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hitler-reading-book One interesting approach that has nothing to do with Pumpkin Person’s z factors: People tend to associate most closely with people of similar IQs.

Fortunately, uniquely for the elites of a major state, we have some detailed data on the IQs of the Nazi leadership (with the exception of a few important guys like Goebbels, Himmler, Bormann, and the Fuhrer himself) thanks to the US psychometrists attached to Nuremberg.

1 Hjalmar Schacht 143
2 Arthur Seyss-Inquart 141
3 Hermann Goering 138
4 Karl Doenitz 138
5 Franz von Papen 134
6 Eric Raeder 134
7 Dr. Hans Frank 130
8 Hans Fritsche 130
9 Baldur von Schirach 130
10 Joachim von Ribbentrop 129
11 Wilhelm Keitel 129
12 Albert Speer 128
13 Alfred Jodl 127
14 Alfred Rosenberg 127
15 Constantin von Neurath 125
16 Walther Funk 124
17 Wilhelm Frick 124
18 Rudolf Hess 120
19 Fritz Sauckel 118
20 Ernst Kaltenbrunner 113
21 Julius Streicher 106

As I recall from what I’ve read on Hitler and internal Nazi politics, of the above list, particularly “close associates” of Hitler would include: Goering; Ribbentrop; Speer; and until his “betrayal,” Hess. Their average IQ is 129.

While there was never much love lost between Hitler and the German military establishment, the closest military connection to Hitler from that list would be Keitel, who was infamous for his toadying behavior towards the Fuhrer. His IQ also happened to be precisely 129.

(Incidentally, while Jodl is regarded as far more competent than Keitel – he is the guy who actually made OKW command structure run – it’s interesting to note his IQ was actually lower than that of his boss, if marginally so).

In practice, Goering’s IQ during his time as Nazi bigwig might have actually been lower, due to his morphine addiction. On the other hand, there are suspicions that Speer was in fact considerably cleverer than his test scores indicated, because he was playing the “dumb dreamer architect” type so as to pretend ignorance of the death camps and avoid execution (if so he was successful). So these two factors might cancel out.

Adjusting for the Flynn effect – but only modestly, since the most useful (not rules-dependent) forms of intelligence haven’t improved all that radically, and we have an IQ of around 125 for Hitler normed to today’s Greenwich standards.

I think this is essentially accurate. He was a high school dropout and failed to get into the Viennese Academy of Fine Arts. He was a brilliant orator, but oratory skills have low g loadings.

Hitler did write a famous book. But Mein Kampf is a very badly written book, even ideology outside. Here is one particularly egregious example that I still recall reading a dozen years later by virtue of just how bad it was:

THE EXTENT of the fall of a body is always measured by the distance between its momentary position and the one it originally occupied. The same is true of nations and states. A decisive significance must be ascribed to their previous position or rather elevation. Only what is accustomed to rise above the common limit can fall and crash to a manifest low This is what makes the collapse of the Reich so hard and terrible for every thinking and feeling man, since it brought a crash from heights which today, in view of the depths of our present degradation, are scarcely conceivable.

And this was after Hess – with an IQ of 120 – had labored on Mein Kampf long and hard to make it at least minimally suitable for publication.

On the other hand, Hitler was always near the top of his class academically, which puts a lower limit of about 120 on his IQ. Here is is a quote from a book b y a childhood friend of Hitler’s via Pumpkin Person:

From school sources there is abundant authentic material describing his school performance. In primary school he was always near the top of the class. He learned quickly and made good progress without much effort.

He was also a good but not brilliant artist. On the basis of this, Pumpkin Person estimates his Performance IQ at 133 (Flynn-adjusted).

Hitler has some major geopolitical successes early on, but these were probably more a result of aggression and blind luck than intelligence (had France decisively reacted anytime at Munich or beforehand, the Nazis would have been finished. Not even necessarily due to the allies. The generals were interminably planning a coup throughout the 1930s, to be put into action should Hitler’s plans have blown up).

These geopolitical victories were in any case completely reversed later on – thanks in significant part to Hitler refusing to listen to and heed the advice of his generals (in contrast, Stalin realized he was hopeless on military matters after 1941, and with a few costly exceptions like the Third Battle of Kharkov, largely left the technical details to his generals thereafter).

Against that, it should be admitted that the Nazi leadership was more or less uniformly of the opinion that Hitler had a very high intellect, and was possibly a genius. Apparently, this included Hjalmar Schacht, the brightest of them all:

He read an enormous amount and acquired a wide knowledge. He juggled with that knowledge in a masterly manner in all debates, discussions and speeches. He was undoubtedly a man of genius in certain respects. He had sudden ideas of which nobody else had thought and which were at times useful in solving great difficulties, sometimes with astounding simplicity, sometimes, however, with equally astounding brutality. He was a mass psychologist of really diabolical genius…

However, there are two potential confounds here. First of all, Hitler was a brilliant orator, which expressed itself not only in his speeches but his casual “table talk.” Even very intelligent people can easily mistake this for genius, especially if they are lacking in the rhetorical/charismatic department themselves. Second, the Nazis at Nuremburg had a vested interest in presenting Hitler as a “diabolical genius” type of character in order to diminish their own share of responsibility for war crimes (and their risk of being hanged).

My (very rough) impressions/recollections from reading Nazi histories is that Hitler was certainly a step above the likes of feckless-schoolboy type Hess or the infamously callous Kaltenbrunner, but decidedly below Franz von Papen, Doenitz, and Schacht. To the contrary, his intellectual ability seems to fit right in besides that of Speer and Ribbentrop (also personal friends), and of Rosenberg (the Nazi “philosopher”).

Finally, the 125 estimate for Hitler’s IQ broadly tallies with Pumpkin Person’s estimates of a verbal IQ of 120 and a Performance IQ of 133. Hence, I think it is credible.

• Category: History • Tags: Germany, Hitler, Intelligence 
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On the 70th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of non-aggression between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, signed on August 23, 1939 (also my birthday!), historians, ideologues and everyone in between inevitably fall into a game of recriminations, revisionism and relativism. The anti-Soviet side maintains that the Pact gave Germany a free hand in the west and contributed to the onset of war, as represented by OSCE’s recent recognition of Nazi-Soviet equivalence in their culpability for the Second World War. On the other hand, most Russian historians stress that the Pact was a) justifiable on the basis of the Western betrayal of Czechoslovakia at Munich in 1938, and b) gave the USSR valuable time to build up its military-industrial potential for the coming war with Germany.

The “Westerners” (and their liberast Russian allies) tend to impute sinister motives to the Russian leadership’s recent efforts aimed against the “falsification of history” – seeing in them a revival of totalitarian and expansionist thinking, whereas the Russians see this as Western-sponsored “revisionism” whose aim is to impose a sense of historical guilt on the nation. Considering that a glorified version of the Great Patriotic War is fast becoming Russia’s national myth, any acceptance of responsibility for its outbreak is ideologically unacceptable, an a priori anathema. This pits Russia directly against the Visegrad nations of the former Soviet bloc, whose occupation and repression under Soviet / Russian rule – yes, they view the two as interchangeable – is a staple of their national myths, and consequently also brings Russia into a new ideological conflict with the wider West.

