War is a horrible thing. I fall into the school of thought that nobody wins a war, but somebody loses. However, war does happen, and when it does, we need to learn from events that occur. Thus the discipline of history becomes indispensable to any culture. Here’s the thing with history, though: in order to be truly useful, it must be taught completely and present the whole truth.
Now, before I write more, I’ll offer the disclaimer up front that I’m no historian, and I don’t claim to be. I know only as much as anyone who recognizes the importance of knowing the events that brought us to where we are. For in-depth questions, I ask my friends who study history. Some things, however, are glaringly obvious.
Recently, the National D-Day Memorial, located in Bedford, Virginia, installed a bust of Joseph Stalin, because he is associated with Operation Overlord. And, wow, did everyone get really pissed off. Protesters lined up, and one person quoted said something about how horrible it was to have Stalin in their back yard, or something like that. The general consensus: how dare a national memorial recognize and honor a Soviet dictator who was responsible for the deaths of millions? After all, Stalin was initially an ally of Nazi Germany, and only decided to enter the war on the side of the Allies after Hitler violated their non-aggression pact. And, as those who protest the statue are quick to point out, no Soviet troops were involved in Operation Overlord. Thus, no bust of Stalin has any business in a national memorial commemorating the lives lost in that offensive.
There’s a couple of glaring issues, here. First off, the placement of a bust of a historical figure in a national memorial isn’t necessarily meant to honor that person, and immediately claiming that it does any such thing is a leap in logic. In fact, I don’t think you can really get there from here. The foundation operating the D-Day Memorial placed a plaque with the bust identifying Stalin as a “genocidal dictator” and all-around not-so-pleasant person. Secondly, even as dramatically as history is generally distorted when taught in the U.S., I don’t think anyone really has a positive impression of Stalin…at least not anyone who has spent any time in a history textbook. The D-Day Memorial Foundation has stated that they are merely marking Stalin’s involvement in the war. Stalin was involved in D-Day in the planning stages, and was in fact instrumental, along with Roosevelt and Churchill, in formulating the concept of Operation Overlord. Historians have debated why he did this, and his motivations in the war in general. As far as this particular bust is concerned, however, no one is using it to attempt to argue that Stalin joined the Allies with noble intentions. The purpose of the bust is simply to say that he did join the Allies on this occasion. That’s an objective fact. That’s history.
To omit Stalin from the story of D-Day, the sacrifices involved in it’s implementation, and the horrific loss of life that occurred that day, would be to tell a partial history because of a moral value judgment. Good history, however, is like good journalism: give the facts. Leave the value judgements to the ethicists and theologians, and tell the events exactly, as best we can, the way they occurred.
Those who are protesting the bust of Stalin should step back and realize that the purpose of the statue is not to honor a homicidal dictator, but to point out objectively that he played a role in the planning stages of D-Day. Doing so does not, as the petition in this blog claims, enter the realm of “misinformation” or “distortion.” In fact, omitting Stalin from a narrative of D-Day would be engaging in misinformation and distortion. Nor does the bust’s placement dishonor the soldiers who served in that operation, or in that war. To honor those who lived through it, perhaps we should focus on getting the story as accurate as we can. This is an attempt at a complete telling of a historical event.
That happens infrequently in the U.S., and perhaps around the world in general.
I’m disturbed that such a vocal opposition is raised because someone is attempting to do so.