The Tea Party and Himmler's Black Legion

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Omer Bartov is the John P. Birkelund Distinguished Professor of European History and Professor of History and Professor of German Studies at Brown University. He is the author of "Hitler's Army: Soldiers, Nazis, and War in the Third Reich" (Oxford, 1992) and "The Eastern Front, 1941-45: German Troops and the Barbarisation of Warfare" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2001).

The revelation that Rich Iott, the Republican candidate for the 9th Congressional District seat in Ohio and a Tea Party favorite, has been in the habit of dressing up as a Waffen-SS soldier, is just one more sign of the heroic ignorance that characterizes large sectors of American politicians, the media that covers them, and the public that votes for them.  Such monumental ignorance, of truly Wagnerian dimensions, is the product of a failed educational system, which has relegated the study of history to a marginal spot in the curriculum and has completely forgotten the dictum that those who do not know the past are doomed to repeat its errors, even if at times such repetitions turn out to be nothing more than farce.  But while Mr. Iott may well have been just a fool masquerading as an expert in military history, the organization in whose activities he participated, the military unit it professes to support, and the ideology that formation believed in and implemented, were and are anything but funny.  Criminal war and genocide are not a joke, and before one dresses up in the uniform of its military instruments, one should be informed of their deeds.

Mr. Iott, who features in several photographs wearing an SS uniform as a member of “Wiking,” an organization that portrays Nazi soldiers at World War II reenactments, denies having any sympathy for Nazism.  As he said to The Atlantic, he is merely "fascinated by the fact that here was a relatively small country that from a strictly military point of view accomplished incredible things.  I mean, they took over most of Europe and Russia, and it really took the combined effort of the free world to defeat them.  From a purely historical military point of view, that's incredible."  Thus, the 80 million citizens of the Greater German Reich were, to Mr. Iott's mind, indeed engaged in a heroic undertaking, and one assumes that his donning the uniform of their most lethal representatives must, in some way, indicate his desire to partake of those heroic qualities, however vicariously.

Mr. Iott is in good company.  In 1985 President Ronald Reagan was also incredulous when his plan to visit the German military cemetery in Bitburg, where members of the Waffen-SS were buried, met with a storm of criticism, forcing him to compensate by also visiting a concentration camp.  Both Reagan (implicitly) and Iott make the same argument, namely, that while the Nazi regime was bad, its soldiers fought heroically for what they believed was a good cause, such as protecting their nation and their families from the really bad guys, whose uniforms no one seems interested in wearing at such infantile reenactments, namely, the troops of the Red Army:  precisely those who in fact defeated Nazi Germany at an extraordinarily high price of blood after a murderous occupation of their country.  The "Wiking" organization, named after the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking, speaks of Heinrich Himmler's Black Corps as "valiant men [who] died defending their respective countries in the name of a better tomorrow.  We salute these idealists; no matter how unsavory the Nazi government was, the front-line soldiers of the Waffen-SS (in particular the foreign volunteers) gave their lives for their loved ones and a basic desire to be free."

Freedom is apparently a relative term.  The SS fought for a Jew-free Europe; it also disliked the Sinti and Roma (gypsies), blacks, the disabled, homosexuals, Slavs, as well as liberals, democrats, socialists and communists.  It was a serious, quite humorless organization, and it never joked about its ideology.  Hence, it was deeply involved in the genocide of about 6 million Jews, alongside the mass murder of altogether millions of Roma, Catholic Poles, Soviet citizens and PoWs, gays, inmates of insane asylums, members of trade unions, and so forth.  The Soviet Union alone sacrificed about 28 million lives in the struggle against those who allegedly "gave their lives for their loved ones and a basic desire to be free."  Under the rule of these freedom-loving SS legionnaires, Europe and possibly much of the rest of the world would have indeed become free of all those who were not healthy and Fuhrer-worshipping Aryans.

There was a time, in 1950s West Germany, that veterans of the Waffen-SS claimed to have been "soldiers like all others."  That notion was dismissed by the 1960s and 1970s, when research demonstrated the direct involvement of many members of these elite fighting units in war crimes on a vast scale, particularly but not exclusively in the Soviet Union (war crimes also occurred in Western Europe, as in the case of the massacre in the French village of Oradour by the Waffen-SS Division “Das Reich” in 1944).  By the 1980s, historians, including myself, began to show that regular army units were also engaged in mass murder and genocide.  Thus the distinction between the SS and the regular army was largely eroded in scholarship, as it had been during the war.  Indeed, the SS alone would not have been able to accomplish crimes of such magnitude on its own.

But Mr. Iott and his supporters know none of this.  They may simply be happy military history buffs, playing at being soldiers on weekends.  Some of them may also be among those who demand to "take our country back," back, one assumes, from those who have stolen it from them, those who would be unlikely to put on SS uniforms on weekends because of the color of their skin, their religion, their ancestry, or their convictions.  Playing at being a Nazi is playing with fire.  And political pyromaniacs are a very dangerous lot indeed, perhaps especially when they have no idea of the kinds of demons they may awaken, having sheltered themselves so hermetically from any knowledge of the past.

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Angelika Preston - 11/2/2010

I must have misunderstood the concept of the master race and no one in their right mind would speak of it publicly at a Tea Party rally so how can anyone really know except by inference of the N word used by a few and the exceptionalist narrative by the many.

