I live in New England, where the Boston Red Sox are not just a team but a religion. One of the greatest upsets and come-from-behind victories in baseball history took place in 2004. The Red Sox, having not won a world series since 1918, finally won one. In 1918, baseball fans remember, the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees, a team that proceeded to win twenty-plus championships over the next decades (I lost count after twenty, to save my sanity). But that winning streak came to an end in 2004. The Red Sox were down to the Yankees three games to zero in the American League Championship Series, only to turn the tables and win four games in a row, which no team had ever done before. They won the pennant and went on to win the (somewhat anti-climactic) World Series. It was not only the Sox’ first successful championship run since 1918, but it was the dramatic vanquishing of their arch rival that Sox fans had long dreamed of. That is the kind of story that makes us (well, those of us not living in New York) proud to be Americans: a tale of resilience, and courage, and determination. All attributes that Russia displayed—on a much grander and more serious scale—in World War II.
Let me set the stage. Russia versus Germany, part one: World War I. When war breaks out Russia, along with England and France, faces off against a nation with one of the greatest martial traditions in history. After the Napoleonic Wars Prussia, influenced by the writings of the Prussian/German general Karl von Clausewitz, united Germany and created a General Staff system of military excellence the world continues to be amazed by to this day. Their military, due to this system, was not reliant on the mind of a single, dominating genius to guide them, as France was under Napoleon or Sweden was under Gustav Adolphus. Rather, Germany systematically made many of their high ranking generals military geniuses. So, when war breaks out, and Germany takes on Russia’s Czar Nicholas II’s armies, Germany dominates them. Even when they’re greatly outnumbered by the best Russia has to offer, Germany continually bests them. Russia, at this time, was a more formidable force than many historians give them credit for. They dispatched the Austria-Hungarian armies easily and consistently. Yet, when Germany comes to the aid of their allies, the Russians are beaten soundly and take millions and millions of causalities. The Russians, as always, fight tenaciously and not without significant skill. Even as they are pushed deeper and deeper into their own country, they somehow maintain a front line. However, in 1917, the nation behind the front line is economically collapsing, paving the way for the Bolshevik Revolution and the withdrawal from the war at Brest-Litovsk.
Fast forward to September 22, 1941, when millions of German troops launch the greatest attack in world history against Russia/the Soviet Union. What chance does Russia have? Not much, according to every military expert in the world at that time. In the 1930’s, Stalin had purged most of his high ranking officers, including most of the Marshals and Generals! That alone could have spelled defeat. What’s more, England and France’s generals in the late 1930’s thought so little of Russia’s armies and political leadership that they hemmed and hawed about even allying with Russia again as they had in World War I. What happened next? As you likely already know, France is defeated by the incredible skill and imagination of the German generals in six weeks. Six weeks! The Germans couldn’t defeat French and British armies over four years in World War I. Then Churchill and England face off against Germany in the Battle of Britain and barely survive; they need serious help, which comes not only from the United States but also from the nearly-rejected ally, Russia. By September 1941 the scariest, most capable army, maybe in world history, attacks and catches Russia by surprise. In the first days, the Russians lose thousands of aircraft and tanks, and after the first few months they lose millions of men to death and injury and capture. As in World War I, the Russians are somehow able to fall back in a semi-organized way; but by December, German scout units can see the spires of the Kremlin. The Germans capturing Moscow—the central artery of all the rail lines in Russia—would spell the end of the war for the Soviet Union, and quite likely for Britain and the United States as well. Without Russia holding down the vast majority of German divisions, it would be almost impossible to launch a D-Day operation, and the best that Britain and the U.S. could hope for would be a “Cold War” style détente with Germany. A Cold War with a Germany led by Hitler may not have ended with a whimper rather than a bang. Remember, this is the man who, in his bunker, ordered the complete destruction of Germany’s means to exist because the country had failed him. The thought of a man like Hitler with access to a nuclear button is chilling indeed.
So what happens next is the greatest military comeback in history. In dramatic fashion and in defiance of the Germans, Stalin holds a military parade in Moscow in the now icy, snowy, bitter cold winter. Then the last 700,000 reserves Zhukov can muster up from Siberia are hurled against the practically frozen German army. The blow is tremendous, like a wounded prizefighter landing a miracle punch. The Germans stagger back and themselves barely hold the line through the winter. After that the rest is history. Zhukov methodically and systematically forces the Germans back and grinds them down with tremendous victory after victory. This allows time for Britain to regain its balance and the United States to wind up its huge military potential. Russia and the United States show how they can work together against one of the most dangerous foes in human history. The United States and Britain help in any way they can. When they can’t help with troops they do with supplies: tens of thousands of tanks, aircraft and artillery. Millions of uniforms and other supplies pour into Soviet Russia so the Red Army can push on and on. The cost for the Russians is the largest in history, with at least 27 million deaths, not to mention the wounded, prisoners, and more. What a comeback, right? What an upset, correct? And America is right there with her as a great ally.
This is why the United States should now be looking at what we have in common with Russia: because they do many things we should love. They can be an ally, fight anyone, anywhere, anytime. They are potentially the best ally we could have. Most importantly, they are like our favorite sports teams: able to come back against impossible odds, and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. They demonstrated this in World War II, and, in fact, even earlier against Napoleon, who many historians call the greatest military genius of all time. Don’t believe me? Well, maybe I’ll tell you that story someday, too.
© Chip Hodgkins
Chip Hodgkins is a graduate of Boston University's College of Communications with a B.S. in Print Journalism with emphasis on Foreign/War Coverage. He is especially proud of a paper he wrote "NATO vs the Warsaw Pact" from his Soviet Military Policy class. He is currently President and C.O.O of WBRK-AM/FM radio stations in Pittsfield Ma. He was a member of the Rotary Club of Pittsfield for 15 years. He has won the statewide Presidents Award from Gun Owners Action League. He has been a board member of the Massachusetts Broadcasters Association. In 2010 he was sworn in as a Berkshire County Deputy Sheriff under Sheriff Carmen Massimiano. He is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Hillcrest Educational Centers. He has covered and interviewed many famous national and international political figures. In addition to others including actors and famous sports figures.
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