Given the huge role of these underlying emotional, ideological and spiritual factors, there is little space left for objective history. But one can try by hi-lighting the kind of international environment the USSR faced during the period and the sense of insecurity that the Western nations instilled in its government through their actions… I’ll start by translating, summarizing and expounding on a timeline meticulously compiled by Sergei Fedosov [my additions] – please see link for his sources:

The Soviet Story: The Timeline

1933 – At the World Disarmament Conference, the British PM proposed to allow the doubling of the German Army and the reduction of the French army by a similar amount.

January 1934 – German-Polish Non-Aggression Pact [caused by Józef Piłsudski's (Poland's authoritarian ruler) concern that a) the French building of the Maginot line implied it would take a defensive pose in the next war and would not come to Poland's aid, b) to reduce the likelihood Poland would become a victim of German aggression, perhaps as part of a Great Power deal (e.g. the Four Power Pact) and c) his perception that Hitler was not as stereotypically-Prussian anti-Polish as his predecessors, going back to Gustav Stresemann (!), and far less dangerous than the USSR - to the point where he opposed French and Czech attempts to include the Soviet Union in a common front against Nazi Germany.]

May, 1935 – Franco–Soviet Treaty of Mutual Assistance; yet the coming to power in France of Léon Blum in June 1936 torpedoed its effectiveness, as they prevented the formation of a military convention stipulating the way in which the two armies would coordinate their actions in the event of war with Germany [in addition to its other onerous conditions, one of which was that military assistance could be rendered by one signatory to the other only after an allegation of unprovoked aggression had been submitted to the League and only after prior approval of the other signatories of the Locarno pact (Great Britain, Italy and Belgium) had been attained].

June, 1935 – Anglo-German Naval Agreement [fixed a ratio where the total tonnage of the Kriegsmarine was to be 35% of the total tonnage of the Royal Navy on a permanent basis, well above the limits of the Treaty of Versailles and concluded without consulting France or Italy].

March, 1936 – Remilitarization of the Rhineland. Amongst other consequences, this was supported by Poland, causing France to dilute its commitments to it. Great Britain took a neutral position. Later Poland also supported the Anschluss with Austria.

19 November, 1937 – During his visit to Obersalzburg, Lord Halifax suggests making an agreement between the Four Powers (excluding the USSR): he says, “I and the other members of the British government are under the impression that the Fuhrer not only achieved a lot in Germany, but with his extirpation of Communism in his own country, he blocked its advance into the rest of Western Europe, and as such Germany can rightfully consider itself as a bastion of the West against Bolshevism”.

End-April, 1938 – Halifax informed the German representative Kordt that Great Britain would not commit to additional military obligations to France, let alone Czechoslovakia.

18 May, 1938 – The president of Czechoslovakia, Edvard Beneš, told the English ambassador: “If Western Europe should lose interest in Russia, Czechoslovakia will lose it too “.

20 September, 1938 – In reply to his pleas, the Soviet government answered Beneš that it would assist Czechoslovakia, should France join in. However, Poland categorically refused the passage of Soviet armies through its territory, even at the request of France. [At around this Poles are saying: "With the Germans, we lose our land. With the Russians, we lose our soul].

21 September, 1938 – At 2am an Anglo-French ultimatum to the government of Czechoslovakia, demanding acceptance of the German demands, was issued. After the signing of the Munich Agreement, the US President sent congratulations to Chamberlain. Neither the USSR not Czechoslovakia was consulted about any of this.

[There was firm evidence of Soviet intentions to coordinate with the Western Allies to contain and if necessary fight Germany over Czechoslovakia (evidence lifted from commentator rkka here):

To start with, Soviet intentions to militarily aid Czechoslovakia are indicated by the delivery of Soviet-built combat aircraft in August and September 1938 through Romanian airspace, Soviet willingness to set aside the issue of Bessarabia in discussion of Soviet forces transiting Romania in the event of a German attack on Czechlslovakia, the mobilization of 10 Tank and 60 Rifle Divisions in the fall of 1938, and the diplomatic note to the Polish government warning that hostile Polish action against Czechoslovakia would void the Polish-Soviet Nonaggression Pact. The Czech leader Benes makes it clear that Soviet support was unstinting:

In September, 1938, therefore, we were left in military, as well as political, isolation with the Soviet Union to prepare our defense against a Nazi attack. We were also well aware not only of our own moral, political, and military prepardness, but also had a general picture of the condition of Western Europe; as well as of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, in regard to these matters. At that moment indeed Europe was in every respect ripe to accept without a fight the orders of the Berchtesgaden corporal. When Czechoslovakia vigorously resisted his dictation in the September negotiations with our German citizens, we first of all recieved a joint note from the British and French governments on September 19th, 1938, insisting that we should accept without amendment the draft of a capitulation based essentially on an agreement reached by Hitler and Chamberlain at Berchtesgaden on September 15th. When we refused, there arrived from France and Great Britain on September 21st an ultimatum accompanied by emphatic personal interventions in Prague during the night on the part of the Ministers of both countries and repeated later in writing. We were informed that if we did not accept their plan for the cession of the so-called Sudeten regions, they would leave us to our fate, which, they said, we had brought upon ourselves. They explained that they certainly would not go to war with Germany just ‘to keep the Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia’. I felt very keenly the fact that there were at that time so few in France and Great Britain who understood that something much more serious was at stake for Europe than the retention of the so-called Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia. The measure of this fearful European development was now full, precipitating Europe into ruin. Through three dreadful years I had watched the whole tragedy unfolding, knowing to the full what was at stake. We had resisted desperately with all our strength. And then, from Munich, during the night of September 30th our State and Nation recieved the stunning blow: Without our participation and in spite of the mobilization of our whole Army, the Munich Agreement – fatal for Europe and the whole world – was concluded and signed by the four Great Powers – and then was forced upon us.

Dr. Eduard Benes “Memoirs”, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1954, pgs 42 – 43.

I do not intend to examine here in detail the policy of the Soviet Union from Munich to the beginning of the Soviet-German war. I will mention only the necessary facts. Even today it is still a delicate question. The events preceeding Munich and between Munich and the Soviet Union’s entry into World War II have been used, and in a certain sense, misused, against Soviet policy both before and after Munich. I will only repeat that before Munich the Soviet Union was prepared to fulfill its treaty with France and with Czechoslovakia in the case of a German attack.

Benes, pg 131.]

[Following the Munich Agreement, Stalin concluded that the West was fully content to sell the countries of Eastern Europe down the river in the future, including the USSR, and as such decided to reorient his foreign policy away from the West towards reaching a rapprochement with Nazi Germany.]

1 October, 1938 – The Germans occupy the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia.

2 October, 1938 – Polish armies move into the town of Těšín in Czechoslovakia and the adjoining territory. The implication is that Poland, in conjunction with Nazi Germany, freely participated in the occupation and partition of Czechoslovakia, and as such the Soviet invasion of Poland on 17 September, 1939, was neither a unique nor the first such action during this period.

