Saturday, May 9, 2015

Victory Day in Moscow

Today, May 9th, marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe.

Oh, sure, you folks probably grew up thinking it was May 8th. But not here in Russia. Something about, the Germans sent a guy to sign the surrender papers on May 8th, but the guy they sent wasn't high enough up the chain of command for the Russians. The Russians were all, fool me once, because Hitler had already said that the treaty Germany signed way back at the end of World War I didn't count, and Germany hadn't really surrendered back then, because the guy who signed on the dotted line for that surrender was a civilian politician, not an important military commander. So this time, the Russians insisted that the head of Germany's Armed Forces himself personally sign the surrender papers. Which he did, but not until early in the morning of May 9th. Hence the difference in dates.

Anyway. This morning we woke up bright and early to make the long, exhausting, 2-minute trek to the front of the Embassy building to watch the "parade." In quotes because it wasn't quite what you might have pictured in your head just now when I typed parade. There were no marching bands. No baton twirlers. Not a single float made out of flowers. Instead, there were tanks. And trucks bearing missiles. And more tanks. And airplanes. And then a few more tanks. All rolling down the road, just a few hundred yards from my front door.

The ground shook. You could feel the vibrations through the soles of your feet and up into your chest. The tanks kicked up dust and spewed out exhaust. Occasionally someone atop a vehicle would give a cursory wave toward the crowd, which waved back. But it really all seemed more serious than spectacle.

The main parade took place in Red Square itself, but there were no representatives from any western countries in attendance there this year. Given what is going on in Ukraine, that just wasn't going to happen. Anyone from the Embassy who wanted to watch either stood roadside or sat in front of their television sets.

One thing that always surprises me: many Americans don't seem to realize that Russia and the United States fought on the same side in World War II. I think many people my age grew up thinking of Russia as the Evil Empire, and our textbooks didn't go into too much detail about the Soviet Union's work to defeat the Nazis.

For Russians, though, the war was, and is, a big deal. They played a critical role in bringing about the defeat of the Nazis, and they gave so many lives to the effort. Somewhere around 60 million people died during WWII, military and civilian, of whom almost half were Russian. They lost somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-14 million soldiers, depending upon whom you ask, and about that many civilians. (As compared to the 400-450,000 U.S. military and civilians who died because of the war.)

Anyway. That's just an interesting little side note for those of you who may not have been aware of it. It wasn't until after the war that things really started going downhill in U.S.-Russian relations.

Today, though, Russians and Americans all crowded together in front of the Embassy to watch the parade go by. And when the last tank had passed, we Americans turned around and walked back through the front gate of the Embassy, headed for the first sunshiney barbecue of the season, on the other side of that big Embassy wall.

See those planes making the Russian flag up there in the sky?

ICBM, up close and personal. Creepy.



Anita said... [Reply]

I had a standard 80s-90s Midwest education which didn't focus at all on Russia's contribution to WWII. I remember touring the WWII museum attached to Napoleon's tomb in Paris in my late 20s and being stunned by the sheer numbers of Russian causalities compared to the other countries. The Russian losses are just staggering.

Thanks for reminding me again of Russia's extraordinary contribution.

Please. Write your own stuff.