Do you ever get the feeling that the story’s too damn real and in the present tense?
Or that everybody’s on the stage and it seems like you’re the only person sitting in the audience?
Do you ever get the feeling that the story’s too damn real and in the present tense?
Or that everybody’s on the stage and it seems like you’re the only person sitting in the audience?
I recall when the French T.V. series Les Revenants was released in the United States. It has something of a buzz about it and I made a point that I was going to watch it. However, by the time it was released in the U.S., there was already an English language version under development. In fact, I dare say part of the push to talk up the French series was to generate interest for the American version. By the time they made it to Netflix, I had both available to me at roughly the same time.
I wasn’t sure which one to watch first. Should I try to see the original, and then watch the U.S. version be able to judge it as an adaptation? Or should I start it off with the material that was meant for me specifically? Surely setting a show in the Pacific Northwest, rather than France, would make it easier for me to follow some of the more subtle references, assuming there are any? I recently watch The Killing, the U.S. version, without first taking in the Danish series, and it seemed to work out OK. There were certain moments where I became aware that, for example, all the names were Danish or that the landscape, while convincingly Seattle, was an awful lot like Denmark. Culturally, though, it matched my own.
In the end, Netflix has made the choice for me. The U.S. series is being removed from their streaming offerings by the end of the week so I have that long to try to make it through. The show is well done, and so I am certainly happy to give it a try, I’m just not sure I have enough time to fit it all in. It is a short series, only 10 episodes in all. Having not reached the end, I still don’t know yet if all will be revealed. I’ll leave that to you to find out on your own.
Instead, a little bit on the title. The French series was based on a French film from 2004, also with the same name. The film version was translated into English as “They Came Back.” It is also identified as a “zombie film.” It deviated from the “zombie” formula in that the risen weren’t monsters, mindless or otherwise, whose presence threatened the rest of us. They didn’t eat human flesh nor did they pass on their curse to those they came in contact with. Nevertheless, they are “the other,” something not entirely human (as we, the living, define ourselves) and so, perhaps, they are in some other way a threat to our existence. One that we don’t immediately appreciate.
When the series was recreated for the American audience, the translated title is “The Returned,” which is also how it is reference in Amazon for the original, French version. Now, revenent is derived from revenir, meaning “to return” or “to come back.” So the noun form, certainly, implies “They who have returned.” However, in French, le revenent, is also understood to mean “the ghost.” It probably wouldn’t refer to a zombie, where one might expect to see, much as in English, the actual term zombie or perhaps “living dead.”
They concept behind the show, the return of the dead, wouldn’t seem to have much grounding in reality. I wonder, though. It may be a bit of a fringe following, but there are a growing number among us who anticipate, and wholeheartedly believe in, some form of a Singularity. Such is defined as an advance in technology, most often attributed to advanced (possibly sentient) Artificial Intelligence (AI), that would overturn many of the rules by which society has thus far functioned. One of the more sought-after benefits is an end to aging. This could be brought about by advanced medical science that would allow the repair of the aging effects upon our bodies to grant us extended youth and immense life-spans. An alternative possibility is that the advancement of AI would allow humans to transfer their consciousness to a computer, allowing an immortality of mind, if not of body.
For me, this raises a certain philosophical question. Imagine you are offered the opportunity of transferring your mind to a computer. You are assured that, upon doing so, you will continue to live on, forever. Imagine also that this idea appeals to you (although, for many it may not). You are assured, including by those who have undergone the process before you, that indeed your sense of self remains intact through the transfer. However, you suspect differently. In an Invasion of the Body Snatchers type of scenario, you begin to suspect that those advising you are simply clever AIs who want to profit by assuming the identity of living persons, whom they can then eliminate without arousing suspicion. How could you know?
Imagine it this way. What if I told you that every night, when you go to sleep, your mind actually dies. In the morning, a new person, and new
As a character in the show says, “There’s only one way to find out.”
There was a rash of films being removed from Netflix coincidental with the turn of the calendar to February. Too many, in fact, for me to watch them all before they were gone. Besides Touch of Evil, I managed two comedies. Well, I started one and then watched another.
