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st. petersburg's 300th anniversary

Speaking of cities, the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg is being celebrated this week, and apparently it's quite a celebration. When I get to visit Russia, St. Petersburg and Moscow will be destinations for sure.


During World War II Leningrad (the name given to the city after Lenin died, changed again after the fall of the Soviet Union) was, with Stalingrad, one of the focal points of resistance against the Nazi invasion. 1.25 million residents died during the almost-3-year blockade after Operation Barbarossa began in '41, and ten thousand buildings were destroyed in the fighting. (Stalingrad, on the other hand, was leveled outright, mostly by the Luftwaffe, and two million people died there). This is very much on my mind as I keep thinking about the claims (pre-Iraq war this year) comparing Saddam to Hitler and talking about how "the US had stopped a tyrant before". If anyone stopped Hitler, it was the Russians, who lost 20 million people in WW2 (about 14 million military and 7 million civilian). Compare that to a total of 300,000 US casualties (only military), or 400,000 British (about 300,000 military, and 100,000 civilian). Sure, the Russians were badly prepared, and I'm not saying a third of a million people is a small number or that the other Allies didn't also pay with their share of blood, but in comparison...

The Russians wiped out some of the Wermacht's best divisions, and forced the 6th Army into surrender. It was the Russians that gave the Allies enough maneuvering room so that they could crack Normandy, since the bulk of the Wermacht was on the eastern front, which stretched the western Nazi offensive/defensive capabilities.

Of course, no one "stopped Hittler," reality is never that simple. Hitler himself contributed in many ways (not least was, of course, opening an eastern front, although it could be argued that it would happen sooner or later).

And this is not "anti-Iraq war" rethoric, mind you (which I consider a separate matter). These comparisons have been used freely by all the parties and the media (except the Russians, of course), nor is it just limited to geopolitical matters, just like the word 'hero' is used all too easily these days.

I find it troubling that we seem to have fallen into the habit of twisting semantics to make ourselves feel more important, instead of doing things that would deserve it (say, a mission to Mars) we hype every stupid thing we do comparing it to the level of great achievements in the past. If anyone is a hero, then heroism loses meaning no? And if a tyrant in a run-down country is Hitler, then we also lose perspective of what those who came before us suffered to give us what we have, and what suffering really is.

And by losing sight of that, it's more difficult to define what's important and what's not, and suddenly we are surprised when we find elation in meaningless, superficial things like finding a special 25% off when buying the latest T-shirt from The Gap.



Categories: personal
Posted by diego on May 30 2003 at 9:17 PM

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