Armies fight, civilisations win

In 218 BC the mighty Carthaginian army led by Hannibal, one of history’s greatest generals, crossed the Alps and invaded Italy.

Soviet POWs, 1941

Rome’s army was weaker, her navy practically nonexistent, and yet Carthage didn’t stand a chance. For Rome’s was a proto-Western civilisation, already displaying many aspects of its glorious successor: inchoate liberty, individualism, rationalism, free expression, private initiative.

Carthage, by contrast, was what we today would describe as a totalitarian society. Moreover, it practised human sacrifice, which Romans regarded as monstrous.

Hence they preferred death to submission, for defeat spelled a triumph of evil, not just of a hostile power. And the head of Hannibal’s superior talents smashed against the stone wall of a superior civilisation and superior motivation.

That scenario has been played out many times throughout history. As it’s being played out now, in the Ukraine, with the Russian army displaying – and magnifying – every evil of Russian society.

The other day I listened to the tape of an intercepted phone conversation between a Russian soldier on the front line and his wife. We have nothing to eat, complained the grunt. Those who have any money manage to sneak out into town and buy some food. Others can only eat raw wheat they pick in the fields.

That little exchange suggested certain logistic problems in supplying the troops, which is by no means new in the history of Russian warfare. During the Second World War, for example, the Soviet army marched on American Spam and condensed milk, without which it would have starved. But this time around Western allies support the other side, which explains the diet of raw wheat.

Another throwback to that war, however, is more telling. In the same intercepted conversation, the Russian soldier says that his comrades are deployed in three lines, with him part of the second one.

Those in the first line are mostly convicts enlisted in prisons and raw recruits, there to provide a steady supply of cannon fodder. Since their commitment to acting in that capacity is apparently less than wholehearted, the soldiers in the second line have been ordered to “whack” (Putin’s favourite word) stragglers, deserters and simply those fleeing combat.

And, added the soldier, “there’s a third line behind us”, with the same orders. “So it’s impossible to run away,” he said. “We shoot our own.” He then used the word zagriadotriady, blocking detachments, and the ghost of the Second World War came wafting in.

For the term is familiar to any Russian who knows anything at all about the big war. At the beginning of it, Red Army soldiers felt reluctant to die for communism, the same regime that had murdered and imprisoned their families, robbed them of even meagre possessions, turned them into slaves. So they would desert, vanish in the vast forests and surrender en masse.

During the first four months of the war the Germans took 4,000,000 POWs (my father among them), which would have spelled a humanitarian disaster even for a civilised nation, never mind the Nazis.

No nation in the world would have been able to feed and house such throngs of humanity, especially since the Germans were under no obligation to do so: the USSR wasn’t a signatory to the Geneva Convention. As a result, 2.5 million Soviet POWs died in German captivity, and some 1.5 million switched sides to fight against Stalin – a pandemic of treason unprecedented in Russian or any other history.

Meanwhile, the Soviets had to suppress what was in fact a rebellion against their evil rule. They did so by relying on their default expedient: unrestricted violence. Military tribunals went into high gear passing verdicts, 2.5 million of them during the war. Of those convicted, 157,000 were shot – that’s 10 full divisions (by contrast, the Nazis executed just over 8,000 of their own soldiers during the war).

And then there were the zagriadotriady, NKVD troops deployed behind the front line to encourage martial valour with machinegun bursts aimed at anyone daring to retreat. How many were killed that way?

No one bothered to count. Definitely at least as many as those 157,000 executed by the documented verdicts of military tribunals. All in all, the Soviets inflicted greater losses on their own troops than the US suffered altogether when standing up to the combined might of Japan and Germany.

Both Japan and Germany have since divested themselves of the worst aspects of their civilisations. The Russians haven’t, and by using the term zagriadotriady that young soldier served a useful reminder.

Nor is it just the custom of mowing down their own retreating troops. After the regular Red Army was wiped out by the lightning strike of the Wehrmacht, the personnel holes thus formed were plugged by mobilising men of all ages and throwing them under the Nazi tanks untrained and practically unarmed.

Exactly the same is going on now, if on a smaller scale and with a modern twist. Over the past few weeks the Russians have mobilised about 300,000 recruits, some 85,000 of whom have already been thrown into the meat mincer of the frontline.

Reviving a feudal practice of centuries ago, many of them have to buy their own kit, including body armour, night vision scopes and supplies of tinned food. And, according to Putin himself, the recruits are thrown into battle after just a few days’ training. Many haven’t even had the chance to test fire their weapons before facing a well-trained and highly motivated Ukrainian army.

So far the Russians have suffered 210,750 casualties, 70 250 of them killed. Yet most of them happened before the current intake of ill-trained and ill-equipped recruits. It’s anyone’s guess how many of them will go back home in body bags, or how many will be killed by the zagriadotriady. Whatever that number will be, Putin and his henchmen won’t care.

They keep banging on about reviving “traditional values”, and for once they aren’t lying. For contempt for individual lives is one traditional value of the Russian civilisation, lovingly upheld even in peacetime.

As for war, burying the enemy under a mountain of Russian corpses is a time-honoured strategy, and Putin’s regime is true to its word. Russian tradition is in safe hands.

5 thoughts on “Armies fight, civilisations win”

  1. Over the past few weeks the Russians have mobilised about 300,000 recruits, some 85,000 of whom have already been thrown into the meat mincer of the frontline.

    And 700,000 more reservists beyond the initial intake are available. If a second mobilization is needed expect some big time unrest in Russia that even Vlad might not be able to control.

    Best bet for the Ukrainian is that Vlad’s rule will collapse? The Russian is said to have a capacity for “limitless suffering”? But nonetheless there is a limit?

  2. Very apt analogy Mr Boot, had always maintained that civilisation and goodness will win, for it HAS too – but now I’m not so sure. The Western world is imploding, our own leaders either craven or outright evil with the bureaucratic state full steam ahead. To see police in the UK protect street blocking protestors, offer them refreshments while threatening road users with arrest for trying to go about their day is chilling in its insanity. That is but one example of too many to document. The enemy is inside the gates, with its own army (bureaucrats) in a death-by-a-thousand cuts takeover.

    1. Contrast that to the protestors who glued themselves to the floor of the Porsche museum in Wolfsburg. The staff of the museum closed up, turning off the lights and heat. The protestors called out for food and water. Ignored. They called out for buckets in which to urinate. Ignored. They called out for medical attention, as their hands (which were glued to the floor) hurt. Ignored.

      If they are not to be immediately arrested for such acts, ignoring them completely is the way to go. I wonder how many of the British police actually wanted to offer aid and how many were forced under orders? I know in the Los Angeles Police Department the philosophy (ideology) of the higher-ups is vastly different than the officers walking a beat.

  3. I’m sure all those Russian soldiers are well prepared for death, due to their civilization’s inherent spiritual superiority.

    I have read that often those second and third line soldiers were not given weapons. They had to reply on picking up weapons of those killed ahead of them.

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