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A New History of World War II
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World War II endures in the popular imagination as a heroic struggle between good and evil, with villainous Hitler driving its events. But Hitler was not in power when the conflict erupted in Asia—and he was certainly dead before it ended. His armies did not fight in multiple theaters, his empire did not span the Eurasian continent, and he did not inherit any of the spoils of war. That central role belonged to Joseph Stalin. The Second World War was not Hitler’s war; it was Stalin’s war.
Drawing on ambitious new research in Soviet, European, and US archives, Stalin’s War revolutionizes our understanding of this global conflict by moving its epicenter to the east. Hitler’s genocidal ambition may have helped unleash Armageddon, but as McMeekin shows, the war which emerged in Europe in September 1939 was the one Stalin wanted, not Hitler. So, too, did the Pacific war of 1941–1945 fulfill Stalin’s goal of unleashing a devastating war of attrition between Japan and the “Anglo-Saxon” capitalist powers he viewed as his ultimate adversary.
McMeekin also reveals the extent to which Soviet Communism was rescued by the US and Britain’s self-defeating strategic moves, beginning with Lend-Lease aid, as American and British supply boards agreed almost blindly to every Soviet demand. Stalin’s war machine, McMeekin shows, was substantially reliant on American materiél from warplanes, tanks, trucks, jeeps, motorcycles, fuel, ammunition, and explosives, to industrial inputs and technology transfer, to the foodstuffs which fed the Red Army.
This unreciprocated American generosity gave Stalin’s armies the mobile striking power to conquer most of Eurasia, from Berlin to Beijing, for Communism.
A groundbreaking reassessment of the Second World War, Stalin’s War is essential reading for anyone looking to understand the current world order.
A Note on Dates, Names, Translation, and Transliteration
THE SECOND WORLD War, like the First, wrought havoc with place names, as cities and regions changed hands between empires, from empires to nation-states, and sometimes back into empires again. Moscow somehow escaped the nomenclature revolution, but this is one mercy among endless headaches. With most other cities, I have used the common contemporary form with modern usage in parentheses, thus Danzig (Gdańsk). In more politically sensitive cases, I have offered three or even four versions on first usage, as in Cernâuti (Chernovitsyi/Chernivtsi) or Lwów (Lemberg/Lvov/Lviv).
For Russian-language words, I have used the Library of Congress transliteration system in the source notes, with a somewhat simplified version in the main text, in which I avoid most “hard” and “soft” signs (e.g., Kharkov not Khar’kov) and make certain exceptions for common spellings of surnames (e.g., Trotsky not Trotskii, Rokossovsky not Rokossovskii, Belyaev not Beliaev). The idea is to make it as easy as possible for English readers to sound out Russian names, and also to remember them. For Bulgarian names and sources, I have followed the Library of Congress system for Cyrillic to the extent this was possible, with a few exceptions where Bulgarian differs from Russian, in which case I have done my best to capture the sound of the words. It is impossible to be consistent in all these things; may common sense prevail.
All translations from the French, German, Russian, Bulgarian, and Turkish, unless I am citing another translated work or note otherwise, are my own.
BEFORE THE STORM
The Main Currents of Soviet Foreign Policy, 1917–1938
THE UNION OF Soviet Socialist Republics was a state like no other. From its earliest days, the “world’s first proletarian government” defined itself in opposition to the existing capitalist states of the world. By repudiating all of the sovereign treaty and debt obligations of formerly Tsarist Russia in February 1918, Vladimir Lenin’s revolutionary government effectively set itself up as an outlaw, outside—or above—the entire international system, bound only by its devotion to the global proletariat and the world revolution, not to shopworn, bourgeois concepts such as treaties and the rule of law. As Lenin explained with characteristic bluntness in his pamphlet denouncing the now-outmoded “petty bourgeois mentality” in May 1918, “If war is waged by the proletariat after it has conquered the bourgeoisie in its own country, and is waged with the object of strengthening and extending socialism, such a war is legitimate and ‘holy.’”1
Understandably, the Western capitalist powers against whom Lenin’s vituperation was directed—Britain, France, and the United States—responded in kind to the Bolshevik default, freezing Russian assets abroad and refusing to recognize Lenin’s outlaw regime. This subtraction from the international system of what had, before 1914, been one of the world’s largest and most dynamic economies would in itself have a profound impact on the financial frailty of the post-1918 world, capping off the economic devastation of the First World War, from damage to infrastructure and trade to debt-fueled inflation. Before the October Revolution of 1917, Russia had been allied to these Western nations, which held the bulk of its foreign debt, in the Great War and had been bound by the London convention of September 1914 not to sign a separate peace treaty with the Central powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary, later joined by the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria). When Lenin’s diplomats signed just such a treaty with the victorious Germans at Brest-Litovsk in March 1918, this provided still more confirmation for the Allies of the lawless nature of Lenin’s regime. By sending troops to aid Lenin’s opponents in the nascent Russian Civil War, the Western Allies also provided confirmation for the binary, us-against-them mentality of Bolshevik foreign policy.
