Norman Stone: Ponders War, Peace As Victory Day Marked (interview)

Historians in the News

Norman Stone, former regius professor at Oxford University and now modern history professor at Turkey's Bilkent University, has a reputation for upsetting conventional thinking with his short, sharp assessments. In this interview with RFE/RL correspondent Breffni O'Rourke, coinciding with the 63rd anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe, Stone ponders the impact of that war and other wars of the 20th century on the Soviet Union, Turkey, and the Balkans.

RFE/RL: How did the Soviet Union use the experience of World War II to weld its empire together?

Norman Stone: I think in a funny sort of way the war turned the Soviet Union into a sort of superpower, in that quite possibly without the war the thing would have collapsed. It was in a terrible state in 1941, and if it hadn't been for the way the Nazis behaved [by invading], who knows what would have happened. You know, being forced to transport all that industry off to Kazakhstan and places like that forced them to rethink what they were doing and gave them a kind of patriotic mission to do. With the effect that it did in a way turn them into a superpower and postponed the collapse for quite a time.

RFE/RL: Do you think the Cold War was inevitable after the hot war?

Stone: Oh, yes. I think the way Stalin looked at the world, it was pretty well inevitable -- you know, the utter incompatibility of the two systems. The Americans at the end of the war were fully expecting to give Russia quite a lot of money and rope her into some kind of, if you like, anti-imperial alliance which would be against the British and the French in some ways, and it was the Russians' absurd behavior that turned everybody against them.

There was a scene in 1957 when [Soviet leader Nikita] Krushchev turned around on [former Foreign Minister Vyacheslav] Molotov and started ranting at him, saying, 'Look, at the end of the war you managed to turn places like Iran and Turkey into enemies' -- Turkey which in a sense had even been created by the Bolsheviks. It would not have existed if it hadn't had all the help from the Bolsheviks initially....
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Louis Godena - 5/11/2008

It amazes me how, more than sixty years after the greatest military triumph in human history, right-wing historians like Mr Stone continue their churlish nit-picking, lest anyone think too well of the Soviets and, especially, of Stalin. The professor's silly remarks are crowned by the startling idiocy that the Soviet people became "patriotic" by moving all of their heavy industry to the east. It is doubtful whether reputable historians continue to give credence to old Cold Warriors like Norman Stone, but it is indicative of how far RFE has embraced the Right's agenda that he would even be given this kind of a hearing.