World War II ranks as the greatest military conflict in human history and became the shaping event of our modern world, with the account told in many tens of thousands of books. But over the last five years I’ve published a long series of articles providing elements of the story that are sharply—sometimes even shockingly—at odds with the standard narrative.
About a year ago, I’d produced print collections of my writings and made them available on Amazon, with one of those volumes including most of my World War II essays.
Even if someone had previously looked at a few of my articles when they’d originally appeared four or five years ago, the impact of reading them together in a physical book was far greater. Mike Whitney told me that he’d found the historical material in my World War II collection so astonishing that he’d read the entire volume three separate times, so he suggested that he interview me on some of the major topics.
He sent me eight open-ended questions, and prompted by these I distilled and summarized the material I’d previously published. The resulting text ran over 12,000 words but was merely a tenth of the total original length.
Although the Second World War ended more than three generations ago, I had argued that it still retained enormous present-day relevance and he appropriately selected one of my sentences as a framing quote for the entire interview:
Much of the current political legitimacy of today’s American government and its various European vassal-states is founded upon a particular narrative history of World War II, and challenging that account might have dire political consequences.
My reconstruction of the true wartime history was exceptionally provocative and controversial, as indicated by my closing paragraphs:
In the wake of the 9/11 Attacks, the Jewish Neocons stampeded America towards the disastrous Iraq War and the resulting destruction of the Middle East, with the talking heads on our television sets endlessly claiming that “Saddam Hussein is another Hitler.” Since then, we have regularly heard the same tag-line repeated in various modified versions, being told that “Muammar Gaddafi is another Hitler” or “Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is another Hitler” or “Vladimir Putin is another Hitler” or even “Hugo Chavez is another Hitler.” For the last couple of years, our American media has been relentlessly filled with the claim that “Donald Trump is another Hitler.”
During the early 2000s, I obviously recognized that Iraq’s ruler was a harsh tyrant, but snickered at the absurd media propaganda, knowing perfectly well that Saddam Hussein was no Adolf Hitler. But with the steady growth of the Internet and the availability of the millions of pages of periodicals provided by my digitization project, I’ve been quite surprised to gradually also discover that Adolf Hitler was no Adolf Hitler.
It might not be entirely correct to claim that the story of World War II was that Franklin Roosevelt sought to escape his domestic difficulties by orchestrating a major European war against the prosperous, peace-loving Nazi Germany of Adolf Hitler. But I do think that picture is probably somewhat closer to the actual historical reality than the inverted image more commonly found in our textbooks.
I had thought that this long piece would do well, but it easily exceeded all my expectations, with the early traffic being far greater than anything I’d published in many years. Within the first six days, the interview had attracted more readership than any other article on our website had accumulated over the previous six months. And although my long piece seemed to boldly cross every forbidden red line in mainstream history, the reaction was also surprisingly favorable, including far less angry criticism than I had expected to encounter.
Indeed, some of the responses were remarkably heartening. For example, I received a plaintive and sympathetic note from an eminent international academic scholar, an elderly, fully mainstream figure who had specialized in human rights issues and was the author of many excellent books, several of which I had read.
He explained that during 1972-1975 he had done extensive archival research on the war and had also interviewed dozens of the key surviving figures on both sides, including many of the highest rank, discovering that the official story we had all been taught was merely a pack of lies. But
“…never published my research, because it is useless in a world that wants to be lied to. Mainstream history is a disgrace — contrary to the testimony of eye witnesses, contrary to the documents in the archives…”
“I feel like you do there is not only fake news but fake history fake law fake diplomacy and fake democracy…the level of falsification of history is appalling”
My presentation of the true history of World War II was organized by the eight separate interview questions and can be explored in that way:
Question 1: Hitler
Question 2: The London “Blitz”
Question 3: The Purge of Antiwar Intellectuals
Question 4: Postwar Germany
Question 5: The Pearl Harbor Attack
Question 6: Operation Pike
Question 7: The Holocaust
Question 8: Our Understanding of the War
Or the entire article can be read as a whole:
Why Everything You Know About World War II Is Wrong
Mike Whitney Interview with Ron Unz
Ron Unz and Mike Whitney • The Unz Review • June 12, 2023 • 12,600 Words
But although my responses ran a very long 12,000 words, even that was insufficient to include several of the most important “hidden histories” of the Second World War. Therefore, I’m now providing these in this follow-up piece.
