Yesterday, May 8, was the anniversary of Victory in Europe Day for World War II. 1945. 71 years ago. In my Facebook stream, a video appeared showing this elderly former Russian soldier, and it struck me that, to a certain extent, I and other Americans and Europeans owe my freedom to this man and his colleagues.
They would have been young men when Nazi Germany attacked Moscow in 1941 in a battle that cost a million Russian lives. But the stubborn Soviets eventually prevailed, Hitler's first defeat.
The Germans also laid siege to Leningrad, now St. Petersburg. For 872 days, almost 2 1/2 years, Hitler & Co. tried to starve the people into submission. There was no food nor water. Temperatures dropped as low as 40 degrees below zero. Over 1.5 million died, only about 45,000 of those from the constant bombing, the rest from starvation and disease.
Overall, about 33 million Allied soldiers died in WW II - 26 million of them Russian, or nearly 80 percent.
What an incredible sacrifice for the free people of the world. Without it, we might still be under the heel of Hitler's successors. Certainly there are dictators and wannabes in parts of the world who are following his oppressive example.
I know some of you will ask, what about Stalin? Putin? Are they not the devil incarnate? What of the repression of dissidents such as Aleksandr Sozhenitsyn? I would point you to the parallel of Edward Snowden by US authorities. The Gulags? Have you heard of the Homan Square "black site" in Chicago where prisoners are detained without charge and no one knows they are there?
I will not defend the atrocities of any government. I'm not here today to debate the merits of capitalism or socialism, or the ways in which both have been corrupted in practice.
I am simply expressing my thanks to the men and women of all nations who have fought against Hitler, Mussolini, Hirohito, Franco, Pol Pot, and other despots - some sacrificing everything so that others might live in some form of freedom.
We were fortunate not long ago to visit St. Petersburg, a beautiful city with incredible museums. The people we met were, for the most part, friendly and accommodating. Their lives are not without the kind of economic hardship that is prevalent throughout Europe and North America as the elite suck up the wealth and ignore the middle class and poor. But they are resilient, defiant (at least in spirit), and adaptive to changing circumstances.
For most of my life, growing up and living in America during the Cold War, Russia was portrayed as the boogeyman. Then they were regarded as "friends," or more accurately as a market for Western goods. Now they are depicted again as the enemy whenever politicians need a nemesis and there have been no recent terrorist attacks. Living in Europe with Russia much closer physically, I have a different view than the one spun by the US media machine. And yes, I sometimes watch Russia Today TV, which is their politically tethered media just as the Washington Post and CNN are to the American corporate-political cabal. It's good to hear different viewpoints ... then decide for yourself.