Saturday, May 9, 2020

The 75th Anniversary Of VE Day: Forgettable Or Boring?

My wife, Marina, as many of those reading this know, is from the Soviet Union, and takes extremely seriously the anniversary of the victory of the Soviet Union and its allies over Nazi Germany, which became official at 10:45 PM in Berlin on May 8, 1945, which was 12:15 May 9 Moscow time. So, while all of the rest of the world celebrates VE Day on May 8, now in Russia today is Victory Day, as it is called everywhere outside the US, although I just saw a clip from the day itself in London where Winston Churchill declared that what had happened was "Victory in Europe," although while UK did play a minor role in subsequent events in the Pacific, aside from the US for the rest of the allies VE Day was simply Victory Day in Europe.

So, yesterday in UK there was a flyover of planes in celebration of this anniversary, somehow according to the radio report I heard putting out red, white, and blue colors in the  sky. Is this for the US helping out with D-Day? I do not know.  The only other public demo on May 8 I am aware of was Donald Trump meeting with some WW II vets, all reportedly over 95 years in age, with neither  him or any of them for the photo op wearing a face mask, despite the fact that the White House has suddenly become a new epicenter for the coronavirus.

The following nations have a public holiday for May 8 relatd to the victory of the Allies over the Axis powers in Europe: UK, France, French Guiana, French Polynesia, Martinique, Saint Martin, Guadeloupe, Gibralter, New Caledonia, Czech Republic, and Slovakia, which really boils down to three nations at the end of WW II, UK with some associates, France with a lot of associaates, and then the former Czechoslovakia, now slit into two.  Nontrivially, Ukraine today has May 8 not a public holiday, but it is a Day of Peace and Reconciliaton, which is suupposed to be recognized.

In the US VE Day as it is still called since for us the war with Japan was more important then, and now that we got done with this distraction in Europe it was now time to get to real business to defeat Japan, well...  So, VE Day is below Pearl Harbor Day, D-Day, and VJ Day (Aug, 15) in the general veiw  of Americans.  As it is, none of these are public holidays, but then, we only lost about a half million or so in the war, well underthe deaths in our Civil War, and also a number well under that who died in Leningrad, now St. Petersburg, during the long siege it suffered thanks to Adolf Hitler.

More of the "nations" listed that have public holidays on May 8 are France-related. But unlike Britain with Churchill and all that, for France ultimatlely this holiday is not one they want  to emphasize given their embarrassing history of having been defeated by Germany and then having the awful Vichy regime and all that, which they have still barely gotten over.  Sure, Aug. 1944 de Gaulle pushed the Grmans out of Paris, with lots of support from US, UK, and Canada, so, well, not all that triumphant, and I checked: no  big celebration there on May 8.  For them the big one is the prvious war, WW I, which they unequivocally won, Battle of Verdun and all that.  On Nov. 11, now Veterans Day in the US (well, sorry, the nearest Monday for commercial reasons), they have aserious military parade up the Champs Elysses with the French president utlimately bowing before the flame of the Unkown Soldier under the Arc de Triomphe.  I have actually observed these events more than oncein the days when Jacques Chirac was the French president, and these French displays are apparently what has gotten our pathetic POTUS wanting same here.

Anyway, in the end, the French made no big  deal about this day, and very few nations did as well, aside from the jet overfly in Britain, where rhey take it pretty seriously still.  In the US Trump's embarrasssing meeting with some old vets from WW II barely made any news.  The matter here at least is forgetable, and likewise in most of the world.

But there is one place where that is not true and has not been ever since 1945, the former Soviet Union, and its main successorussia, although as noted above for them Victory Day is today, while I am now writing, May 9. In the Soviet period the whole long week between the Workers Day, May Day, and Victory Day, May 9 was a total national holiday. But now May Day has been downgraded and the long holiday has been long gone in Russia. But in the recent years Victory Day, May 9, has been increasingly emphasized and celebratred.  Especially since he annexed Crimea and thus brought down on Russia western sanctions, Putin has puffed up this celebration with massive military parades and presentations, with a side aspect of this a revival of Joseph Stalin, the victor in the end of that war.

So this year was supposed to be his utimate presentation. On April 22 there was supposed to be a referndum on a new Russian constittution that would allow Putin to run again in 2024 for two more 8 year terms. But, oh, a pandemic hit and the vote has been put off. Like his pal in Washington, Putin initally dismissed and ingnored the invading virus, although has since put in place a much more severe regime of lockown than anything going on anywhere in the US. But in the last fes days the infection rate has soared wildly out of control in Russia with daily figures of new infections exceeding 10,000 per day, one of the highest rates in the world.