However, in my rural area I see hand printed signs that read "Get the Red out of Washington" Communism or color? The Nazi party was a fierce opponent to communism and color. Read the platform. It is explicit. It began as a nationalistic movement not a fascist one. The narcissist who turned it into a fascist regime did so for narcissistic reasons. It was all about him. These types of movements attract them. Leaderless, angry, volatile and easily manipulated because their needs are so transparent and fundamental.

To me, history is not about understanding the times it is about understanding the outcome. There are common flags regardless of the times that do not change be it 1600 or 2010. Human needs and responses have not evolved very quickly. Change terrifies people.

The Nazi's were dismissed and for that simple reason they succeeded like a stealth bomber. I would not dismiss the Tea Party or mistake their intention for the greater good. It is still my right for the present to decide what is good for me and not some omnipotent collective hijackers of the Constitution.

rick prohaska - 10/28/2010

they cant point to their record so they try and connect the dots on some mythical conspiracy, they are pathetic and they would be laughable were it not for their entrenched nonsense that is destroying this nation. you want evil, its the clowns stabbing our troops in the back many of them the same ones from Vietnam.

Serge Isaac Baruch - 10/25/2010

When I see someone calling a simple historical fact of Hitler and Stalin being two criminal buddies prepared to stub each other in the back "well-established standard among Western official ideological community", I know who is indeed ideologically biased.

Being of Estonian extraction, Ms Krusten mentions just the country of her ancestors and other Baltics, but the Soviet regime had also swallowed parts of Finland, Iran, Poland and Mongolia, and Romania - as the result of pure aggression, not struggle against the Nazi occupiers.

The list of Soviet troops' infamy wouldn't be full without occupation and 45 years long enslavement of Eastern Europe, bloody suppression of the Hungarian revolution, the Prague Spring and so on.

Let's not forget that the uniforms kept in such high regard by Mr Bartov were also proudly donned by the Gulag brass and guards - an institution responsible for loss of life so numerous that it is comparable with number of victims of WW2 itself.

So, who's ideologically distorting history here?

Serge Isaac Baruch - 10/25/2010

Coming late into discussion, just short notes:

Eugenics has very remote connection to Nazism, and none to the Tea Party movement;

the real roots of fascism and Nazism are left-wing in the very direct sense - even communist parties were never able to achieve their rate of working class membership;

Mr. Bartov's diatribe is indeed unnecessary hysterical: though the Iott guy is an idiot, he is not a Nazi, and if he were, it wouldn't render the Tea Party fascist.

steve risher - 10/22/2010

"...I mean, they took over most of Europe and Russia, and it really took the combined effort of the free world to defeat them. From a purely historical military point of view, that's incredible."

De Gaulle said something very similar when he visited Stalingrad:

Charles deGaulle: "Ah, Stalingrad! C'est tout de même un peuple formidable, un très grand peuple."

AW: "Ah, oui, les Russes..."

Charles deGaulle: "Mais non. Je ne parle pas des Russes, je parle des Allemands. Tout de même, avoir poussé jusque là!"

It's in William Craig's "Enemy at the Gates".

N. Friedman - 10/22/2010


Strike out: "Hence, we have an unjust act that amounts to war (i.e. the acts of the USSR) which you juxtapose with a just act taken by the US to depose the government in Afghanistan which allowed a war to be run from its territory, such war being just under the very theory you present."


Hence, we have an unjust act that amounts to war (i.e. the acts of the USSR) which you juxtapose with a just act taken by the US to depose the government in Afghanistan which allowed a war to be run from its territory, such war (i.e. the US war) being just under the very theory you present.

N. Friedman - 10/22/2010


I do not recall having "rejected" any quotes. And, there is no, notwithstanding your view, accepted definition of what is a just war. However, I did work with your definition.

You write: "the USSR did not have any war (just or unjust) with the Baltic states, but introduced its troops after the governments of those states signed the so-called Mutual Assistance pacts under the Soviet COERCION (tell me once more that I claim those pacts or USSR actions just), effectively giving the latter permission to invade."

My recollection is that "COERCION" by which one enters land with troops has another name: invasion. And, the USSR pursued its own goals, not those of the states it "COERCED." Hence, we have an unjust act that amounts to war (i.e. the acts of the USSR) which you juxtapose with a just act taken by the US to depose the government in Afghanistan which allowed a war to be run from its territory, such war being just under the very theory you present.

So far as Pakistan vs. Iran with the bomb, I have not said I think Pakistan with the bomb is a good thing. If you want my view, I think it is a very dangerous thing, most especially for Pakistan and India. And, if Islamists were to seize full control of Pakistan - and not just partial control of certain parts of the government -, it would be bad for the entire world.

As for Iran, so far as I can discern, the government of Iran is run by religious fanatics who seek to dominate, first, the Islamic regions and to, if possible thereafter, spread Iran and Islam's influence far and wide - all to spread Islamic rule.

And, I have no reason to doubt that the country means, as a matter of symbolism directed against Europeans, to act towards Israel's destruction including, potentially, the use of nuclear weapons, either directly or indirectly - indirectly, meaning to use the threat of potential nuclear retaliation as a shield to prevent reply to serial and massive terrorism by Iran and its allies against Israel.

Moreover, that same weaponry in the hands of Iran would allow a form of cover, thereafter, in, to paraphrase Ahmadinejad, Iran's effort to recapture for Islam lands lost to Christians. Which is to say, there would be the threat of attack for opposing Iran's imperialism and for efforts to halt's Iran's use of and support of terrorism.