The Suvorov Hypothesis
In 1990 the prestigious Times Literary Supplement had carried a long review of Icebreaker, a newly published book boldly seeking to overturn our entire settled history of the Second World War:
[Suvorov] is arguing with every book, every article, every film, every NATO directive, every Downing Street assumption, every Pentagon clerk, every academic, every Communist and anti-Communist, every neoconservative intellectual, every Soviet song, poem, novel and piece of music ever heard, written, made, sung, issued, produced, or born during the last 50 years. For this reason, Icebreaker is the most original work of history it has been my privilege to read.
As I explained in my 2018 article:
Icebreaker‘s author, writing under the pen-name Viktor Suvorov, was a veteran Soviet military intelligence officer who had defected to the West in 1978 and subsequently published a number of well-regarded books on the Soviet military and intelligence services. But here he advanced a far more radical thesis.
The “Suvorov Hypothesis” claimed that during the summer of 1941 Stalin was on the very verge of mounting a massive invasion and conquest of Europe, while Hitler’s sudden attack on June 22nd of that year was intended to forestall that looming blow.
Since 1990, Suvorov’s works have been translated into at least 18 languages and an international storm of scholarly controversy has swirled around the Suvorov Hypothesis in Russia, Germany, Israel, and elsewhere. Numerous other authors have published books in support or more often strong opposition, and even international academic conferences have been held to debate the theory. But our own English-language media has almost entirely blacklisted and ignored this ongoing international debate, to such an extent that the name of the most widely-read military historian who ever lived had remained totally unknown to me.
Finally in 2008, the prestigious Naval Academy Press of Annapolis decided to break this 18 year intellectual embargo and published an updated English edition of Suvorov’s work. But once again, our media outlets almost entirely averted their eyes, and only a single review appeared in an obscure ideological publication, where I chanced to encounter it. This conclusively demonstrates that throughout most of the twentieth century a united front of English-language publishers and media organs could easily maintain a boycott of any important topic, ensuring that almost no one in America or the rest of the Anglosphere would ever hear of it. Only with the recent rise of the Internet has this disheartening situation begun to change.
The Eastern Front was the decisive theater of World War II, involving military forces vastly larger than those deployed in the West or the Pacific, and the standard narrative always emphasizes the ineptitude and weakness of the Soviets. On June 22, 1941, Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, a sudden, massive surprise attack on the USSR, which caught the Red Army completely unaware. Stalin has been regularly ridiculed for his total lack of preparedness, with Hitler often described as the only man the paranoid dictator had ever fully trusted. Although the defending Soviet forces were enormous in size, they were poorly led, with their officer corps still not recovered from the crippling purges of the late 1930s, and their obsolete equipment and poor tactics were absolutely no match for the modern panzer divisions of Germany’s hitherto undefeated Wehrmacht. The Russians initially suffered gigantic losses, and only the onset of winter and the vast spaces of their territory saved them from a quick defeat. After this, the war seesawed back-and-forth for four more years, until superior numbers and improved tactics finally carried the Soviets to the streets of a destroyed Berlin in 1945.
Such is the traditional understanding of the titanic Russo-German struggle that we see endlessly echoed in every newspaper, book, television documentary, and film around us.
But Suvorov’s seminal research argued that the reality was entirely different.
First, although there has been a widespread belief in the superiority of Germany’s military technology, its tanks and its planes, this is almost entirely mythological. In actual fact, Soviet tanks were far superior in main armament, armor, and maneuverability to their German counterparts, so much so that the overwhelming majority of panzers were almost obsolescent by comparison. And the Soviet superiority in numbers was even more extreme, with Stalin deploying many times more tanks than the combined total of those held by Germany and every other nation in the world: 27,000 against just 4,000 in Hitler’s forces. Even during peacetime, a single Soviet factory in Kharkov produced more tanks in every six month period than the entire Third Reich had built prior to 1940. The Soviets held a similar superiority, though somewhat less extreme, in their ground-attack bombers. The totally closed nature of the USSR meant that such vast military forces remained entirely hidden from outside observers.
There is also little evidence that the quality of Soviet officers or military doctrine fell short. Indeed, we often forget that history’s first successful example of a “blitzkrieg” in modern warfare was the crushing August 1939 defeat that Stalin inflicted upon the Japanese 6th Army in Outer Mongolia, relying upon a massive surprise attack of tanks, bombers, and mobile infantry.
Certainly, many aspects of the Soviet military machine were primitive, but exactly the same was true of their Nazi opponents. Perhaps the most surprising detail about the technology of the invading Wehrmacht in 1941 was that its transportation system was still almost entirely pre-modern, relying upon wagons and carts drawn by 750,000 horses to maintain the vital flow of ammunition and replacements to its advancing armies.