Of course, despite mutual antipathy between Bolshevik Russia and the capitalist powers, the conduct of diplomacy often had to be tempered by practical considerations. Such was certainly the case at Brest-Litovsk, where Lenin had authorized his diplomats to sign a punitive treaty with Germany and the other Central powers with scarcely concealed contempt for those capitalist regimes. (En route to the negotiations, Russians were witnessed throwing propaganda leaflets from the train at German soldiers.) To force Lenin’s hand, German warplanes even bombed Petrograd in early March 1918, prompting the commissar of foreign affairs, Leon Trotsky, to petition the Western Allies for help against the invading Germans—first asking France for logistical assistance in relocating the capital from Petrograd to Moscow, then issuing a conditional invitation for British marines to land at the northern Arctic port of Murmansk to protect war supplies, and finally broaching the idea, soon dropped, that British and American officers might help train the new Red Army. The Brest-Litovsk agreement between the early Soviet government and the Central powers was marked by cynicism on both sides.2
Despite the confusing twists and turns of early Bolshevik diplomacy necessitated by the weakness of Lenin’s regime in 1918, a telltale pattern of Soviet diplomatic practice was emerging. There may have been a temporary convergence of interest between Lenin and the Western Allies after Brest-Litovsk, which led to Trotsky’s conditional olive branches to the Allies, but the fundamental hostility between the two sides was revealed as soon as these circumstances changed. The same was true of relations between Lenin and the Central powers. Far from being a loyal German agent (as many Allied critics believed because of his acceptance of German funds and logistical support prior to the October Revolution), Lenin agreed to German terms at Brest-Litovsk in March 1918 only to win time, and he repudiated those terms with perfect impunity as soon as he learned of the German collapse on the western front at the end of September. The Brest-Litovsk Treaty, a German diplomat reported from Moscow on October 10, “is a dead letter. Our influence with the Bolsheviks is completely exhausted. They do with us now what they wish.” With schadenfreude, Bolshevik diplomats celebrated Germany’s comeuppance by confiscating German diplomatic bags in Moscow and Petrograd; in the bags, they found (and helped themselves to) 250 million Tsarist rubles. The same was true of Soviet encouragement of autonomy for national minorities, such as Finns, Poles, and Ukrainians. This policy was embodied in a decree on the “Rights of the Peoples of Russia to Self-Determination” signed by Lenin and his nationalities commissar, Josef Stalin, in November 1917, when the Bolsheviks still wished to break up the Tsarist empire. Once his government was strong enough, Lenin fought to bring these peoples back under Soviet control—succeeding in the case of Ukraine, although not with Finland, which preserved its independence in the Russian Civil War, or with Poland, which defeated the Red Army in 1920 and expanded its borders eastward into Soviet Ukraine, well past the Curzon Line endorsed by the Entente powers at Versailles in 1919.3
Treaties signed with capitalist powers, such as the diktat peace imposed by Germany at Brest-Litovsk, were seen as temporary truces, valid only so long as they served Soviet interests, or when the Soviets were too weak to break them. This was equally true of Soviet agreements with the Western Allies, such as Trotsky’s invitation for Allied troop landings in March 1918, which was later expunged from memory as the Bolsheviks mythologized a conspiratorial “Allied intervention” to strangle Lenin’s infant regime. As early as June 27, 1918, Georgii Chicherin, Trotsky’s successor as commissar of foreign affairs, issued a formal protest against the “invasion of the English armed force” at Murmansk, notwithstanding the fact that the English had been invited there by Trotsky as a result of the German military occupation of western Russia.4
The same pattern of opportunistically playing hostile capitalist factions against each other could be observed in Soviet diplomatic practice after the Allies withdrew from Russia. As Lenin explained to a party congress in late November 1920, shortly after the rout of the last White forces in the Russian Civil War: “If we are obliged to tolerate such scoundrels as the capitalist thieves, each of whom is preparing to plunge a knife into us, it is our direct duty to make them turn their knives against each other.” Thus, the Anglo-Soviet Trade Agreement, which a Bolshevik team signed in London in March 1921, seemed to signal a long-awaited thaw in relations between Moscow and the victorious Western powers. Keen to open up the Soviet market to English exports of wool and weapons after Britain had sunk into a postwar industrial depression, Prime Minister David Lloyd George had forfeited his leverage up front by refusing