The Great Famine-Genocide in Soviet Ukraine (Holodomor)

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WHEN DEMOCRACIES GAMBLE
  

"Contrary to what many over-confident American commentators now seem to assume, there is no automatic guarantee in history that democracies or other 'good guys' always win. If they did, there would have been no World War II Holocaust of the Jewish people, no 1929-1932 famine-genocide of the Ukrainian people at the hands of Josef Stalin, no starving of 25 million Chinese to death in Mao Zedong's "Great Leap Forward" in 1958-62"

 

Commentary By Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst, United Press International(UPI)
Washington, D.C., Thursday, June 5, 2003

WASHINGTON, June 5 (UPI) -- June is a month for democracies to celebrate the victories that ensured their survival.

Friday, June 6 was the 59th anniversary of D-Day.

Thursday, June 5 was the 36th anniversary of the start of the Israeli-Arab Six Day War.

And Wednesday, June 4 was the 61st anniversary of the Battle of Midway. More than dates connected these anniversaries. For all these battles were cliffhanging military gambles fought against frightening odds by embattled democracies.

Ukraine (above, thousand-year-old domes in Kyiv) has a long history but was permanently scarred by Stalin, who killed as many as 7 million in a famine created to force peasants off their land
(Photo: AP / CBS)

With the benefit of hindsight decades later, all three victories seemed deceptively foreordained. But they were no such thing. Those troops who fought them on air, land and sea, and the civilian populations who observed them from afar had feared far different outcomes, and many of them gave thanks to divine providence afterwards when the astounding successes became known.

Winston Churchill opposed and delayed the D-Day landings as long as he could. Churchill, who had seen his political career crushed by the bloodbaths at Gallipoli in 1915, was haunted, as he told friends, by visions of the English Channel stained red with the blood of slaughtered Allied soldiers should D-Day fail.

Israel's founding father, David Ben-Gurion, did not want his nation to go it alone on June 5, 1967 when it was surrounded by a ring of steel, with Egypt's President Gamal Abdel Nasser leading a chorus that the Jewish state was about to be destroyed. Israel Army Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin, one of the key architects of the victory, collapsed from worry and overwork as the battle loomed.

And at Midway, U.S. Pacific Commander-in-Chief Adm. Chester Nimitz, backed by President Franklin Roosevelt, sent the bedraggled remnants of a U.S. Fleet that had survived Pearl Harbor by blind luck -- or divine providence -- against a Japanese navy that had just shown itself invincible across almost half the surface area of the globe, winning every battle it had ever fought in the Pacific and Indian oceans.

Each battle proved the contention of Prussian Field Marshal Helmut Von Moltke the Elder -- arguably the greatest general of the 19th century -- that luck is only given to the efficient.

The U.S. Navy aircrews at Midway showed suicidal bravery two and half years before Japan launched its kamikaze attacks. Entire squadrons of torpedo bombers flew in to be totally slaughtered as defenseless sitting ducks by the pouncing Japanese Zeroes.

But by blind luck -- or providence -- two dive-bomber groups from the U.S. aircraft carriers Enterprise and Hornet arrived over the Japanese fleet at the very moment its own fighter cover had been distracted down to sea level.

In less than five minutes, three of the four carriers in the Japanese fleet had been transformed into flaming pyres. Midway, fought literally at the very middle of World War II -- although no one, of course, could know that at the time -- also proved to be a key strategic pivot of the entire struggle.

The Israeli Air Force enjoyed perfect weather conditions and total surprise when it destroyed hundreds of Arab aircraft neatly parked on runways at airbases throughout Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Jordan in the early morning hours of June 5, 1967. But the IAF, under its legendary commanders Ezer Weizman -- later president of Israel -- and Mordechai Hod had trained obsessively for this mission, defined as crucial to the nation's survival, for years.

The invasion of Europe in June 1944 was launched across a treacherous strait that had seen no full-scale attack against a defended shoreline succeed in almost 900 years, since the Norman Invasion of England in 1066. And it was undertaken against what was still rated as the most formidable combat army -- in both attack and defense -- in modern world history. On top of all that, one of the worst summer storms on record lashed the English Channel on June 5 -- the original planned date. Even when the invasion unexpectedly -- many believed miraculously -- succeeded, no one knew how long the lull in the weather would last.

Allied Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower did not share Churchill's pessimistic fears. But even he drafted a statement in advance, taking full personal responsibility if the invasion should catastrophically fail. For a few nightmarish hours on Omaha Beach -- traumatically recreated by movie director Steven Spielberg in his classic "Saving Private Ryan" -- it really looked as if that might happen.

Contrary to what many over-confident American commentators now seem to assume, there is no automatic guarantee in history that democracies or other "good guys" always win. If they did, there would have been no World War II Holocaust of the Jewish people, no 1929-1932 famine-genocide of the Ukrainian people at the hands of Josef Stalin, no starving of 25 million Chinese to death in Mao Zedong's "Great Leap Forward" in 1958-62.

Nor did democracy prevent the Israelis being caught entirely by surprise by the Egyptian and Syrian armies at the start of the 1973 Israel-Arab War, or the United States finally pulling its forces out of Vietnam and leaving Southeast Asia to the tender mercies -- they had none -- of the Viet Cong and the Khmer Rouge in the mid-1970s.

But in a still nightmarishly dangerous world, the military anniversaries of June offer hope to democratic societies that, just when the days are darkest and hope is most despairing, the victories that ensure survival can yet come -- against all odds.


United Press International (UPI), Washington, D.C., June
http://www.upi.com/view.cfm?StoryID=20030605-124032-3443
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