What’s wrong with this picture?

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By The Staff

At the National D-Day Memorial, General of the Army George C. Marshall, VMI graduate, Roosevelt’s Army Chief of Staff and “the true organizer of victory” in Churchill’s words, is honored with a plaque in the Gray Plaza along with plaques memorializing the commanders of U.S. V and VII Corps.

    At the National D-Day Memorial, Joseph Stalin, Hitler’s early ally, who, with Hitler, invaded and dismembered Poland in 1939 thus becoming with Hitler the co-architect of WWII, is to be given a prominently located sculpture, a bust.

    What’s wrong with this picture? A bust connotes eminence in a way that a mere plaque does not, regardless of contextual explanations and justifications. Thus, irrespective of the contorted logic being used to justify emplacement of this bust, the sculpture becomes, in essence, a validation of an erstwhile Nazi ally whose military, political, economic and agricultural assistance to Hitler in 1939-40 enabled Hitler to invade and occupy western Europe as well as Poland. Stalin’s alliance with Hitler, kept secret at first, morally trumps his position as a head of state deserving a bust. And since it was the partnership of Roosevelt and Churchill that drove the western challenge to the Axis, their depictions on busts are highly appropriate.

    The overarching importance of Stalin’s early collusion with Hitler is revealed in the starkest terms by Mart Laar, former Prime Minister of Estonia, in an Op-Ed piece titled “Stalinism Was Just as Bad as Nazism,” published by The Wall Street Journal on August 7, 2008: “In this period [1939-40], Stalin was a most devoted ally of Hitler. Without Soviet oil and grain, Hitler would probably not have survived the first year of the war. Stalin even ordered European communists not to help their governments fight against Hitler. In occupied countries, Poland for example, the Nazi Gestapo and Soviet NKVD worked hand in hand” as they engaged in mass killings and deportations. The former Prime Minister adds that “only when the two totalitarian leaders could not agree how to divide the world did war between them come.”

    The bust of Stalin also validates the work of the genocidal tyrant who was responsible for the slaughter of at least 30 million innocents, some of them Polish and British officers murdered in Poland and other Soviet-controlled areas, and later on, some Allied airmen unfortunate enough to have had to bail out over Red Army-occupied sectors. In his book “No Simple Victory: World War II in Europe, 1939-1945” (Penguin Books, 2008), British historian Norman Davies says this: “The war in Europe was dominated by two evil monsters, not by one. Each of the monsters consumed the best people in its territory before embarking on a fight to the death for supremacy.”  For $17, the management and Board of the D-Day Memorial might have learned a few salient facts about the devastating effects down the years of the Stalin-Hitler alliance from Davies, a professor emeritus at London University and a Fellow of the British Academy and the Royal Historical Society.

    Stalin’s work did not end with the unconditional surrender of the Axis in 1945. Not wasting any time, Stalin commenced the Cold War as early as September 1945. This war ended only in 1991, or 46 years after WWII. Korea and Vietnam are but two stark legacies of death and destruction traceable directly to Stalin and his heirs.

    No academic “contexualization” or parsing of Stalin’s role after he conveniently switched sides to join the Allied effort can erase the simple fact that Hitler and Stalin together launched WWII, a war that General Marshall was tasked by two Presidents—Roosevelt and later Truman—to win militarily, logistically, politically and diplomatically against terrible odds. Marshall was responsible for the successful planning, organization and execution of our combat operations at the highest level, and he did all this, including arguing strongly for the opening of a second front. Unlike Stalin, who was not trusted, Marshall was intimately involved in the support, planning and successful launch of Overlord—the second front. Stalin’s exclusion from the intricacies of Overlord is crystalline clear in the memoirs of Captain Harry C. Butcher, USNR, who was General Eisenhower’s Naval aide from 1942 to 1945. In Butcher’s book “My Three Years with Eisenhower” (Simon & Schuster, 1946), a war diary in real time, Butcher writes on April 8, 1944, or just two months prior to the June 6 Normandy landing, that “the time has come to inform the Russians of the D date for Overlord. . . . It has been agreed to send this information through the U.S. and British Missions at Moscow. It is simply that D-Day will be two or three days before or after June 1. . . . The exact beaches under attack are not to be given [to the Russians].” Thus, Stalin, unlike the other two Allied heads of state and Generals Marshall and Eisenhower, had virtually nothing to do with Overlord except having repeatedly begged for the opening of a second front and at the same time having agreed to prosecute a vigorous offensive on the Eastern Front to tie up German troops. He was informed only via channels shortly prior to Overlord; and most important, he was explicitly not told exactly where the assault landings were to occur. This is not historical revisionism. This is the real story of mistrust through experience that must be told.

