Academic journal article Parameters

Why Stalin's Soldiers Fought: The Red Army's Military Effectiveness in World War II

Academic journal article Parameters

Why Stalin's Soldiers Fought: The Red Army's Military Effectiveness in World War II

Article excerpt

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

408 pages



Roger Reese has already established himself as an outstanding historian of the Soviet Army. In this impressive book, Reese takes on one of the major questions of that army's history, namely the motivation of its fighting men and women in World War II or, as the Soviets and post-Soviet states still call it, the Great Fatherland War. It is no longer the case that we do not acknowledge this theater as the decisive one of the war in Europe, and that here as nowhere else in history we encounter all the terrors and awesome spectacle of total war.

Because this war was the greatest trial of the Soviet system, closely following the revolution and civil war of 1917-21, and because of the scope of the Soviet Union's victory and sacrifice, this war has become the object of a sustained and ongoing campaign by that government for historical memorialization. The Soviet Union and its successor states have deliberately fashioned a heroic narrative to explain the sacrifices of the war, the valor of the Soviet people, and the consequences of victory. This campaign of official mythmaking quickly attached itself to the question of why Soviet soldiers fought despite the terrible mismanagement of their commanders, the huge number of prisoners taken by the Nazis and their allies, and despite a generation of brutality by the Stalinist regime. Easy answers such as they fought for their homeland, for Stalin, for socialism, or it was the Nazi atrocities that drove people to fight all possess some element of truth; however, after reading Reese's description of the human dimension of the war, the reader will better understand it in all of its unadorned complexity.

Now that archives and memoirs have been opened, as was never the case under Soviet rule, it is possible for scholars like Reese to remind us that human motivations, whether we examine one man or the masses, never are simple or uniform. …

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