was indeed to fight for Stalin. Reese evaluated each type of soldier by occupation, nationality (Ukrainian, Belorussian, Lithuanian, Latvian, and Caucasian soldiers also made up the Red Army), and overall status within Russian society and weighed accordingly how it translated into support or disdain for Stalin's regime. …