to demand repayment of the Russian loan and equity obligations that Lenin had repudiated in the 1918 default. Exports were indeed stimulated, until the Bolsheviks spent the last of the Tsarist gold bullion they had seized in the revolution, leaving the Soviet government effectively broke. But when the Allies refused to extend Moscow new loans at a conference in Genoa in April 1922, the Bolsheviks reached a more favorable deal with Germany at a hotel in nearby Rapallo, in which Berlin extended a credit line to the Soviets while allowing Lenin to repudiate outstanding Western debt claims for good. The Treaty of Rapallo, which included a secret clause allowing German industrialists to manufacture and test new weapons on Soviet Russian territory, evading the prohibition on German rearmament imposed by the Versailles Treaty, exacerbated tensions between the Germans and the Allies yet again.5
While many Western statesmen were shocked by such duplicitous Soviet behavior, Lenin never really made a secret of the ruthless hostility driving Communist relations with the outside world. “As long as capitalism and socialism exist,” he proclaimed at a Moscow party congress on November 26, 1920, “we cannot live in peace: in the end, one or the other will triumph—a funeral dirge will be sung either over the Soviet Republic or over world capitalism.” The lesson for Soviet foreign policy was clear. “Until the final victory of socialism in the whole world,” Lenin explained, “we must exploit the contradictions and opposition between two imperialist power groups, between two capitalist groups of states, and incite them to attack each other.” Soviet statesmen should strive to increase tensions between rival coalitions in the capitalist world: a new “rift between the Entente and Germany” would surely open at some point. No less promising, in Lenin’s view, was the “future Japanese-American war” for capitalist “supremacy” in the Pacific, for the “right to loot”: “They want to fight, they will fight.” In the initial stages of a global capitalist war breaking out in Europe or Asia, it would be best for Communists to stay on the sidelines while the belligerents exhausted themselves. “As soon as we are strong enough to defeat capitalism as a whole,” Lenin vowed, “we shall immediately take it by the scruff of the neck.”6
As Lenin’s brutal remarks suggest, the true face of Soviet foreign policy was revealed not in the day-to-day activity log of the foreign and trade commissariats, where officials could be as pragmatic as they pleased so long as the agreements they signed served short-term Soviet interests, but in the machinations of the Third International, or Communist International (Comintern), formed in March 1919. Following the lead of Marx’s own First International (1864–1876), and the better-organized yet ultimately ineffectual Second International (1889–1914), which had failed to prevent the outbreak of the “imperialist war” of 1914–1918, the Comintern was explicitly devoted to world revolution and the overthrow of existing capitalist governments. The twenty-one conditions of membership, imposed on national Communist parties functioning as sections of the Executive Committee of the Communist International (ECCI) in Moscow, divided up party organizations into legal and illegal branches, with the latter functioning as shadow Communist governments ready to take power, come the revolution (condition two). With an eye on the Bolsheviks’ own hostile takeover of the Russian Imperial Army via Lenin’s defeatist “peace platform” in 1917, condition four required Communist parties to carry out “persistent and systematic propaganda and agitation among the armed forces, and Communist nuclei must be formed in every military unit.” Another critical condition (number fifteen) required national Communist parties to “render selflessly devoted assistance” to the USSR (and to any future Communist governments) “in its struggle against counter-revolutionary forces,” to urge workers to sabotage any efforts by their governments to “transport war materials to [the Soviet Union’s] enemies,” and to “carry on legal or illegal propaganda among the armed forces that are sent to strangle the workers’ republic.”7
In this way, a dangerous virus was injected into the international system, with political parties in every significant country in the world devoted to routinely sabotaging (and ultimately overthrowing) their own governments while in the paid service of a foreign power, the USSR. Making Soviet influence operations still more explosive, the Bolsheviks had inherited Europe’s largest gold reserves from the Tsarist regime—until they were depleted in February 1922 to pay for English wool and high-end military imports—along with a bottomless supply of looted jewelry and diamonds in the vaults of the Moscow Gokhran, or central treasury of valuables.8