Arnold Shcherban - 10/21/2010

Mr. Friedman,

The quote you rejected is not just a statement made unapologetically and unceremoniously, but as you might have noticed is supported by solid and clear arguments, given by UN charter itself, and based on undeniable, known by you as well, facts of history.
But you completely discarded the explanation/arguments (or perhaps even reading it them) that directly address your "obvious noting" and just rejected the summary.
As they say: what's up with that?

Therefore, I shift to the other remark
of yours, i.e., me, allegedly, claiming that USSR justly "attacked" Baltic states.
First, by actually reading about the respective events, or reading my previous comments you would know that the USSR did not have any war (just or unjust) with the Baltic states, but introduced its troops after the governments of those states signed the so-called Mutual Assistance pacts
under the Soviet COERCION (tell me once more that I claim those pacts or USSR actions just), effectively giving the latter permission to invade.
Thus, what I really claimed is not that those actions of the USSR were JUST (they were not!), but that illegal invasion were far more just and immeasurably less bloody (at least - initially) than the US military aggression, which STARTED and continued with "awe and shock" bombing, the bombing which together with consequent US ground invasion killed almost as many troops and civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan combined, as the Soviets killed in Baltic states for the fifty years of their occupation!
Since you stubbornly continue to ignore (with rather conspicuous goal) clearly and repeatedly stated real meaning of my statements, making this debate to resemble conversations with a deaf, I'm done with you for now.
Good luck, with ignoring arguments and facts, the former are based on for your own peril.
(I bet you have no doubt up to now that Iran with potential nuclear weapons are much more dangerous that Pakistan already with them, despite all the developments after out debate on this issue. Somehow, judging by their actions and warnings, the US and NATO are just confirming my view, not yours.)

N. Friedman - 10/21/2010


You write: "Afghanistan neither attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, nor was it threatening an imminent attack. This rules out the just cause of self-defense. We will explain this before moving to the other three points."

I disagree with this, noting the obvious. Afghanistan is legally and morally responsible for what occurs on and from its soil. On that soil was the headquarters of al Qaeda. On that soil were planned attacks on the US, attacks that were carried out. Hence, morally and legally speaking, Afghanistan is responsible and, under the laws of war and, frankly, morality, the US had every right to attack Afghanistan.

I suggest you examine how the law treats pirates, with the acts of pirates bouncing back to the state that harbors the pirates, justifying an attack on the states that harbor pirates.

Now that you have provided me with view of just war from BS artist's mondoweiss, how could the USSR possibly claim that attacking the Baltic states was a just war? There was no imminent or even planned attack by any Baltic state. Moreover, the motive for attacking the Baltic states was to protect from attack from a completely different state, Nazi Germany. Hence, the USSR did not even get to first base as to justifying the attack, at least if we go by mondoweiss.

Arnold Shcherban - 10/21/2010

I'm sending this really "shorter version" of my response, cause I would like to quote a long excerpt from Phillip Weiss' article, which, unfortunately I could not find now to address you to it:
<<There are nuanced differences in the interpretation of just war theory, but there is general agreement on its six principal stipulations — all of which must be honored for the resort to war to be considered just. Four of the points are relevant to Afghanistan, the most important being “Just Cause.” This means war is permissible to confront “a real and certain danger” — either an attack or imminent attack from another country — and includes self-defense or the defense of others from external aggression.

Afghanistan neither attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, nor was it threatening an imminent attack. This rules out the just cause of self-defense. We will explain this before moving to the other three points.

Al-Qaeda, a small decentralized fundamentalist religious organization on the fringes of Islam was responsible for the attack, not the state or government of Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda was formed in Afghanistan by Osama bin-Laden, a Saudi exile, in 1988. Its members were drawn from foreign Muslim jihadist fighters taking part in the Afghan civil war (1979-1996) against a left wing government in Kabul that was being defended by Soviet troops, followed by a war between the various Afghan factions after the left was overthrown in 1992. The U.S. financed the anti-government civil war, as did Pakistan and Saudi Arabia on a lesser scale. Al-Qaeda was among the beneficiaries of Washington’s support.

Most al-Qaeda recruits returned to their own countries in the Middle East and Europe after the war. Some set up small branches of the organization where they lived. A sector of al-Qaeda, including bin-Laden, remained in Afghanistan with the approval of the fundamentalist Taliban government, which emerged victorious from the civil war in 1996.

No Afghan was among the 19 Al-Qaeda suicide operatives, armed with box cutters, who hijacked four airliners on 9/11 and slammed one of them into the Pentagon and two others into New York’s World Trade Center, killing about 3,000 people.

Much of the planning for the attack evidently took place in Europe and then in the U.S. There has never been any proof that Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar was aware of the Sept. 11 plan, much less a party to it. Just hours after the Washington and New York City destruction, the Taliban authorities denounced the attacks. At the same time, Afghanistan’s Taliban ambassador to Pakistan stated to the media “We want to tell the American children that Afghanistan feels your pain. We hope the courts find justice.”

President Bush immediately rejected suggestions for a major international police effort to apprehend the leaders of the attack. Instead, after conferring with his neoconservative advisers, he defined this small-group terrorist raid as an act of war carried out from Afghan territory with the connivance of the Taliban government. This allowed Bush to declare an open-ended “War on Terrorism,” paving the way for his Oct. 7 bombing and invasion of Afghanistan, and then Iraq in March 2003.