I started watching Whatever Works but I couldn’t manage to finish it. It is a newish/old Woody Allen picture. Newish, as it was released in 2009. Amazingly, that only puts it among the last dozen “new” Woody films. It is also old, however, because it was made using a script written in the early 1970s. Allen created the project with the intent to star actor Zero Mostel, of Fiddler on the Roof and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. When that was no longer possible, the script was shelved.
On-line reviews of Whatever Works were mostly flat. The biggest complaint was that the main character, played by Larry David, was unlikable. I’ve long been a fan of Woody Allen films (although I’ve mostly stopped watching his stuff made after 1990) and it doesn’t sound too different than a lot of his work. It sounded like a complaint from, perhaps, a younger generation who couldn’t quite appreciate Woody’s style. The problem is, they’re right. The main character is just so unpleasant as to be, not simply an exaggeration of the Allen New York archetype, but an absurd and unrealistic characterization of the ultra-liberal, ultra-intellectual, Queens denizen. It becomes hard to tell whether it is supposed to be caricature or what Allen imagines someone really smart would say if he weren’t held back by societal norms.
The character (Boris Yelnikoff, for what its worth) finds a beautiful 21-year-old (played by Evan Rachel Wood) on his doorstep and she moves in with him. As she is from the deep South (Louisiana and Alabama), she is morbidly stupid and takes everything literally. Once again, Allen seems like he might have been trying to say something about cultural clash but decided that rural, Southern culture equates simply to “dumb.” Naturally, the girl falls in love with the geriatric Yelnikoff. I turned it off before they got married.
It all seems so self-indulgent.
Next, I went to another film that’s been on my watchlist for nigh on fifteen years.
Back in the 2002 time frame, a new generation of zombie movies began coming out. Up until that point, I had never gone for the shock-horror genre and so had never watched any of the original Romero films. The first of the Resident Evil movies and 28 Days Later (both 2002 films) marked a resurgence of the genre. Predictably, I had no interest in Resident Evil, both because of the horror genre and due to an utter lack of interest in video-game-to-big-screen conversions. I did, actually, put 28 Days Later on my watch list and soon-after rented it, based on its positive reviews. The other positive review I read around that same time was for Shaun of the Dead. Very positive, in fact. It also went onto my list, but I never managed to watch it.
When it eventually game out on Netflix streaming, Netflix’s algorithms determined that this was a film that would be a must-see for me. In this case, I figured they were probably right but somehow still never got around to watching it. Not until, that is, they decided I would no longer get the chance.
They were right. It is funny. It is also clever, particularly in the core gag wherein the characters repeatedly don’t notice that the zombies are not alive, because, who can tell the difference these days? It also has no trouble holding up after 15 years and 2,000 intervening zombie movies.
So, why Zombies?
Past generations had few qualms about making movies with stock enemies. Frontier Indians, Mexican bandidos, Nazis, Zulus… whomever needed to be cast as villains could also be dehumanized on the screen without a second thought. In the current environment, however, it gets harder and harder to demonize a stereotype. Russians, maybe, still can be cast as criminals and gangsters (and I’m sure Donald Trump’s shadow can keep that going for another decade or so). North Koreans might do if you’ve accidentally cast some other Asian nation and need to backtrack. But, frankly, we’re running out of bad guys.
George Lucas suggested pitting us against masses of robotic soldiers and, in doing so, demonstrated its stupidity. Why would flesh-and-blood creatures engage in a war of attrition against mass-produced machinery? Makes no sense. Peter Jackson raised the bar, somewhat, with his Orcs – still mass produced (per the film, at least) but nevertheless a foreign race competing for our living space. At the same time, they were a foreign race whom it cannot be “racist” to discriminate against because they’re evil. Kind of like MAGA hat-wearing Catholic School teenagers. But unlike the red-hatted masses, they’re pulled out of the realm of fantasy and so limited in both their allegorical potential as well as their suitability in a large number of film genres.
Enter the Zombie. The Zombie is human and, indeed, is (much like our ideal society) a wonderful mix of gender, ethnic group, body type, and sexual orientation. At the same time, they are obviously “the other.” They can be immediately identified as not-one-of-us and also have absolutely nothing that engenders sympathy. But being human, they can easily (and as subtly as necessary) be stand-ins for whatever fellow humans we consider the new enemy. They also, if films are any indication, likely to spring up at almost any time for a wide and wild variety of reasons.
