Nov 27 2011

Caring for Imperial Russia’s Sick and Wounded Soldiers

I heard about a lot of interesting new work at the ASEEES conference this year, and one of the exciting things ASEEES was the way in which research at one panel complemented and extended research presented in an entirely different context. The way in which the Russian Empire handled the medical demands of war is one of those serendipitous moments.

I served as commenter on a panel loosely defined as veterans in Russian and Soviet history, but ended up being a wider ranging discussion on war and society in broad terms. One paper by Andrew Ringlee, a graduate student at North Carolina, looked at the Red Cross and its de facto role as the Russian Army’s medical service prior to World War I.

Though Ringlee’s research is still in its early stages, he has some intriguing findings. The Russian Red Cross might have been the largest and most significant of the various national chapters, and likewise might have invented the modern concept of disaster relief: stay tuned for the dissertation for full discussion of that point. On the specific question of the Russian military, the Russian Red Cross had its first experience handling sick and wounded soldiers in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, where its performance was remarkably good and well-regarded by the Russian educated public. Despite the normal frictions and difficulties we extent under such circumstances, the results were clearly positive. In 1904-05, however, the Russo-Japanese War proved quite different. The Red Cross was less effective, in part because of the remote theater of war and in part because the Russian Army’s failure to properly integrate the Red Cross into its planning. More importantly, the Russian public believed the Red Cross to have failed, and to have squandered its resources through incompetence and corruption.

What struck me about the story Ringlee told was the way in which the Russian high command expected its medical needs to be met by the Red Cross, and yet made no effort to integrate the Red Cross into its contingency planning or to provide it with the information and resources it would require to deal successfully with the challenges of war. Part of the reason seems to have been a deep official mistrust of Russian civil society. Though Ringlee has not yet taken his research into the First World War, there are clear parallels to the poisonous relationship between state and civil society we see in that period.

Peter Waldron (University of East Anglia) picked up the story in a roundtable on health and living standards in World War I and World War II by looking specifically at epidemic disease in the First World War. Many of the themes of Ringlee’s work–relatively successful efforts by Russian civil society to deal with a crisis, and tsarist indifference or hostility–were equally clear in Waldron’s.

Waldron provided a wealth of welcome data on the nature of disease in the war–of the five million hospitalized Russian soldiers during the war, just under half were there because of contagious disease. The biggest killer was cholera, which killed a third of all those it infected and accounted for 20% of all disease fatalities, but the most prevalent disease was typhoid. Despite the difficult conditions of wartime, Russian public health had made remarkable strides even since the 1890s. A cholera epidemic in 1892 had killed half of those it infected, rather than the third who succumbed during the war.

The pattern of disease is what we might predict: concentrated behind Russian front lines and in big cities, particularly Moscow. Though the precise reasons for this remain to be determined, Waldron found that while wounded soldiers were widely scattered around Russia, infected soldiers were concentrated in Moscow. It’s difficult to know what to make of this: given the city’s importance as an industrial and transportation center, and the huge numbers of vulnerable refugees in Moscow, dumping disease-carriers there would seem a really bad idea. This is hard to imagine as a result of deliberate policy. Of course, we are talking about Nicholas II, so deliberate policy is certainly a possibility.

In terms of the bigger theme, though, Waldron amply confirmed the pattern of the Russian state having a terrible time working effectively and productively with private initiatives. While Waldron did not discuss the Red Cross, he did bring in the Union of Towns, which had a great deal of responsibility for aiding the sick. Desperate for assistance, the Union of Towns begged for help in setting up hospitals, only to find the the tsarist government slow and grudging in its responses. In a remarkable range of circumstances, not simply care for sick and wounded soldiers, this seems to be the rule.

3 responses so far

Nov 21 2011

Voroshilov, Gamarnik and Yakir: The Troika

Published by DStone under 1930s, Stalin

At the annual meeting of the ASEEES (the organization-formerly-known-as-the-AAASS), I presented some preliminary research on the Great Purges in the Red Army, looking at the specific figure of Iona Yakir, then commander of the Kiev Military District. That made him one of the two men intended to bear the brunt of any future war in Europe, alongside the commander of the Belorussian Military District Ieronym Uborevich. In looking at the process of the purges in 1937, I found links back to the Red Army’s annual maneuvers, particularly the obscure 1933 Antoniny maneuvers of the then-Ukrainian Military District, and then the celebrated 1935 Kiev maneuvers.

