Ivan's War: Life and Death in the Red Army, 1939-1945
They died in vast numbers, eight million men and women driven forward in suicidal charges, shattered by German shells and tanks. They were the soldiers of the Red Army, an exhausted mass of recruits who confronted Europe's most lethal fighting force and by 1945 had defeated it. For sixty years, their experiences were suppressed, replaced by patriotic propaganda. We know how the soldiers died, but nearly nothing about how they lived, how they saw the world, or why they fought. In this ambitious, revelatory history, Catherine Merridale uncovers the harrowing story of who these soldiers were, and how they lived and died during the war.
A Good Start, but sluggish ending for this `Social' History
By R. A Forczyk - March 28, 2006
Catherine Merridale, a professor of contemporary history at the University of London, has written a nuanced social history of the Soviet soldier in the Second World in Ivan's War. This volume is not a military history and readers expecting such will be disappointed, but Merridale does offer an insightful glance into the soul of "Ivan" - the "G.I. Joe" of the Red Army. Overall, Ivan's War does provide context that is often lacking in other works about the East Front and this is a worthy effort, although the results that Merridale does achieve are open to debate. The main idea that Merridale's work conveys is that the sacrifices made by both the Soviet soldiers and citizens were betrayed by a Stalinist regime that saw them as only "little cogs in a machine." In the end, thanks to Ivan's tenacity, Merridale writes, "the motherland was never conquered" by the fascists but it had been enslaved by its own communist leaders.
The driving concept between this type of approach to... read more
An excellent social history of the wartime Red Army
By 1. "John Henninger" - February 7, 2006
Merridale has written an excellent social history of the Red Army and why Russian soldiers continued to fight throughout the war. Merridale believes that songs about missing loved ones,a personal faith in God, and a belief that Stalin's Russia would change after the war contributed to the fighting spirit of the Red Army soldier. Merridale also describes vividly the hell of the battle of Kerch in which thousands of Russian soldiers suffocated to death and Kursk in which tank crewmen suffered serious burns to their bodies. Merridale also writes about how these soldiers missed and distrusted their wives and this sense of sexual frustration ultimately contributed to the raping of Berlin in 1945. The only weakness of Merridale's book is that she leaves out the works by Dale Herspring which detail how commissars kept alive the morale of Russian soldiers and skims over the works by Robert Thurston who states how the Red Army soldier fought the war for ideological purposes. Despite these... read more
When memory fails
By A Reader - February 25, 2006
This is a great book; it's been well-reviewed both in the press and here on Amazon.
However, the reviews have failed to mention what I found to be one of the most important features of the book: The significant lacunae in the historical record of the Red Army. Merridale shows how completely the historical reality of the Red Army experience has been replaced by the state-sanctioned mythology. Merridale describes sorting through the archives, sealed for sixty years, and finding that even the confidential reports by the internal Party spies are filled with bland pious generalities. Even as they were fighting and dying, the Army was selectively editing its official memory, removing any evidence of venality, cowardice, war crimes, insubordination and so on.
More disturbingly, the veterans Merridale interviews have edited their own memories, often describing scenes from propaganda movies as if they actually experienced them first-hand. Merridale's sympathetic... read more
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