Posts Tagged ‘Soviet Union’

Hitler lost WW2 because he ran out of gas

July 12, 2019

I came across an interesting history video that explains how access to oil was Adolf Hitler’s main goal in World War Two, how it determined his strategy and why his failure to achieve that goal doomed Nazi Germany to defeat.

It provides good food for thought, both about history and today’s geopolitics.  Here is an outline of what it said.

Adolf Hitler believed that Germany could not be a powerful or even an independent nation so long as it depended on imports for food and energy.  His long-range goal was to acquire the farmland of Ukraine and the oil of the Caucasus for Germany.

Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 was a step toward that goal.  If Britain hadn’t declared war on Germany in 1939 or had agreed to a truce in 1940 or 1941, he might have succeeded.

The United States during that period produced 70 percent of the world’s oil.  Most of the rest came from the USSR and Venezuela.  Even after Germany conquered most of Europe, including the oil fields of Rumania, the British blockade remained in place.  Germany was cut off from the oil of the USA and Venezuela and the USSR did not supply enough to meet its requirements.

Germany’s blitzkrieg strategy depended on tanks and other motorized vehicles operating on a broad front.  But Germany lacked enough oil of its own to conduct long campaigns.

The German army “demotorized” in order to provide enough fuel for the tanks.  It used horse-drawn vehicles to move supplies.  Messengers rode bicycles rather than motorcycles.  It also used an expensive process to synthesize oil from coal, even though coal supplies also were limited.

This meant Germany had a limited time in which to invade Soviet Russia and obtain the oil it needed.   Otherwise it would run short of the fuel needed to power its tanks and trucks.

That is why Hitler did not plan for a long campaign, and why he wanted his generals to concentrate on the Caucasus rather than Leningrad and Moscow.

The 1941 invasion failed.  After that Germany had one last chance of victory—by using what fuel reserves it had in 1942 to make one last stab at Maikup and Grozny in the Caucasus while conquering Stalingrad so the Soviets could not transport oil up the Volga River from refineries in Baku.

Lack of fuel was why Hitler ordered troops to stand fast and hold the line at all costs rather than allowing his generals to engage in a war of maneuver.

If the Nazis had succeeded, Russia would have been cut off from both the oil of the Caucasus and the Ukraine breadbasket.  Soviet forces would have been hard put to find the means to keep on fighting in 1943 and 1944.

But the Nazis failed.  From then on, Germany’s only goal in fighting was to prolong the war in hope of a negotiated peace.

All this shows that while Hitler was evil, he was not a madman—at least not where military strategy was concerned.  He understood strategy better than his generals.

It also shows the British blockade and American oil were as important to victory as the actual fighting by the Red Army.  If Winston Churchill had not become Prime Minister in 1940, Britain might have made a separate peace with Germany, and the German army would have had the fuel it needed to blitzkrieg Russia.

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How to preserve the status quo

June 13, 2015

There’d still be a Soviet Union if they’d been smart enough to have two communist parties that agreed on everything except for abortion.

via Jon Schwarz on Twitter

Hat tip to The Intercept

What went wrong in Afghanistan

May 19, 2015

Adam Curtis is a documentary filmmaker for the BBC who makes connections that other people don’t see.

In his new documentary, Bitter Lake, he shows how Afghanistan has been a focal point of a three-way struggle among Anglo-American capitalism, Soviet Communism and Saudi Arabia’s radical extremist Wahhabist Islam.

While Soviet Communism has collapsed and Anglo-American capitalism is in crisis, Wahhabism is spreading and growing stronger.

Curtis doesn’t offer a policy for dealing with Wahhabism, but his documentary shows that mere firepower is not the answer, nor is providing money and weapons to prop up corrupt warlords and governments.   The First Rule of Holes applies: When you’re in one, stop digging.

The embedded YouTube video above is a history teacher’s abridgment of Bitter Lake which covers all the main points.  Click on Bitter Lake if you want to see the full version or if the embedded video doesn’t work.

Hiroshima’s Shadow 3: the revisionist argument

March 27, 2015

NYTnaga.su.manchuria

Revisionist historians deny that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed in order to save American lives.

They say the Japanese high command was ready to surrender before the bombs were dropped and that, in any case, an invasion of Japan would not have caused the 1 million Allied casualties or 500,000 deaths that President Truman later claimed were averted.

The real reason for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, they say, is that American leaders thought the existence of the bomb and the U.S. willingness to use it would strengthen the American position in relation to the Soviet Union.

Hiroshima's Shadow 0_The essay collection, Hiroshima’s Shadow, which I am now reading, provides the documentary evidence for these arguments.  The contributors include historians who know much more about this subject than I do, but historians disagree.

I think the revisionist arguments not as false, but as inconclusive.   Yet I draw the same moral for our own time as they do about the need for disarmament and the risks of atomic diplomacy.

∞∞∞

Were the Japanese really willing to surrender before Hiroshima was bombed?

It is a fact that Japan’s military and civilian leaders both regarded the Pacific War as lost, and they hoped to negotiate a peace on the best terms that they could.  The minimum terms, especially for the military, were that the Japanese retain control of the home islands and that Emperor of Japan continue to rule.

The Allies included “unconditional surrender” of the Japanese armed forces and an Allied occupation of Japan.   The Japanese were promised that the Allies did not intend to annihilate them and that they would eventually have a government of their own choosing.  This implies that they could have had an Emperor if they wanted one, but nothing specific was said.

The question in my mind is just what was meant by the Emperor continuing to  rule.   Did it mean that the Emperor would remain in place as a powerless constitutional monarch, as eventually happened?

Or did it mean that the Emperor would rule, not by popular mandate, but by divine right as a descendent of the sun goddess and an object of worship in the state Shinto religion, with the military exercising power in his name?  This would have meant a perpetuation of the totalitarian that had led to war in the first place.

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One Soviet sub officer averted World War Three

February 6, 2015

Hat tip to Washington’s Blog.

I probably owe my life, along with most Americans, Europeans and Russians who were alive on October 27, 1962, to Vasily Arkipov, a Soviet submarine officer whose name I’d never heard of until this morning.

During the Cuban missile crisis, the Soviet Union sent four submarines with nuclear torpedoes to Cuban waters.   One of those submarines, the B-59, came under attack from depth charges from an American destroyer.

These were dummy charges, intended to make the submarine surface, but Valantin Savitsky, the sub commander, did not know this.   He ordered a nuclear torpedo to be prepared for firing at the USS Randolf, a giant aircraft carrier leading the blockade of Cuba.

The submarine officers were allowed to launch nuclear weapons on their own initiative.  The only condition was that all three senior officers agree.  One officer, Vasily Arkipov, refused permission.  But for him, World War Three would have begun.

I remember the Cuban missile crisis vividly.   I was not afraid because it seemed to me that it was all bluff.  I did not think either John F. Kennedy nor Nikita Khrushchev would be so crazy as to begin a nuclear war.  Only later did I realize how great the danger really was.

There have been more close calls since then, when war was averted only by the good judgment of an American or Soviet officer on duty at the time.   As long as both countries have nuclear weapons, the danger exists.   We can’t count on being lucky every time.  We only have to be unlucky once.

The USA is now flirting with war with Russia over Ukraine.   I do not think either Barack Obama or Vladimir Putin would be so crazy as to begin a nuclear war—not intentionally.  But the risk of war is just as great now as it was then.

LINKS

Thank you, Vasily Arkipov, the man who stopped nuclear war by Edward Wilson for The Guardian.

A Man You’ve Never Heard of Saved Your Life by “George Washington” for Washington’s Blog.

What Stephen F. Cohen & Other Liberals Get Wrong About Obama & Ukraine’s War by Eric Zuesse for Washington’s Blog.

Could the Cold War have been averted?

February 2, 2015

The Cold War was a real war.  I have read that by some estimates 30 million people died in wars and conflicts between 1945 and 1991, and most of these were linked to the global duel between the USA and the USSR.

The casualties included those in the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam Conflict, the anti-Communist uprisings in East Germany in 1953 and Hungary in 1956, the Cambodians murdered by Pol Pot, the U.S.-backed death squads in Latin America, the Indonesians massacred in the overthrow of Sukarno, the wars in Africa between US-backed and Soviet-backed proxies, the Afghan war between a Soviet-backed regime and US-backed rebels, and countless other struggles now forgotten by the world.

UntoldHistoryStoneKuznick00379519Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, in their book and TV documentary, The Untold History of the United States, said this tragedy for have been avoided but for one thing.

It was that the President of the United States in the years following World War Two happened to be Harry Truman, a warmonger, rather than Henry Wallace, a lover of peace.

This is not how it appeared to me at the time.   I came of age in the early 1950s, and I thought the United States and its allies were in peril, the same kind of peril as in the 1930s.

The Soviet Union was as much a totalitarian dictatorship as Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.   By “totalitarian,” I mean that the government sought to subordinate all human activity, including science, art, literature, sport, education and civic life, to the control of the ruling party, and to demand not only passive acquiescence, but enthusiastic support.

Hitler and Stalin also were alike in that they killed millions of people, not for anything they had done, but for what they were.  While historians now think that Stalin murdered fewer people as Hitler, this is not how things seemed at the time, and, in any case, Stalin’s body count was large enough.

But the most terrifying thing about totalitarianism was the idea that the ruling party could somehow get into the minds of its subjects, and experience slavery as a kind of freedom.  George Orwell’s 1984 was an all-too-plausible vision of a future in which there was no individual liberty, no concept of objective truth aside from a party line and a Winston Smith could be brainwashed into loving Big Brother.  These things seemed all too plausible.

Stalin not only ruled one-sixth of the earth’s surface, but commanded the loyalty of Communists worldwide.  Millions of people, many of them idealistic, intelligent and courageous, believed it was their duty to subordinate their personal convictions and code of morality to a Communist Party line that put the interests of the Soviet Union above all else.

A revolutionary Communist movement is one thing.  A worldwide Communist movement that subordinated all other goals to being an instrument of Soviet power was a very different thing.

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Getting set to recreate the old Soviet empire

March 8, 2014

Russia and the former Soviet republics

Vladimir Putin, the president of the Russian Federation, once said the break-up of the old Soviet Union was a geopolitical catastrophe.  Now laws are being enacted that will make it easier to put the pieces back together.

President Putin

President Putin

The Russian Federation has changed its citizenship procedures so that speakers of Russian, who have lived for three years in any of the former Soviet republics, can obtain citizenship in as little as three months.

Precedence will be given to highly-trained professionals and Prime Minister Medvedev said the law is intended to bolster the economy of Russia.  But it obviously applies to the many Russian speakers not only in Ukraine, but Kazakhstan and other former Soviet republics.

The State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, is considering a law to allow annexation of territory against the opposition of the legal government, provided that the majority of the people of the area want to join Russia.  A vote on this law is being postponed until after Crimea holds a referendum on annexation.

This, too, has implications for other countries besides just Ukraine.

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Free enterprise and the failure of feedback

February 7, 2014

The advantage of a free market economy over a centrally planned one is the feedback provided by the law of supply and demand.  If the supply of something decreases, the price increases and demand (at the increased price) decreases until the increased price brings forth an increased supply.  This admittedly is a crude system, but it is superior to central planning because it is impersonal.  It does not require a genius to make it work.

Ian Welsh, in a recent post, pointed out that one of the main reasons for the collapse of the Soviet economy was lack of feedback.  In a command economy, the planners need correct information.  I question whether any relatively small group of people could assimilate the information needed to direct a large and complicated economy.  Welsh, on the contrary, said the Soviet economy actually was successful for a time, but broke down when the feedback system failed.  Too many people within the system found it to their advantage to manipulate information for their own advantage.

The present-day U.S. economy is not all that different.  Our big corporations and financial institutions have become little miniature Soviet Unions, in which feedback does not work, either internally or externally

The advantage of capitalism v. central planning, is that information is sent through prices, supply and demand.  This information feedback, however, is still game-able by power blocs.  The exact strategies are different than in a command economy, but the end result is the same.  The West and America are currently undergoing this exact problem.

The entire financial crisis was about inaccurate feedback, and broken feedback loops: it was about the financial and housing industries deliberately damaging the feedback system.   Then, when it finally went off a cliff, they destroyed the capitalistic feedback system, which when properly operating, makes companies go bankrupt, by obtaining bailouts due to owning western governments.

There are myriad other problems with feedback in the developed world right now, from massive subsidies of corn and oil, to oligopolistic practices rife through telecom and insurance, to the runaway printing of money by banks, to the concealment of losses by mark to fantasy on bank books, to the complete inability and unwillingness to price in the effects of pollution and climate change.

via Ian Welsh on The Fall of the USSR.

Here is how lack of feedback plays out in an individual firm.

This company is being managed by the quarter. We have executives who have no vested interest in Walmart. All they care about is their salary and bonus. So when they make poor decisions, for example this Christmas when they had a One Hour Guarantee for multiple items. This was a complete [financial] disaster but yet the executive praise what a big success it was. […]

You know what direction us managers were given to do in January? Remember Walmart’s fiscal year ends January 31st. You guess it, cut hours. For the poor decision made by executives at Walmart who could care less where the company is at in 10 or 20 years, we had to cut hours. 

Not only that we had to cut all expenses. Home office put a hold on all our ordering of supplies and try explaining to customers you don’t have toilet paper for the rest rooms. We had to cut all our part-time associates from 32 hours to 25.5 hours. All our full-time associates had their hours cut too. […]

Do you know how hard it is to go to someone that make $8.85 an hour and tell him, sorry but I have to cut you down to 25.5 hours. These people can barely pay their rent as it is and with no notice we cut their hours.

via Decades of Greed: Behind the Scenes With An Angry Walmart Manager.

I don’t have a good answer to this.  It is a moral problem as much as or more than it is a structural problem.  I don’t see how any complicated economic or political structure can function unless there is a critical mass of people who care about the truth, and care about the common good, especially but not only at the top.

The dream of a Communist utopia

December 3, 2010

I remember talking years ago to Richard Rosett, then dean of the Rochester Institute of Technology College of Business, about his meetings with Soviet economists.  He said he would ask them how, in the absence of supply and demand, they decided what and how much to produce.  He said they replied that they decided scientifically.  Their economic planning was organized around the biological needs of human beings for food, clothing, shelter and so on.

In that case, Dr. Rosett asked, how did they decide how many red dresses and blue dresses to produce.  Their reply was that it doesn’t matter whether dresses are red or blue.  But Dr. Rosett’s question is a proxy for much else.  No tiny group of central planners can grasp the needs and wants of hundreds of millions of human beings, except in very crude and general terms, and no planning mechanism has been found as effective as the market in integrating human desires with human knowledge.

There was a time, which I remember well, when things seemed otherwise.  The Soviet Union launched the Sputnik in 1957, its economy was reported to be growing faster than ours, and many Americans had much the same feeling in the 1950s and 1960s as they had toward Japan in the 1980s or China and India today.  Then as now I opposed any governmental or economic system that gives absolute power to an individual or a self-selected elite, but at the time I feared the Soviet system would be more effective than American capitalism in increasing and projecting military and political might.

I recently read a historical novel, or fictionalized history, entitled Red Plenty, which recreates that era well.  The author, Francis Spufford, describes the efforts of idealistic reformers in the Soviet Union in the 1960s to overcome the inherent flaws of central planning and make the promises of Communism come true.  He shows why their ideas seemed plausible, and also why they didn’t work out.

This story is told as a series of vignettes about characters both historical and fictional involved in the workings or the attempted reform of the Soviet economy, in a style that is sardonic, poignant and highly readable.  The second chapter is told from the viewpoint of an exuberant Nikita Khrushchev, visiting the United States in 1959 and challenging the capitalist world to peaceful economic competition.  The last chapter returns to Khrushchev in forced retirement in 1968, sitting in his garden and brooding on what went wrong.  Spufford conveys a sense of Soviet life during that period that is so convincing I would have thought he experienced it; in fact, he is a Briton who doesn’t speak Russian.

Along the way he does an excellent job of explaining Soviet and Western economics in both theory and practice. The flaw of Soviet economics is that no system of central planning has been found that can substitute for supply and demand as a means of coordinating an economy.  In a market economy, the price of a product reflects everything that is known about its value and scarcity, without the need for omniscient masterminds at the top.

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Did the Soviet Union win the Cold War?

June 30, 2010

One of the things I once worried about, along with overpopulation, the persistence of racism and the threat of nuclear war, was whether the United States could successfully win the Cold War struggle with the Soviet Union.

I never doubted the superiority of the United States as a free and democratic nation over the Soviet Union in its ability to provide a good life for its people.  But I doubted was whether a free and democratic nation had the staying power to withstand a totalitarian dictatorship’s unrelenting military and diplomatic pressure. We might be too concerned about our material comfort to wage what President Kennedy called the long twilight struggle.

My fears about this, as with the other things I mentioned, did not come true.  U.S. administrations through Reagan, despite missteps and mistakes, remained steadfast to the policy laid down by the Truman administration, to resist Soviet and Communist expansion by means short of general war. They were vindicated when the Soviet Union collapsed due to the unworkability of its political and economic system.

Now I see our situation as the exact opposite of what I thought it was back then. Rather than devote ourselves to peace and prosperity, we as a nation seek world power at the expense of peace and prosperity.  It is as if we are so used to having a global enemy to struggle against that we can’t get along without one.

The United States has continued to maintain as huge a military, diplomatic and covert intelligence establishment as if we faced an enemy capable of threatening our existence.  Rather than sacrificing our military power to our quality of life, we sacrifice our quality of life to military power.

We have come to accept as normal the practices which one defined the differences between ourselves and our totalitarian enemies – torture, government assassinations, arrests without charges or trials. Being opposed to torture is actually a controversial position.

We use Orwellian lingo – “coercive interrogation,” “preventive detention,” “preventive war,” “Homeland Security” – and these practices continue to grow under Presidents as outwardly different as George W. Bush and Barack Obama.  We fool ourselves into thinking that what can be done to people with dark skins, foreign accents and funny names can’t be done to anybody.

So maybe the United States didn’t really win the Cold War.  We defeated the Soviet Union politically and economically, but maybe they defeated us morally and spiritually.