Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, who was christened as Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili in his native Georgia, is better known to history as Josef Stalin. He was a Bolshevik revolutionary, and later the brutal dictator of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics from the late 1920s until his death in 1953. During that time he was directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of millions of people, most of them his own countrymen. And for four years of that period he was an esteemed ally of the United States and Great Britain in the fight against Nazi Germany.
I bring all of this up because of an article in last night’s news feed and a subsequent discussion in the comments about the controversy over the bust of Stalin that was recently erected at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. The issue is of local as well as national significance for me, since the memorial is just down the road from us. On June 6, 1944, the “boys from Bedford” experienced the greatest casualty rate of any American outfit, which is why Bedford was chosen for the site of the D-Day memorial.
Given the long and bitter course of the Cold War, and the hundreds of thousands of Americans killed in Korea and Vietnam, it’s understandable that many Americans object to presence of Stalin on the sacred ground of the Bedford memorial. It’s galling for the millions of surviving victims of Communism to see Stalin honored alongside the British, American, Canadian, and other allied heroes of World War Two.
On Monday The Washington Times reported:
Opponents of the recently installed bust of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va., are not backing down and have started a worldwide petition.
The petition, which was started last week, calls on the officers and board of directors at the National D-Day Memorial Foundation to remove the bust. It had received 616 confirmed signatures as of Monday afternoon, with confirmation pending on more than 200 other signatures.
The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, with assistance from the Joint Baltic American National Committee, intends to marshal public opinion against the board’s decision, said Karl Altau, the committee’s managing director. Mr. Altau said that while no goal has been specified, 10,000 signatures would be “terrific.”
Mr. Altau said he has seen a strong response, especially from the countries hardest hit by Stalin’s dictatorship, such as Hungary, Poland and such former Soviet republics as Estonia, Latvia and Georgia…
Robin Reed, slated to become the next president of the National D-Day Memorial Foundation on Monday, is standing by his predecessor’s decision to install a bust of dictator Josef Stalin at the memorial in Bedford, Va.
“At this point in time I certainly am not going to re-evaluate that,” he said in an interview Tuesday with The Washington Times.
While Mr. Reed said he can “appreciate the concern” of locals who have voiced their opposition to the bust, he said the bust can serve as a teaching tool to make visitors recognize the importance of Stalin as one of the leaders in World War II.
To those who argue that Stalin’s force weren’t present on the beaches of Normandy in 1944 and had nothing to do with the D-Day invasion, Mr. Reed said Stalin still deserves credit as someone who contributed to the success of the war.
I’ll go off the reservation here and agree with Mr. Reed. Stalin deserves to be included as an equal partner with Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. Like it or not, he was a member of the trio of wartime leaders.
Not only did Stalin occupy a co-equal position within the Allied leadership, but he was honored and acclaimed as a friend by the West during the war. Western propaganda turned him into “Uncle Joe”, a big affable Russian guy, beloved by own his people and a friend to the Western Allies. We were led to believe that Communist Russia was not that different from democratic America. The Soviets just carried around a lot of red flags and wore babushkas and furry hats; but otherwise they were more or less the same as us.
There was no gulag. All those people convicted and shot during the show trials really were guilty. The Ukrainian famine didn’t happen — Walter Duranty told us it was a lie, and who could doubt Duranty? After all, he was a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.
From 1942 to 1945 we committed an enormous amount of men and materiel to bolster Stalin’s position on the Eastern Front. Thousands of American and British sailors died making the Murmansk run around northern Norway to bring weapons and equipment to the Russians. Almost all of the trucks used by the Soviets in their fight against the Nazis were manufactured in the United States.
Not only that, the participation of the USSR was crucial for Allied victory. Hitler could never have been totally defeated without the destruction of much of his army on the Eastern Front by the Red Army.
All of this manufactured friendship made it difficult to fire up the Cold War in later years. Since we were democracies, we couldn’t turn our propaganda machine on a dime and do an about-face. The Soviets didn’t have the same problem — up until the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on August 23, 1939, Hitler was a counterrevolutionary demon. After that he was a friend of international Socialism, right up until June 22, 1941, when the Wehrmacht crossed the border into the Ukraine. Then he became a demon again, and stayed that way until April 1945, when the Red Army found his charred body in the garden of the Reichskanzlei in Berlin.
The pro-Soviet propaganda in the USA had a lasting effect. The image of Uncle Joe lingered in the back of American popular consciousness throughout the Cold War, giving us a sneaking affection for ordinary Russians, those good-humored vodka-drinking guys in their long coats and fur hats who secretly didn’t like Communism any better than we did — or so we had to believe. That meme was dusted off and relaunched in 1991 when “democracy” suddenly bloomed in Russia.
I believe in honesty in the reporting of history.
Of late it has become fashionable to airbrush Roosevelt’s cigarette holder and Churchill’s cigar out of the photos on display in museums and schoolbooks. This is a trivial instance of the renowned “memory hole”, the same oubliette to which Stalin consigned all the Old Bolsheviks. One by one they were edited out of the grainy photographs until no one was left standing in front of the carefully reconstructed background but Stalin himself.
So let the bust stand. Uncle Joe was there, and he was our ally. Recognizing him would be a welcome breath of historical accuracy in the thoroughly debased practice of 21st-century historiography.
And by all means include a prominent sign explaining to visitors what Stalin stood for. Let’s direct them to the Global Museum of Communism, which honors the more than one hundred million victims of Marxist totalitarianism.
But let’s tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It’s time to consign the airbrush to the ash heap of history.
It’s much too late to worry
That we never had a chance
And when Joe the Georgian gets here
We will dance, dance, dance
When Joe the Georgian gets here
We will dance
— Al Stewart, from “Joe the Georgian”