November 1938 – The Hungarian armies occupy part of Slovakia, including its (now Ukrainian) Zakarpattia region. At the time, Slovakia was a semi-independent nation after the partition of Czechoslovakia in the previous month. Meanwhile, the American ambassador in Paris said, “It would best for the democratic nations if all these Eastern problems came to be solved by a war between Germany and Russia… There is a strong belief in the US, England and France that in the next few months there will begin a great settling of these problems in the East”.

9 March, 1939 – The British ambassador to Berlin, Nevile Henderson: “It appears clear to me that Germany wants to tear off this rich country, Ukraine, from the huge Russian state. We cannot blindly give Germany a carte blanche in the East. Yet it is not impossible to reach an agreement with Hitler, assuming it is limited to reasonable conditions, whose observance by Hitler we can expect”.

10 March, 1939 – Stalin declares the main warmongers to be England and France, not Germany.

14-16 March, 1939 – Bratislava declared full independence, Germans occupy all the remaining Czech regions and Hitler declares the Czech lands to be a Reich Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

18 March, 1939 – The USSR sends a protest note to Germany condemning the aggression against Czechoslovakia and announcing its non-recognition of its partition and occupation.

27 March, 1939 – The British Minister for Foreign Affairs, Halifax, tells the ambassador in Warsaw, Kennard: “It should be clear that all our attempts to consolidate our position will be invalidated, should the Soviet government openly take part in this plan”. (Concerning the Soviet offer to call a conference to discuss giving help to Romania).

14 April, 1939 – The British government proposed to the Soviet Union to give unilateral obligations to Germany’s neighboring countries – however, these obligations did not cover the USSR itself.

17 April, 1939 – The Soviet government answers that the conclusion of a tripartite agreement between England, France and the USSR is desirable.

3 May, 1939 – The moderately pro-Western Soviet FM Litvinov is replaced by Molotov.

8 May, 1939 – The government of England and France reject the Soviet offer of alliance, and repeat their memorandum from 14 April [which is a poisoned chalice].

28 May – 15 September, 1939 – Soviet-Japanese conflict around the Khalkhin-Gol river; at the same time, England concludes a [trade] agreement with the Japanese government.

7 June, 1939 – British Cabinet meets to discuss the Soviet offer of a military alliance. The FM Lord Halifax is opposed, citing the US ambassador in Warsaw, Bullitt, to “not give the impression that England is cooperating with the Soviets”.

[The signing of the German-Latvian Non-Aggression Pact between Germany and Estonia & Latvia].

12 June, 1939 – Halifax rejects a Soviet invitation to go to Moscow.

4 July, 1939 – In a foreign policy Cabinet meeting, Lord Halifax suggests the British avoid stalling negotiations and conclude a simple three-way agreement, saying: “There is no need to set Soviet Russia against us, because the main goal of our negotiations is to prevent a Russian agreement with Germany”.

18-21 July, 1939 – Secret meetings between Chamberlain’s close advisor Wilson and the British trade minister Hudson, and the high-ranking German bureaucrat G. Wohltat. The English were offered a rapprochment, including a pact of non-aggression and non-interference, arms reduction treaties, their return of former German colonies, economic cooperation and the recognition of a German sphere of influence over Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. The USSR and China were to become German markets in the new global division of trade. Information about these meetings fell into the hands of the German ambassador in London, von Dirksen, and were conveyed to Berlin, but they did not develop into formal negotiations because of the lack of any reaction from Berlin. News of these British feelers to Germany reached the Soviet Union. [See London and Berlin Plotted Second “Munich Agreement” by Yuri Nikiforov].

29 July, 1939 – The British Labour MP Buxton in conversations with the German diplomat Kordt again stressed the necessity of conductiong secret diplomacy, agreeing to spheres of influence and halting the current debates about concluding a pact with the Soviet Union.

3 August, 1939 – Wilson and von Dirksen had a discussion, about which the latter wrote (in addition to Wohltat’s reports) it could reasonably be concluded that Wilson viewed these talks as an official British feeler towards the Germans, requiring a German response.

7 August, 1939 – Confidential meeting between Goring and a British representative at Shleswig-Holstein, in which the following was mentioned: “Should Germany lose the war, it would result in the spread of Communism and gains for Moscow”.

11 August, 1939 – A minor English delegation arrives in Moscow, going there by slow steamship instead of plane, as was typical for the time. It is uncovered they have no official authority to carry out negotiations. The British and French military missions offered to discuss common principles, but without any consideration of real military plans.

There was a secret meeting between the High Commissioner of the League of Nations in the Free City of Danzig, the Swede Burkhardt, and Hitler, who invited him. At the end of the meeting, Hitler expressed his wish to meet with a high-ranking person from the British government. The sources say that Halifax wrote a letter to Hitler, but never came round to sending it.

At the end of the meeting, Hitler said, “Everything I undertake is aimed against Russia. If the West is so blind and stupid that it can’t understand this, I will be forced to make an agreement with the Russians. Then I will strike against the West and after its defeat, I will unleash my combined strength against the Soviet Union. I need Ukraine…” (this passage is not present in official British publications, the only reference to it lying in Burkhardt’s memoirs).

19 August, 1939 – The signing of a trade and credit agreement between Germany and the USSR in Berlin.

23 August, 1939 – The signing of the notorious German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact in Moscow. This was a typical non-aggression pact, except for the inclusion of additional secret protocols outlining a division of spheres of influence.

[Fedosov's note - there's a problem with these protocols, because copies of them cannot be found in either the Russian or German archives, but were published on the basis of photocopies present in Germany. One disturbing fact about them is that Molotov's signature appears in the Latin alphabet, which is surprising since he never signed his name in this way. That said, the fact there were no mass clashes between German and Soviet armies in their invasion of Poland, and because of their apparent cooperation with each other in bombing operations and their halt at clear demarcation lines after meeting each other in the middle of Poland, etc, one can conclude that in all likelihood these protocols really did exist.]

Meanwhile, up till the day of the signing the Poles had continued to categorically resist any consideration of Soviet troops crossing Poland in their diplomatic communications. [See Fedosov's document for full details].

25 August, 1939 – Telegram of French ambassador in the USSR to the French ambassador in Poland: “If we could have gotten acquiescence from Poland at the start, this would have prevented the halt in military discussions [with the USSR]… It’s hard to imagine how we could have convinced the USSR to take on obligations against Germany, even despite our best efforts, if the Poles and Romanians we guaranteed did not want to hear anything about Russian help. Hitler unwaveringly made the decision which Józef Beck [the Polish Foreign Minister], having our guarantees, refused to do – he reached an accomodation with Stalin…”

31 August, 1939 – The Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov said in a speech to the Supreme Soviet, “On the one hand, England and France demanded military help from the USSR in the case of aggression against Poland… On the other hand, that same England and France released Poland onto the scene, which categorically rejected military help from the USSR. Now try reaching an agreement on mutual assistance in these conditions, when any Soviet help is from the start judged unneeded and constrained in its options… They blame us because the pact contains no clause providing for its renunciation in case one of the signatories is drawn into war under conditions which might give someone grounds to qualify that particular country as an aggressor. But they forget for some reason that such a clause and such a reservation is not to be found either in the Polish-German Non-Aggression Pact signed in 1934 and annulled by Germany in 1939 against the wishes of Poland, nor in the Anglo-German declaration on non-aggression signed only a few months ago…”

In the same speech Molotov expounded on the reasons for the agreement with Germany at length, “…The point of the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, in which the USSR is not obligated to come to the assistance of neither Germany, nor England or France, in the event of war between them… the USSR will undertake its own, independent foreign policy… if they have such a huge desire to fight, let them fight amongst themselves, without the Soviet Union”.