Well, tsk tsk.  So, Great Leader Putin had been planning and builuding up towards this grand event that was supposed to succeed his elevation to essentially lifetime leadership like his neighbor in China has, Xi Jinping.  But, oooops! The humongous and super grand beyond anything ever seen before, even beyond the shows in Paris that set Trump drooling, was planned to happened today in Moscow on this, the 75th anniversary of their great victory over Hitlerian Germany. But no show.

And it was a great victory, maybe the greatest in all of world history. Nothing else remotely compares. At Yalta it is reported that a reason FDR and Churchill did not push back too hard against Stalin, aside from the hard fact that the Red Army was already sitting in much of Eastern Europe (and especially in Poland), they were aware that something like 26 million Soviet people had died as a result of Hitler's invasion of that nation, with their numbers of dead not even in the same order of magnitude.  Many Americans ignorantly think that it was D-Day that did Hitler.  No, it was Stalingrad, the bloodiest single battle in all of world history with over a million dead, followed by the battle of Kursk, by far the largest tank battle in history, after which it was all over, with D-Day basically a sideshow to make sure that 1814 would not be repeated, a time when Russian troops did get to Paris after Napoleon's failed invasion of Russia, which led to Russian soldiers demanding drinks, "bistro, bistro!" which French entreprneurs responded to, giving us the bistro.

So, with the possible aside from the flyover in the UK, most of the world outside of Russia has come to view VE Day as forgettable. The remaining vets are indeed over 95 and few in number, and the rest of us, especially in the US, have many other things on our minds. It is forgettable and has been forgotten.

The situation in Russia is more complicated, given the recent focus and buildup related to it by Putin.  That the great celebration is not happening is clearly frustrating for Putin. But the word in various rceenteports has been that he is "bored," although I doubt that is really accurate.  Anyway, just as he was about to imitate Xi and grab lifelong power, the nasty virus showed up, and  while imitated Trump and other authoritarian idiots around the world in initally ignoring it, eventually it blew up in his face and now Russia is shut down, no vote for his supreme leadership, and no massive three quarters of a century celebration of Victory Day.  Instead reportedly he has disappeared from public view, hiding in his dacha while nameless underlings deal with the pandemic.  It is not his problem. By mnay reports he is "bored."

Barkley Rosser


Anonymous said...

If you want some historiographical fun, look into the occasional debate among Russian historians about how the Pacific theater should be taught (if at all) in Russian schools. You'll have to hunt for that debate, which is a hint of what it's like. In conversations with average Russians, "Pacific theater" is a memory hole. (Scholars are another matter: tell me what you think of the Pacific theater, and I'll tell you your level of nationalism.)

Anonymous said...

When the point should be honoring the soldiers who fought to defeat Nazi Germany, including a member of the family of President Putin who died in the fighting, this essay mocks the remembrance. Writing respectfully would have been appropriate in this instance.

Anonymous said...

January 28, 2012

At Event, a Rare Look at Putin’s Life
By Ellen Barry

MOSCOW — Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, a man whose private life is revealed to the public only in glimpses, on Friday described the loss that his family suffered during the 872-day siege of Leningrad, the Soviet-era name for St. Petersburg, when his 1-year-old brother was taken from his mother, died in a children’s home and was buried in an unmarked grave.

“My brother, whom I have never seen and did not know, was buried here, I don’t even know where exactly,” Mr. Putin said flatly during an annual wreath-laying at Piskaryovskoye Cemetery in St. Petersburg, where 470,000 civilians and soldiers were buried in mass graves. A memorial plaque at the site states that 641,803 people died of starvation in the city between 1941 and 1944.

“My parents told me that children were taken from their families in 1941, and my mother had a child taken from her — with the goal of saving him,” he said at the event, which marks the anniversary of the blockade’s end. “They said he had died, but they never said where he was buried. ”

Late Friday, a St. Petersburg organization, We Remember Them All By Name announced that its researchers had found a record of Viktor V. Putin, who was born in 1940 and died in 1942. Aleksandr Nesmeyanov, of the organization, said he had found evidence that 10 men and 5 women with the last name Putin were buried in the mass graves, but only one, the baby Viktor, had the patronymic Vladimirovich.