Mindless, slow witted masses are perhaps something we all feel these days. Don’t we all fantasize about taking the world back from them?
[F]or most people on the left political violence is a knob, and they can turn the heat up and down, with things like protests, and riots, all the way up to destruction of property, and sometimes murder… But for the vast majority of folks on the right, it’s an off and on switch. And the settings are Vote or Shoot Fucking Everybody. And believe me, you really don’t want that switch to get flipped, because Civil War 2.0 would make Bosnia look like a trip to Disneyworld.
The quote is author Larry Correia relaying a conversation he had with a friend. It’s part of a larger article where he tries to articulate, for a reader who might lean to the left, why gun confiscation is a terrible idea. It is in response to a tweet by one of California’s representatives to the U.S. House, Rep. Eric Michael Swalwell Jr. Salwell replied to a gun activist that the apparent “war” he wanted with gun owners would be a short one because the government has nukes.
Salwell has been mentioned as a potential 2020 presidential candidate and has expressed an interest in running.
I know a few “folks on the right.” This analysis rings true.
The other day I read an article which analyzes the prospect of mass, armed violence on America’s near horizon.
I began thinking about it in the context of my recent post where I talked about the sense that people on the left witness an entirely different reality than that of people on the right. I have several times thought to share the above article with her, asking how she would interpret its analysis. To me I think the conclusions sound spot on. She has also expressed concerns that the downward spiral of America’s discourse is irreversible. But does she seem the same causes as I do? Doubtful. Would she agree with the “solutions” presented in this article? Even more doubtful.
I have yet to share this article anywhere but with you, my readers. The problem is, it is a fairly substantial article, much of which talks about the failed policies of America’s progressives.
There is a quote that I am unable to find. I thought it was from this article, but search as I might, I can’t locate it. It may have been in a referencing link to this article, or taken from another context about the same situation. The point, essentially, is that once we descend into violence, the question of who is at fault, who started it, will be of little concern to the participants. Historians may write about the roots of America’s Second Civil War and try to attach some blame, although even then it is more likely they will just bolster the righteousness of the ultimate victors.
It seems apparent that we are already, today, beyond the point where there is an identifiable perpetrator and victim. The reactionary forces within our body politic are prepared to retaliate against the latest attack, regardless of what lead up to it. In this sense, the long discussion of how and why the acts of progressives have become intolerable is mostly irrelevant. Can a liberal reader see through what is essentially an assault on their identity into the analysis that, I would say, makes for the meat of this article?
And what is that?
The author proposes that the 2018 and 2020 elections will be the next catalyst that will propel this country forward into its “new equilibrium.” By that, he means a new stable state that comes after the highly volatile situation we find ourselves in today. That state may take any number of forms but I think it’s impossible that we stay in the current political environment for much longer. Just as the author states that he does not predict the outcome of the elections, only what the results of the various outcomes will be, I also think dwelling on the righteousness of the winners and losers is a distraction from the analysis that he presents.
From hours after the results of the presidential election of 2016 became apparent, the left has focused their efforts on the election of 2018. In that, you may feel they are on the side of the angels, or you may disagree their near-maniacal anti-Trump focus. In any case, I think we can all agree that a plan and the intent to bring it to fruition indeed exists. Should the left “win” the election in a week or so, every tactic they have employed to get to that end will be, to them, justified. We also know that 2018 is merely preparatory for 2020. The goal of a 2018 victory will be to impeach, or at a minimum obstruct, Donald Trump.
I put “win” in quotes as this is subjective. What is a win for the Democrats? Gaining a majority in the House and Senate? Just the House? Is merely picking up a certain number of “red” seats sufficient? How about for the Republicans. Is merely holding on to the Senate sufficient to be a victory? All this is important because what happens next is less dependent on the political makeup of the resulting government and more upon the various sides’ perception of what happened.
