09 March 2010

Hiroshima and the fall of Berlin - getting the timeline right

In lecture 29 I said: "Hiroshima and Nagasaki had shown that the USA had the bomb. It soon became clear that before long they would also have long range missiles that could reach the Soviet Union without the need of bombers flying over it." The next two paragraphs then go into a discussion of the reasons why Stalin wanted the Red Army to enter Berlin before any other allied forces could reach the city.
Some have interpreted my text as saying that the motivation for Stalin's move towards Berlin was the release of the atomic bombs over Japan. As one reader wrote: "You say that 'Hiroshima etc had shown that the USA had the bomb'. Wasn't the Fall of Berlin in April–May 1945 and the bombing of Hiroshima in August of that year?"
This is of course correct: The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki occurred after the Red Army had reached Berlin and the war in Europe had ended. But the Soviet Union had been well aware of progress with the Mahattan project for quite some time and did not need the proof of actual bombs falling on cities. My text muddles the timeline and can be misleading.
Because my policy with the lecture notes is to leave them standing as they are and use this blog for updates I only added a link to this note in the original lecture 29.

05 March 2010

The changing character of war

In Lecture 29 I said that World War I was the last "classical" war, a war in which the casualties were found mainly amongst the soldiers. Beginning with World War II military conflicts produce more casualties among the civilian population than among the soldiers (a fact painstakingly avoided by the media, which report every death among the occupying forces in Afghanistan but rarely mention the much larger death toll among Afghan civilians).
A recent review of a study of returned servicemen after World War II illustrates the deveelopment with some interesting observations. When the soldiers returned home from the battlefields of World War I the civilian population acknowledged their suffering and greeted them with a sense of guilt: "While British state pensions and policies were ungenerous, civilian volunteers stepped into the breach, flocking to donate money and time to hospitals, rest homes, philantropies and cultural associations that sought to ease disabled veterans' isolation and pain."
In contrast, soldiers returning home after World War II were ignored, their stories of suffering paled in comparison with those of survivors in bombed-out cities. Instead of a hero's welcome, or at least understanding for trauma and depression, they found a lack of empathy and faced the disintegration of their private lives: "Divorces went up, from 4100 decrees absolute in England and Wales in 1935, to 15,600 in 1945, to 60,300 in 1947." Veterans from the Vietnam war did not fare better.

Reference: Susan Pedersen: Suitable Heroes. A review of Demobbed: Coming Home after the Second World War by Alan Allport. London Review of Books 32(4) 25 February 2010, pp. 11-12.