Morale: Back To The Stalinist Future


April 22, 2023: In late 2022 Russia began issuing a “why we fight” pamphlet to all troops in Ukraine as well as those recently mobilized and being sent to Ukraine. The pamphlet explained why it was important to never retreat when attacked or threatened by the enemy. This “no retreat” doctrine was particularly important when attacking Ukrainian forces. The pamphlet explained how Josef Stalin, the Russian ruler during World War II, had solved that problem. He ordered KGB (secret police) troops stationed behind the front line attack forces before a major offensive. The KGB had orders to fire on any retreating soldiers and shoot to kill. Stalin also ordered immediate execution for any cowards. During the 1942-43 Stalingrad Campaign 19,000 Russian soldiers were killed by the KGB for not advancing. Statistics like this were considered a state secret until the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. It turned out that Russian losses during World War II were about 50 percent higher than the official, but fake death toll that was used after 1945. The 2022 pamphlet mentioned the KGB enforcers but not the number of soldiers the KGB killed nor the deliberate concealment of the true losses during World War II. During the 1990s the truth about World War II losses became known in Russia and school textbooks were updated with the actual data and other details.

Over a decade ago, current leader Vladimir Putin began changing the official history and textbooks. Most of the new soldiers in 2022 are unfamiliar with the pre-Putin data on wartime losses and practices. In the last year Putin has made it a crime to dispute his version of the facts or to criticize the performance of Russian troops in Ukraine.

Older soldiers or civilians can quietly let the new soldiers know what really happened during World War II and troops who recently served in Ukraine will confirm that Russian troops have been taking heavy losses and that the Ukrainians, like Russians during World War II, were staunchly defending their country, but without the secret police enforcers. Putin accuses the Ukrainians of being Nazis despite the fact that Russian troops are the brutal attackers. A growing number of Russians have figured all this out but find it easier to just go along rather than face prosecution by speaking out.

Most of the 2022 pamphlet goes into the official (Putin) version of why Russians are fighting in Ukraine. According to Putin the fight is all about thwarting a NATO conspiracy to weaken and destroy Russia. To prevent this from happening, Russia must return Ukraine to Russian rule, and then do the same with other neighbors that were once part of the Soviet Union. The pamphlet comes with maps showing where Russian borders should be (which alarmed most of Russia’s others neighbors) as well as other maps describing the Putin version of Russian history during the last several hundred years. During this time, Russia is described valiantly fighting to make the region safe for Russia.

Since it’s forbidden to criticize the pamphlet in Russia, the reaction by Russians was obtained from the growing number of Russians leaving Russia, legally or otherwise. Government-approved opinion polls in Russia continue to show most Russians supporting the government and the war in Ukraine. That was another characteristic of Stalinist Russia, where the truth was whatever the government wanted it to be. Welcome to the past that everyone talks about but few want to visit.




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