28 September, 1939 – The signing of a German-Soviet Agreement on Friendship and Borders, which was a formal agreement about their borders, while the only mention of friendship was in Article IV of the agreement: “The Soviet and German governments view the aforementioned changes to be a firm foundation for the future development of friendly relations between the two peoples”.

October 1939 – Britain’s military chiefs discuss the question of “positive and negative aspects of a British declaration of war on Russia” (Fedosov’s note – this is BEFORE the Winter War!).

30 November 1939 – 12 March 1940 – The Soviet-Finnish Winter War. Britain’s decision to disembark troops into Norway, if the war continued (despite both Norwergian and Swedish opposition!). The planning of such actions on the eve of war with Germany were called madness by Churchill.

12 January, 1940 – French ambassador’s memorandum about the outlines of a compilation of Anglo-Franco-Soviet negotiations, prepared by the English side: “On reading these documents there appears the firm impression that from the start to the end of these negotiations the Russian government strongly pushed for this agreement to have the most maximal and all-encompassing character. This Soviet policy of closing all possible doors to German aggression, irrespective of whether it was really genuine, was always rebuffed by Anglo-French reservations and desire to constrain the sphere of possible Soviet intervention… As a result, the publication of the documents will confirm the arguments of those who, genuinely or not, insist that the Soviet government only went over the German side because of England’s and France’s waverings and their refusal to support Moscow without reservations… This English “Blue Book” threatens to unleash the most undesirable, in our current circumstances, polemics”.

18 January, 1940 – Discussion of the question of whether or not to publish the Blue Book. Halifax is against. As a result, the Cabinet decides that it would be a bad idea to publish this book about negotiations with the USSR from the summer of 1939.

January-April, 1940 – On 19 January, the French government, with the approval of the British government, suggested General Gamelin and Admiral Darlan prepare a plan for a direct invasion of the [Soviet] Caucasus. Plans made for a two-pronged attack on the USSR from the Middle East and Scandinavia / Finland. Anglo-French plans for bombardment of Baku, Grozny and Batumi. On 16 March, Gamelin presents a detailed plan for the invasion of the Caucasus and tentative ideas are floated for the construction of airfields in Syria to carry out air strikes on the USSR.

Even during the “phony war” between the German invasion of Poland and its attack on Norway, there is evidence the British continued to see the USSR as the greater threat. The British ambasaddor in Finland: “It is likely the winner in the next European war will not be Hitler, but Stalin, and as such he presents the greater danger… Since our main question now is how to inflict the greatest amount of damage on the USSR, I would suggest making maximum efforts to reach an agreement with Japan, whose natural antipathy towards Bolshevism will draw her towards making a sudden strike on the USSR”.

[Interestingly, during the period after Germany invaded the Soviet Union in July 1941, the Western Allies acknowledged Stalin chose the right strategy by delaying an armed confrontation with Nazi Germany. For instance, the British ambassador in Moscow, Cripps, to the FM Eden on September 27, 1941:

...There's no doubt, that the direct cause of this Pact, as constantly cited by the Soviet leadership, was their wish to stay out of the war. They saw this as possible through an agreement with Germany, at least for a while... Not only did this policy give the USSR a chance to stay out of the war, but also allowed them to acquire those territories from its neighbors, which they saw as being valuable in the case of German aggression against the USSR...

The first step was to seize half of Poland, for the alternative was German occupation of its entire territory. The peace deal with Finland in March 1941 only resulted in the USSR acquiring territory it had originally demanded from them anyway. There's no doubt in my mind that they seriously considered helping out France [in May 1940], but as it became clear the German advance was rapidly leading to France’s utter collapse, they were dissuaded from the idea and decided to keep to an entirely different tactic…

Conclusion: the Nazi-Soviet Pact as Second Munich Agreement

A typical counter-argument to the above narrative is Seventy Years of Shame by Craig Pirrong, encompassing all possible criticisms for the Pact and reiterating all the necessary ideological foundations for waging a New Cold War against Russia.

For instance, the allegation is made that the Soviet Union hedged its way out of any firm commitments to Germany’s East-Central European neighbors, and that Stalin wanted, and did everything he could, to embroil the “imperialist powers” in a war – according to his August 19, 1939 Politburo speech:

We must accept the proposals of Germany and diplomatically discard the British and French delegation. The destruction of Poland and the annexation of Ukrainian Galicia will be our first gain. Nonetheless, we must foresee the consequences of both Germany’s defeat and Germany’s victory. In the event of a defeat the formation of a Communist government in Germany will be essential . . . . Above all, our task is to ensure that Germany be engaged in war for as long as possible and that Britain and France be so exhausted that they could not suppress a German Communist government.


Both points make sense and are probably true. B ut the exact same applies to the Western Powers, which according to the evidence brought forth in the timeline above a) wanted to tie up Germany and the USSR in a war, regarding the latter as the greater threat to Western civilization, and b) did not treat Soviet proposals for joint inter-Allied obligations against German aggression seriously. The point is that both sides were engaged in a brutal game of Realpolitik – the West wanted the two totalitarian powers to duke it out, while the USSR would have much preferred the capitalist powers to destroy themselves in yet another World War One-like struggle of attrition. In other words, there was a fundamental symmetry between the West and Russia prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, which is now being adamantly denied by the former and asserted by the latter.

As such, the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact cannot be construed as a crime – everybody was in on the game, its just that the USSR played it more skilfully than most, at least until Operation Barbarossa. It was a cause of Second World War, but no more than Munich previously, and as such ascribing the USSR joint responsibility for starting the Second World War, as recently done by OSCE, is just one more example of hypocritical Russophobia and “double standards” – cliche though these terms might be, that does not mean they do not apply. And if it really were the case that the Soviet Union shares guilt with Germany for the outbreak of the Second World War, then so do Britain, France and Poland, each in equal measure. Where are the self-righteous condemnations of their antebellum conduct?

Was the Pact a mistake? This is a more complicated question. On the one hand, the Soviet Union provided Germant with valuable stocks of rare earth metals that would contribute to sustaining its war effort for longer than it otherwise could have without resorting to harsh, total-war mobilization and ersatz production (as increasingly happened from 1943). On the other hand, it delayed the war for the USSR by nearly two years, allowing it to a) build up its military-industrial potential (not without the help of German machinery imports!) and b) begin the war from borders 600km farther away from Moscow than they would have been otherwise. The Soviet victory was a close-run thing in 1941 and even 1942, and without the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact the USSR may well have been defeated, paving the way for total Nazi domination of the entire Eurasian continent.

