“AFTER FEBRUARY 1943, the shadow of Stalingrad ever lengthened ahead of Adolf Hitler. The battle for that city had ended in disastrous defeat, shattering the myth of his military “Midas touch,” ending his chances of defeating the Red Army, permanently damaging relations with Italy, Rumania, Hungary, and other allied nations, and, of course, inflicting heavy losses on his eastern armies. More than 150,000 Axis soldiers, most of them German, had been killed or wounded in the city’s approaches or ruins; 108,000 others stumbled into Soviet captivity, 91,000 in the battle’s last three days alone. (Although Hitler never learned of their fate, only six thousand ever returned to Germany.)(21)”, stated Joel Hayward, author of the academic journal “Stalingrad”. If someone were to state that the battle of Stalingrad, with the Nazi Germany’s losses clearly stated here, that it proved to be the most crucial turning point in World War II, ultimately leading to the demise of the Third Reich, would you tend to agree? As Laurence Rees, author of the article “What Was The Turning Point of World War II?”, explores the most important point of World War II by asking some of the war’s finest historians, he discovers that “The majority of the historians I talked to—including American, British, German, and Japanese academics—agreed that the turning point of the war was to be found within the conflict in the Soviet Union”(4). Although Rees states that it is extremely difficult to find the exact turning point, but by asking some of the most distinguished historians manages to discover that most of them agree that the turning point was somewhere to be found in the war between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. And 6 of them even pointed the battle of Stalingrad out specifically as the turning point of World War II.
Seeing the evidence above, do you see the importance of the Soviet Union’s influence in World War II?
Does the average modern day American citizen possess the information on the battles that took place on Soviet soil, those incremental to the eventual defeat of Adolf Hitler, such as Barbarossa and Stalingrad? That is exactly what I started wondering once I moved to the United States from the Netherlands. Granted, I already assumed that American citizens would have a different perspective on World War II, mainly due to influences from their surroundings. I did, however, have an idea that the average modern day American perspective on World War II was an incomplete one, one that missed important facts. Therefore I decided to research this exact topic, which is a difficult issue to solve. There were so many factors and roles played in World War II, but examining which proved decisive in the defeat of the Third Reich is not end all be all. I needed to find out what Americans actually know and how their perspectives and opinions are formed. The word ‘opinions’, is a key part as to why the issue is not easily solved. A large part is based on opinions of people, albeit professors and historians, who have extreme knowledge of the topic. And opinions differ, even amongst those who possess so much knowledge.
One might wonder the significance of the average modern day American citizens’ knowledge of World War II. They want an explanation why having a factual and complete perspective of World War II is so important. Even though perspectives differ throughout the world, mostly everyone understands the effect World War II had on society. It changed the world and formed society as we know it today. Children need to learn the facts about history and especially the war which saw economies collapse and 73 million casualties. As 67 years have passed since the ending of World War II, more people who survived the war are dying of age. This of course takes away the personal perspective, those who saw the war cannot teach the children the struggle and sheer horror of World War II, how Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany murdered minorities and conquered Europe. It is important how World War II and the defeat of national socialism shaped society as we know it today. It started the Cold War, which really put the emphasis on democratic politics as a result in a large part of the world. However, the biggest influence the war had on society is that people were taught that this can never happen again. Therefore after the war the United Nations were formed, to make sure that countries would work better together.
Modern day American citizens have a biased and incomplete perspective of World War II. You might just be wondering what this thesis is built on, or maybe you doubt this, it is not out of the ordinary to wonder what the importance is. Who am I to state this and if it is correct, how has this perspective been formed?
A lot of research has been done in order to back my thesis with factual argumentation. “In terms of numbers alone the scale of the war in the Soviet Union was staggering. Take the comparative death toll between the west and the east, for example. The British and Americans lost no more than 800,000 dead between them during the war; the Soviets suffered the death of 27 million people.(5)”, as Rees states. This fact shows volumes to the often-underappreciated influence of the U.S.S.R. in World War II. John McCloy notes the importance of the Soviet Union in the article “Turning Points Of The War The Great Military Decisions”, stating that “It is difficult to deal with the Russian military moves in any detail due to lack of information, but the decisions which left in reserve such a large amount of strength to throw against the Germans, after the heavy battles nearer the frontier, were of the greatest importance. The determination to hold Moscow and to stand fast at Stalingrad stand out as critical(53).”
