Term Paper: Critical Review of Stalingrad by Antony Beevor

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Critical Review of Stalingrad by Antony Beevor

There is no doubt Stalingrad was a major event in perhaps the most

significant war in world history. In Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege: 1942-

1943, by Antony Beevor, it is clear that Beevor believes this to be the

case because he says so. However, after reading Stalingrad, it is not

entirely clear why. While Beevor puts the battle of Stalingrad in

historical perspective in Stalingrad, there lacks certain emotional impact,

historical narrative, and cohesion that could lend it to furthering the

aims of the book. While it is clear that the book looks to put the

everyday person or soldier as the significant player in the Battle and thus

the War, there needs to be more connections made in order to bring to life

this battle in which every brick in Stalingrad became a brick of a fortress

critical to the fate of two world superpowers.

Nevertheless, it is clear that Stalingrad was important for one

reason; it was named after Stalin. Beevor reports that Hitler said, "I

wanted to reach.... At a particular city.... By chance it bore the name of

Stalin himself,"[i] which suggests that Hitler in fact did not care about

the symbolism associated with the name. But to the contrary, Beevor hints

that there was something about this city and its name that gave it a

greater importance to both Hitler and Stalin. Yet while Hitler and Stalin

are constantly referred to, usually pessimistically, they are two distant

Commanders. Often portrayed as foolish, out of touch, and delusional,

Hitler and Stalin according to Beevor are distant figureheads. While that

may have been true to the average Soviet or German, they were in fact

puling the strings and greatly influential in the ongoing war and the

Battle of Stalingrad. Yet, like much of this work, Stalin and Hitler are

all too lifeless, and that may be the effect that Beevor intended, but

because the lifelessness permeates other areas of the work, that is not

likely to be the case.

But this does not mean that Stalingrad is not an effective and worthy

addition to the historical literature on the famous battle. Beevor has

painstakingly researched, and clearly communicated his research on the

battle of Stalingrad, much of which relies on primary resource. This

validates Beevor's position as a historian first and foremost and makes

Stalingrad an accurate, detailed, informative, and even unique work.

Drawing on much of his own research gives Stalingrad an extra special place

in the literature on the war, and although Beevor does not always write

proficiently enough to capture the life of the battle and it's

participants, he does include many anecdotes and insight that helps the

reader to get a better understanding of the life and times surrounding

Stalingrad. For instance, the mentioning of that "many soldiers...

deprived of vodka, resorted to desperate substitutes"[ii] is interesting in

that it shows the conditions of life for the soldiers as well as the

deleterious mental and health effects that they had to endure. As a

particularly 'Russian' problem, this does help to illustrate the plight of

those in the Red Army and all of those in Stalingrad who had to endure the

brutalities of the siege.

Before the battle begins, however, Beevor starts his work before the

declaration of war between the Soviet Union and Germany. He finds a

fitting quote, in which the Soviets warn the Germans: "You're regret this

insulting, provocative and thoroughly predatory attack on the Soviet Union.

You'll pay dearly for it."[iii] This, in the beginning, helps to

highlight a prevailing theme throughout the work, and that is the resolve

and fortitude of the Soviet people who seemingly willed their way to

victory. Yet it also indicates that perhaps Soviet victory was inevitable,

given the manpower and depth of their country, that despite the countless

problems and terror raging in the Soviet Union, its soldiers were still

willing to die for the Motherland. This is an important idea that goes

beyond battlefield tactics, and while Beevor does touch on the military

aspects of Stalingrad, in Stalingrad Beevor makes it clear that the Soviets

were a very special people destined to do special things.

Yet despite this interesting outlook on Stalingrad, the work his

fairly disjointed and lacks a coherent narrative. The beginning of the

book jumps into the action and jumps around before the reader can

understand the implications or impact of what he or she is reading. The

end of Part One also seems to be lacking as it ends with a broad statement

that cannot be fully grasped by the reader after reading Part One and after

continuing: "The psychological turning point of the war, however, would

come only in the following winter," writes Beevor suggesting that the war

was that it was a duel between Hitler and Stalin that became one of "mass

proxy."[iv] This statement is almost alone on an island, with little

connection to the words before and after it and while it may be true,

Beevor does not adequately connect his points to the facts in a way in

which the reader can fully grasp what he is trying to say.

Then Beevor gets into the battle of Stalingrad and his details are

surely accurate. But that is all that can be said as though the battle is

covered in depth, it is not effectively portrayed and it is at times poorly

written. An interesting dialogue between Voronov and Paulus after the

surrender should be intriguing; at the very least a good piece of writing

that will stand alone as a story by itself. But Beevor leaves the reader

lacking for more as he merely and dryly details the story often relying on

the words of the primary source to tell the story for him. It fails to do

so. "In this 'tormented pose,'" writes Beevor of Paulus in his depression

as, "only the tic in his face indicated his thoughts."[v] The stories

cannot stand alone and they do not heighten the emotional impact of

Stalingrad to the reader. With the aforementioned vodka incident, while it

is a worthy inclusion, it could be improved. Perhaps some analysis, drama,

or commentary could help to bring the history to life as a narrative as

Beevor writes the stories as if they were fact sheets. A reading of the

original source would surely be more interesting.

This may be too harsh on Beevor as Stalingrad is an informative look

at the famous battle, but one reads Stalingrad and can only think there

could be so much more. It fails to live up to the front cover hype as a

"compelling narrative" creating a "terrifying montage of catastrophe and

hardship" that is an "apocalyptic vision."[vi] It is doubtless that the

battle was as hard as described, but it is up to the reader to envision the

hardships for him or herself. The short, simple, and straightforward

sentences leave much to be desired: "In such a hopeless situation,

discipline was starting to break down,"[vii] writes Beevor of the decimated

Germans. But the connection is not made by Beevor; instead it is left up

to the reader. What was hopeless? How did hopelessness lead to a lack of

discipline? The events are merely described and not brought to life. The

historical narrative is lacking. Of course simplicity and clarity are of

paramount importance in historical non-fiction, but so should also the

writing as it is up to the author to effectively relay the information he

has researched.

Perhaps one of the greatest achievements of Stalingrad, is the

portrayal of the ineffectiveness of many of the leaders of those that would

suffer from the conflict. For instance, the miscalculations by both Hitler

and Stalin are mentioned and they occur on numerous occasions which makes

for an interesting outlook on history in which the two dictators are

critiqued and the mistakes are clearly demonstrated. For example, it is

dead on and an important point when Beevor notes that the "Stalin still

desperately hoped for a last chance of conciliation and was reluctant to

allow his troops to strike."[viii] Points like this help to illustrate

Stalin's misreading of the situation, and help to shed light on the bigger

picture and all the factors that lead up to Stalingrad. Thus Beevor does

have good points and information to contribute to Stalingrad and this

cannot be overlooked. In one of his most effective parts of the work,

Beevor accounts for the horros of the first attack on Stalingrad: "The

model city of which they were so proud, with its gardens along the high

west bank of the Volga and the tall white apartment buildings which gave

the place its modern, cubist look, became an inferno."[ix] This

comparative illustration of the damage done to the beloved city connects

the damage to the people and creates a sort of emotional impact that is

lacking in much of the book and furthers Beevor's aim of showing that

Stalingrad was a battle… [END OF PREVIEW]

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