When the Western front opened in June of 1944 it led to some pretty huge battles, massive casualties and incredible stories.
And yet in the United States a narrative is perpetuated that is simply not true. The Anglo-American forces did not defeat Nazi Germany. They helped, but in June of 1944 they were already more or less defeated.
After Dunkirk there was little fighting on the continent at least in terms of Allied offensives. They tried various schemes and invasions but they all failed. The only real fighting was in the Pacific and in North Africa. After winning the North African campaign the Allies pushed into Italy in 1943.
The so-called Strategic Bombings began in 1942, but did not really pick up until 1943.
The Allies actually accomplished very little during the years extending from 1940-42. And things didn’t really pick up until 1943. And even then it was only when the Nazis were basically defeated and in heavy retreat that the Allies landed in Normandy and began to push West. The Germans were out of fuel by the end of 1944 and the war was over.
In the meantime from 1941 on the largest conflict in world history was taking place in the East. Some of the most titanic battles ever fought by man occurred as the Soviets stopped the German advance and began driving them back toward Central Europe. Stalin was right. Hitler had not understood that Russia was not like other countries.
The Eastern Front was the setting for death on the superlative scale. This was the place of massive troop movements, vicious partisan fighting, death camps and executions. It was so bitter that even after the war, millions more would die during expulsions and reprisals.
Even today Russians resent the Western claim to have defeated the Nazis and saved Europe. The fighting in the West was but a shadow compared to what happened in the East. That doesn’t mean that the fighting on Omaha beach wasn’t intense and it doesn’t mean there weren’t horrible things happening in the West.
Other than the landings the only real battle of any consequence was The Bulge in December of 1944. Remember the Allies crossed the Rhine more or less unopposed while the fighting in the East raged on. Hundreds of thousands died during the Battle of Berlin and it was the Soviets who finally brought down the Nazi high command.
It is dark viewing but I cannot overstate my recommendation of the movie Downfall (Der Untergang), which covers this period. It’s a masterpiece.
Again it is not my intention to criticize American soldiers who fought in World War II. My issue here is with the historians and the way myths are created. The Soviets were in a very bad way in late 1941 and were almost defeated. There can be no doubt that it took a joint effort to stop Hitler, but in the American mind it was the United States with a little British help that brought down the Third Reich. It’s simply not true. And this is perpetuated by history books, movies, television and every year by the news media.
It is dark reading but I recommend the book ‘Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin’ by Timothy Snyder. The book begins before World War II and deals with Stalin’s atrocities as well. It helps in understanding the grittiness and darkness of the Eastern Front and also helps to understand some of the issues that continued during The Cold War and continue to this day.
Patriotism in this case once again creates an epistemological and ethical dilemma. Patriotism creates meta-narratives about the country in question. For Americans, we’re the good guys, and we won the war. This granted us the moral legitimacy and mandate to do what we’ve done since 1945. And our actions post-1991 are also built on this narrative. To question this is akin to questioning the Faith itself. It is intellectual and moral treason.
The world is seen through an American lens. Our ideological commitments at this point won’t allow us to take in the grander scope and even for a moment consider that the United States isn’t always the key actor. It also doesn’t allow for the messiness of the real world that sometimes (in fact almost always) war is about bad guys fighting bad guys instead a simple good v. evil scenario.
Also, Patriotism clouds judgments and disallows honest discussion regarding strategic and tactical choices during the war. Patriotism is self-justifying and seeks moral argument to vindicate actions even if they’re not true. For example that we fought the war to stop the Holocaust….not true. Or that we had to drop the Atomic bomb or else a million Americans would die in the invasion of Japan…not true either. In fact it could be argued an invasion wouldn’t have been necessary. The United States has a record of insisting on unconditional surrender. This factor places American opponents in an impossible situation and leaves almost no options. No leader will willingly acquiesce to such terms and yet the Japanese were very close even before the dropping of the bomb. Why did Truman do it? Well we could have that discussion but it delves into areas a Patriotic epistemology won’t venture.
Fallen man makes idols and worships power. This is nothing new. But as Christians we should not go along with it or the myths it consequently must create.