Which leads to the question, if the U.S.S.R. played such a large role and provided the turning point of the war, then why is the amount of Americans who see the importance small? Media really influenced World War II and society in the years following the war, especially television. “The battle has attracted considerable scholarly and journalistic attention. Literally scores of books and articles on Stalingrad have appeared during the 50 years since Stalin’s armies bulldozed into Berlin, bringing the war in Europe to a close. Most have been published in Germany and, to a lesser degree, Russia, where the name “Stalingrad” still conjures up powerful and emotional imagery. Comparatively few have been published in the English-speaking world, and this is understandable. Because no British, Commonwealth, or American forces took part in the battle, they can number none of their own among its many heroes, martyrs, prisoners, and victims. Moreover, although the German defeat at Stalingrad was immediately seen in the West as a turning point, its effects were not directly felt by the Anglo-American nations(21).”, as Hayward states in his article.
This type of media bias, where focus is turned onto certain events and no attention is paid to other events is very typical and can influence a society. There was a lack of recognition for the accomplishments of the Soviets in the second World War, which was largely due to the Cold War. The war which started after World War II, the United States versus the Soviet Union, the two most dominant nations and surely, communism versus capitalism. As well documented, the Cold War proved to be a war where the media, in an effort to get support from citizens, portrayed the other country negatively. Which in turn lead to no attention being paid to the Soviet Union’s accomplishments, since World War II had just ended. Rees notices the same lack of recognition for the U.S.S.R. “But it is significant that despite the chauvinistic interest in individual events in this history that exists in popular culture–like the British fascination with the Battle of Britain and the American focus on D-Day–so many of these professional historians see the war on the Eastern Front as inevitably providing the turning point of the whole conflict. There have been no blockbuster Hollywood films on Barbarossa or Stalingrad, but nonetheless that is the arena in which most of the scholars I talked to think the war was ultimately decided. And it’s not hard to see why they argue that case.”
Due to the effect of the Cold War both the United States and the Soviet Union created a sense of supremacy. This is what Greg Carleton researches in his History Today article “Sunday Lessons”, by looking at two decisive events and defeats for the two most strongest nations in the United States and the Soviet Union, but how these countries would turn defeat into positive moments in their histories. Carleton discusses Pearl Harbor and Brest Fortress, focusing largely on two novels that were narrated post-war. He carefully explains how the authors turn the horrific events into a myth, portraying the Americans and Soviets as victims during the Japanese and German attacks and how their countries were paradises before the destruction. Carleton manages to picture how Americans and Russians view their own society and the role that patriotism and pride plays in it through novels. As noted, Carleton focuses largely on the countries being able to turn defeat into victory. “Yet a sense of triumph still graces its final pages because here, on the very first day of war, American defenders gave it their all.(2)”, this shows a sense of pride and patriotism. These same factors determined in part why the role of the U.S.S.R. was not acknowledged.
School is a time when most people create a certain knowledge about history, therefore curriculum plays a large role. In the academic journal “America in World War II: An analysis of history textbooks from England, Japan, Sweden, and the United States”, Stuart Foster and Jason Nicholls present findings from their study regarding the different perspectives history textbooks from different countries about the role the United States of America played in World War II by studying allied and war-time enemy textbooks. Foster and Nicholls look at the information presented in the textbooks, what information the textbooks focus on and what information they do not use in an attempt to figure out what students are taught about World War II.
According to Foster and Nicholls, the information presented in the textbooks varies considerably, stating that “the study illuminates stark differences in national portrayals of World War II and suggests that textbook representations appear to be influenced by nationalistic bias, different cultural and geopolitical perspectives, and the sociopolitical agendas of contemporary societies”(214).
This national bias, which shows in curriculum, is very obvious since the countries studied have very different views at the war. As Foster and Nicholls found out, the U.S. textbooks hardly mention anyevents or battles before 1941, which was before they entered the war. . Furthermore, the U.S. textbooks do not present much information about Stalingrad and the significance it had on World War II, as the USSR had more casualties at Stalingrad than the United States had in the entire war. As one of the English textbooks quotes, “from 1941-1944, eighty-five percent of Germany’s armed forces were committed to the campaign in the U.S.S.R”(224) and that Winston Churchill said “it was the Red Army which tore the heart out of the German army”(224). This shows the role the U.S.S.R. played in World War II, while the U.S.S.R. was the one who invaded Berlin and stopped World War II. Furthermore, proving that the U.S. textbooks focus on certain events, such as the Pacific battles, while not showing information about the decisive battles on the Eastern front.
