what the spin-doctors called them in the 2nd World War. Not before Stalin
became a definite ally and brought in his hardy Georgians and others to stand
firm against a brutal Nazi onslaught and the perishing cold of the Russian
winters. In the whole of history there has never been a war like it. The war on
the Eastern Front was unique; from Leningrad to the Crimea, from Kiev to
Stalingrad, the Soviet Union was devastated - at least 25 million Soviet
citizens died; among them a sizeable proportion of Russian Jews. The Russians call
it ‘the Great Patriotic War’ and it may well be the best name for it because
how else can we explain the grit and determination of the millions who fought
in that war?
Winnie and Honest Joe or Churchill and Stalin: would they themselves have fought as fiercely as they expected the troops under them to fight? Others might disagree but I think they would have, not because they were particularly fearless but I think because they were impervious to the discomforts that others might find less than tolerable. You have to read what has been written or dictated by them to understand what I mean. Both men appeared to have a fair amount of what I call ‘kenoma’ that dark place inside the soul that ceases to empathise for human weakness and bears down upon it like the proverbial’wolf on the fold’.
In discussing such historical personalities I believe historians, psychologists, and many of their ilk miss the point. The point being that these are not human beings like us who are thrust into power and must therefore at one point in time have looked back with regret at all the troops they had sent to their deaths, at all the buildings it had taken centuries to construct that had been destroyed, at all the families and children annihilated and the natural surroundings scorched. Not at all: ‘dulce et decorum est pour patria mori’ is what they probably thought at the time and if you think about how we remember our wars and our dead,the pride on the young flagbearer’s face as he reminds us all how for ‘your tomorrow we gave our today’, there you have it!
It is amazing and a little puzzling the amount of debate arising now about Winnie, perhaps stirred by the marriage plans of Prince Harry and Megan Marckle. There might be a died in the wool conservative who wonders what Winnie as the PM would have advised the Queen to do. Quite frankly in anno domini 2017 I doubt it would make a bit of difference to the final outcome. Megan seems to be an intelligent, good humoured girl who will bear the dutiful working woes of the Windsors lightly and brightly. The Windsors are moving on and I think Winnie and Honest Joe would have applauded.
I feel sad for Honest Joe Stalin, the Americans managed to besmirch his image, his daughter ‘princess’ Svetlana did a bunk and bungled it, wrote a badly worded opus ‘I am Stalin’s Daughter’ the veracity of which I doubt to this day, and then did a lateral bunk.She would have been a fit rival for a certain Lady who was known as the ‘bunker’ in the Private Eye’.
As students we eagerly devoured Svetlana’s memoirs, hoping to discover that Russians were all as passionate as Ann Karenina’s lover. Alas and alack we were redirected to our Jane Austens and Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’.
That was life then! You just about hit on a good story and the senior brigade swiped it away. “A load of trash that!Look she doesn’t even look like Stalin. She’s probably been paid to discredit him by his enemies.”
Of whom there were many around in abundance. They kept popping up out of the woodwork if you remember? I don’t I was ten when he died but I overheard a lot of old workers talking about it as I walked behind them on my way home from school.
“There’ll be some relieved he’s gone no doubt. Not least his womenfolk, I heard he thrashed the living daylights out of them! “ ‘’ Well bad buggar though he was he was certainly a man for the people.”
“ Tell that to those poor beggars he sent to the salt mines.”
“ We don’t know that for sure.”
“ I wouldn’t bet against it.”
And so it went on and until I left university in the 60s there was still much speculation about Honest Joe and whether or not his atrocities were sufficient reason to avoid the ‘comrades’ who loitered on the university union steps trying to sell the Daily Worker, a badly laid out , poorly edited newspaper full of Marxist twaddle.
Well Winnie died when he was 90 in 1965, surrounded by his family. Despite his reputation for loving whisky it didn’t take the toll on him it did on Honest Joe. There’s something to be learned from their stories and I’m not quite sure what it is.
But here’s a thought. Most political strong men are seen as fascists and remembered for their nasty, atrocious acts. Several names come to mind and I won’t go into them in depth now. We can leave them for another day and another re-examination. A statement on atrocities drafted mostly by Churchill led to the establishment of the European Advisory Commission which drafted the London Charter.
It seems there was quite a bit of toing and froing as Germans were sent back to the locations where they had committed atrocities, the intention being that they would be judged by the people they had abused. Offenses with no particular location would be punished by the Allies.
It makes one shudder to think of it! Did those selected to carry out vengeance feel the same dread as that felt by those abused in the first instance? Perhaps not, people were probably abused in groups, maybe not singled out except in exceptional circumstances. It’s easier to hate people in groups and abuse them than to single them out and look them in the eye. For that one would have to be a monster of gigantic proportions.
I doubt Winnie or Honest Joe ever reached such proportions. Perhaps sections of their fellow countrymen had more reason to vilify their memories than those who remembered Winnie’s negative statements and role in India or Honest Joe’s populating the Salt Mines.
Anyway I must say today ,when the so-called strong leaders only dare to parry their threats on tweets and twitters, it’s been quite a refreshing (and frightening) fortnight listening to scholars and politicians argue over whether Winnie was a hero or a villain or Honest Joe not such a honest anything. It’s all water under the bridge, as they say, and water does not flow backwards.
But in some instances it might, so watch out!