The next point the “Westerners” bring up is that Soviet methods were just as brutal as Nazi ones in their occupied territories. However, there are two major weaknesses with this. First, this is not an argument against the rationality of Soviet motives in acquiring buffer space against the eventuality of German aggression in 1939-41, nor is this an argument proving the moral equivalence of Germany and the USSR in starting the war. The fact is that it was Germany that was the one and only driving force behind a general European war. The Western Allies and the USSR alike, through their mutual distrust of each other and long-term myopia, merely enabled German aggression.

Second, to those East Europeans and Western Russophobes who like to see Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia as two sides of the same coin: if the USSR had lost the Great Patriotic War, this would have resulted in the partial extermination, Siberian exile and helotization of the entire Slavic and Jewish populations of Eastern Europe, as envisaged under Generalplan Ost, Nazi Germany’s genocidal scheme for acquiring Lebensraum in the East, and indeed within the four short years of German domination of Europe some 20mn Slav civilians, 6mn Jews, 3-4mn Soviet POWs and up to a million Roma were killed (it should be noted that the Poles and Baltic peoples were highly complicit in the extermination of their Jews, something they remain loath to recognize – much easier to talk of their sufferings under Soviet repression). While the USSR undeniably repressed wide swathes of East European societies, neither its bloodthirstiness nor its levels of economic coercion ever came anywhere near equalling their experiences under Nazi occupation.

Finally, these New Cold Warriors argue that Russia’s defense of the past augurs its repeat in the future. SWP concludes:

To criticize the Pact is to deny Russia recognition of its legitimate right to dominate “its” space. Molotov-Ribbentrop divided eastern Europe in 1939. Russia wants to divide eastern Europe in 2009. To condemn the former is to delegitimize the latter. So, you can expect even more robust defenses of M-R, and more hysterical attacks against those who criticize it, on this anniversary and in the days to come. For to criticize Stalin and the revisionist USSR is, by extension, to criticize Putin and the revisionist Russia. Their means may differ, but their worldview, and their strategic objectives, are largely the same.

Perhaps. But in my view a far more likely interpretation is that Russia is tired of having a sense of historical guilt imposed upon it, especially since it is later used as a pretext to arrogantly dismiss all its concerns about NATO expansion and foreign policy views on everything from Kosovo to missile defense. Even though it did not lose the Cold War, it is getting the same sort of deal Germany got after the Treaty of Versailles – sole “war guilt” (Cold War) and sole responsibility for Soviet repressions (bypassing the contributions of Georgian spooks, Latvian Riflemen, etc), thus enabling Western justification for alternately bullying, undermining and ignoring Russia.

One thing I agree with SWP on, however, is that the past and present really is prolog to the future. Since it is a hostile organization – proved if anything, by its unbalanced rhetoric during the Georgian-instigated South Ossetian War in 2008 – Russia will try to undermine NATO in favor of more equitable (from its perspective) arrangements, such as European collective security agreements. It is laying the groundwork by courting states such as Finland, Turkey and most importantly, Germany, while trying to marginalize the East Europeans and their main champion, the US. This runs contrary to the constant American interest in preempting the emergence of a Eurasian hegemon, hence the low-key the US reversion to a Cold War policy of containment and strangulation of any resurgent Russian superpower – as demonstrated by Biden’s rhetoric during his July 2009 visits to Ukraine and Georgia, and his (questionable) assertions about Russia as a country in long-term economic and demographic decline.

One thing is clear. The ideological struggle will continue and intensify between Western universalist chauvinism and East European national nationalisms on the one side, and Russian imperial nationalism on the other. History goes in spirals, after all.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
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За нас за вас и за десант и за спецназ! The Red Army was the single greatest contributor to the defeat of Nazi Germany sixty-four years ago, a truly evil empire based on slavery and oppression, and responsible for the genocide of millions of Slav civilians, Jews, Soviet POW’s and Roma by gas, bullets and starvation.

Yet ever since the first days of the Cold War, there has been a concerted campaign to whitewash the Wehrmacht of participation in war crimes and to rehabilitate the generals who participated in it as enthusiastically as Hitler and the upper echelons of the Nazi Party. This resulted in the promulgation of many poisonous myths about the Eastern Front that are only now being laid to rest. I already wrote about several of these myths in my Top 10 Russophobe Myths

MYTH I: Heroic Americans with their British sidekicks won World War Two, while the Russian campaign was a sideshow.

REALITY: Although Western Lend-Lease and strategic bombing was highly useful, the reality is that the vast majority of German soldiers and airmen fought and died on the Eastern Front throughout the war.

Rüdiger Overmans in Deutsche militärische Verluste im Zweiten Weltkrieg estimates that from the Polish campaign to the end of 1944, 75-80% of all German armed forces personnel died or went missing in action on the Eastern Front up to the end of 1944. According to Krivosheev’s research, throughout the war, the vast majority of German divisions were concentrated against the Soviet Union – in 1942, for instance, there were 240 fighting in the East and 15 in North Africa, in 1943 there were 257 in the East and up to 26 in Italy and even in 1944 there were more than 200 in the East compared to just 50 understrength and sub-par divisions in the West. From June 1941 to June 1944, 507 German (and 607 German and Allied) divisions and 77,000 fighters were destroyed in the East, compared to 176 divisions and 23,000 fighters in the West. The two pivotal battles, Stalingrad and El Alamein, differed in scale by a factor of about ten.

This is not to disparage the Western Allied soldiers who fought and died to free the world from Nazism. In particular, the seamen who enabled Lend-Lease, at high risk of lethal submarine attack, to transport indispensables like canned food, trucks and aviation fuel to Russia, possibly played a crucial role in preventing its collapse in 1941-42. And the bomber crews massively disrupted Germany’s war potential at the cost of horrid fatality ratios, significantly shortening the war (albeit it is currently fashionable to castigate them for killing 600,000 people who by and large had no problem with waging a war of extermination responsible for tens of millions of deaths on the Eastern Front).

MYTH II: The Russians just threw billions of soldiers without rifles in front of German machine guns.

REALITY: The vast majority of German soldiers were killed, taken POW or otherwise incapacitated on the Eastern front. The Soviet to Axis loss ratio was 1.3:1 and the USSR outproduced Germany in every weapons system throughout the war.

According to meticulous post-Soviet archival work (G. I. Krivosheev in Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses), the total number of men (and in the Soviet case, about 1mn women) who passed through the armed forces of the USSR was 34,476,700 and through Germany’s was 21,107,000. Of these, the “irrevocable losses” (the number of soldiers who were killed in military action, went MIA, became POWs and died of non-combat causes) was 11,285,057 for the USSR, 6,231,700 for Germany, 6,923,700 for Germany and its occupied territories, and 8,649,500 for all the Axis forces on the Eastern Front. Thus, the total ratio of Soviet to Nazi military losses was 1.3:1. Hardly the stuff of “Asiatic hordes” of Nazi and Russophobic imagination (that said, also contrary to popular opinion, Mongol armies were almost always a lot smaller than those of their enemies and they achieved victory through superior mobility and coordination, not numbers).

