Andra världskrigets relativa bördor

Artikel i The New York Review of Books utifrån en ny bok om de allierades strategi och samarbete.

Four out of every five Germans killed in action died on the Eastern Front.

Comparisons of national casualty figures should make British and American posterity grateful to their national leaders of that time, who husbanded the lives of their young men so effectively in the greatest conflict in human history. But they also go far to explain why Russians were, and remain, so contemptuous of the Western role in the war.

[…]

Marshall never directly acknowledged that he was wrong, in 1942–1943, to press for an early landing in France. He failed to understand, first, the staggering combat power of Hitler’s armies; and second, that once committed on the Continent, the scale of engagement was beyond Allied power to determine. What the Anglo-Americans might wish to perceive as a limited operation to relieve pressure on the Russians, the Germans could meet in overwhelming strength, without much weakening their forces on the Eastern Front. Even when the US Army was fully mobilized in 1944–1945, it never became large enough to face the full weight of the Wehrmacht. All Western Allied strategy had to rely upon a reality, recognized by the British, that the Russians must do most of the fighting necessary to destroy Nazism.

[…]

The President was certainly brutal to Churchill, brushing him aside in a naive attempt to forge a bilateral relationship with Stalin.

But while the prime minister’s quest for Polish freedom was honorable, it was never realistic. The Western Allies fought their war at their own relatively leisurely pace, which enabled them to emerge in August 1945 having lost only 400,000 British lives and 300,000 American, against the Russians’ 28 million. Stalin was implacably determined to reap an appropriate return for his nation’s staggering blood-price. By the time his armies took Berlin they were militarily invincible on the Continent.

Churchill told Eden in December 1941 that he believed the US and Britain would emerge mighty from the war, while Russia would be vastly weakened by it. In reality, of course, despite Britain’s nominal place among the victors, it was almost as comprehensively ruined as the vanquished or occupied countries. Nothing that Churchill might have done would have averted this fate. His leadership had merely enabled the British to play a noble part, from which they have derived pride ever since.

In 1945, Stalin believed that he was the most successful Allied war leader, having gained an empire in Eastern Europe and further territorial prizes in Asia. Neither Russia nor the world would understand for several decades that Soviet military dominance was purchased at the cost of an economic sclerosis that eventually undid the Communist system.

US triumph was much more soundly based. The nation emerged from the conflict with unsurpassable wealth as well as strategic reach. Roosevelt and Marshall had brilliantly managed American emergence from pre-war isolation onto the world stage. Their only conspicuous failure was the attempt to make Chiang Kai-shek’s China an effective belligerent and a great power sympathetic to American policy objectives.

[….]

It remains a persistent delusion on both sides of the Atlantic that World War II was won without the slaughter that characterized the 1914–1918 conflict. In truth, of course, the same ghastly attrition proved necessary to achieve victory, but it took place in the East. When Roosevelt and Churchill, Marshall and Brooke convened, they flattered themselves that they were planning a strategy for victory. In truth, they were merely shaping plans for helping Stalin’s people to win.

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