I’ll also take a moment for a bit of an aside. The author uses the terms “the left” and “the ruling class” to be mostly interchangeable. To a progressive activist like my friend, however, these are opposites. I think it is important to consider that a progressive could (and, now that I think about it, probably has) written a very similar article talking about the sinister power grabs of the ruling class and how the reactionary right hands the means to do that. To the right, Donald Trump is the corporate outsider, hacking away at the alligators as he attempts to drain the swamp. To the left, he is the perfect example of a corporate overlord, a member of the elitist class that endlessly brushes aside any attempts to constrain, through democracy, attempts to curb their destructive behaviors.
He makes (roughly speaking) a four-branch tree of outcomes, based on Republican versus Democrat victories over the next two elections. Essentially, he predicts all but one will end in warfare. The Democratic takeover of the Presidency he gives as a kind of a default outcome, in that it follows in more-or-less a straight line the path that we are on. He foresees that party and the ruling class, having dispensed with the niceties of civil discourse, now in possession of the full power of State apparatus. They face off against a group, now completely cut off from power, that has learned a hard set of lessons from the “resistance” that put them there.
The article speaks about the fact that self-restraint, the inner control which prevents us from entering into violence against our fellow citizens, has already left the building. From my personal experience, his description of those on the right is accurate. He writes, “The conservatives, among whom the zealot’s taste for taking the speck out of the neighbor’s eye is not widespread, revere self-restraint in principle, but are learning to transgress against it in practice.” In this he contrasts them with liberals, for whom he says restraint is “anathema in principle as well as in practice.”
I think he simplifies a more nuanced situation. I note he uses the word “restraint,” and that is important. Conservatives are apt to talk a good game. Violence in defense of home and family, or even honor, is often talked about and even considered justified. It is but rarely invoked. Liberals often mistake the sentiment that “so and so deserves a good ass-kicking” to imply a propensity to do just that. Yet, it is exceedingly rare because whatever the conservative might think could be done, their sense of higher purpose restrains them.
Progressives on the other hand, I think, define violence a little differently. Screaming in someone’s face or denying a Trump supporter’s humanity is, whatever it may be, not violent. Nobody is shot and nobody is stabbed, so no “restraint” is required. Indeed, screaming a political figure and his family out of a restaurant may feel less inappropriate then the idle comment post-incident that “They better not try that on me, I’m armed.”
Point being, just as the author sees the progressive left as having pushed conservatives over the edge into violence, no doubt progressives themselves see the reverse as true, and the truth of it just as obvious. I make that point, perhaps, to help liberal reader get through the accusatory parts of the linked text. I also think it is why the current downward spiral is unrecoverable – in our minds, we are already reacting to actual violence perpetrated upon us by the other.
Back to those four outcomes. The author proposes that the only chance of peace in our time is a double Republican victory.
A loss in November will cause the left to question their emphasis on “resistance” and the tactics they used against Kavanaugh. Indeed they may temper their approach. In contrast, success in November tells them they are on the right track and need to ramp up their efforts further. His one downside for a Republican victory is that he figures it will lock-in Trump as the standard bearer for 2020 which, in his words, “would add its own level of uncertainty to the outcome.”
Two losses in a row would send a clear message to the left that this country is on the wrong track and put the ball of reconciliation into their court. Having failed to run Trump out on a rail and faced with eight straight years of Republican rule (plus decades of a conservative majority on the Supreme court), they would have every reason to seek a fair compromise. Such a compromise, he suggests, might be found in allowing States to go their own way.
So how would the other side view these conclusions?
Of course, if you are on the right, your only solution is a solid string of victories and every other way leads to disaster. Similarly, I’m sure the left sees the only way to peace via winning in November, impeaching Trump, and then putting Hillary into the White House in 2020. What, though, comes of their consideration of the author’s prediction about the results of that outcome? Do they intend to “crush” the “alt-right,” but see them as such a fringe minority that they don’t matter? Or do they figure conservatives, unlike themselves, will accept reversals at the polls with quiet dignity (and when did they start viewing conservatives so generously)?
These things I would like to know.
The hackneyed phrase in circulation among anti-speech liberals is “freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences”, which like most hackneyed phrases is a lie in service to an injustice. As a matter of fact, freedom of speech means nothing if it does not come with freedom from consequences. The only acceptable response to argument is counter-argument. It is never violence, it is never expulsion from society, it is never imprisonment or fines, it is never economic punishment–for if any of these things is allowed, then open debate is infringed. And if open debate is infringed, then our democracy itself is controlled by those with the power to sanction speech. Because men benefit from sanctioning criticism of their misdeeds, this inevitably means the ruin of democracy itself.
[…S]omeone a thousand miles away, whom you have never met, and to whom you have no meaningful social relationship, can attack you for your speech. Here I am drawing a distinction between arguing against you, which is permissible, and attacking your speech rights themselves, either by direct or indirect suppression. In this we have a one-way exercise of power and its only point is to prevent your speech rights from being exercised. This is as much in violation of the right to free speech as is a government agent fining or jailing you for criticism.
Important in this distinction is the element of balance. If two people wish to disassociate from each other over a difference of views, that is permissible and natural. If a group hears the speech of one person and chooses to ignore him, that is permissible and natural. But when groups of people choose to punish a speaker, or large corporations choose to take away his voice in public venues, then there is an imbalance that is plainly evil. The right not to hear speech is easily exercised, but it cannot extend to the right to force others not to hear it, or it becomes tyrannical.
Full post is here.
The film made me think about “preparedness,” a concept that gets a lot of traction in the world these days. The real world has a way of undoing all one’s planning. In the face of this natural disaster, it didn’t matter what equipment you owned or what martial arts you may have learned, you were at the mercy of nature and the kindness of your fellow human beings.
It is often said, and probably just as often ignored, that what is important is the most simple. Being physically fit, healthy, and capable of running, swimming, climbing, and otherwise functioning under physical stress was the most important set of skills for anyone trapped in the aftermath of this disaster. Well, second most important. Above all, it was pure luck. Luck to survive the wave without being killed, the luck to be found and treated for injuries, the luck to be standing in the right place when the wave hit.
Something like a quarter of a million people were killed in this disaster, anfd countless more suffered tremendous loss.
The film itself was not horrible, but not really my cup of tea. I guess I’m not a huge distaster/survivor genre fan to begin with, and as purely a story, this was not an exceptional one. What made it stand out is that it was written by the survivor (the female lead, played by Naomi Watts) based on her actual experience. The real drama, perhaps, was the “impossible” circumstances alluded to in the title – which I’ll not dwell on as it kind of ruins the movie.
Reading the reviews of this came out, however, makes me wonder. The movie was critically acclaimed, with a large amount of praise going to the genuineness of Ms. Watt’s emotional acting. Which seems bizarre to me. Bad acting can ruin a movie, but I think it takes more than a believable character to make a good one. On the flip side, the criticisms were equally off. The main criticism is that the film was too “white.” A disaster which impacted millions of Asians is told through the eyes of a Western family and “that’s just wrong.” Oddly enough, the review I read didn’t mention that the main characters were, in real life, Spanish but were portrayed as Australian (I think) for the film. They also failed to mention the half a dozen films made about the tsunami, purely from the local ethnic point of view. Again, if that’s the worst you can say about a film…
Perhaps once again I owe a nod to Netflix for getting me to watch something I would have otherwise passed over.
I’ve recently finished the second of two books on the Second World War. They both compliment each other and add to the understanding of that time in history, and what can happen when the world goes mad.
Ostkrieg: Hitler’s War of Extermination in the East, by Stephen G. Fritz and
Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945, by Max Hastings.
The titles, obviously, don’t entirely overlap. The first focuses on the War between Germany and Russia, although the impact of and on other fronts are included. The second deals only with the end of the war in Europe, starting of post D-Day and after the liberation of Paris.
Ostkrieg, perhaps evident in the title, focuses on the war from the German perspective. Recent access to the Soviet archives has prompted a wave of histories based on that new information. Fritz provides a counter point to that counter point, relying instead on secondary research as well as an effort by the now-reunited German government to document the war.
In Armageddon, the focus tends to lean a tad to the Western front, and even there a little bit toward the English (countrymen of the author).
