To understand how differently World War II is etched into the collective history of the U.S. and Russia consider:
On the American side, one of the most venerated stories of the war is that of the Bedford Boys. On June 6, 1944, 19 Bedford, Va.-area soldiers were killed in the first wave of the D-Day invasion in Normandy, France. Many believe that Bedford lost more men, per capita on that day than any other U.S. locality during the conflict.
The memory of that sacrifice so seared itself into American consciousness that decades later the National D-Day Memorial would be located in Bedford.
Then consider this line from the introduction to former Soviet officer Grigory Baklanov’s classic World War II work Forever Nineteen:
“I was seventeen and finishing high school when the war broke out. We had twenty boys and twenty girls in our class. Almost all the boys went to the front, but I was the only one to return alive.”
The experience of Baklanov, who died last month at age 86, wasn’t uncommon. Some 24 million Soviets were killed during the conflict, or about 14 percent of the country’s total population. The U.S., by comparison, lost 418,000.
To put the Soviet effort in context, while the Allied invasion of Normandy gets big press in the West, approximately 85 percent of Nazi casualties were inflicted by Stalin’s forces.
We in the United States tend to consider World War II “The Good War,” because we largely escaped devastation of our homeland, had relatively light casualties compared to the other major combatants and enjoyed an almost immediate post-war economic boom.
However, the scars of that conflict still run deep through much of Europe and Asia, and will continue to do so for decades to come.
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