Krasnaia zvezda devoted extensive coverage the 1935 maneuvers, which involved four corps, 65,000 men, 1000 tanks, and the drop of an entire paratroop regiment. One thing that jumped out at me from the visuals associated with that coverage was a particular emphasis on individual. As expected, Stalin’s puppet at the head of the Red Army Kliment Voroshilov figured prominently, but Iona Yakir, who’d be dead in two years, was almost as important. Even more surprisingly, there was a pronounced emphasis on a specific troika of individuals: Voroshilov, Yakir, and Ian Gamarnik (nicknamed “The Beard”), head of the Red Army’s Political Directorate.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s the front page of Krasnaia zvezda, 15 September 1935. This picture makes Voroshilov look quite Hitler-like, which is not intentional. It’s an artifact of the original photo, the scanning, and Voroshilov’s mustache, an attribute that seems characteristic of Stalin’s inner circle:

Gamarnik, Yakir, and Voroshilov, KZ 15 September 1935

Gamarnik, Yakir, and Voroshilov, KZ 15 September 1935

The next day we get the same three individuals, again on the front page:

Gamarnik, Voroshilov, and Yakir, KZ 16 September 1935

Gamarnik, Voroshilov, and Yakir, KZ 16 September 1935

And finally the next day a large shot from an interior page of the same three:

Gamarnik, Voroshilov, and Yakir, KZ 17 September 1935

Gamarnik, Voroshilov, and Yakir, KZ 17 September 1935

A couple things to note: there are lots of other high-ranking officials of the Red Army present in Kiev; those particular three are the ones chosen for emphasis. Tukhachevskii, in case you were wondering, is almost invisible. I’m still unclear on precisely how to interpret all this; that’s research still remaining to be done.

No responses yet

Jul 21 2011

You’re in trouble

Published by GlavKom (SPalmer) under Contemporary, Youtube

The following video surfaced this past week on Youtube in the context of President Dmitrii Medvedev’s recent efforts to reform and professionalize the country’s police force.

Its subject is Col. Aleksei Nikolaevich Isakov the (now former) deputy director of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the Lomonosov district (raion) of Lomonosov region (oblast) not far from St. Petersburg.

The video depicts the drunken colonel emerging from his office wearing only his MVD BVDs and…

No responses yet

Jun 21 2011

Shattering Myths

I seem to post a disproportionate number of pieces complaining about falsification of the problem of falsification of history, but I can’t help myself when I keep being fed new material. The latest evidence: an ITAR-TASS story (hat tip to Johnson’s Russia List) claiming in its headline that “Russian historians shatter WW II myths.”

Here’s the question: where in the piece is there a single specific example of a myth about the war that Russian historians have shattered? I say this not to demean the work of Russian historians, many of whom are doing fine research. I say it to point out a recurring aspect of Russian official and semi-official discourse on World War II, which is that it is plagued by evil-doing historians who mythologize and falsify the war. There’s never any specific indication of who exactly it is that is doing these terrible things, or of what exactly it is they say that is so awful and wrong.

2 responses so far

Jun 19 2011

Oswald Spengler, Marcus Aurelius, and PM Dawn

Published by DStone under Scholarship & Research

Not particularly Russian, but this does have some military history relevance . . .

In summer travels, I found myself stuck without a wide selection of reading material, but came across an old Modern Library edition of Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West. Since that’s a book far more often referenced than read, and I didn’t have lots of other options, I decided to plow through it.

The book lived down to my expectations. It’s positively Hegelian in its grand rhetorical flights of fancy about capital-H History, and in its impenetrable style. On the bright side, once you get the hang of what Spengler is up to, the book’s easy to skim through very quickly. I may comment on some of his substantive arguments anon, what struck me was a single line on p. 387 in the chapter on “Philosophy of Politics”:

The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious.

Thanks to a youthful flirtation with alternative rap, I recognized this as a line from PM Dawn’s 1991 song “Comatose.” I was pretty sure Spengler hadn’t stolen from PM Dawn, but I found it only slightly less surprising that PM Dawn was citing Spengler. To google I turned . . .

. . . to find to my surprise that the quotation is widely attributed to Marcus Aurelius (for example, here, here, here, and here), both in collections of military quotation and especially in business books. One organization even made it their official slogan, complete with a bust of Marcus Aurelius on the home page.

To add insult to injury, Marcus Aurelius wins the citation wars by a ratio of about 5:1 over Spengler.

The problem is that there’s no evidence that Marcus Aurelius ever uttered or wrote the words in question. It’s nowhere in his Meditations, and no one ever gives a real citation. The dubious prize for earliest misattribution to Marcus Aurelius (at least according to google books) goes to Jay Levinson and David Perry’s Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters.

Of course, in terms of the popularity of the quotation, Marcus Aurelius is a lot better than Spengler. The one is a philosophical emperor, one of the last good one the Romans had. The other was an obscurantist pessimist, and while not the Nazi he’s often painted as being, was no friend to democracy, capitalism, or liberalism. It’s tough to imagine management theorists being quite so eager to Spengler for inspiration.

One response so far

« Prev - Next »

Tourisme Dentaire Dental TourismTourisme DentaireProthese dentaireClinique dentaireFacette dentairesTourisme DentaireVoyage DentaireTourisme Dentaire Tourisme DentaireTourisme Dentaireizmir escortTourisme DentaireTourisme DentaireDental TourismTourisme DentaireDental TourismMedical Tourism Tourisme DentaireTourisme DentaireAntalya Web Tasarim