Simply address the two books from a “rating” standpoint, both were worthwhile reads. Of the two, Armageddon does stand out for the quality of the writing. One frustration I did have with Ostkrieg is it had a repetitive quality, that may have benefited from a bit more editing. The presentation style was for the author to make a statement of opinion about a subject, and then back it up with quotations from (for example) someone present at the event in question. The problem is when there were multiple quotes on the same topic, the initial statement was often repeated. By contrast, Armageddon highlighted different points in paragraphs (or groups of paragraphs) and simply combined quotations on similar subject matter. It improved how easily the book read. Ostkrieg is also a rather hefty tome. I have to wonder if a little paring down might not have made the read a little quicker, but also shorter.
Another contrast between the two books struck me as soon as I picked up Armageddon. First, I’ll take a step back.
The theme of Ostkreig is the centrality of the Eastern war to everything that Hitler did. Yes, the book details the battles themselves. This is the reason I picked it up in the first place; I was hoping for a overview of the war in the east that would help me put the battles, campaigns, and maneuvers into a larger perspective. The book does this well. But it actually starts at the very beginning, with Hitlers rise and rapid conquest in the West.
Another theme of Ostkreig is the limited prospects for the Third Reich in ever winning their war. From the beginning, the odds were greatly against Hitler. He was held up as a genius for his gambles that overcame those odds, but if eventually losing it all was inevitable, its not a mark of a genius to keep gambling until you’re busted. One of the first insights I gained from reading this book was about what might have been in Czechoslovakia. When Hitler threatened that country, Czechoslovakia was by many accounts an even match. While Germany’s armies were slightly larger, Czechoslovakia had the advantage of both a defensive fight and the ability to devote their entire force to that defense. Germany would have needed to divert some portion of its forces to protect against intervention by other powers, particularly France. When it came to it, Czechoslovakia may have been able to field a numerically-superior force, modernized to roughly the same level as Germany.
German generals were aware of the problems in Czechoslovakia, and there was a plot to, at the start of hostilities with Czechoslovakia, overthrow Hitler and make a deal with England. Unfortunately for all of Europe, England decided to ignore this avenue and convinced Czechoslovakia to make a deal with Germany. That deal ensured that they would be unable to resist the next set of demands from Germany and emboldened Hitler in continuing his expansion into Poland.
The book argues that each step in Hitler’s expansion was part of the larger plan to conquer the Slavic nations to the East. Austria and Czechoslovakia were needed to gain a strategic advantage over Poland. There is some evidence that Hitler expected Poland to ally with him in the fight against the Soviet Union, as their generational animosity towards the Russian empire should have overcome any indignities heaped upon them by the Germans. Likewise, invading the low countries, France and England were all necessary, in Hitler’s mind, to free his armies to conquer the Soviet Union. He seemed to be genuinely surprised at their declaration of war and expected that the West would probably look the other way as Germany expanded and purged the world of the communists.
Along with this story, the book details how the elimination of the Jews became entwined with everything Hitler did. The eventual genocide almost appears to be something stumbled upon by Hitler and his minions. Initially, the goal of the Nazis was simply to rid Germany of all Jews. An early plan was to transport them all to Madagascar. Once war broke out, Germany’s isolation by sea prevent such transport, the next idea was simply to move them out of Germany into occupied territories. As this became a problem, the slaughter began – perhaps even unsystematically. There is evidence that the killing of the native Jewish population in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia as the German armies invaded the Soviet Union may have been driven by local commanders attempting to impress their superiors (and ultimately Hitler) with ever greater anti-Semitic zeal.
Ultimately, and through the repetitiveness of similar stories throughout the Eastern Front, the book exposes the pure evil of the Nazi regime. Each new story of massive killings is shocking and horrifying. Even though we all know the numbers, as the details of the killings are explored, somehow the horror boggles the mind anew. Likewise, the large scale planning to simply wipe out as many inhabitants of Eastern Europe as possible, simply because Germans need the food and that takes priority, is unfathomable to modern sensibilities. And yet, this is something happened within the lifetimes of people still alive today.
Particular emphasis is made on the fact that no portion of the German military can completely detach themselves from the slaughter, enslavement, and genocide that was going on as the Germans rolled into Russia. While it became an common explanation that the German soldier was not the S.S. and only fought the war, evidence from the front suggests otherwise.
