Saw Cross of Iron last nite on TV for the first time in decades. Been twenty years maybe, maybe more. Wild flick. Those tank scenes were incredible. Those were real T-34′s, though I guess they were a 1944 model, and not the exact model the Germans faced until then. But whatever, those tanks were absolutely extraordinary. Incredible machines. The Germans must have freaked, though the Russians didn’t quite have their tactical skills down yet (Stalin had shot many of the officers who did!) But by 1944 the Russians were the absolute masters of armored warfare, and had the world’s greatest tank (by far). All the Germans could do was sit and wait to be destroyed.
The Russians also had great tactical aircraft as well. I’d read up on them before, and saw a very good documentary about them. They were these heavily armored, heavily armed, and tough aircraft that were strictly for tactical uses. Tank killers. They had very few strategic aircraft. No need. That what the US and British bomber fleets were for. We destroyed the German cities. The Russians destroyed the German army. Quite a team.
I remember guys always saying that we should have let Patton go and kick those russky asses. Heard that a lot when I was young. I suppose this was after the George C. Scott flick and the Cold War was still at its ominous slow burn and everyone hated commies, mainly Russians. But let’s be honest, they would have rolled right over us. Only our fleets of bombers would have saved us, turning their long supply lines into mush.
It’s not my favorite alternative history scenario to dwell on. It’s just inane. The enemy was Nazi Germany. The idea that some massive all out war would suddenly happen between us and the Russians is absurd. A waste of time to think about.
But what does fascinate me is that Russo-German War. The eastern front (or western front, from the Russian point of view.) I think that conflict was actually one of the most extra-ordinary creations of humankind. It was the largest enterprise humans have ever carried out, and one entirely manmade. Virtually none of it was driven by anything other than military necessity or totalitarian whim. It was also the most destructive. Nothing else comes close. It probably consumed materials at a rate never surpassed. And the only thing that has ever surpassed it for sheer mankilling was probably one of the plagues. And that’s a maybe. And the Black Plague took longer.
And check this out—-a war on that scale is no longer even possible. The institutions that could wage a war on that scale, and keep waging it for four years, no longer exist. That was the absolute peak of Marxist-Leninist collectivism, and the absolute peak of fascism, itself a variation of socialist collectivism. Furthermore, the foundation for the conceptual framework for running Hitler’s war machine (industrially, agriculturally, manpower supply, etc etc) had been laid down in the first war. The Russians came up with their framework on the fly, I think, but since the Revolution they had grown used to vast social engineering projects at frightful human cost so they were able to create their war machine as the war went on. You simply cannot have war like that anymore. There is no one around that even knows how to. Probably ever again. Other parts of WW2 might be possible again, and on smaller scale as well (North Viet Nam was fighting us on a scale like that, while we weren’t). But peoples cannot be organized anymore to the extent they could be in the late 30′s and into the mid-40′s. They will not follow orders like that anymore. The internet seems to have ruined totalitarianism. Twitter drives dictators mad. Things are too complex now. And bombs too big and awful. And expensive. And we run out. It was almost impossible to run out of bombs in WW2. We dropped them by the thousands on Germany, on Japan. German civilization was battered into heaps, Japanese civilization razed to ashes. Nowadays there are only so many cruise missiles. We’ve nearly run out a couple times, and those were against little punk countries. Producing enough cruise missiles to level every single town in Germany with more than 50,000 people would break us. WW2 was much simpler. Sometimes simple is better. I mean we have nuclear weapons, but short of annihilating the species (not to mention almost all life on earth), we no longer have the ability to do to anybody what we did to Germany and Japan in WW2.
Now I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.
In fact to be perfectly honest I am quite pleased with that. But taking away all the moral considerations and looking at it academically, the amount of destruction wrought in the second world war is extremely impressive. The scale of the war is extremely impressive….but when you look at all the fighting done round the world in that war, the Russian front stands out. In fact, the Russo-German War of 1941-45, in a way, is an apex of human civilization. I think that hundreds of years from now, historians will look at it with awe, the two ultimate totalitarian regimes fighting to the death and destroying virtually everything in their way in the process. I think that even now, 60 years on, we are too close to see just how extra-ordinary an accomplishment it really was, in its terrible way. Then again, we have yet to understand the accomplishment of the First World War either…which was the one of the most significant events in the history of the world. But that’s another essay.
But think of this–you’d be had pressed to find a single other person who did more to alter history single-handedly than Gavrilo Princip. Sure it was luck. All he did was stand in the wrong spot, which turned out by luck to be the right spot. And then he aimed and pulled the trigger and the Arch-Duke died and a new world was born, ghastly and awful. At first anyway. It’s quite pleasant now. Funny how things work out.