Other people’s wars

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February 20, 2003 by AK

American bloggers find it easy to talk and make jokes about other countries’ wars. Perhaps it’s because Americans haven’t fought a “tragical” war since a long time ago. By a “tragical” war I mean one fought on one’s own land or, if not, requiring an overbearing effort and sacrifice of lives. Under this definition, Americans’ last “tragical” war was the Civil War. It’s a war that many still take personally, especially Southerners — not only because the South was defeated but because it was fought there, on their soil; it devastated their towns and homes, and ended in occupation by the victor. It’s hard not to take it personally if you live, say, in Tennessee, be it Nashville, Chattanooga, or Memphis — war landmarks are everywhere.

The Civil War thus amounts in the eyes of many to no less that a national tragedy. Russia had its own Civil War (1918–1922), no less tragic, but it also fought a terrible war on its own soil in 1941–1944. As I’ve mentioned before, the war with Nazi Germany stands out in the Russian mythology because of its epic proportions and hecatombs of victims [and Soviet/post-Soviet propaganda – added in 2014].

Molly Ivins is hardly correct in conjecturing that the French, having lost 1.2 (or 1.4) million in WWII, didn’t have soldiers to fight Germans again. (By some estimates, Russia lost about 10 million between 1914 and 1922; then at least 25 million in 1941–1945; add to this millions of Stalin’s victims of all kinds.) But she captured the meaning of WWI for France. The flower of the nation was gone, as was the cream of its military. The pre-war golden age was lost for ever. France, in a sense, never recovered from the WWI grinders.

And the essence of WWI, it may be claimed, was the defense of European democracies against the authoritarian machines of Germany and Austria-Hungary. Well, perhaps that’s overreaching. Anyway, the French paid with blood; it wasn’t their fault that they couldn’t score a fast victory; but it was they, together with Britons, who actually fought the war. It was their sacrifice that kept Americans casualties at just 100,000. (Russia lost 2 to 4 million in WWI proper, but Russian lives are cheap.)


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