C’mon!

Do you really think, if the Russians attacked a NATO member such as Estonia, we would send troops to defend them? You may laugh all you please, but that’s what we are expected to do according to Article 5 of our NATO commitment. A little history throws some interesting light on the question.

At first glance, the odds look forbiddingly in favor of an overnight victory for the Russian invaders, a total humiliation for the United States and possibly the end of NATO itself. But the illumination of those history lamps indicates that one hardly has to be Ambassador John Bolton to believe NATO could actually live up to its commitment.

Let’s go back to the so-called Winter War of 1939, when Stalin thrust his army upon Finland, whose resistance staggered the Kremlin and made the Soviets the laughingstock of the world while elevating tiny Finland to instant legendary fame. The Finns, with a population half that of Chicago, repelled Moscow’s attacks for three months while Finland won plaudits from all around the world.

If you are trying to influence unsavory characters and evil people, don’t ever remind veterans of Hitler’s Nazi troops who served on the Russian Front in World War II of that particular bit of history. They won’t believe it was the same army they were up against. And that’s because it really was a totally different army. The helpless, hopeless and hapless Russians whose reaction to the initial German attack was to surrender by the millions bore no resemblance to the pulverizing power unleashed upon those Germans after word of Nazi atrocities became known throughout the Soviet Union.

Visitors to Moscow to this day are amused when their Russian hosts tell them that the Russian generals who won World War II were General December, General January and General February. It was not just the famous Russian winter, it was how the Soviets used the Russian winter. A Russian marine hero who escaped a Nazi POW camp and became a high fashion hairdresser on Manhattan’s East Side (fancy that!) tells of the liberation of the summer palace of the tsars outside Leningrad. “We decided to attack them in T-shirts on the coldest day of the winter. When the Germans saw these Russian troops so maddened at the reports of so many hideous crimes against the Russian people that they seemed to have borrowed strength from the Sun, the Moon, and the Southside of Hell itself, the Germans came out with their hands up.”

You need not be an honor graduate of West Point to infer that when the Russians have reason to hate an invader of their soil, they will do so, and their battlefield performance will make the lesson clear. However, when Russian troops are sent on stupid missions of aggression against innocent people for whom they bear no hatred they are less effective than underage Boy Scouts.

This little Russian history lesson should be, if not on Page 1 of every American newspaper, then at least face-up on the desk of every policymaker from the White House on down!

Of course, the Russians experience the normal tensions and problems that occur between neighbors on this revolving mudball called Earth, and they have insulting slang terms for those neighbors. But that animosity doesn’t even begin to rival the hatred the Russians felt for the German Nazi invaders.

The legends of World War II on the Russian Front range from heartbreak to hilarity. In one instance, a Finnish patrol operating behind Russian lines in the Winter War stumbled upon a gigantic sauna in the woods. They stripped naked and walked right in and intermingled with their Russian enemies, enjoying the cleansing renewal of the sauna bath. I asked the son of one of those Finnish fighters what they would have done if a Russian had spoken to them in Russian. “No problem,” came the reply, “he would have simply pointed to his throat, indicating he’d lost his voice to the harsh Finnish climate. There was a lot of that subarctic laryngitis going around.”

The Finnish people were proud of their leader, Carl Gustav Mannerheim (Finns revere him as the greatest Finn who ever lived), proud of the way he blew cigar smoke in the face of Adolf Hitler (who hated tobacco smoke almost as much as he hated Jews). But, while extolling Finnish heroism, let’s not forget to offer a salute to Russian ineffectiveness when they were thrust by self-serving leaders onto a battlefield with an enemy they did not hate.

Of the entire German Sixth Army of almost a million men attacking Stalingrad, only 5 percent were lucky enough to return to Germany after the war.

One day when I was getting a haircut on the campus of the University of North Carolina the conversation pinwheeled around the GI Bill, which enabled so many Americans to get a higher education after the war. Suddenly one of the men said, “What is this GI Bill so many veterans are talking about?”

A hush descended over the barber shop. “Were you in World War II?” asked one of the other men.

“Yes, I was.”

“And you’re not on the GI Bill?”

“No, he replied, “I don’t know anything about it.”

“Well, you’d better get out of that chair now and get over to the Administration Building and talk to Dean Armstrong and get yourself on the GI Bill, because you need that lot more than a haircut!”

The veteran instructed his barber to give him just a quick trim, and then he walked briskly over to Dean Armstrong’s office.

The mystery was almost instantly solved. Our veteran friend had served during World War II all right, but he was in the German army! I never found out, though, if he was among those who managed to return from Stalingrad!

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