Regarding the purely military aspects of the German invasion, the book generally portrays an army doomed from the start. From a purely numbers standpoint (food, fuel and time), the conquest of Russia was never going to be very likely. Add to that many simply bad ideas emanating directly from Adolph Hitler, and the portrayal of the German fighting machine is mainly of vain attempts to avoid the disaster that ultimately consumed them.
By contrast, Hastings begrudgingly admires the Germans for their fighting ability, and that contrast with the utter lack of value placed on human life by the Soviets and the perhaps over-cautiousness from the West to risk more now to save later.
In that discussion, it also becomes clear that Hastings considers Stalin and his empire the pure evil actor in this war. He doesn’t line up the evidence, as perhaps Fritz would have, but it is certainly a combination of Stalin’s treatment of his own people both before and during the war, the systematic mass-rape of Germany after Hitler’s defeat, and the misery inflicted upon Eastern Europe for a generation (and beyond) following the end of the war.
While it is certainly hard to imagine a worse evil that the Nazi’s meticulous attempt to exterminate an ethnic group from the face of the earth, if one goes purely by the numbers, Stalin and the Soviet Empire do win out over Hitler. If for no other reason, Stalin could continue his reign of terror after Hitler’s death. Stalin’s callousness to the lives of even his own people seem to be unmatched even by Hitler’s own death culture.
Hastings also describes the lack of appreciation on the part of the Allies for the danger of that the Russian’s would be after the end of the war. The pact with the Soviet’s seemed necessary to save England and the free world, but as the ultimate defeat of German became ever more inevitable, the West and particularly Roosevelt failed to plan for the future.
The Allies went to great lengths to inoculate their public against the negative image they held of the communists, once those communists were needed as allies. The reality of kindly “Uncle Joe’s” soldiers behavior came as a shock to many Americans and British, but was anticipated by those in the East. A particular quote stuck with me, where the Soviet’s use of the word “Allies” clearly meant the Western powers, not the Soviet Union. They saw enemies not only in the Germans, but in the American/British at the same time.
Both books are obviously written for the war-history buff, but both try to tell their stories within the bigger picture of politics and civilian suffering. Ostkrieg illuminates many of the battles around the German’s high water mark when, at least at first appearance, they had the possibility of victory. As I mentioned before, it is often pointing out the places where German strategic mistakes cost them dearly.
Armageddon starts too late in the war for there to be any doubt in the outcome; the defeat of the Germans. Two operations are explored systematically; the Airborne assault to take the Rhine bridge at Arnhem in operation Market-Garden, and the German operation Wacht am Rhein, or the Battle of the Bulge. Both, incidentally, are analyzed for their strategic blunders, but they also resulted in the last two times when the Anglo/Americans and Germans were matched on the battlefield.
In the reading of military history, I’m often struck by the feeling that victory goes to the General who screws up not quite as badly as his counterpart. Dwelling on any particular historical figure and his moments of incompetence probably obscures that all figures have human frailties that are bound to shine through when illuminated by close study.
On the Eastern Front, the Soviet effort was massively mismanaged, but the willingness to expend an unlimited amount of human lives was as much a feature of their strategy as it was an error to be criticized. Like Grant against Lee, once the willingness to win at all costs was there, the final victory seems assured. By contrast, the Germans needed to get everything right in order to win. So analyzing where they failed to get it right seems particularly relevant.
On the Western Front, the failure of the Allies to get things right is probably gets its focus due to the emphasis on the image of American superiority from sources such as Citizen Soldiers and Band of Brothers. Hastings posits that a free and generally peaceful culture, such as America’s, can’t be expected to produce the kind of armies the the totalitarian states were capable of. In one passage, he speculates on the effectiveness of a Patton leading and SS Panzer Army rather than American soldiers. His frustration is that Western timidity likely cost lives in the long run by prolonging the fighting, and definitely sacrificed civilian lives by not saving them from first, the Nazis, and later from Soviet occupation.
At the end, both of the books are thought provoking additions to the histories written of the Second World War, and we absolutely worth the time to read. There is plenty in here to think about, not only in the conduct of the war, but in the generation of turmoil in Eastern Europe that was to follow.