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70 Years. The Marble of Lieutenants

By       Message Mark Sashine     Permalink
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View Ratings | Rate It Headlined to None 6/19/11

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( my traditional June 22nd   article)

"And   the marble of   lieutenants,

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The plywood monument'

B. Slutzky (in translation)

In a very good   WWII novel   "The Young Lions' by Irvin Shaw there is a scene when Noah Akerman spends   his first night with   his future wife Hope. That takes place     on the June 22nd.   They listen to the radio after making   love    and   hear   about the German invasion of Russia. Then Hope says, "I will remember this day, June 22nd     forever."

I first read that book in Russian translation.   I remember feeling    a   profound   disbelief and disgust when   I read that episode.   How could a person   associate     that day with something   joyful, something positive. On that day my dad was    bombed in a children's camp. On that day thousands     died   and that was only   a   start of the   slaughter. That day did not live in     infamy.   It lived in horror.

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Now, after 70 years had passed   since that day, in another country and   watching the bombing of   Libya I   understand Hope   better.   Horrors are a part of life anyway; joys of true love are rare. Her own world was     complete   at that moment and although Noah Akerman   eventually was sucked into   the mangle   of war,   that very day   would be the only   shining beacon in her life further on. Somebody    must   remember something good about every day.

The young Soviet Army lieutenants knew that well.   The whole group of them were   former poets and   writers; those   of them who survived became the   founding fathers of the so-called "prose of lieutenants'- the   first series of publications about the true face of the war.   Those who did not survive got the plywood monument. But not only   that. They became a legend. That legend comes with   whatever   remained of them as people   and here's what one of them said ,

-In that     horror   we experienced freedom beyond measure.

I was always wondering     about the deep unfairness of the people's   perceptions.   Freedom is associated     only   with   something specifically Western. To claim the understanding     of freedom you must be born in the democracy. You must    then   live under the freedoms of the free world. Free, free- we hear that noise    all the time.   Here, in   the US the WWII is described as the struggle of the   forces of freedom against the forces of totalitarian   regimes. How does Russian fit here? How does   the   real   winner of that war fit the perception molding?    The proper way to find out    should   be to   understand what kind of people they were, those   30.4 million drafted men   and women volunteers who were summoned   by   Russia to fight for her.   Or maybe     not just   for her. How did they   say,

-           .. That fight to death is not for fame and glory but for the   very   life   on Earth..'

This is   something     puzzling here, right? Those people were supposed to be oppressed, gloomy, marginal     after more than 20 years of dictatorial rule.   They were supposed to be happy that someone    from outside came to liberate them from that government of theirs. Instead   they    rallied around it and   proclaimed a   Holy War.   And in that war they     saw a freedom beyond   measure. Paradox?   Or a   challenge?

They were very young those lieutenants.   Most of them died in battle before they had     a chance to kiss a girl.   The    cadets of the Podolsk   military   artillery school constituted two battalions armed by old cannons.   They   received       an order from the   general, future   Marshal Zhukov to   delay for three days the movement of the elite   German tank division   towards Moscow. That division before     was in the tank group which sliced France in half. German tank division of course was supported by    abundant     infantry and    aviation. And they were mostly SS.   There was only one similarity    between Germans and Russians ; Germans were as   young. And there was one most significant difference- it was a Russian soil.

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The Podolsk cadets     were smart. They graduated with honors    post mortem. The tank division   could   not move any further for three days. And when after three days   it moved    it was not a division anymore.    And on their way   now     there two fresh Siberian armies.

In the   novel   "Storm' by G. Stewart   a retired general of WWI   in charge of the   levees muses about   the dilemma of the water rising: if it rises enough it can disrupt the businesses of the townsfolk    but if he   opens the levees the towns will   be spared but the farmland down below will   be    flooded and damaged forever. And the businesspeople from the town push and push him to open the levees. He can't understand them. To him the farmlands are eternal     and businesses are   something   which   is not tangible. He   can't sacrifice the farmlands. He     still    uses the war logic when he    sometimes   had to engage   his boys in seemingly   senseless attacks. But no, those attacks helped other boys on other fronts and   how do you win the war otherwise?   He   was    in the   domain of   real things. Farmlands were real things. He was there to protect them.

So why could not the German division slice those cadets like   it sliced France?     Or maybe it   is not the right question to ask? Maybe the proper understanding starts with   humility: it is obvious that those cadets   possessed   qualities we lack.   What were those qualities?   Freedom of   soul? How? And why weren't Germans    their match?

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The writer is 57 years old, semi- retired engineer, PhD, PE, CEM. I write fiction on a regular basis and I am also 10 years on OEN.

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