Russia is still celebrating their victory over Nazi Germany. 8 May is the day the Germans surrendered to the allies with the Russians at the table. Why do you suppose that this is still a hallowed event in Russia while the vast majority of Americans ignore the end of Nazi Germany as something worth commemorating?
The answer lies in history. If you ask an educated American who has some grasp of history about the bloodiest battles U.S. troops have fought, the top three are the Battle of Gettysburg (i.e., the American Civil War), the Battle of the Bulge and Iwo Jima. But I believe that 99% of that lot do not know how many actually died in battle. I think you will be surprised by the number of fatalities:
- Battle of Gettysburg–3,155 Union and 3,903 Confederates killed in action.
- Battle of the Bulge–19,276 killed.
- Battle of Iwo Jima–6,821 killed.
The bloodiest campaign in any war for the United States was Normandy, which started on 6 June 1944 and terminated on 25 August 1944 with a total of 29,204 killed in action.
Raise your hand if you are surprised by the relative paucity of fatalities. Count me as one of the dumbfounded. I am not suggesting that these are meaningless numbers. If one of those who died in these battles was a member of your family the cost cannot be measured. But the reality is that the number of United States military personnel killed in action in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War combined pales in comparison with the losses the Soviet Union (i.e., Russia) suffered in World War II.
I have written previously about the horror of Stalingrad–an estimated 478,741 Soviet personnel were killed or missing. In that one battle, the Soviet people (primarily Russian) endured more killed in action than the United States suffered in the all theaters from all services in World War II.
Americans have no point of reference to understand or appreciate the staggering losses that the Soviet Union incurred in beating back the Nazis. In the battle of Moscow, where German forces arrived on the outskirts of Moscow in December 1941, several hundred thousand Russian soldiers perished. When the Soviets turned the table on the Germans and launched a counteroffensive in December 1941 that ended on 7 January 1942, an additional 139,586 were killed or missing in action.
We Americans like to indulge the fantasy that we endured great sacrifice in World War II. But the truth is otherwise. While the war was a transforming event in terms of creating an industrial behemoth in the United States, our losses were minimal. Most families were not touched by grief after losing a soldier, sailor, airman or Marine. The exact opposite is true in Russia.
We are approaching the 80 day mark in the Ukraine/Russia war. There are no reliable figures on the number of killed in action or either side. However, it does appear that four times the number of Ukrainian soldiers and foreign mercenaries are dead compared to Russian losses.
The United States and NATO are making a grave error if they dismiss Russian fears about an invasion from the west as a mere pre-text for conquering territory. Russia has one advantage the west does not–its cultural heritage has not been diluted by a flood of foreign immigrants. If you consider the population shift in America and Europe over the last 60 years, the percentage of the population with a relative that fought in World War II has shrunk. I am not suggesting legal immigrants are bad or evil. But immigrants come to America or Europe with a different history. Their ancestors were not buying U.S. war bonds to back the attack. The losses experienced in a conflict like World War II stays with those who knew the pain firsthand.
I believe that is the key variable that explains why most Americans did not take time to remember the victory over Nazi Germany. And that also explains why the Russian people still remember.