Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The U.S.S.R.

It's now been over twenty years since the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) dissolved itself. Not many people, to tell the truth, miss it. Of course, one of those who does miss it is Vladimir Putin, strongman of the successor state, the Russian Federation. Putin is even on record saying that the USSR's end was the biggest catastrophe of the 20th century. He's in the minority on that one, too.
Still, with the passage of time, it isn't unreasonable to consider what that country might have done well and whether they deserve any credit. It sure wouldn't be for granting freedom to its citizens or providing modern consumer goods and services. Its schools were outdated, its culture stagnant and even the Soviet "style" seemed to emphasize a kind of one-size-fits-all clunky quality that reached all the way down to ugly, gas-guzzling autos and baggy suits. No one misses all that.
Even so, I don't think it's unfair to give the old USSR credit for two things. The first is their early achievements in space exploration. With a group of second-string German rocket scientists, they were the first to launch a satellite into space, and the first to launch orbiting capsules with human passengers. True, not all of them made it back safely, but at one point they led the whole world in space travel. Not bad for country with a second-rate economy.
But even this pales in importance beside the old Soviet Union's greatest feat. That was turning back a huge German army, forcing them to fight a two-front war long after they thought the USSR would be plowed under. This was, without exception, the largest battle front in history, with millions on both sides. Yes, the Russians had a little help from their western allies, but really had to do most of the dirty work themselves, all the way back to Berlin, where the European phase of the war finally ended, four years after the country was first invaded.
I'd never choose to live in a country like the old USSR, but it isn't wrong to give credit where it's due. Their old veterans are now, like ours, mostly gone. But leaving them off the list of WW II allies would be wrong. Sure, they were led by a ruthless dictator, but they managed to finally win in spite of, rather than because of, Joseph Stalin.  


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