Term Paper: US Ignorance of Stalin's Crimes for Political and Diplomatic Purposes

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U.S. ignorance of Stalin's crimes for political and diplomatic purposes

The history of the Soviet Union represents one of the most controversial aspects of the history of the world. Its turbulent past as well as its complex leaders led Russia to be considered one of the strangest and yet most fascinating subjects of study in the history of our civilization. The Second World War was in this sense one of the most representative moments in the contemporary times. More precisely, the directions which the European and American diplomacy was heading in determined the way in which the U.S.S.R. behaved and treated its own citizens. From this point-of-view, it can be said that the period of the Great Purge is relevant for underling two important issues. On the one hand, the Soviet Union engaged itself in one of the most atrocious events in the history of the human kind. On the other hand, the U.S. diplomacy, together with the European political scene did not consider the full extent of the atrocities that were taking place in Russia prior to the World War. Even more, they refused to intervene despite the fact that they were relatively aware of what was actually going on the Russian territory.

There are numerous reasons which determined a lack of action in relation to the Soviet purge from 1937-8. In any case, they all relate to the political situation in Europe at the time and the growing tensions between the countries. Therefore, the way in which every country acted was directed by the national interest in the context of an inevitable war, the Second World War. From this point-of-view it can be said that by overlooking the mass killings authorized and conducted by Stalin and the Soviet leadership, the western countries ensured the Russian support against the Japanese and German opposition.

Part 1: Introduction

Thesis

The present paper will assess the degree in which the Soviet rule managed to undergo a massive purge in the years preceding World War Two without being controlled or stopped by any additional forces such as the Western countries. Indeed, the entire array of events should and must be placed in a historical background for the era; therefore, the paper will deal initially with the situation in Europe and in Russia in particular in order to include the actions of the Russian side in a wider environment of political actions. In addition, the discussion will focus on the way in which the U.S. In particular chose to deal with the situation that was taking place in the 1937-8 Russia although there was no lack of proper information regarding this aspect.

There has been a lot of debate around the subject of misinformation, misinterpretation, and even on the lack of information concerning the events that took place in the U.S.S.R. However, there is evidence that although the public opinion was little aware of the massive killings, the political leaders refused to take into account the constant messages sent from the Soviet Union. Therefore, the question arises over the actual reasons for which the Western world refused to consider and even act against the atrocities. More precisely, the paper discusses the issue of whether the U.S. ignored Stalin's crimes for its own political and diplomatic purposes. In this sense, the thesis is that indeed, the United States refused to use its political and diplomatic tools to prevent the killings and intervene to stop them.

Historiography

There are various opinions on the way in which the U.S. behaved as a result of the U.S.S.R.'s "Great Purge" of the late 30s. Firstly, there are historians who argue the fact that Stalin's actions were either misinterpreted or justified by the historical circumstances. Moreover, it was considered that the events of the time had been the subject of subjective interpretation. In this sense, the Hungarian born historian, Rittersporn argued that there has been little research done in this area and for this period, a fact which weights heavily of the accuracy of the facts from that period. More precisely, he argues that "If... one tries to publish a tentative analysis of some almost totally unknown material, and to use it to throw new light on the history of the Soviet Union in the 1930s and the part that Stalin played in it, one discovers that opinion tolerates challenges to the received wisdom far less than one would have thought.... The traditional image of the "Stalin phenomenon" is in truth so powerful, and the political and ideological value-judgments which underlie it are so deeply emotional, that any attempt to correct it must also inevitably appear to be taking a stand for or against the generally accepted norms that it implies" (1991, 23). Therefore it can be argued that there is a certain lack of information or willingness to acquire the information that determines a negative or positive outlook on the issue.

Secondly, there have been discussions on the validity of the charges Stalin had brought on the ones he executed, tried, and convicted to decades in jail. In this sense, taking into account the fact that the Great Purge officially came as a result of a military insurrection, the official motivation for the start of the massacre was related to the bringing about the order in the country and destroying the enemies of the system which were sabotaging the upper levels of leadership. Therefore, presentations of that period underline the presence of subversive actions. Thus, "this party apparat, which should be helping the party, not infrequently puts itself between the party masses and the party leaders, and still further increases the alienation of the leaders from the masses" (Getty 1985, 137).

By comparison, there are views which see the actual conditions of the killings and of the mass murders. Thus, a former Belgian officer who analyzed the process of the Great Purge pointed out the fact that "Stalin would use methods that would have appalled Lenin. The Georgian had no trace of human sentiment. Starting with Kirov's assassination (in 1934), the Soviet Union underwent a bloodbath, presenting the spectacle of the Revolution devouring its own sons. Stalin, said Deutscher, offered to the people a regime made of terror and illusions. Hence, the new liberal measures corresponded with the flow of blood of the years 1936 -- 1939. It was the time of those terrible purges, of that 'dreadful spasm'. The interminable series of trials started. The 'old guard' of heroic times would be annihilated. The main accused of all these trials was Trotsky, who was absent. He continued without fail to lead the struggle against Stalin, unmasking his methods and denouncing his collusion with Hitler" (Bernard, 1982, 52-3) Therefore, his argument for the purge was different from Rittersporn's who considered the causes to justify the consequences.

Part 2: Stalin's crimes

The Great Purges were by no means a spontaneous affair. The main causes of the oppressive measures that were imposed in 1936 and 1937 had been the results of a struggle for power which had its roots in the Russian Revolution which overthrew the Tsarist regime at the end of the First World War. In this sense, it can be argued that the revolution had encourage the creation of an important ideological difference that influenced greatly the way in which Russian politics would be later on conducted. Thus, "it was itself a means of enforcing violent change upon that society and that party. But all the same, it could not have been launched except against the extraordinarily idiosyncratic background of Bolshevik rule; and its special characteristics, some of them hardly credible to foreign minds, derive from a specific tradition. The dominating ideas of the Stalin period, the evolution of the oppositionists, the very confessions in the great show trials, can hardly be followed without considering not so much the whole Soviet past as the development of the Party, the consolidation of the dictatorship, the movements of faction, the rise of individuals, and the emergence of extreme economic policies" (Conquest, 1991, 3). Therefore, it can be said that the means used to erase the possible political challenge coming from the forces opposing the Communist regime were the direct result of the fact that Stalin and his supporters were determined to avoid any possible overthrow or subversive action of and against the regime.

There are various reasons considered to have been the cause of the Great Purges of the late 30s in the U.S.S.R. An important yet difficult to accept justification of the Soviet actions was the instilment of fear among the population. In this sense, it is considered by historians that "the purges affected everybody from the Politburo member down to the street cleaner" (Thurston, 1986, 214) Moreover, it is argued at the same time that the most important impact the purges had was on the country's elites (Thurston, 1986, 214). The effects were on the common people in particular however, as "the fear and distrust the purge engendered kept Stalin firmly in control until his death years later, and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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