The problem is that during the Cold War, the historiography in the West was dominated by the memoirs of Tippelskirch, who wrote in the 1950’s citing constant Soviet/German forces ratios of 7:1 and losses ratio of 10:1. This has been carried over into the 1990’s (as with popular “historians” like Anthony Beevor), although it should be noted that more professional folks like Richard Overy are aware of the new research. Note also that cumulatively 28% and 57% of all Soviet losses were incurred in 1941 and 1942 (Krivosheev) respectively – the period when the Soviet army was still relatively disorganized and immobile, whereas for the Germans the balance was roughly the opposite with losses concentrated in 1944-45.

The idea that there were two soldiers for every rifle in the Red Army, as portrayed in the ahistorical propaganda film Enemy at the Gates, is a complete figment of the Russophobic Western imagination. From 1939 to 1945, the USSR outproduced Germany in aircraft (by a factor of 1.3), tanks (1.7), machine guns (2.2), artillery (3.2) and mortars (5.5), so in fact if anything the Red Army was better equipped than the Wehrmacht (sources – Richard Overy, Why the Allies Won; Chris Chant, Small Arms).

MYTH III: Though the Wehrmacht fought with honor and dignity on the Eastern Front, the Russians killed all the German POW’s and raped and looted east Germany when they conquered it.

REALITY: The Great Patriotic War was an absolute war that was more brutal than anything seen in the West by orders of magnitude throughout its entire length. The hundreds of thousands German civilian and POW deaths at Soviet hands, though tragic, pale besides the up to 15-20mn Soviet civilian dead and the 60% mortality ratio of Soviet POW’s in German camps. Set against these numbers, the Red Army rapes in east Germany seem almost irrelevant.

One of the greatest crimes in Western Europe was the massacre of Oradour-sur-Glane, in which 642 civilians were murdered by a Waffen-SS battalion. But just one region in the East, Belarus, with 20% of France’s population, experienced the equivalent of more than 3,000 Oradours – some 2,230,000 people were killed in Belarus during the three years of German occupation, or a quarter of its population. At least 5,295 Belorussian settlements were destroyed by the Nazis and more than 600 villages like Khatyn were annihilated with their entire population under the cover of anti-partisan operations.

A poignant memorial to Nazi genocide in Khatyn – the one flame among three birch trees symbolizes the quarter of the Belarussian population who died in 1941-44.


The Russian Academy of Science in 1995 reported civilian victims in the USSR at German hands, including Jews, totaled 13.7mn dead, 20% of the 68mn persons in the occupied USSR. This included 7.4mn victims of Nazi genocide and reprisals; 2.2mn deaths of persons deported to Germany for forced labor; and 4.1mn famine and disease deaths in occupied territory. There were an additional estimated 3.0 million famine deaths in the USSR not under German occupation.

This was all part of a Nazi scheme, Generalplan Ost, which called for the extermination of the Slavic intelligentsia and most of their urban populations, as well as the helotization or exile to Siberia of their peasants. Confirmed by internal documents and numerous quotes from high Nazi officials:

The war between Germany and Russia is not a war between two states or two armies, but between two ideologies–namely, the National Socialist and the Bolshevist ideology. The Red Army must be looked upon not as a soldier in the sense of the word applying to our western opponents, but as an ideological enemy. He must be regarded as the archenemy of National Socialism and must be treated accordingly. — General Hermann Reinecke

We must break away from the principle of soldierly comradeship. The communist has been and will be no comrade. We are dealing with a struggle of annihilation. — Adolf Hitler

Some 3.3mn Soviet POWs died in the Nazi custody out of 5.7mn (USHMM), the vast majority of them from July 1941 to January 1942 (i.e. when the Germans still thought they’d win quickly so no consequences for their own POW’s). This death rate of around 60% can be contrasted with the 8,300 out of 231,000 British and American prisoners who died (3.6%) in Nazi hands, or even the 580,548 out of 4,126,964 Axis servicemen who died as Soviet POW’s (Krivosheev), that is around 15%. (The question of how many German POW’s died in Western camps is hotly disputed. Though they ostensibly followed the Geneva conventions and cited numbers are typically low, of the roughly 1,000 U.S. combat veterans that historian Stephen Ambrose interviewed, roughly 1/3 told him they had seen U.S. troops kill German prisoners. The controversial historian James Bacque claims that Allied Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower deliberately caused the death of 790,000 German captives in internment camps through disease, starvation and cold from 1944 to 1949, and that 250,000 perished in French camps in similar conditions).

The Red Army gets bad press for its behavior during the final invasion of Prussia, in which they are frequently described as drunk looters and rapists. The consensus seems that although formal orders were against such activities, in practice most turned a blind eye to it. Yet while tragic, it is completely understandable and does not deserve the centrality placed on it by too many anti-Communist (or frequently plain Russophobic) pseudo-historians.

Consider what the typical Red Army soldier experienced before getting to Berlin: years of brutal fighting with a very high risk of death and almost certain to be wounded one time or another; hearing the stories of murdered Soviet POW’s; the sight of thousands of burned villages and massacred women, children and old men in Western Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Poland; the death camps of Auschwitz and Treblinka; and finally, the (seemingly) decadent luxury of the conditions in which German citizens themselves lived (who, let us not forget, democratically elected Hitler and who with just a few honorable exceptions like the White Rose passively or even enthusiastically accepted Nazism).

This was, in the words of German leaders themselves, a war of extermination. Set against German atrocities in the East, or even the frequently brutal postwar ethnic cleansing of millions of Germans from countries like Poland and Czechoslovakia, it is at best wrong-headed and at worse racialist in the Nazi style to give such centrality to the rape of Berlin.

One more myth. Many accounts allege that the Soviets sent all their returned POW’s to the Gulag, if they didn’t shoot them for treason. Actually, according to Krivosheev, 233,400 were found guilty of collaborating with the enemy and sent to Gulag camps out of 1,836,562 Soviet soldiers that returned from captivity.

MYTH IV: The mainstream Western narrative on the Eastern Front during the Second World War was formed by academic historians and is fundamentally fair and objective.

REALITY: The exigencies of the Cold War, coupled with traditional US anti-Communism, meant that many Americans sympathized with the German narrative of the war. In particular, the Wehrmacht officers talked, networked and wrote about how the German military was not complicit in Nazi war crimes so as to cement West Germany (not to mention their own careers) into the Western alliance on equal terms. The complexities and compromises of military involvement in genocide in the East was whitewashed into a kitschy image of the German soldier as a patriot braving the odds to defend family and Heimat from the Bolshevik hordes. The US military and politicians were just fine with this, because they faced an ideological struggle and possible land war with the Soviet Union. Though there is serious and reasonably objective Western academic work on the Eastern Front, popular culture is still dominated by German memoirs and a-historical romanticizers.

