Okay, this shit is beyond ridiculous. I keep telling my buddy no more war books, but he’s addicted to the damn things and keeps passing them along and I keep reading them. But I swear this is the last one.
After Young Stalin (Writer Working 1/12/08) and Stalin (Writer working 11/30/07) I thought I knew enough about all this slaughter, and turns out I did. I cruised through and over Snyder’s Bloodlands without learning much until the last 50 pages or so. Oh, of course, there were more numbers than I’d known (HItler and Stalin combined for fourteen million deaths by starvation, bullets, gas, et al between 1933 and 1935.) There was the knowledge that the center of massacre’s gravity was farther east than most assume. Thus, the bloodlands that most would have placed in Germany proper actually were centered in Poland, the Ukraine, and other Eastern European areas. There was also the motivation factor.
Stalin wanted to build and protect his nation from what he perceived as the encircling wolves of the west in Europe and those of the east in China and Japan. (He gave up on the Communism business except for propaganda purposes shortly after the 5 year plan fell on its face.) HItler held on to the race purification thing and a vision of a new world order till the end. His notion of killing all the Jews except those whom he could exile to distant lands (Madagascar was one contemplated venue, if you can believe that.) reminded me of the American Colonization society’s wish to ship all black people back to Africa.
But, really, the slaughter was and is the main thing. I don’t need all these details to “understand” it. What I didn’t know about was the enormous population displacements that took place at the end and just after WWII. Over seven million Germans were shipped out of Poland and East Germany so that Soviets and their sponsees could have their land and houses. Then, to blunt resistance from indigenous populations, Stalin shifted another few million around the Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, and other places. Until recent events opened up the world behind the iron curtain, the whole western world had no idea of any of this. Our CIA was too lame to keep track, and there were no other sources. Snyder also confirms that we had no real interest in or at least power to keep Stalin from steamrolling all over eastern Europe.
Snyder spends a lot of time splitting hairs about how and why all this happened, and I suppose his arguments have some scholarly importance and interest for those who are interested. He is a Yale guy, after all, and has a reputation to build and keep. For me, I could have read the last 100 pages and been well-satisfied.