Although the Communist-subversion virus remained latent in most countries, most of the time, it spread quickly in the ravaged lands of the defeated powers of the First World War. It spread to Hungary, where a copycat Soviet regime was installed in 1919 by Bela Kun, a veteran of the Russian Civil War, and to Germany, where Communist or Communist-inspired uprisings erupted in early 1919 in Berlin and in Munich in March 1921 and again in October 1923. Although these uprisings ultimately failed, they had the important side effect of inspiring the völkisch-nationalist reaction (especially in Bavaria), which culminated in Nazism. In this way, Communist subversion of foreign governments, by fueling political extremism on both left and right, drove the dialectical process that (in the Marxist-Leninist view) would lead to the inevitable triumph of Communism. As Lenin’s nationalities commissar, Josef Stalin, explained in an important treatise in 1919:
The world has definitely and irrevocably split into two camps: the camp of imperialism and the camp of socialism. Over there, in their camp, are America and Britain, France and Japan, with their capital, armaments… and experienced administrators. Here, in our camp, are Soviet Russia and the young Soviet republics and the growing proletarian revolution in the countries of Europe, without capital, without… experienced administrators, but, on the other hand, with experienced agitators capable of firing the hearts of working people.… The struggle between these two camps constitutes the hub of present-day affairs.9
To the disappointment of Lenin and Stalin, the revolutionary mood in Europe slowly dissipated after the failure of the Communists’ “German October” and of Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch in November 1923, owing in part to a new arrangement on German war reparations payments (the Dawes Plan), which helped curb the hyperinflation plaguing Germany and Central Europe and thereby lessened the appeal of extremist parties and groups. On the bright side, the reduction of international tensions helped make possible a political rapprochement between Moscow and several of the former Entente powers after the first-ever Labour government in Britain, led by Ramsay MacDonald, recognized the Soviet Union in February 1924, a move followed swiftly by Italy and later that year by France. Even inside the Soviet Union, the radical, maximalist-socialist policies of War Communism (c. 1918–1921)—which abolished all private economic exchange, including the use of money—were abandoned under Lenin’s New Economic Policy in 1921, which allowed the re-legalization of private grain trade, retail, and even small-scale manufacturing. By the mid-1920s, the life-and-death struggle between the “two camps,” as Stalin had called them, seemed quiescent, if not abandoned entirely.
Still, despite the appearance of Communist moderation at home and the regularization of diplomatic relations, there was no genuine reconciliation between the Soviet regime and the capitalist governments it was devoted to destroying. Even in Britain, the country that had led the way in normalizing relations with Moscow—first on de facto terms in Lloyd George’s Anglo-Soviet Trade Agreement of March 1921 and then in the recognition by MacDonald’s Labour government—suspicion of Soviet motives ran high. Neither Lloyd George nor MacDonald had insisted on debt repayment, or on a binding commitment not to interfere in domestic British politics, as a condition of a deal with Moscow, and their failure to demand such concessions rankled British conservatives. In May 1927, a Tory-led government authorized a raid on the Soviet trade agency Arcos in London, which turned up enough evidence of Communist subversion in British politics to justify the breaking off of diplomatic relations for the next three years. Other capitalist powers that had seen the property of their citizens confiscated by the Communists, such as the Netherlands, Switzerland, Yugoslavia, and the United States, remained aloof from the USSR, refusing to recognize the Bolsheviks’ outlaw regime all through the 1920s.10
In a sign of intent, Comintern propagandists spent much of 1927—a relatively peaceful and prosperous year, during which it seemed that the miseries of the postwar years had been overcome even in Germany, where voters had lost interest in Nazi and Communist extremism—drumming up hysteria about the “Menacing War Danger Against the Soviet Union,” a war scare used to justify the massive rearmament drive of the first Five-Year Plan, launched in 1928.i Without a hint of subtlety, the Comintern’s propaganda mastermind, a Lenin comrade from wartime Switzerland named Willi Münzenberg, launched a Comintern periodical called, simply, The Coming War.11
This belligerent line was wholly to the liking of Josef Stalin, the nationalities commissar who had emerged, after Lenin’s death in January 1924, as general secretary of, and the dominant figure in, the Soviet Communist Party. More cautious in temperament than the mercurial Lenin, a man who preferred operating in the shadows, Stalin was a born street fighter, a veteran of countless skirmishes and brawls in which he had always come out on top.