I’ve long been skeptical about the way Russians were portrayed in accounts of WW2. Although some (generally recent) work is sympathetic and appreciative of the combat capabilities of the Red Army (e.g. Chris Bellamy), most stress the German side of the conflict. The latter typically distinguish themselves by traits like: admiration for the supposed brilliant of German generals like von Manstein and Guderian, who’d have won if not for Hitler’s interference; constant reference to the supposed vast numerical superiority and callous disregard for casualties of the Soviets; emphasize “Russian” war crimes (offensives, etc, are however “Soviet”), while attributing all German crimes to “Nazis”, usually focusing on groups like the Einsatzgruppen and SS and avoiding discussing Wehrmacht complicity, etc.

Thankfully, two authors, Ronald Smelser and Edward J. Davies, recently wrote a book, The Myth of the Eastern Front: The Nazi-Soviet War in Popular Culture, which finally collates and authoritatively confirms these strong suspicions about the objectiveness of Western popular historiography on the subject into an accessible, well-argued narrative. Most of what follows is drawn directly from the book, in chronological order.

1) Deep Ambivalence. Before WW2, many Americans had deeply ambivalent attitudes towards the Soviet Union. Though bloggers generally consider the Russophile-Russophobe dichotomy in contemporary terms, this division was as stark and relevant in the 1930′s – John Scott in Behind the Urals (BTW, though considered by some a Soviet apologist, it is in fact fairly objective and certainly not a pro-Soviet propaganda tract by any stretch of the imagination) writes, “In talking with people in France and America I was impressed by the interest in the Soviet Union and the widespread misinformation about Russia and all things Russian. Everyone I met was opinionated [aren't we all lol!]. The Communists and their sympathizers held Russia up as a panacea…Other people were steeped in Eugene Lyons’ stories and would not concede the possibility that Russia had produced anything during recent years except chaos, suffering and disorder. They dismissed the industrial and material successes of the Russians with an angry wave of the hand. Any economist or businessman should have been able to see that the tripling of pig-iron production within a decade was a serious achievement, and would necessarily have far-reaching effects on the balance of economic and therefore military power in Europe”. So basically there was (much like today?) a hardcore Communist / Russophile fringe, a sizable anti-Communist bloc and a majority that were mostly apathetic but overall disapproving.

2) War and Friendship. The exigencies of war against a common enemy, Nazi Germany, necessitated a rehabilitation of the Soviet Union in American eyes. In contrast to the “dirty, ignorant, brutalized peasants of Nazi mythology” and traditional stereotypes of Russians as “mechanically inept and stupid”, Americans began to emphasize the scale of industrial modernization in the Soviet Union, their growing religiosity (helped by Stalin’s rehabilitation of the Church) and their focus on family – according to Life Magazine, Russians now “look like Americans, dress like Americans and think like Americans”. The Red Army was lauded for its growing technical and operational competence, with its soldiers portrayed as decent, ordinary folks defending their families and Motherland from Nazi depredations, who did not want to die but were not afraid to do so if called upon. Americans built “bridges” to ordinary Soviet workers such as writing letters to people in similar occupations and organizing humanitarian relief efforts to supply food and consumer durables to needy Russians. As the war drew to a close, even the American population, which suffered relatively few war casualties and whose homeland remained untouched, thirsted for vengeance. Tentative plans (Morgenthau Plan) were drawn up for the coercive deindustrialization of Germany and its fragmentation into several demilitarized states – according to the aforementioned James Bacque, parts of this plan were actually carried out after 1945 though gradually eased in the late 1940′s as the US realized it needed a strong German ally during the Cold War.

3) Inversion of History during the Cold War. Aided by traditional American ambivalence towards Bolshevism and Slavs in general, memories of Russian friendship froze over under the emerging Cold War, to be “replaced by a pro-German version, one that stressed Russian atrocities, German heroism, and even a superhuman sacrifice to defend Western culture from the Eastern hordes”. From the 1950′s Americans became very receptive to the German view of the conflict (as constructed by the German officers who wanted to rehabilitate the Wehrmacht from complicity in war crimes so as to set the new Bundeswehr and the Western alliance in general on firmer footing), viewing the German soldier as a simple patriot in a Romantic “lost cause” defense of family, Church and Fatherland from red tyranny. Though the prospect of a land war with Russia is long gone, this romantization continues unabated, little affected by academic research from the 1970′s which questioned the myth of the “clean Wehrmacht” and the opening up of Russian archives and personal accounts in the 1990′s.

However, as covered above much of this narrative was simply false. As early as November 1942 the USSR assembled the Extraordinary State Commission to examine German war crimes, with early trials held in Kharkov and Krasnodar. The complicity of the German generals in atrocities emerged in the postwar Nuremberg Trials, in which military men Keitel and Jodl were hanged for planning aggressive war and participating in crimes against humanity, incriminated by their signatures on things like the Commissar Order (immediate execution of all captured Communist military commissars), the Jurisdictional Order (suspending traditional military laws on proper conduct of troops in the Eastern Front), the Hostage Order (allowing for the killing of 50-100 hostages for every German soldier killed by Soviet partisans), the Night and Fog Order (allowing for disappearance of undesirable elements in the occupied territories) and the Commando Order (immediate execution of captured commandos behind German lines).

According to Rode, major-general of the Waffen-SS, “the military commanders…were thoroughly cognizant of the missions and operational methods of these units. They approved of these missions and operational methods because, apparently, they never opposed them”, and admitted that it was clear to him that “anti-partisan warfare gradually became an excuse for the systematic annihilation of Jewry and Slavism”. To the US prosecutor Rapp, who was conducting trials of German military personnel, a key concern was the “prevention of legends” about the non-complicity of the German military in war crimes, lest they again retain their reputation, as after WW1, as “gracious, old, highly educated fine gentlemen”. Ironically, this is exactly what happened in the 1950′s.

Many Americans found it hard to rationalize German atrocities. The original US GI’s who liberated Western Europe were replaced by new soldiers who hadn’t fought Germans, loved the German hospitality, generally held them blameless and even accused their superiors of anti-German propaganda. This fed into deep-seated American attitudes, which were common to much of the West, of anti-semitism, antislavism, and cultural prejudices against the East in general. Germans with their Church, families and similar material culture looked more wholesome than the Russians, who were perceived to be arrogant and crude unlike the newly subservient Germans. The Germans reinforced these perceptions with stories of Russians as cruel, bestial sexual predators. Policies on interacting with German civilians were gradually loosened in the US, whereas in the Soviet occupied zone they were tightened from 1947 when Red Army soldiers in East Germany were confined to their barracks.

With the Cold War heating up, first with the Berlin airlift and then with the Korean War, the Americans realized they needed the Germans as friends instead of as prostrate slaves or even clients. Similarly, the former Wehrmacht officers wanted to rescue their careers, continue the good struggle against Bolshevism to preserve Western civilization, and to salvage the reputation of the German officers corp. Under American auspices they started re-writing history with three main goals – 1) establish a “lost cause” myth of the German military as honorable, apolitical and supremely competent, serving Fatherland not Führer, 2) advise the Western Alliance on how to win a land war with the USSR and 3) dehumanize Russians in the interests of Cold War solidarity.

