Saturday, August 31, 2019

More than Half of All Russians Think World War II Began Only When Hitler Invaded the USSR

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 29 – Fifty-two percent of Russians, according to a new VTsIOM poll, say that World War II began not with the Japanese attacks on China in the 1930s or Germany’s on Poland in September 1939 but only in 1941 when Hitler attacked the Soviet Union (

            Only 32 percent of them say the war began in 1939, with six percent giving other dates, and the remainder not specifying any year at all.  Most identify correctly the Soviet Union’s main allies -- the US (59 percent), Great Britain (53 percent) and France (3 percent) – and its main enemies – Germany (77 percent), Japan (38 percent), and Italy (29 percent).

            But five percent say that the United States was an opponent of the Soviet Union, and three percent identify the UK as such. Not surprisingly, the Russian polling agency did not ask or report how many Russians identified Nazi Germany as a Soviet ally in that conflict although Moscow was between August 1939 and June 1941.

            Significantly, however, four percent said the conclusion of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was a cause of the outbreak of the war. In addition, ten percent said that the war was caused by Germany’s desire to occupy Russia, while 14 percent said the conflict was a struggle for resources and seven percent, the result of disagreements among the major powers.

            On the one hand, these responses represent the inevitable myopia of citizens of any country who tend to think of all world events through the lens of their own national experience, although most Americans, even though they know the US did not become a combatant until after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor know very well that the war began before that in 1939.

            But on the other, given that the Kremlin seeks to maintain a much closer focus on that conflict than do most other governments, the Russian responses also suggest that Moscow has been remarkably successful in whiting out the Soviet role between 1939 and 1941 and thus helping to contribute to the acceptance of Putin’s notion of a single stream of Russian history.

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