Although a political animal who, like Lenin, was willing to adjust his policies to evolving circumstances, Stalin was just as certain of his fundamental worldview. Far from abandoning his “two camps” theory of international relations after the fall of Bela Kun’s Hungarian Soviet Republic in August 1919 and the failure of the German Communists to take power in 1919, 1921, and 1923, Stalin doubled down. In his first major work after Lenin’s death, Foundations of Leninism (1924), Stalin endorsed Lenin’s theory of “revolutionary defeatism,” by which Lenin had predicted that proletarian revolution would occur not because of the inexorable growth of class contradictions, as prophesied in Marx’s Das Kapital, but as a byproduct of “imperialist war,” as “the first of the countries to be vanquished” would then be the first to fall. Though a less elegant theoretician than Lenin, Stalin was just as clearheaded about the circumstances that enabled the improbable Bolshevik triumph in 1917. “Had the two chief coalitions of capitalist countries not been engaged in mortal combat during the imperialist war in 1917,” he wrote in January 1925, “had they not been clutching at each other’s throats… it is doubtful whether the Soviet power would have survived.”12
The lesson for the future of Communism was clear. Europe might have been calm in the mid-1920s, but any Marxist student of history knew that the peace between the “imperialist factions” was a precarious one. The losers of the last war, such as Germany, and even winners jealous of others’ greater winnings, such as Italy and Japan, were smoldering with resentment over the terms imposed by the victors at Versailles. “If war breaks out,” Stalin told the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1925, “we shall not be able to sit with folded arms. We will have to take action, but we shall be the last to do so. And we shall do so in order to throw the decisive weight on the scales, the weight that can turn the scales.”13
i. The only evidence of foreign “designs” that year was the breaking off of diplomatic relations by Great Britain and the crackdown by Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang on the Chinese Communist Party. In both cases, the paranoid rhetoric of Soviet agitprop was not only overblown but upside down, in that it was plainly Soviet influence operations in Britain and China that had sparked countermoves in London and Shanghai, rather than any putative British or Chinese designs on Soviet territory.
Stalin Makes His Mark
STALIN, BORN JOSEF Vissarionovich “Soso” Djugashvili in the Georgian village of Gori in 1878, was a man who usually knew what he wanted. He was caricatured by jealous rivals like Trotsky as a bland bureaucrat, a “grey blur,” or “Comrade Card Index,” but Stalin was a more interesting personality than this. Materials that became available after the fall of the Soviet Union show the young Stalin to have been intelligent and charismatic, even an accomplished poet, who wrote well-regarded verse in his native Georgian under the pen name Soselo. Although he was short (about five feet, five inches) and his face was flawed by pockmarks, Stalin cut a dashing figure as a Caucasian bandit chieftain whom many women found attractive. Above all, Stalin was ambitious and ruthless, a born Bolshevik in temperament who made his bones by organizing violent Caucasian robberies, most famously the great Tiflis heist of June 1907, when Stalin’s gang threw ten grenades at an armored cash convoy in broad daylight. According to Tsarist secret police (Okhrana) files, forty were killed and another fifty wounded in Stalin’s terrorist “spectacular,” which impressed Lenin and made Stalin’s name in the Bolshevik movement.1
In the jostling for power that followed Lenin’s death in January 1924, Stalin also proved an astute politician. Although some Western observers were surprised by the eclipse of the more famous Trotsky, who had been much better liked in European socialist circles than the fanatical Lenin, it was less than shocking for Soviet insiders, who knew that Trotsky, despite his fame and flamboyance, had little real constituency in the party. Trotsky’s CV was impressive, comprising high-profile public roles as commissar of foreign affairs and then of war, but he had made little effort to build a network of loyalists in the party, perhaps feeling that he did not need to. Trotsky was also a recent convert to Bolshevism, joining the party only in July 1917. As a perennial exile, he also had less experience in Russian politics than Stalin, who had toiled away inside the country during the war, doing battle with the Tsarist secret police.