As I stated earlier, my perspective naturally differs from those of Americans because I lived in a different country.
My interest in World War II caused me to look at this topic, and showed me the importance of knowledge of history. It is so important that children know about their history, the events which formed society as it is today. The importance to know the combined effort that was needed in order to defeat Nazi Germany and free society from national socialism. Children need to be able to identify how capitalism and democracy managed to prevail, but how 73 million people had to die in order to free the world. World War II formed modern day society and children need to know the correct facts as to why democracy prevailed. Biased or incomplete information will lead to less knowledgeable human beings, while we live in a society where intelligence and knowledge are very important. People from around the world need to possess the facts, not just those who have studied and are experts on the topic.
Since the media is paying less attention to World War II and the Cold War is over, most information that children receive is in school. Therefore history textbooks need to present the correct facts, not an incomplete vision of World War II. History textbooks, which lack information on the war before 1941, when the United States entered the war and on the battles on the Eastern front. I understand that Americans are very proud about their history and their influence in World War II, but the truth is not portrayed with the correct facts, the turning point of the war was during the conflict between Nazi Germany and the U.S.S.R. That shows the importance of the Soviet Union in World War II. Although D-Day and the Battle of Britain most certainly played key parts in the war, and the Americans and British have every right to put emphasis on these events, they were not the turning points of World War II. Professor William I. Hitchcock explained it by saying that “Militarily, it’s the moment when the balance significantly shifts. Victory is not inevitable, but it’s far more likely after Stalingrad than beforehand for the Allied powers. It’s also important to pick Stalingrad because it reminds us of the importance of the fighting in the East, where the decisive fate of the Second World War was really going to be decided.” Most professors that discussed the turning point with Laurence Rees, no matter what nationality, American, Japanese, German and British academics chose a moment within the war between Nazi Germany and the U.S.S.R. as the turning point of World War II. These historians are professionals and experts at the topic, which should say a lot about their knowledge and that the textbooks need to be changed to portray the facts.
While doing this research I have been able to focus on other perspectives, creating a wider view of the topic and it made me not narrow-minded when looking at certain facts about the war. These textbooks need to be adapted to present the truth to the children in order to ensure that society becomes more intelligent and knowledgeable about history.
Hayward, Joel S. A. “Stalingrad.” Airpower Journal 11.1 (1997): 21. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Nov. 2012.
Carleton, Greg. “Sunday Lessons.” History Today 61.12 (2011): 30-37. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 Nov. 2012.
Pethybridge, Roger. “The Soviet Union.” History Today 33.10 (1983): 29. Academic Search Complete. Web. 2 Nov. 2012.
Foster, Stuart, and Nicholls, Stuart. “America In World War II: An Analysis Of History Textbooks From England, Japan, Sweden, And The United States.” Journal Of Curriculum & Supervision 20.3 (2005): 214-233. Academic Search Complete. Web. 1 Oct. 2012.
Rees, Laurence. “What Was The Turning Point Of World War II?.” World War II 25.2 (2010): 30-37. Academic Search Complete. Web. 10 Oct. 2012.
Wells, Paul. “How Europe Was Saved.” Maclean’s 123.32 (2010): 32-33. Academic Search Complete. Web. 10 Oct. 2012.
Zimm, Alan D. “The Pearl Harbor Myth.” World War II 26.4 (2011): 34-41. Academic Search Complete. Web. 30 Nov. 2012.
Erickson, John. “BARBAROSSA. (Cover Story).” History Today 51.7 (2001): 11. Academic Search Complete. Web. 30 Nov. 2012.
McCloy, John J. “Turning Points Of The War The Great Military Decisions.” Foreign Affairs 26.1 (1947): 52-72. Academic Search Complete. Web. 30 Nov. 2012.
Dealy Ann., et al. “The World War II Fact Book, 1939-1945 (Book).” Library Journal 112.7 (1987): 74. Academic Search Complete. Web. 30 Nov. 2012.