Mr. Putin visits this site most years to commemorate the German blockade, when residents of the city were dying in such numbers that army engineers set off explosives in farmers’ fields and dumped bodies in the holes. In the book “First Person,” he said that his mother was so close to starvation that she lost consciousness and “they laid her out with the corpses” until someone heard her moaning. His father, hospitalized with war wounds, set aside his rations to feed her.... said...

I respect the soldiers and others who suffered in the war there, including my 91 year old mother-in-law. The person I do not respect is V.V. Putin who has bulit up and magnified these victory celebrations oveer time as a way of consolidating his own personal power.

An especially nauseating aspect of this is his full-blown rehabilitation of Joswpeh Stalin. It has gone so far that recently a person who found some previously unknown mass graves of victims of Stalin's purges was arrested and put in jail.

Another example of this I saw personally a year ago in March. We, including our daughter, went to visit my mother-in-law for her 90th birthday in Moscow. This was a woman who was sent to Siberia during the wae. Her late father was a high official in the Soviet government, and in 1948 he was arrested for saying one day in front of Molotov's wife that "there is more than one road to socialism." He was arrested that night and barely survived prison, getting released in 1856 as a titak ohysical wreck. His daughter, my mother-in-law suffered for several years for being a "daughter of an enemy of the people."

So, on the day before this woman's birthday (she used to be a dermatologist who invented a skin cream) we went down to a big festival by Red Sqaure. There have always been people running around the tourists there dressed up as various historical figures, including Peter the Gresat and Lenin as regular figures, but never before Stalin. But on this day there was a guy dressed up as Stalin. He had the nerve to come over to us and without any invitation lecture us and my mother-in-lae in particular on what a great man Stalin was and how many good things he did. My mother-in-law held her toungue and did nothing.

As it is, I consider Vladimir V. Putin to be an evil and vicious murderer. I have not respect for him whatsoever and I hope he drowns in the swimming pool he reportedly swims indaily at his dacha, the sooner he better.

They did have a jet flyover and fireworks in Moscow. Today. I do not mind some celebration of the victory, but Putin had turned it into something glorifying his own aggressive foreign policy and personal power mongering. That I object to.

Anonymous said...

Barkley Rosser:

I appreciate the explanation, and understand now why the writing was so bitter. These are frightening anecdotes, indeed. I knew nothing of the memorial being so ill-used, knew nothing of the Russian people being ill-served on this occasion and am sorry for the Russian people.

Thank you for the poignant explanation. said...


Thanks. I shall add the Putin's murderousness is personal. I know people who know peoplw he has had murdered. His most serious rival, Boris Nemtsov, was gunned down at a spot on a bridge in Moscow near Red Square that is an important personal spot for me and Marina.

We also are good friends with a fairly prominent Russian economist I shall not name who left Russia after he had his life threatened by some Putin thugs after he publicly criticized Putin's economic policy.

I also note that when Trump was asked what he thought of Putin having various journalists murdered, Trump praised Putin for "showing strength."

Anonymous said...

It is one thing to honor veterans who sacrificed their lives (or were ready to sacrifice their lives) fighting the Wehrmacht. What is less forgivable from Putin and his crowd are the attempts to rewrite history, for example the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact and of course Stalin's place in that history. The whitewashing of victims of the war has been less successful but is still there: witness what happened to the Rain (Dozhd) tv channel when the question was raised many years ago about whether Leningrad should have been surrendered. That led to a huge stink, even though it had been a rather routine question used in history classes to get students to think in terms of counter-factuals.

All this said, there has been something unhealthy over the last ten years or so. I have been there for VE Day every year except this year over that time, and slowly but surely this "cult of WWII" has been growing. Putin's state pushes that cult, obviously, but many an average Russian play along with it. It is more than this sense of remembering sacrifices and the same solemn sense one gets on November 11 in the UK and France, for example. Watching schoolchildren dress up in military clothing of the time and show off singing patriotic war songs--this is more than reenactment. If anything, these shows of patriotism so a disservice to those who fell as soldiers or civilians.

Kaleberg said...

Back in the 1980s, I remember the interegnum in the USSR after Brezhnev died. The New York Times printed some of the Politburo speeches, and they were all full of references to the "invincible might of the Soviet Army" and the Great Patriotic War. The USSR was stymied. That seemed to be all the leadership had. I wasn't surprised when Gorbachev took over as a "reformer", nor was I surprised when the USSR collapsed. Russian momentum seemed to have been spent on the push to Berlin and then the wave broke.