The truth was that Trotsky was something of a dilettante. He was so out of touch with political currents that he failed to show up for Lenin’s funeral in 1924, a catastrophic error that allowed Stalin to reap the reward for organizing the elaborate rite, the embalming of the body, and the cult of personality that turned Lenin into a Communist deity, second only to Marx in the pantheon of Marxism-Leninism. By 1925, Trotsky was on the path to oblivion. Owing to his control of promotions and firings in the party’s Organizational Bureau (Orgburo), Stalin needed only two more years to sideline rivals in the Political Bureau (Politburo)—from Trotsky’s “left Communist” allies, Moscow and Leningrad party bosses Lev Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev, to the “right” deviationist Nikolai Bukharin, who wanted to abandon Trotsky’s doctrine of “permanent revolution” and grow gradually into “socialism in one country.” By the end of 1927, Stalin was supreme as general secretary of the Communist Party, if not yet a dictator.
With no rivals left, Stalin was now free to realize the promise of Lenin’s revolution while putting his own indelible stamp on Communism. Addressing the Fifteenth Communist Party Congress in December 1927, Stalin reminded his now-cowed comrades that Lenin had never intended his proto-capitalist compromises of the early 1920s to be permanent. The essential question of the Marxist dialectic, Stalin argued, was kto-kogo (who whom): Who would vanquish whom, socialism or capitalism? To resume the socialist offensive, Stalin proposed the forcible collectivization of agriculture at a Central Committee plenum in July 1928, as the first step toward a fully planned socialist economy. Significantly, the primary rationale he offered was to secure the USSR against military attack by building up a state-controlled grain reserve. A second was to sell grain abroad to finance imports of industrial equipment. In his speech launching the first Five-Year Plan in November 1928, Stalin thundered, “We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make up this gap in ten years. Either we do it, or they will crush us.”2
The foreign policy corollary of Stalin’s forced march to industrialization at home was the new “class against class” doctrine proclaimed at the congress of the Comintern in Moscow in summer 1928, which inaugurated the so-called Third Period. After the calm years of the mid-1920s, it was expected that “world capitalism” would enter a period of heightened contradictions and class struggle, which brought with it new dangers for Soviet Russia but also new opportunities for Communist expansion. As Stalin had argued back in 1926, “No matter what our successes… we cannot consider the land of the proletarian dictatorship guaranteed against dangers from without. So, in order to win conclusively, we must bring it about that the present capitalist encirclement is replaced by a socialist encirclement, that the proletariat is victorious in at least several more countries. Only then can our victory be considered final.”3
- “A provocative revisionist take on the Second World War...an accomplished, fearless, and enthusiastic ‘myth buster’...McMeekin is a formidable researcher, working in several languages, and he is prepared to pose the big questions and make judgments….The story of the war itself is well told and impressive in its scope, ranging as it does from the domestic politics of small states such as Yugoslavia and Finland to the global context. It reminds us, too, of what Soviet ‘liberation’ actually meant for eastern Europe….McMeekin is right that we have for too long cast the second world war as the good one. His book will, as he must hope, make us re-evaluate the war and its consequences.”—Financial Times
- “Brilliantly inquisitive.”—National Review
- “Sean McMeekin’s revisionist Stalin’s War: A New History of World War II isn’t just one of the most compelling histories written about the war this year, it’s one of the best ever. I doubt anyone who reads it will think about the Second World War in the same way.”—David Harsanyi, The Federalist's Notable Books of 2021
- “The volume is impressive even by the standard of histories of the second world war…The book is well researched and very well written. It puts forward new ideas and revives some old ones to challenge current mainstream interpretations of the conflict… a new look at the conflict, which poses new questions and, one should add, provides new and often unexpected answers to the old ones.”—Guardian
- “Indispensable… There are new books every year that promise ‘a new history’ of such a well-studied subject as World War II, but McMeekin actually delivers on that promise.”—Christian Science Monitor
- “McMeekin is a superb writer. There isn’t a boring page in the book. His familiarity with the archives of several countries is extraordinary.”—The Times (UK)
- “This remarkable book… meticulously researched, elegantly written… Stalin’s War is that rare thing: a book that forces us to think again, and to challenge our narrative of that most well-trodden subject.”—BBC History Magazine
- “Criticisms of the British for living in a Second World War past are frequent. Sean McMeekin, professor of history at Bard College and a talented scholar of the First World War, takes an alternative view by arguing that we are generally living in the wrong war. Drawing on an impressive array of international archives, McMeekin…directs attention to Soviet activity….The book is pertinent because of the extent to which modern cultural wars draw on historicised identities and historical controversies.”—The Critic (UK)
- “Based on a vast amount of research.”—Prospect (UK)
- “In considering the war from a global perspective and shifting the focus from a Eurocentric view, he [McMeekin] provides a refreshing corrective that takes in areas of the war often overlooked by westerners.” —The Spectator (UK)
“Fast-paced and well-written … A gifted writer and a talented polemicist.”
