How Russia Lost WWII

How Russia Lost WWII, by Baruch Pletner.

In Moscow, on June 24th, 1945 … tens of thousands of German prisoners of war were paraded in the Red Square. Passing by the ten foot high pile of Nazi standards flung at the feet of Lenin’s Mausoleum on their way to years of captivity many never to return, they were spat on by Russian bystanders.

The Russians were furious, and rightly so; it is impossible to overestimate the carnage and the cruelty, the wanton torture and murder, the wholesale destruction of priceless cultural assets that the German invaders have wrought upon their homeland.

But they were also proud; proud of the unambiguous defeat they have handed to the Germans and their many European collaborators. Proud of the enormous sacrifices they have made in gaining that glorious victory. Proud of finishing the war with the Red Army firmly in control of vast territories that were once part of the Russian Empire and others that weren’t.

Yes, they were sucker punched exactly four years earlier, but now they were in control of what used to be Prussia and of Poland and of Hungary and of Romania. The Red Army was feared across the better part of the globe from the Kuril Islands that were freshly ripped away from Japan to the Brandenburg Gate in Hitler’s erstwhile capital, Berlin. The Russian Army was on that day the biggest and best equipped land-based fighting force that the world has ever seen. In those heady days, before Hiroshima and Nagasaki showed that America was not exactly to be trifled with, nothing seemed out of reach for the victorious Russians; they ruled the world.

Today, the people who witnessed those days are nearly all dead and their descendants can only wonder what could have gone so horribly wrong. … Face saving acronyms like CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States), or new half-baked ideas of Eurasian free market zones, don’t fool anyone. The truth is that in the west and in the south erstwhile Soviet republics, now independent states, are trying to figure out how quickly they can join the West without incurring an uncomfortable degree of Moscow’s wrath. In the East, in the vast Siberian taiga (boreal forest), China rules the day. Chinese companies are clearcutting virgin forests, Chinese companies rip out of the ground valuable resources. …

40% of Russian citizens survive on less than ten dollars a day, truly a marker of a third-world country. There can be no doubt that among all the major participants in WWII both in the European and the Pacific theatres, now, seventy-three years later, Russia is by far the least developed, the least prosperous, and the most likely to occupy top positions on all the wrong lists. Drug and alcohol abuse, infant mortality, expected lifespan for women and especially men, GDP per capita, income per capita, you name it, Russia is at or near the bottom of all major countries.

Forget about the US, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, and Japan. Even those WWII combatants that were back then entirely marginal like Poland, Czech Republic, Romania, Hungary, and above all China have left Russia in the dust.

This week, Russia will spend millions of dollars to put up yet another WWII victory parade in the Red Square. Tanks will rumble and jets will fly overhead. Nuclear-capable ballistic missiles will slowly crawl past the same old mausoleum with the same old corpse inside. But what about the people watching? Some are clinging to old glory.

Many are beginning to see the absurdity of celebrating in superpower style victory over countries that are now vastly more prosperous than their own. Russia is a poor country that does not even have the technological and business expertise to exploit its own natural resources, letting foreign powers do it instead, akin to the literal banana republics of early 20th century Central America. Russia has roughly half the population it had a hundred years ago and in many metrics such as consumer goods production has yet to reach pre-revolutionary levels or levels that were achieved by Stalin’s GULAG slave labor in the 1930’s. In all ways that count, Russia is the sole loser of the Second World War.

So what happened? The answer is not hard to come by; all it takes is to ask those Russians who lived through post-war Soviet history and did not belong to the communist or technocratic elites. In the USSR, there was simply no reason for anyone to work hard. It was not possible to make more money, to open a business, to invest for profit. If any disposable income materialized (a rare event indeed), there was nothing to buy, certainly nothing of any quality. The best way to live was to engage in tufta (pretend work) and whenever possible steal from your employer, the government. After all, the government shafted you, so why not shaft it back? As long as extra effort does not produce extra rewards, why bother? No dream, no aspiration, no amount of well-justified national pride can survive a system that rewards mediocrity and minimal effort.