Another of the just war points is "Last Resort". This means a country may resort to war only after exhausting every other possible alternative. This is reflected in the UN Charter, which calls for serious efforts to resolve differences nonviolently through diplomacy or the courts, before the resort to military means. Bush rejected an offer by the Taliban to produce bin-Laden if the U.S. wouldn’t invade. Its only stipulation was that Washington provide proof that the al-Qaeda leader actually committed the crime, as would any country asked to surrender a suspect to another country. Bush swiftly refused, ruled out any negotiations, and began a bombing campaign and invasion. President Obama said in Oslo that “America did not seek” the Afghan war, but war was Bush’s first resort, not last, as was the case 18 months later when he attacked Iraq.

A third stipulation is “Right Intention” — i.e., fighting only on behalf of an expressed just cause without a trace of ulterior motivation such as the acquisition of power, land, resources, riches, etc. Bush’s ulterior motivations were to interject U.S. military power into Central Asia in proximity to Russia, China and resource-rich former Soviet republics, and also to occupy a territory adjacent to Iran, another neoconservative target for regime change at the time.
(This last argument is open to debate, and therefore, I would discard it. - A.S.)

The last point is “Proportionality,” meaning that the quantity of violence, damage and costs is proportionate to the expressed reason for resorting to war. Given the violation of the Just War standards of just cause, last resort, and right intention, the disproportion involved in Bush’s bombing, invasion, occupation and continuing warfare is self-evident. In any event, Bush’s expressed reason for war was that the Afghan authorities did not hand over bin-Laden, but that was compromised by the U.S. refusal to provide the evidence required for extradition or to even discuss with the Kabul government the question of the Taliban’s alleged complicity in the terror attacks.>>

In the next comment, if you want, I can clearly demonstrate even greater and more conspicuous violations of the listed above principles of Just War in case of Iraq, which completely destroy your "technical right to attack" point. Also I can address the comparison of the Soviet invasion of Baltic states with the above actions on your request.

N. Friedman - 10/20/2010


You have me at a loss. Maarja can, if she likes, address your attribution of absolutes to her comments. In most circumstances, I read posts on posting boards at HNN as something less than articles prepared for publication.

In any event, Maarja and I are HNN pen pals - so I give her the benefit of the doubt - and, more importantly, I think you are reading more into her comment than is there. I think I correctly summarized her point, which is that from the perspective of a person living in the Baltics, there was no moral or any other basis justifying the invasion and, even if there were, the Soviets acted abominably as occupiers, something which was not necessary but was a product of the barbarous nature of the Soviet regime.

As for your comment about double standards, there may be something to that. Then again, I did not support the Iraq war. However, legally, it had more justification, if we apply today's law, than did the Soviet invasion of the Baltic states. In fact, the Soviet invasion had no legal justification and certainly nothing, as in the case of Iraq, akin to violations of UN chapter 7 Security Council resolutions. Which is to say, Iraq was violating laws which had been put in place, in part, by the USSR and, thereafter, by Russia (along with the other big powers).

In the case of Afghanistan, an attack against the US, killing nearly 3,000 Americans (and guests of the US), was organized in Afghanistan by a party whom, for all we knew at the time, may well have been acting with the authority of the then Afghanistan government and, in any event, clearly operated its headquarters and training center in Afghanistan with the blessing of that government. Or, in simple terms, the US was attacked effectively by Afghanistan and, under International law, the US had the right to attack Afghanistan.

The USSR had no such excuse with respect to the Baltic states. Its pretext was, on your telling, preventive war but without even the scintilla of legality.

Unlike Maarja, my family did not live in the Baltic states in the 1930's and 1940's. They (excluding my wife's family) had immigrated from Europe in the 19th Century. But, like your family, my family roots made my family an the intended object of Nazi aggression and barbarism. So, I am more forgiving of action, even by the barbarous Soviet Union - which, showing its true colors, eventually turned against people of our ancestry -, that may arguably have helped defeat the Nazis. That, however, does not mean that I do not recognize that those living in the Baltic states were run over by the Soviet idea of self-defense.

Arnold Shcherban - 10/20/2010

Mr. Friedman,

The fact that you qualified my remark on Estonian SS to addressed to Ms. Krusten (not even to you, and to which she did not reply), as the apology to the Soviet annexation of Estonia, shows how little you respect knowledge and logical skills of your opponents.
What I meant by that reference (which was, as I made clear enough, response to Krusten's unambiguous statement that there was absolutely no justification for Soviets to invade Estonia) is that
Estonia and two other Baltic states
had been at the time (already in 1939 and later on) not so innocent themselves, as in regard to their relations with the Soviet Union.
Besides that in the March of 1939 the German speaking town of Memel was seized from Lithuania without much of
protest on the part of the Lihuanian government and the fact of German intelligence services operating freely on the territories of those countries against the Soviets, the governments of all three Baltic states
were seriously considering the alliance with Hitler. Hitler, on his part had also been planning to ally with/annex those countries for long time. Unfortunately, for both - Hitler and the Baltic governments - their plans and considerations became known to their Soviet neighbor.
So what the Soviets did to them later on was practically identical to what
Hitler did to the President of Czechoslovakia, when he made the latter to sign the effective annexation of his country by Germany. Only after the governments of Baltic
states signed similar agreements, the Soviet troops entered their countries. The both policies and actions violated the respective international law, but there is something in that venue that I would really like someone to explain to me: The majority of Western (especially American), otherwise serious historians and observers, find
"solid", primarily of "considerations of national security" type justifications for outright aggression against and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, which are ten times bloodier and hundreds times more destructive, the aggressions and continuing occupations that have been done without any pacts signed beforehand and at the absence of any remotely similar and imminent threat coming from Iraqi or Afghan government at the time. However, they (the historians and observers) practically and continuously deny the right for the similar (and far more serious) national security considerations to the Soviets, in particular, for the addition to M-R pact and to Soviet annexation of Baltic states...?