    For his part, General Marshall was also responsible for developing, maintaining, managing and enhancing intra-Allied communication, understanding, cooperation and diplomacy at the highest levels under unimaginable pressure in an effort to attain victory and sustain the Allied edge, post-war. This foundation of intra-Allied solidarity, achieved in spite of continual Soviet efforts to the contrary, would prove vital not just during the war per se but afterward when Stalin and his heirs instigated the Cold War in an attempt to export the Soviet brand of terror, genocide, and tyranny to a devastated Europe, thence to Southeast and Southwest Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America where vestiges of this legacy exist in varying degrees to this day. By contrast, Marshall, a true exemplar of the best of the Greatest Generation, initiated the ambitious postwar reconstruction of Europe and rehabilitation of Germany into a democracy, a project that came to be known as the Marshall Plan. The Marshall Plan was intended to stabilize Europe in such a way that it could economically, politically, and militarily withstand Stalin’s menace. For Marshall’s efforts as a soldier-turned-statesman and Truman’s Secretary of State, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He’s the only soldier ever to have been so honored. All this is noted on the plaque in Marshall’s honor donated by VMI alumnus Elmon T. Gray.

    As Thomas H. Hendriksen, VMI alumnus, trustee of the George C. Marshall Foundation and Senior Fellow of the Stanford University Hoover Institution, remarked in a Roanoke Times Op-Ed piece on October 25, 2009, Marshall was “a towering figure of the 20th century. . . a pre-eminent soldier in America’s pre-eminent war, an internationally acclaimed statesman and above-reproach public servant.” In essence, Marshall’s actions during and after WWII validated the extremely high human cost of Allied victory that has been so well documented up to now at the D-Day Memorial. Thus it is General George C. Marshall, not Stalin, who deserves a bust prominently displayed near the entrance to the Memorial, as a symbol of our nation’s post-war commitment to the principles of peace, freedom, democracy and security superimposed at great human cost upon the ashes of a destroyed Europe, a Europe that in 1945 was already once again menaced, this time from Stalin’s Soviet Union.

    Today in the former Warsaw Pact countries, you can view bone yard after bone yard filled with the detritus of Stalin statuary— sculptures and other depictions of him that the newly liberated citizens of those nations wasted no time tearing down and pulverizing when the Soviet Bloc self-destructed in 1991. Yet, the National D-Day Memorial management and Board intend to erect a sculpture to Stalin in 2009! Taxpayers deserve far better, especially when the management and Board now seek a federal takeover of the troubled site.

    You might be interested to know that Stalin’s name is already mentioned in passing on a plaque narrating the Edward R. Stettinius Jr. Parade at the D-Day Memorial. This mention, in connection with Stalin’s participation at the Yalta Conference, is historically correct, and given Stalin’s actions, it is more than enough.  However, other acceptable additions that an informed Board might have considered in lieu of a Stalin bust are two small bas reliefs, one showing the participants at the Yalta Conference (Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin) and a second showing the participants at the Potsdam Conference (Truman, Churchill and his successor Atlee, Stalin).  In my opinion as a taxpayer and supporter of the Memorial who contributed to the promised-but-never-built “education center,” anything else besides these bare mentions will be an insult to the memory of people like Churchill, Roosevelt, General Marshall and all who fought and died to rid the world of the two genocidal tyrants—the co-architects of WWII— who introduced a supposedly civilized world to their mutually held obscene concept that certain people they didn’t regard as human or deserving of life on this Earth must be exterminated on a massive industrial scale.