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The Devils' Alliance: Hitler's Pact with Stalin, 1939-1941 Hardcover – 2014
"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Learn more
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For nearly two years the two most infamous dictators in history actively collaborated with one another. The Nazi-Soviet Pact stunned the world when it was announced, the Second World
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"Riccardo: Permit me, Your Eminence - the moral right, surely, is on the Russian side, without a doubt. They are waging a just war! They were attacked, their country devastated, their people carried off, slaughtered. If they are threatening Europe now, the blame is only Hitler's."
As propaganda, this is excellent; as history, it is a nauseating oversimplification that misses the fact that the Nazi versus Communist war was a war between thieves, robbers, murderers and thugs.
This excellent book by Roger Moorhous sheds rare light on the Stalin-Hitler Pact, aka the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, which reoriented the official positions of the two totalitarianisms, which had involved mutual animosity, into a mutually advantageous trading relationship. The roll-out of this changed position confused the populations of the two nations, who had previously been trained into believing that the opposing ideology was the incarnation of evil.
The advantage of the treaty was clear. The treaty removed the threat at Germany's back, so that it was free to go to war with the western powers of Britain and France, particularly after the treaty had divided Poland up between the Nazi and Communist powers. Germany struck first, but Russia did not waste a lot of time before making sure that it took possession of its territorial claims in Poland. Moorhous describes the extent of Communist-Nazi cooperation in Poland, with Germany handing over cities to the Russians according to their treaty obligation. Moorhous also describes the nauseating similarity with which the conquerors administered their respective Polish territories. Moorhous exactingly describes the atrocities committed by both powers on their conquered Polish peoples.
The Soviet Union used the treaty as an opportunity to absorb the Baltic states and Bessarabia into the Soviet Union. It also launches a war against Finland for the same purpose, which was initially repulsed with great losses to the Communists. Ultimately, the Soviet Union prevailed with more men and better tactics.
The Soviet Union's real hope was that Germany and the western powers would find themselves in an interminable war like the prior war that it could exploit.Hitler dashed those hopes with his quick victory over France.
For its part, Germany's need was for raw material for its industry. It hoped to obtain those resources through trade deals with Russia. Communists being Communists, Russia stalled its negotiations and cheated on its obligations, except when Stalin panicked about his need for German peace. For its part, it seems that Russia did very well in its dealings by obtaining trade secrets and models of advanced technology, and, in one case, a partially constructed battleship in the Bismarck class.
In many ways, this book makes a nice complement to Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. Snyder explains the logic of Hitler's move against Russia, to wit, the need to secure a continental supply of resources in order to sustain Germany against the blockade of resources that England could impose. Moorhous points out the maddening way that Russia threatened Germany with its arbitrary actions concerning providing Germany with the resources it needed. Could more enthusiastic contract-fulfillment by Russia have prevented Operation Barbarossa? Probably not, as Moorhous points out, Hitler was having "buyer's regret" when he observed the Soviet Union extending its hegemony to the Baltic states and Bessarabia. The incorporation of Romanian Bessarabia into the Soviet Union, in particular, was considered to be evidence of Stalin's duplicity.
This book is a fascinating look at a little-discussed but vastly important aspect of twentieth century history, particularly an aspect that continued to play a role throughout the rest of the twentieth century.
He goes into great detail about economics of the deal in terms pricing and delivery of raw materials from Russia and capital goods from Germany. Though this sounds like boring stuff, he shows how the Germans lost patience with the Soviets nit-picking the terms of each and every shipment. Remember that at the outset, Hitler needed the deal more than Stalin, but after the German lightening victory in France, Stalin needed the deal far more than Hitler. It is no accident that Stalin occupies the Baltic States as France is falling. Hence we get a ringside seat to Molotov’s visit to Berlin in November 1940 which sets into motion a reorientation of Hitler’s thinking. As a sidebar the tactics used by Stalin in the Baltics in 1940 are identical to what Putin is using in the Ukraine today.
It is with the German victory in France and the subsequent German defeat over the skies of Britain that Hitler turns east and according to Moorhouse the flashpoint that ended the pact was the territorial division of the Balkans which was mostly outside of the initial deal. I think Moorhouse makes too much of the disputes in the Balkans, in particular the disagreements in the rather obscure Danube Commission. My guess is that Hitler’s decision to invade Russia was more on the level of grand strategy than a localized dispute.
Moorhouse puts to rest the myth that Stalin was surprised by the German invasion in June 1940. For the prior six months he spent practically every waking hour trying to avoid war and to get his armies battle ready for the coming onslaught. His problem was that he couldn’t mobilize for fear of giving Hitler an excuse to invade. Simply put he was practicing the very same appeasement policy that Britain and France followed three years earlier.
Along the way Moorhouse brings to life the dour personality of Molotov and the rather flippant personality of his counterpart, Ribbentrop. Both of whom were at the beck and call of their puppet masters. One interesting note Moorhouse follows up with the British-Russian –Polish conference of July 1941 where Russia offers concessions to the Polish government in exile to receive British support in their new war against Germany. One of those concessions was the freeing of Polish nationals held in the Soviet gulag. Although Moorhouse doesn’t mention it, one of those so freed was Menachem Begin
This book would be good to read in combination with Gorodetsky's Grand Delusion, which only covers the aftermath of the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, while this book covers the Pact's negotiation as well. Also, while Gorodetsky only covers the diplomatic maneuvers, this book covers the impact on the ground--refugees created, prisoners executed, etc.
There are only two things I didn't care for in the book, but they are pretty minor and did not warrant removing a star from this otherwise excellent book:
--in the introduction the author says that the mainstream historical interpretation that the Soviets were merely buying time to prepare for an expected German invasion is false, and that in fact Stalin's policy was "pro-active and anti-Western". While there is some truth to the author's claim, ultimately, I don't think that the author really made his case, or even made much of an attempt to do so.
--while the book has extensive notes, the notes are not indicated in the text, but rather only inserted in an endnotes section along with a snippet from the text to identify which notes go with which text. I'm not a fan of that approach of providing notes, although I guess that most people could care less.
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Considering the fact that the German – Soviet alliance lasted about a third of the...Read more
BASIC BOOKS, 2014
HARDCOVER, $29.Read more