As I have mentioned on numerous occasions regarding discussion on other topics, that historically strong and pervasive proclivity for quite obvious double standards not only irritates me a lot, but significantly spoils the US-NATO foreign policies and, consequently, their relations with many countries, often leading to wars with all their evil consequences.

N. Friedman - 10/19/2010

That's a first.

N. Friedman - 10/19/2010


Note that my comment to you concerned your citation to the Estonian SS, as if you have provided an adequate justification for the arrival of Soviet troops. My point was that the formation of an Estonian SS occurred in 1943, long after the Soviet invasion. Hence, your citation to that was an error.

Rather than address that point or Maarja's point, you prefer to note that the Soviet Union faced a real threat from the Nazis - something no one I know denies. Likewise, few deny that Nazism is horrendous or that the Nazi regime is an unprecedentedly evil regime. I think that few would deny that the Stalinism is horrendous or that the USSR was, apart from the Nazis, an unprecedentedly evil regime. At the time, of course, it was not obvious which regime was worse, except, of course, to the identified enemies of Nazism and the USSR.

Maarja's point was, I think, that, whatever threat the Nazis were - and I cannot imagine she denies the Nazi threat -, the Baltic states did not ask the Soviet Union to invade. That point, however, and not the fact of the horrendous threat from the Nazis, was the issue raised by Maarja.

From the viewpoint of someone from the Baltic states - living in that time, not with 20/20 hindsight -, this is not the simple thing that, to those raised in the USSR, it may seem to be - i.e., as you argue, fighting the greater evil required doing terrible things towards a greater good. To those in the Baltic states, it was two terrible evils, one on each side, with the differences between them, so far as being evil, being metaphysically difficult to discern.

As for the horror of the Nazis, you do not need to convince me. As for the fact that the Soviet peoples suffered horrendously during WWII, no one needs to convince me. I am well aware of those facts.

And, so far as the substance is concerned, you may well be correct - if we ignore the rights of Baltic peoples as such (something that Maarja, with good reason, cannot do) - the greater good of Europe as a whole may well have required that the USSR invade the Baltic states, buying time for the USSR, among other things.

As for the USSR being a defenseless country, however, the record does not, as I understand it, support that view. The evidence, instead, supports the view that the USSR had a military that, at the time, was more suited to offense than defense. I shall, however, leave that point to military historians to sort out. However, such is what I have heard.

Arnold Shcherban - 10/18/2010

Mr. Friedman,

We all just love to tap ourselves on a shoulder, while categorically stating something like "I would never have done that."
But French say: "never say never."
This is a great saying, in general, but also in particular, because only a few of us would have never done anything drastic and wrong, in a life-threatening circumstances.
The Soviet Union with a materially weak Army, almost non-existent and technically backward Navy found itself, in the second half of 1930s, facing deadly threats to national security coming from the East (Japan) and from the West (Nazi Germany and its allied countries, such as Italy, Romania, Hungary) left it little choice, but to create buffer zones, by invading and occupying several territories, Baltic states, inclusive.
The Western historiography has established a firm belief that in their physical extermination designs the Nazi targeted primarily Jews.
But if one reads Nazi Bible - Hitler's "Mein Kampf" - the Marxists/Bolsheviks are almost invariably pointed out together with Jews as the greatest enemies of "Aryan people" in particular and the world, in general.
And those had not been just the words, since the persecution, incarceration, and physical elimination of Communists and socialists, started even before the same fate fell on Jews and years before the start of the WWII.
Thus, the Soviets could not help realizing themselves as a primary target of upcoming German aggression.
The secret negotiations between Soviet representatives and the representatives (though not high-ranking ones) of UK and France for the purpose of creating united front against Hitler's Germany that had been going on and off for two years failed by the fall of 1939.
And so, by that time the Soviet Union stood alone against the most powerful
in Europe military machine.
There comes M-R pact...

The rest is history, as they say.

Thus, many (but admittedly not all) illegal, criminal actions of the Kremlin government came as the desperate acts of buying time to gain more economic and military strength before the start of the terrible war, the war that looked inevitable already in 1939, despite mutual congratulations and happy pronouncements of German-Soviet politicians and diplomats.

Churchill once declared, with great conviction, he would enter into the pact with Devil himself to save great Britain. And he did so, too, by entering into Allied pact with Stalin.

I don't see why Stalin and Soviet Union should be exclusively condemned for entering into M-R pact, when facing even greater and more immediate threat.

Arnold Shcherban - 10/18/2010

This time I agree with you on all points, Mr. Friedman.

N. Friedman - 10/18/2010


I think you should be more specific in that the Estonian SS formed, so far as I know, in 1943, which was long after the Soviet invasion.

Be that as it may, I rather doubt that Maarja was writing apologia for Nazism or movements in Europe that were sympathetic to the Nazis. I think her point was that the USSR had no non-self serving, universal moral justification for invading any Baltic states in 1939 and that the occupation that followed the invasion was a horror for those affected.

