Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.

U.S.S.R. Under Stalin

Frozen corpses of dead German soldiers during the Battle of Stalingrad; ca. winter 1942-1943

The steel hob nails seen in the soldier's boot were part of the reason the Germans were at a disadvantage in the cold. Their feet got colder much faster due to all the steel.

The steel hob nails seen in the soldier’s boot were part of the reason the Germans were at a disadvantage in the cold. Their feet got colder much faster due to all the steel.

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Joseph Stalin making a face at his bodyguard; ca. 1930

Photo by Lt. G. Nikolai Vlasik


Mugshot of Boris Nikolayevich Rozenfeld, a victim of the Great Purge; ca. 1935

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From a series of Great Purge-era mugshots.


Why Stalin allowed Finland to remain independent after WWII:

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Stalin overestimated the efficacy of the Finnish Communist Party and underestimated the canniness of Finnish politicians. Starting in leverage high grade military equipment from the Germans which allowed the Finnish forces to stage a fighting retreat from Karelia in 1944. Thus in mid-1944, the Finns and the Soviets were fighting in the same ground as the Winter War. Both the Kremlin and the Red Army’s leadership were much more interested in maintaining the drive into Eastern Europe than refighting what had been a dark chapter in Soviet military history.

Urho Kekkonen, a Finnish parliamentarian and later Prime Minister, said in a 1944 radio broadcast “the Soviet Union must stand to gain a bigger advantage from an independent Finland clinging to life than from a broken Finland doomed to a dependent existence.” The cornerstone of Soviet-Finnish relations was the Agreement of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance signed with the USSR in April 1948. The Treaty guaranteed that Finland would aid the Soviets against “Germany or its allies” and fostered a series of networks and political connections between the Soviets and the Finns. The Soviets initially expected the Finnish Communist Party (SKP) to make electoral gains, but the existing Finnish political establishment adroitly managed to sideline them. The Treaty and the Finnish compliance with it did not give the SKP any major issues with which to attack the existing governments. Successive Soviet governments wanted the Treaty to be expanded and pull the Finns closer into the orbit of the Soviet sphere, but the Finns were able to strategically drag their feet. For example, the language “Germany or its allies” meant that Finns were able to justify not wanting to take defense steps against NATO Norway and Denmark. At the same time, the Finns also mastered the art of not appearing to be undermining the larger issue of Soviet security; they would give way over key debates like radar stations its early warning network.

The success of the Finns looks quite intelligent and unexpected from the vantage point of 2014, it’s important to keep in mind that during the Cold War the West was quite apprehensive the Finnish policies of accommodation. “Finlandization” became a pejorative term within Western Cold War discourse and a shorthand for making concessions to gain at best temporary freedoms from the USSR.

Sources

Jakobson, Max. Finnish Neutrality; A Study of Finnish Foreign Policy Since the Second World War. New York: Praeger, 1969.

Jussila, Osmo, Seppo Hentilä, and Jukka Nevakivi. From Grand Duchy to a Modern State: a Political History of Finland since 1809. London: Hurst & Company, 1999.

Luostarinen, Heikki. “Finnish Russophobia: The story of an enemy image.” Journal of Peace Research 26, no. 2 (1989): 123-137.

Rentola, Kimmo. “From half-adversary to half-ally: Finland in Soviet policy, 1953-58.” Cold War History 1, no. 1 (2000): 75-102.


Russian slave laborer among prisoners liberated by 3rd Armored Division points out former Nazi guard who brutally beat prisoners, Germany; May 14, 1945.

And then when he tried to get home to Russia after the war, it was straight to the gulag. Classic Stalin.

Oh man I bet that’s the worst when you are a Nazi guard trying to tip toe away from the Americans and the Russian guy is like “Him! That’s the guy!”


Viktor Bulla’s Pioneers in Defense Drill; ca. 1937

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“Viktor Bulla’s photograph of hundreds of children wearing gas masks was not meant to be ghoulish, a commentary on war or lost innocence, but rather exemplified a reason for pride—the country was blessed with well-trained, well-equipped and obviously courageous young fighters.”

(From “Propaganda and Dreams: Photographing the 1930s in the USSR and the US” by Leah Bendavid-Val)


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With all the men fighting at the front, women of Moscow dig anti-tank trenches around Moscow, Battle of Moscow, Operation Barbarossa, World War II; ca. 1941

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Prisoners work at Belbaltlag, a Gulag camp for building the White Sea-Baltic Sea Canal; ca. 1932

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Usually these pictures were propaganda and featured criminals, not political prisoners. Read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn for a good description of “shock battalions” in the gulags. Note the plump faces and clothes on these prisoners.


US Marines watch F4U Corsairs drop napalm on Chinese positions near the Chosin Reservoir; December 26th, 1950

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Forgotten war. And forgotten it seems, that the main foe were Chinese soldiers.

There is a great documentary called “Chosin”. It’s on Netflix and has a lot of interviews with survivors that are unbelievable.

One that has stuck with me was the man who was wounded, then the truck carrying him to an aid station was captured by the Chinese/North Koreans. They set the truck on fire to kill the wounded, but this guy managed to get out only to be shot in the head. He survived that, crawled down a trench only to be discovered by a chinese patrol who tried to beat him to death with their rifles. Survived that too and almost died of hypothermia before finally being discovered by a American patrol. It really gives you a sense of how horrendous that campaign really was…

Here’s the trailer: