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Thursday, January 29, 2009

What was at stake?

This is the type of question which begets ex post narratives and, from there, finger pointing and the "blame game." This seems to be the case with President Bush and Iraq II - people are quick to point out that there seemed to be little at stake or at least not enough to justify the war. Perhaps. But as an empiricist I strive to formulate not just the null but also the alternative hypothesis - but then that is my job.

During World War II, much like in World War I, the Russian armed forces were used as cannon fodder to take the pressure off the western front. In the winter of 1942 the U.S. hadn't yet invaded Europe but Joseph Stalin ordered the Russian Army to attack the German armies at Stalingrad. The result was that the German 6th Army was surrounded and eventually destroyed and its remnants surrendered in Feb of 1943.

I am reading "Life and Fate" by Vassily Grossman. On page 646-647 of my version he has the following things to say about our question of "what was at stake?":
This was his [Stalin's] hour of strength. What was being decided now, what was at stake, was the fate for the State Lenin had founded: now the rational, centralized force of the Party would be able to realize itself in the construction of huge factories, atomic power stations, jet planes, intercontinental missiles, space rockets, immense buildings and palaces of culture, new canals and seas, new roads and cities north of the Arctic Circle.

What was at stake was the fate of France, Belgium, Italy and the countries Hitler had occupied in Scandinavia and the Balkans. It was now that the death sentence was passed on Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and the nine hundred other German labour camps and concentration camps.

What was at stake was the fate of the German prisoners-of-war who were to be sent to Siberia; what was at stake was the fate of the Soviet prisoners-of-war in Hitler's camps who were also to be sent to Siberia.

What was at stake was the fate of the Kalmyks and Crimean Tartars, the Balkars and the Chechens who were to be deported to Siberia and Kazakhstan, who were to lose the right to remember their history and teach their own children to speak their mother tongue.

What was at stake was the fate of the actors Mikhoels and Zuskin, the writers Bergelson, Markish, Fefer, Kvirko, and Nusinov, whose execution was to precede the sinister trial of Professor Vovsi and the Jewish doctors. What was at stake was the fate of the Jews saved by the Red Army: on the tenth anniversary of this victory Stalin was to raise over their heads the very sword of annihilation he had wrested from the hands of Hitler.

What was at stake was the fate of Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Rumania.

Stalin was moved. At this moment the future power of the State had merged with his will.

Sometimes it is natural to ask what was at stake when a gamble doesn't seem to pay off. However, Grossman so aptly points out that the victory at Stalingrad led to a lot of downside over the following years.

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