One might, of course, ask Maarja an historian's question. The M-R pact was made in one context, the retention of the Baltic Republics under was made, just perhaps, in a different context. Is it historical to view the two as if the USSR could have only one motive for the M-R pact and the subsequent invasion, the motive being shown by its behavior many years later in deciding to swallow the Baltic Republics permanently?

mike O\'Malley - 10/18/2010

I've been going back and forth about the subject of reenactors for years. I made couple of blog posts about it. In the comments to this one, below, a reenactor chimed in to say how disgusted he was with the reenactors routinely deny the evidence of historians in favor of their own experience. Basically, "I believe this: be3living it while wearing an itchy wool uniform makes it true."


By underminign the difference between subject and self, reenactors eventually paralyze critical distance

N. Friedman - 10/18/2010


You are quite possibly correct that, had the US suffered as the Soviet peoples did in WWII, the US might have been brutal in order to exact revenge and to send a message. I was, in any event, not writing to condemn the USSR behavior in fighting the Nazis. I was writing to support Maarja's point that being occupied by the USSR was not a fun thing and that the experiences of those occupied is worth studying.

I might add: Hitchcock in the book you do not want to read, notes his grudging sympathy for Soviet tactics, at an emotional level anyway, while still pointing out the tens of thousands of mass rapes, mass killings, etc., that occurred. His book, so far as I know, is alone (or nearly alone) among books tracing what liberation from the Nazis involved for those liberated. You are, of course, free to read comic books and other humorous materials.

Arnold Shcherban - 10/18/2010

I've refrained so far from doing that, but since you Mr. Krusten are still trying to push this conspicuously ideological envelope further, I'm giving you one more related topic: Estonian SS and Jews...

Arnold Shcherban - 10/18/2010

Mr. Friedman,
I probably not going to read recommended by you book, just because I've already read and seen so much of human tragedy and suffering of the WWII period, and bombarded by the reports on the continuing human drama coming to mass-media from all over the world nowadays, that currently I consider only a humorous stuff as worth reading.
As far as it concerns terrible Soviet military tactics over its push through Eastern Europe and German territory, I'm sure that had the US population and Army suffered just one quarter of the terrors of the war the that fell upon Soviets, many nations of Europe would have ceased to exist whatsoever.
And though this extrapolation does not excuse the Soviet real crimes, I'll regard your opinion on this particular "if" as inconsequential, as you may regard mine.

Arnold Shcherban - 10/18/2010

Ms. Krusten,
I refer you back to my initial comments on your critique of Mr. Bartov's specific observation, which had nothing to do with any other actions of any country, except the war between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
In that comment and in THAT WAR I refused (and still do) to equate the aggressor and occupier with the aggressed upon and occupied, regardless of their relative characteristics, in full accordance with domestic and international laws of all civilized nations. (After all, we do punish one murderous thug for hurting/killing other murderous thugs, as well as for hurting/killing the good guys, don't we?)

Plus this debate was not about the analysis of the political and military situation in Europe of that era or pronouncing the verdict on the comparative political and military strategies and actions of the countries involved. Those are huge and separate topics, hardly accessible to any us as a by-product by the current one.
(If you want to initiate any of those
topics, Estonia-Soviet Union and Russia of today, inclusive, write an article, and I respond in the manner, depending on the article's factual and analytic quality. By the way, I feel real empathy with your family's tragedy and in no way, as I mentioned before regarding Stalin's regime's crimes, try to whitewash any.)

This debate - I repeat - was about the specific observation of the article's author, which I later asked you to respond to. In this last reply, you, however, chose to decline to respond, by giving the pretty awkward excuse of not being a Republican. You are not Democrat or Nazi or Communist either,, but meanwhile you freely and eagerly express your opinions or thoughts on their part, so where that sudden shyness came from when asked about your opinion about some Republicans' actions, the shyness completely lacked in your previous and numerous comments on Republicans in other respects?

N. Friedman - 10/18/2010


I have this observation, as a non-historian who reads a lot of historical writing. I think there is a difference between writing history and writing about contemporaneous events.

When you look at the past with a question in hand, you have some idea how things turned out to guide you. When you look at the present, it is difficult to know even which trends are important, so you are necessarily bringing more of yourself to the table, in selecting what is important and noting trends - which, since it is about the present and future, involves primarily a political or other judgment, not a dispassionate views of things. In the preface to her interesting but, in some ways, flawed book, Eurabia, the historian of non-Muslims living under Muslim rule, Bat Ye'or, wrote this point, which I think has bearing on the issue:

Broad historical movements that profoundly transform human societies are difficult to discern in the short term. They extend over decades, often centuries, and affect the social fabric in multiple ways that are scarcely noticed by contemporary commentators but become perceptible in times of accelerated social change.

When one writes about what is going on today, it is almost impossible not to be heavily influenced by politics and religion and lots of other things that relate to how one views where the world is going. The past, however, is past. So, it is sometimes - unless it has bearing on the present time, in which case ideologues often let their judgment be totally clouded - a bit easier to focus more on the evidence because it is easier to at least find out which parts of the puzzle turned out to be important.

In the case of WWII, we are dealing with the past, but not a past which is without political implications for today. There is still a communist movement which has defenders. Fascism, while more an underground movement at this point, has its proponents. Fortunately for all of us - again, my non-historical observation -, the communist, fascist and Nazi movements appear to be pushed to the margins, so far as influence on society.

Maarja Krusten - 10/18/2010

Thanks, N. I'll definitely have to look for Hitchcock's book, certainly sounds as if it is worth reading.

You know, but I'm not sure everyone else does, that my reference above to successive democracy suppressing, hypothetical invasions of a non-aggressor U.S. first by a mythical radical theocratic nation and then by a mythical communist totalitarian nation referred to the fate of some small European nations during World War II. One of my friends put it very well when he said of tiny nations such as Estonia which faced totalitarian occupations by both the Soviets and the Nazis that they were "speed bumps on the map of Europe." To be that small and that vulnerable is not a part of the U.S. psyche which is one reason, I think, that some of these issues occasionally are presented poorly here in the U.S. The other lies (perhaps) in the comfort of reductionist narratives.

Hard to suss out what's going on sometimes, especially with advocacy pieces in which nuance sometimes is crowded out by other considerations. Unfortunately, models of political "discourse" are more likely to influence history related presentations than models of rigorous historical discourse are to influence the political. Oh well.

N. Friedman - 10/17/2010


This is one of your most coherent posts ever. Thank you.

Regarding how those caught in the fighting during WWII understood their situation, I highly recommend William Hitchcock's The Bitter Road to Freedom: The Human Cost of Allied Victory in World War II Europe - which I would commend as among the better pieces of history writing I have ever read. The book, with very few exceptions, tells things rather dispassionately. It is also, since the liberation of Europe was a necessary thing - my observation as a citizen, not a history remark -, important to understand just how awful, for those unintentionally caught in the middle of it all, war is, with SNAFU being the word for how militaries making one mistake after the next and, even when they don't, with one horror after the next.

With reference to the Soviet army, Hitchcock traces, among other things, what happened to those in the path of the Soviet army once it began to push the Nazi army out of the USSR and then back into Europe. To say that Soviet tactics were truly beyond the pale is to be polite.

I realize that your comment is directed to the Soviet invasion at the beginning of the war while my comment is directed more to a related issue. Still, it has bearing on your thoughts.

Maarja Krusten - 10/17/2010

Many innocent people suffered due to Hitler's and Stalin's choices and actions. Yes, of course, I understand that the Soviet side took enormous numbers of casualties during WWII. But there was no justification for the M-R Pact. And in terms of leaders, a "bad guy" fighting another "bad guy" just doesn't give him a pass on his own actions.

Maarja Krusten - 10/17/2010

There was no justification for the Soveit Union to forcibly occupy Estonia in 1940. Absolutely none. It simply was an act of aggression by a totalitarian country which used its might against a smaller one without provocation. At the time, it was convenient to sign a pact with Hitler. Later it was not. So my question to you is, why did Soviet troops not leave the Baltics in 1945, instead of occupying them until 1991?

What happened there was analogous to the U.S., a previously democratic nation, being occupied without aggresion on our part, first by a Muslim nation and then by a Communist aggressor, neither of which was interested in or inclined to let us live on in peace on our own under democratically government of our own choosing. In such a situation, as a freedom loving American, I would have no more sympathy for either occupier than I would for the Soviets or the Nazis who acted as aggressors towards other nations in World War II and who used gulags and concentration camps. Bad guys both, in terms of regimes.

As to why certain Republicans do something, I have no idea. I am not a Republican.

Elliott Aron Green - 10/17/2010

Arnold, are you aware that Izvestya published an editorial in late 1939, after the joint occupation of Poland by the Nazi and Communist armies, stating that "Nazi ideology is a matter of taste"?? Are you aware that the Soviet and Nazi German foreign ministers declared a joint "struggle for peace" in that same period while the fires of war were still burning in Poland?? Are you aware that Communist Parties in Britain and France opposed any legislation in those countries to prepare for war against Nazi Germany? [during the "Phoney War" -- "Drole de guerre" period]. My cousin from Belarus told me that in the period immediately after the German invasion of the USSR in 1941, the Soviet troops made it very difficult for Jews and other civilians in the area of Belarus annexed from Poland in 1939 to flee to the east. Yes, in the end the Red Army did more to defeat Germany than the USA did, and the USSR allowed more Jews to flee to the east than the number of Jewish refugees admitted to the USA. However, without the Nazi-Soviet Pact Hitler might not have started the war or would have started it under less favorable circumstances for him. All this is not to diminish the British guilt for coddling the Nazis.

By the way, can we judge "struggles for peace" and "peace movements" by the standard set by the Soviet & German foreign ministers when they declared a joint "struggle for peace" in late 1939??

Arnold Shcherban - 10/17/2010

Ms. Krusten,

I write this actually to tap myself on a shoulder, since I had foreseen the reaction similar to the one you displayed to Mr. Bartov's largely valid and quite consequential observation quoted in your first comment. (See my previous comment in this regard)
Your objection to his observation revolves around the conclusion that the Nazi Germany - Soviet Union war (been named Great Patriotic War in Russia) was essentially the war between two most evil regimes/forces in modern history, in full accordance with the well-established standard among Western official ideological community.
This conclusion however, along with the standard it's based on, is by itself too simplistic. And the simplification it affords, as the history of the second half of the 20th century has definitively confirmed, can be taken without any stipulations only to our peril.

