7 May 2022
by Aleksandr Podrabinek
IMBECILES AND DECIBELS
The dream of Putin’s propaganda is to combine two wars into one in Russian minds: the Second World War, which they call the Great Patriotic; and today’s war against Ukraine. So that the pride over victory in the last war that has been driven into Soviet peoples’ heads over the decades spills smoothly into justification for today’s. They’ve even designated a common enemy: Nazis. True, they never have pointed out a single Ukrainian Nazi. Couldn’t find one. Not that they looked. Propaganda doesn’t need proof, just imbeciles and decibels.
The similarities between these two wars can be divided up into the mythological and the real. The Kremlin has been leaning more and more on the mythological. This includes the above-mentioned “Nazis” — members of Germany’s National Socialist Workers Party, which safely breathed its last in May 1945. Exploited to its utmost has been the myth of proud Russians going it alone against world evil. There is also the myth about the invincibility of the RKKA [Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army] and the present-day Russian army: successful military operations, minimal losses, the most powerful weaponry, unique military designs, talented commanders — in short, total success wherever you cast your eye.
The majority of the people look favorably on myths. They don’t much believe them, but they willingly accept them for the sake of tranquility and avoiding agonizing questions. This is the universal characteristic of the ochlos, and happy is the country that has a cultural and political elite that asks the people difficult questions and doesn’t let its spirit be calm or its brain dull. Today’s Russia has no such elite, unfortunately. Those who might become it have either hidden in fear or rushed to leave their fatherland, gleefully repeating, “Save yourself if you can!” Those left behind and prepared to protest are saving the country’s honor, but, alas, they don’t make the political weather.
TWO SIMILAR WARS
There are real similarities between the two wars as well. Russia attacked Ukraine in 2022 just as basely as the Soviet Union and Germany attacked Poland in 1939: without real cause for war and under a manufactured pretext about the disorganization of state life. A 17 September 1939 note from the Soviet Foreign Ministry to the Polish government said: “Warsaw no longer exists as Poland’s capital. The Polish government has collapsed and is not showing signs of life. This means that the Polish state and its government have to all intents and purposes ceased to exist.” Very similar to the present-day Russian argument.
Present-day propagandists made no mistake in their choice of names. The war against Ukraine is called a “special military operation,” whereas the war against Poland was called the “RKKA liberation campaign.” Now they’ve come to “liberate” the Ukrainians, whereas then they came to “liberate” the Poles. For now the difference is that after attacking Poland, the Soviet Union and Germany unleashed the Second World War, but what the war against Ukraine is going to spill out into is as yet unknown.
The similarities and differences between the two wars are interesting more for historians, but by way of cautions they could be useful also to today’s participants in events. The Kremlin leadership should remember that one of the four charges against the Nazis’ ringleaders at the Nuremberg trial of 1946 was the accusation of a crime of aggression: planning and unleashing an aggressive war.
There is another similarity that the Kremlin should pay attention to: lend-lease, that is, the simplified procedure for sending supplies from the United States of goods and weapons with deferred payment. The Soviet dictator Iosif Stalin admitted that without American lend-lease the Soviet Union would not have won the war. On 9 May, U.S. President Joseph Biden intends to sign a lend-lease act for Ukraine. A highly significant coincidence.
CONSEQUENCES OF MOBILIZATION
And finally, one more anticipated similarity: mobilization in Russia, the possibility of which has been spoken of so much in recent days. Judging from the fact that in Ekaterinburg right now they are modernizing old tanks, while enlistment offices are calling for volunteers for the war against Ukraine, losses in manpower and equipment are critically high for the regular Russian army. Mobilization, though, is the arming of the people.
In 1941, at the start of the war against Germany, mobilization in the Soviet Union was also universal, meanwhile in the first four months of war, according to various estimates, from 3 million to 4 million Soviet soldiers surrendered. They surrendered later, too, and over the whole war, from 1.5 million to 2 million Soviet citizens turned their weapons against the hated Bolshevik dictatorship — some under German orders, some independently.
An armed people is dangerous for a dictatorship. I think the Kremlin is bearing this in mind today, unless their own propaganda has eaten away their own brains completely. If it hasn’t, then there probably won’t be universal mobilization. It’s just hard to know whether to be pleased about that or distressed.
Translated by Marian Schwartz