The US doesn't have anything like the Great Patriotic War. The closest I can imagine is the "war between the states" and its influence on the south, and the south lost. In the 1990s I read a book about the power of the Great Patriotic War in Russian culture. The sheer scale of death and destruction was overwhelming. People were still going on picnics outside of Moscow and finding bones and relics of the dead. Stalin might have been a monster, but he was the monster who had won the Great Patriotic War.

Apparently, the Great Patriotic War is still a central societal touchstone. I suppose that's great. Someone really needs to remember that war and its death and sacrifice, and if it isn't remembered by those living near its bloodiest battlegrounds then who will remember it. Still, as in the 1980s, I wonder if the Russians will be able to move on. Surely they have something more recent to remember, or maybe they don't.

Anonymous said...

Glad you, Marina, and your daughter were able to visit your 90-year old mother-in-law - must have been quite a trip - first trip back in while? Thanks for providing the back story about Marina's family. You and Marina ought to write a book with stories of your storied families - it would be an interesting read!

As to Russia, did not realize that the French bistro was of Russian origin - very interesting, but what's with doctors being thrown out of windows, poisoning dissidents, murdering journalists, jailing opponents with show trails, and failing to acknowledge multiple nuclear accidents? In 1989 and into the 1990s, there was hope for Russia, but since Putin, it has been lost and with his efforts to remain in power until death like Stalin, it is a sad state of affairs.

Interestingly, in terms of being aided in the Pacific theater, while it is commonly held that the atom bomb caused the surrender of Japan, some believe that Russia invading Manchuria and Japanese islands were important causes as well since Japan thought the US would be more likely to preserve the territorial integrity of Japan and would provide the Emperor with greater stature. Due to military opposition, it was still quite a challenge for the Emperor to issue the recording of his surrender and get it broadcast over the radio.

One note on Veterans Day, while some holidays are relegated to being long weekends (e.g., Presidents Day), Veterans Day, in the U.S., is always celebrated as a federal holiday on the 11th day of the 11th month, November - originally known as Armistice Day in commemoration of the day WWI ended. This year, it will be celebrated on a Wednesday.

Bob Michaelson said...

Regarding the Pacific Theater (Anonymous comment at 2:13 p.m.) probably the best evidence that it was the Russian entry into the war with Japan, rather than the use of nuclear weapons, that caused the Japanese surrender, is given by Ward Wilson in his article "The Winning Weapon? Rethinking Nuclear Weapons in Light of Hiroshima" Freeman Dyson gave high praise to Wilson's article.

A minor issue: for what it is worth, the Wikipedia article on "bistro" casts doubt on the alleged Russian origin of the term, pointing out for example that there is no known recorded use of the term until the end of the 19th century.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article referral - seems like a serious example of game theory.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, it seems as if Freeman Dyson died in February - quite a career! said...

I stand corrected on veterans Day and origin of "bistro," although former is on the following Monday if the 11th is on the preceding weekend, and there are several oossible origins for "bistro," although it seems the word was not used in print prior to 1884. The supposed Russian origin remains "a popular folk etymology."

On the Japanese surrender the Soviet invasion of Manchuria theory, this is a distinctly minority view not widely accepted. It comes from a particular Japanese historian Hasegawa and has support from Richard Rhodes, but otherwise is not generally accepted. Another view is that the Japanese were getting ready to surrender anyway and would havee before a US invasion, meaning the bomb was not "necessary to save American and Japanese lives in an invasion" as many defenders of the bombing have argued. A view that gives some credit to the idea the Soviet move played a role, if not the decisive one is that they did want to surrender before the Soviets would fully invade Japan itself due to fear of an internal uprising. But a widely noted point supporting the traditional view that it was the bombing that triggered what was probably coming fairly soon anyway is that it is the one thing mentioned in the surrender address by Emperor Hirohito to the Japanese people. However, it is a complicated matter, probably ultimately unresolvable as it depends on knowing the now-unrecorded thoughts of now dead Japanese leaders from that time.

Nithya said...

It seems that most of the countries all over the world celebrate Victory day on May 8. Thanks for sharing the historical info on the reason for celebrating Victory day by many countries. Really a useful post.

Anonymous said...

“So, yesterday in UK there was a flyover of planes in celebration of this anniversary, somehow according to the radio report I heard putting out red, white, and blue colors in the sky. Is this for the US helping out with D-Day? I do not know.”

Red,white and blue are the colours of the British flag — the Union Jack. said...


Of course. Should have got that. I saw a report of planes flying over in Russia making "red, white, and blue" colors, which are the ones on the Russian flag, although like the French, I think they list them in the opposite order.