Soviet propaganda poster, WW2: "Death to the German occupiers! - Forward to the West!"
We Americans rightfully remember the horror and the insult of the September 11 attacks, the great massacre that marks the true boundary between the 20th Century and the 21st.
We cannot forget the 2977 who died, the thousands more wounded, the millions whose lives were changed forever that fateful day.
We also never forget the Seventh of December 1941-–a date that shall itself always live in infamy–-and another 2402 dead.
But as appalling as those horrors were, neither were by any means the greatest human or military disaster to strike this past century.
That distinction must go to June 22, 1941, and a land far away from either New York or Hawaii.
Imagine, if you would, an alternate universe: one in which, say, the Mexicans were a warlike people, armed to the teeth, and, having prepared a great national armament, chose to strike at us across the border with an army of more than a million men, and tens of thousands of tanks and aircraft, with the intent of enslaving and subduing the United States through the most brutal of conquests.
Imagine, if you would, heavily armed hordes by the millions pouring north, consuming Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, California.
Imagine Los Angeles under siege with a million dead. Imagine Dallas, Houston, Austin, Albuquerque, Flagstaff, all occupied. Imagine a great battle around, say, Kansas City or St. Louis that ends with the entire city a rubbled heap of concrete and corpses.
Imagine America's intellectual elite rounded up and sent to gas chambers.
Imagine 20 million Americans dead in four years of war before the invaders are expelled, and the nation so exhausted by the effort that the United States dissolves peacefully a few years later.
Ridiculous. Yes. This is unimaginable to us, thank God.
But something like it really happened, on this day, seventy years ago: precisely this event happened to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics when the legions of Hitler poured across the Soviet border and tore at the very throat of Russia.
Within months, the Baltic states, what is now Belarus and Ukraine had fallen, Leningrad was under siege, and Moscow itself within the very gunsights of German tanks. A half million Jews were already massacred at the hands of the SS, and millions more to follow; three million Russian soldiers were in prison camps, 97% of whom would never see home again.
Yes. The Soviet Union itself was a monstrosity, Stalin was responsible for the mass murder, starvation and extermination of even more people than Hitler had killed.
But no nation deserves that which Hitler inflicted on the Soviet Union and the nations which formed it.
There was a singular hideousness of the assault of the German Army and its allies on Russia that rings to this day.
In the Second World War, Britain lost 451,000 and the United States lost 418,000; our losses were about 98% all uniformed military, and the British, mostly so (perhaps 80 to 85%).
The people of St. Petersburg–-the city then named Leningrad--lost more than one million men, women and children in three years of siege from 1941 to 1944 alone.
Twenty six million Soviet soldiers and civilians died in that war, including two million Jews at the hands of the SS Einsatzgruppen and at death camps in Poland. One sixth of the population of what is now Ukraine was murdered, and one-quarter of that of Belarus (White Russia): now that they are a separate nation, they are recognized as having suffered the greatest proportional losses at the hands of Nazi Germany and its allies, even greater than Poland's. And of course, 80% of Europe's Jewish populace perished as well.
Thirteen percent of the population of the USSR of 1940 was dead by 1945. That's one in 7.7. (By comparison, the American Civil War killed 1 in 50.)
And it all started at 4:00 in the morning seventy years ago to the day.
We are rightfully proud of our great achievements that won the Second World War: the Battle of the Atlantic, our first baby steps in North Africa, the hard grind up Italy, the great landing at Normandy, the Bulge, the final push to the Elbe.
But let us never forget for an instant that for every one of our soldiers who died fighting the Germans, the Soviets lost a hundred.
Furthermore, our victory in the Second World War would have been impossible without the sacrifices of the Soviet Army. And the casualties that they took in that war made the ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union, if not inevitable, then at least possible.
Nobody can surpass my loathing of the Soviet system and of the Communist world view and I regard the collapse of that system an unalloyed good.
But I salute those who fought and died under the Soviet flag to destroy the fascist beast. We walk in freedom today because of their sacrifice those many years ago.
Большое спасибо, товарищи. Большое спасибо. Thank you comrades. Thank you.