This process can be illustrated in the life story of Franz Halder, a German general who became chief of the Operational History (German) Section, a project that collated some 2,500 lengthy manuscripts from 700 former Wehrmacht officers that were tightly edited to fit the three goals above. In his 1949 work Hitler als Feldherr, Halder made the following points: a) he didn’t support war against the USSR, b) didn’t lay plans for an attack on the USSR before Hitler ordered him to, c) was concerned about a pre-emptive Soviet strike, d) was unaware of the racial nature of the war as envisaged by Hitler, e) didn’t participate in POW or civilian genocide and f) was skeptical about Hitler’s assumptions of easy, early victory. Yet his personal war diaries tell a somewhat different tale.

a) The German military had been thinking of expansion and continental hegemony since at least the middle of the First World War. See the “Great Plan” of 1924-25 which called for Teutonic hegemony in Europe, albeit it had not yet been based on explicitly racialist terms. It was resurrected after the Sudetenland crisis of 1938.

b) After the defeat of France in May 1940, Hitler was considering large-scale demobilization, but Halder wanted a war with the USSR and had his staff draft “Operation Otto”, a precursor to Barbarossa, on his own initiative in June 1940.

c) In February 1941, Halder felt a Soviet attack was “completely improbable”.

d) Under a heading in his diary tellingly entitled “Colonial tasks”, he wrote, “We must forget the concept of comradeship between soldiers. A Comrade is no friend before or after the battle. This is a war of extermination. If we do not grasp this, we shall still beat the enemy, but 30 years later we shall against have to fight the Communist foe…This war will be very different from the war in the West. In the east, harshness today means lenience in the future. Commanders must make the sacrifice of overcoming their moral scruples.” In the margin, he added, “embody in the ObdH (Army High Command) order”.

e) The reality of the war in the East became clear after the invasion of Poland, when the SS and Security Police started annihilating the Polish intelligentsia. Though many German officers expressed reservations, non were forthcoming from Halder or von Brauschitsch. Later, he actually negotiated responsibilities for maintaining order in the front and rear with Einsatzgruppen commanders, and knew of and was completely indifferent to Soviet POW deaths. His own staff drafted the aforementioned Commissar Order and Jurisdictional Order – in effect, the German military high command translated the views of leading Nazis into policy. Though some officers like Hassell objected, the vast majority went along with the generals.

f) Halder more than shared Hitler’s optimism, considering the Germans would need just 80-100 divisions against an estimated 50-75 Soviet. (Ultimately, 152 German divisions were unleashed in Barbarossa against what were actually more than 300 Soviet divisions). Since progress was initially smooth, he constantly revised the timescale of victory down – “not even Hitler was as confident as his generals”.

You can tell you’re damning yourself when you give off such a strong impression of mendacious duplicity that you almost portray Hitler in a good light. And funnily enough the Führer presumably shared this impression – he bribed his generals by secretly doubling their salaries, conditional on their loyalty and obedience. Though a mitigating factor is that Halder was arrested for suspected involvement in the July 1944 bomb plot against Hitler, it should be noted his accommodations and provisions were quite OK (certainly far from death camp rations) and it was only in January 1945 that he was formally dismissed from the military. One gets the idea that the opportunist was simply hedging his bets, for by that time the war was already obviously lost. According to Smelser / Davies, “Franz Halder embodies better than any other high German officer the dramatic difference between myth and reality as it emerged after World War Two, particularly with regard to the war in the east”.

Though under suspicion of being a war criminal, he was officially released from Western Allied custody in 1947. He ingratiated himself with the US Army and was made chief of Operational History (German) Section in summer 1948 – the aforementioned project to rewrite history by rehabilitating the Wehrmacht and cementing Germany into the Western alliance (not to mention rescuing the careers of former Wehrmacht officers). In October 1948 he was tried by a German denazification court and was cleared. The prosecution then got hold of his incriminating war diaries and demanded a retrial, but by then the Americans had taken him under their wings, claiming him as indispensable. The court was forced to throw out all further charges in 1950.

As director of this project, he solicited and vetted some 2,500 manuscripts from 700 former Wehrmacht officers, by now a mix of serving Bunderwehr officers, celebrity veterans and suspected war criminals. Many of them transliterated Nazi mythology on Russians for an American audience – Halder himself wrote, “frequent insensate cruelty is found coupled with attachment, fidelity and good nature under proper [presumably Germanic?] handling”; many were worse, citing the supposed bestial, cruel, morose, instinctual and primitive nature of the Red Army soldier (though they lauded him for bravery). The more important part of the project however was teaching how to win, or at least not lose, a land war to the Soviet Union. German officers criticized American plans to mount a line defense on the Rhine, instead stressing the “mobile defense” concept developed by von Manstein in 1943-44. They also pointed to the importance of military education, training and officer independence to their military successes.

Given such valuable information and propaganda material, the Americans gave the former Wehrmacht officers leeway to further their careers and whitewash their war records. Einsenhower flip-flopped from writing things such as “the German is a beast” to his wife in 1944, to apologizing to Wehrmacht officers for defamation, claiming by the early 1950′s that “I do not believe the German soldier as such has lost his honor”. General Matthew Ridgeway urged pardons for war crimes committed on the Eastern Front (only!), with the curious justification that he had issued the same orders in Korea for which the German generals were rotting in jail for. And although the Red Scare was passing away by the mid-1950′s, by this time the myth of the “lost cause” – patriot Germans fighting for family and Heimat against the Bolshevik hordes – was fast becoming entrenched.

German officers networked with Americans. German generals, gracious, old, highly educated fine gentlemen like Guderian and von Manstein (both of whom knew of Hitler’s plans for the Soviet peoples), published self-serving memoirs. From the 1970′s, they would be further supplemented by popular accounts of the Eastern Front from ordinary German soldiers, showing their human side. Reenactments became popular, in which enthusiasts combined a painstaking attention to historical detail like uniforms and ranks with a plain painful minimal attention to placing their heros in the larger historical context of Wehrmacht complicity in Nazi crimes.

Though academic historians from the 1970′s increasingly challenged this narrative, the popular culture was unaffected, having long since been taken hostage by images of Stuka dive-bombers and Tiger tanks and the writings of the German generals. It took until the last ten years or so, with the popularization of this more academic work, as well as the opening of the Soviet archives and accounts from the Russian side, to add greater perspective. Yet as the myths above prove, there is still lots of work to do – not least, fully exposing the distorted historiography of the Great Patriotic War to the general public.

To close this with an idea – there are many, many Russian accounts and memoirs of the war, but too many of them remain untranslated into English. This is unacceptable and we should look into ways to change this state of affairs. Suggestions?

R. Overmans. Deutsche militärische Verluste im Zweiten Weltkrieg
G. I. Krivosheev. Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses
R. Smelser & E.J. Davies. The Myth of the Eastern Front: The Nazi-Soviet War in American Popular Culture.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
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Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.