Today is the celebration of V-E Day in Russia, celebrated a day later than in the West primarily because Stalin delayed the announcement of victory for a day. Pretty much all the newspapers carry stories about Bush and Putin watching the parade and ceremonies in Red Square, yet almost none really say anything about what this commemoration is really about. As those who fought in that war get old and pass away we lose the oral history of those events, and the sacrifices made by all who were swept up in the war.
The experiences of the US and the Soviet Union, and the soldiers of the respective countries, were vastly different. Around 27 million soldiers and civilians of the Soviet Union were killed in the war. By contrast, US dead numbered around 400,000. And while the US was fighting for an idea, the destruction of the Nazi regime, the Soviet Union was fighting for something much more tangible their homes. The US homeland was never really threatened during the war. Even if the Nazis won the US would not be invaded, and while life might have been different, the US would have continued more or less as it was. Soviet soldiers were fighting for their very homes, knowing that losing meant death for them and their families.
The way the US and the Soviets fought was also entirely different. One of the reasons for such heavy casualties in the Soviet army was the complete lack of concern of the Soviet leadership for the welfare of its people. It would be inconceivable for the US army to send troops into battle unarmed, with orders to pick up the rifle of the soldier next to you. Or to place machine guns behind your own advancing troops and gun down any who did not advance. Yet this is what the Red Army regularly did.
My Grandfather was one of the millions who fought in the Red Army. He was a 17 year old lieutenant when the Nazis invaded, fought outside of Stalingrad, and towards the end of the war commanded an anti-tank artillery unit that ended up in East Prussia. I have heard many stories from him about those years, yet I still can not fully imagine what he and that generation had to go through.
And with every day, there are fewer and fewer people to explain what happened and to relate what they saw. V-E Day loses its importance and allows us to forget what happened, and lose the lessons for our current situations - as more attention is paid to the goings on of Paula Abdul and American Idol
, than the commemoration of a world struggle and triumph over unimaginable evil.
I wonder if there will be a 100th anniversary commemoration of V-E Day, and if there is what it will look like.