Soviet Stalin's regime has been undoubtedly evil, committing numerous terrible crimes, primarily against its own population, but against foreign nationals, as well.
But to characterize the war Soviet Union fought against Nazi Germany AGGRESSION and cruel OCCUPATION (that would become permanent in case of German's victory) was not a struggle between bad guys for world domination, but the desperate struggle of the entire Soviet nation (far from just Russians) against real
evil, whose explicitly stated goal was exactly that: world domination through murderous subjugation, colonization and enslavement of many foreign nations and complete physical extermination of some large ethnic groups, the goal, which by 1942 Nazis
achieved, at the least, by half.
It is also true that the Soviet Union
carried the brunt of the Allied Forces military victory in Europe, then playing an important role in capitulation of Japan, as well.

But, besides all the above it is actually quite clear what Mr. Bartov mainly meant his observation for.
And it was to raise the following, hardly simplistic question: why Republican-inclined political groups and some Republican leaders themselves are tend to pay, though occasionally so, their tribute to Nazi criminals, but not Red criminals?

I would like to hear, at the least, the attempt to answering the last question in your potential response.

Maarja Krusten - 10/17/2010

Obviously, that should be Hitler invaded Russia, not invaded Germany. I had Germany too much in mind since the essay focused on Germans.

Maarja Krusten - 10/16/2010

When I say bad guys fight other bad guys, I mean two bad regimes use the men conscripted into their forces to fight each other. I'm using the term bad for the systems of government and methods, not for individual soldiers.

Maarja Krusten - 10/16/2010

Why would an historian who argues for and ostensibly wants knowledge based assessments of history write a statement such as “the really bad guys, whose uniforms no one seems interested in wearing at such infantile reenactments, namely, the troops of the Red Army: precisely those who in fact defeated Nazi Germany at an extraordinarily high price of blood after a murderous occupation of their country.”

There were murderous occupations on both sides of that divide, at the start of, during, and after World War II. At Stalin’s behest, and due to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Red Army occupied previously sovereign democratic nations, such as Estonia, in 1940. Ordinary non-political businessmen (read: people guilty of nothing more than being capitalists) in Estonia, such as my grandfather, were sent to Siberia as a result. Not until 1941, when Hitler invaded Germany, did the Soviets start fighting against him.

I know some Americans like their history served up with good guys and bad guys, as in some comic books. Oooo, it’s so totally comfy to view events that way. But sometimes bad guys fight other bad guys for reasons that one would expect historians to understand. And murders, rapes, and atrocities occur as a result on both sides. To say nothing of events such as the postwar forced repatriations which in addition to soldiers, swept up some non-combatant refugees and forced them to face fates at the hands of the Soviets that none of us would want for our civilian spouses or children. If Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn could dicuss that, so certainly can historians who write about the time period. That would be much more effective than whining about “uniforms no one seems interested in wearing.” There’s a reasonable answer to that, after all.

Arnold Shcherban - 10/15/2010

You should also, not just consider, but actually read the book about the primarily American origins of Nazi racial theory, and Adolf Hitler's letter to one of its (the racial theory's) American chief ideologues, in which Hitler expresses his admiration with the works of the author and intent to implement the recommendations given in those works in Germany (the results of which are widely known.)
The book's title is "War Against the Weak--Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race" by Edwin Black.
That book alone, not mentioning many other books and observations of the US
political movements, makes the "hysterical diatribe", much less hysterical, than valid.
Although, I suspect, based on your previous comments placed on HNN site, that you're die-hard radical of the US-above-all-and-always-right type, ideologically close to such figures as Ann Coulter (just lacking good sense of humor that she possesses), and therefore will ignore my reading recommendations.

Angelika Preston - 10/15/2010

You should consider this as serious. The early days of the Nazi party were ignored until it was too late. There is way too much that is said/done in jest that has serious undertones. If you compare the political platform or Contract of the Tea Party with the Nazi Platform you will find some very striking similarities. Most shocking is the 2/3rds majority vote. The sign posts are there but once again no one is listening. History lessons in this country in the public system is nothing more than glamorizing war and victories. Do read the book...the point is not to just read what you agree with. This is how we learn and maybe realize our perceptions are false.

John D. Beatty - 10/15/2010

Even the most rabid liberal can't truly believe this hysterical diatribe.

And to think I was considering reading your book....

Brian Martin - 10/14/2010

Looking at those two huge run-on sentences that your article begins with kinda makes me agree with you...

As far as Iott, this seems like much ado about nothing to me. A grown-up version of cowboys and indians blown out of proportion during the "silly season" that precedes elections.

Arnold Shcherban - 10/14/2010

Thank you, Mr. Bartov for a timely and unbiased article.

I'm sure and actually glad that your undeniable statement: "... the troops of the Red Army: precisely those who in fact defeated Nazi Germany at an extraordinarily high price of blood after a murderous occupation of their country." will rough many feathers of the US-above-all birds in the country where great majority unfortunately (though not accidentally) know little real history.
I, however, disagree with one particular observation (?) made by you: "Iott and his supporters know none" of horrendous crimes perpetrated
by Nazi Waffen SS and regular troops.
If not all of them to the last man, but the most of those supporters, Ioot himself inclusive are aware of a good part of Nazi crimes (mostly, of course, against Jews, since in this country, almost exclusively the latter crimes were widely and defitively acknowledged, extensively taught about, "popularized" and, therefore, Nazis condemned for in the public opinion.)
The main reason of their fascination with those world criminals lies in the similar, though not identical and unacknowledged, ideological premise of a racial superiority of white men.
The whole gamut of Western imperialism has been and still is based on that anti-humanistic idea, although nowadays it is skillfully concealed behind the fugue leaves of "threats to national security" and "spreading freedom and democracy"...