- “Impressively researched and well-written.”—Washington Examiner
“McMeekin writes well and has the language skills to comb through a huge amount of archival material… There is much interesting detail about allied supplies to Russia, the Warsaw Uprising of August 1944, the Soviet plunder of Germany in 1945, and the war with Japan.”
- “[A] well-written book…the product of massive research involving every detail of the war. Stalin is intimately painted in all his colours.”—Eurasia Review
- “The ambitious sweep of Hastings, Roberts and Beevor, but much else besides… McMeekin chooses to see Stalin as the central figure in the conflict, rather than Hitler.”—Ian Thomson, The Tablet
- “McMeekin’s book is, on top of making for great reading, a timely reminder that victory in a war does not end geopolitical competition and international conflict.”—Jakub Grygiel, Law & Liberty
- “Stalin’s War is a magnificent book and everyone interested in the causes and consequences of World War II—and what reasonable person could not be?—should read it.”—David Gordon, Mises Wire
- “An independent-minded and immensely learned historian, McMeekin demonstrates the extent of Soviet brutality and treachery before and during WWII.”—Paul Gottfried, Chronicles
- "McMeekin’s Stalin’s War is such a mind-blowing assault on the conventional narrative that I’m fairly certain it’s not even legal."—Austin Bramwell, former trustee of the National Review
- “In the eyes of many Russians today, the Soviet Union’s victory in World War Two still legitimizes Josef Stalin’s bloody dictatorship. In this brilliant and provocative history, Sean McMeekin takes on Stalin’s legend, demonstrating, among other things, that the Western allies, and especially the United States, were far more critical to Stalin’s victory than Soviet propaganda then or later would ever acknowledge. This book will change the way readers understand Stalin’s War.”—Walter Russell Mead, Global View Columnist, Wall Street Journal
- “Gripping, authoritative, accessible, and always bracingly revisionist.”—Simon Sebag Montefiore, author of Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar
- “Stalin’s War is above all about strategy: the failure of Roosevelt and Churchill to make shrewd choices as World War II played out. McMeekin brilliantly argues that instead of weighting the European and Pacific theaters to favor their own interests—and to weaken the inevitably antagonistic Soviet Union—FDR and Churchill left the most critical parts of Asia unguarded while they ground down the German army, a decision that favored Stalin's interests far more than their own. Roosevelt’s ‘Germany first’ strategy and the trillion dollars of Lend Lease aid he poured into Stalin's treasury would underwrite Soviet control of China and East Central Europe after 1945 and hatch a Cold War whose dire effects are with us still.”—Geoffrey Wawro, author of Sons of Freedom and director of the University of North Texas Military History Center
“Sean McMeekin’s new book fills a massive gap in the historiography of World War II. Based on exhaustive research in Russian and other archives, this examination of Stalin’s foreign policy explores fresh avenues and explodes many myths, perhaps the most significant being that of unwittingly exaggerated emphasis on ‘Hitler’s war.’ McMeekin shows conclusively that the two tyrants were equally responsible, both for the outbreak of war in 1939 and the appalling slaughter which ensued.”
- “Sean McMeekin’s approach in Stalin’s War is both original and refreshing, written as it is with a wonderful clarity.”—Antony Beevor, author of Stalingrad
- “A sweeping reassessment of World War II seeking to ‘illuminate critical matters long obscured by the obsessively German-centric literature’ on the subject....Yet another winner for McMeekin, this also serves as a worthy companion to Niall Ferguson’s The Pity of War, which argued that Britain should not have entered World War I. Brilliantly contrarian history.”—Kirkus
- “Historian McMeekin (The Russian Revolution) draws from recently opened Soviet archives to shed light on Stalin’s dark reasoning and shady tactics....Packed with incisive character sketches and illuminating analyses of military and diplomatic maneuvers, this is a skillful and persuasive reframing of the causes, developments, and repercussions of WWII.”—Publishers Weekly
- “Often thought of as 'Hitler's War,' the Second World War is here reexamined with Russian documents that only recently became available....The book pulls no punches in describing the many atrocities, including those against Poles and Germans, that Soviet troops committed....Thoroughly researched.”—Library Journal
- On Sale
- Apr 20, 2021
- Page Count
- 864 pages
- Basic Books