During Spring 1941 the Soviets had assembled a gigantic armored force on Germany’s border, one that even contained enormous numbers of specialized tanks whose unusual characteristics clearly demonstrated Stalin’s purely offensive aims. For example, the Soviet juggernaut included 6,500 high-speed autobahn tanks, almost useless within Soviet territory but ideally suited for deployment on Germany’s network of highways and 4,000 amphibious tanks, able to navigate the English Channel and conquer Britain.
The Soviets also fielded many thousands of heavy tanks, intended to engage and defeat enemy armor, while the Germans had none at all. In direct combat, a Soviet KV-1 or KV-2 could easily destroy four or five of the best German tanks, while remaining almost invulnerable to enemy shells. Suvorov recounts the example of a KV which took 43 direct hits before finally becoming incapacitated, surrounded by the hulks of the ten German tanks it had first managed to destroy.
Suvorov’s reconstruction of the weeks directly preceding the outbreak of combat is a fascinating one, emphasizing the mirror-image actions taken by both the Soviet and German armies. Each side moved its best striking units, airfields, and ammunition dumps close to the border, ideal for an attack but very vulnerable in defense. Each side carefully deactivated any residual minefields and ripped out any barbed wire obstacles, lest these hinder the forthcoming attack. Each side did its best to camouflage their preparations, talking loudly about peace while preparing for imminent war. The Soviet deployment had begun much earlier, but since their forces were so much larger and had far greater distances to cross, they were not yet quite ready for their attack when the Germans struck, and thereby shattered Stalin’s planned conquest of Europe.
All of the above examples of Soviet weapons systems and strategic decisions seem very difficult to explain under the conventional defensive narrative, but make perfect sense if Stalin’s orientation from 1939 onward had always been an offensive one, and he had decided that summer 1941 was the time to strike and enlarge his Soviet Union to include all the European states, just as Lenin had originally intended. And Suvorov provides many dozens of additional examples, building brick by brick a very compelling case for this theory.
Given the long years of trench warfare on the Western front during the First World War, almost all outside observers expected the new round of the conflict to follow a very similar static pattern, gradually exhausting all sides, and the world was shocked when Germany’s innovative tactics allowed it to achieve a lightening defeat of the allied armies in France during 1940. At that point, Hitler regarded the war as essentially over, and was confident that the extremely generous peace terms he immediately offered the British would soon lead to a final settlement. As a consequence, he returned Germany to a regular peacetime economy, choosing butter over guns in order to maintain his high domestic popularity
Stalin, however, was under no such political constraints, and from the moment he had signed his long-term peace agreement with Hitler in 1939 and divided Poland, he ramped up his total-war economy to an even higher notch. Embarking upon an unprecedented military buildup, he focused his production almost entirely upon purely offensive weapons systems, while even discontinuing those armaments better suited for defense and dismantling his previous lines of fortifications. By 1941, his production cycle was complete, and he made his plans accordingly.
And so, just as in our traditional narrative, we see that in the weeks and months leading up to Barbarossa, the most powerful offensive military force in the history of the world was quietly assembled in secret along the German-Russian border, preparing for the order that would unleash its surprise attack. The enemy’s unprepared airforce was to be destroyed on the ground in the first days of the battle, and enormous tank columns would begin deep penetration thrusts, surrounding and trapping the opposing forces, achieving a classic blitzkrieg victory, and ensuring the rapid occupation of vast territories. But the forces preparing this unprecedented war of conquest were Stalin’s, and his military juggernaut would surely have seized all of Europe, probably soon followed by the remainder of the Eurasian landmass.
Then at almost the last moment, Hitler suddenly realized the strategic trap into which he had fallen, and ordered his heavily outnumbered and outgunned troops into a desperate surprise attack of their own on the assembling Soviets, fortuitously catching them at the very point at which their own final preparations for sudden attack had left them most vulnerable, and thereby snatching a major initial victory from the jaws of certain defeat. Huge stockpiles of Soviet ammunition and weaponry had been positioned close to the border to supply the army of invasion into Germany, and these quickly fell into German hands, providing an important addition to their own woefully inadequate resources.
For those who prefer to absorb Suvorov’s information in a different format, his October 2009 public lecture at the U.S. Naval Academy is available on Youtube:
Earlier that same year his lecture at the Woodrow Wilson Center had been broadcast on C-SPAN Book TV.
A far superior book, generally supportive of Suvorov’s framework, was Stalin’s War of Annihilation, by prize-winning German military historian Joachim Hoffmann, originally commissioned by the German Armed Forces and published in 1995 with an English revised edition appearing in 2001. The cover carries a notice that the text was cleared by German government censors, and the author’s introduction recounts the repeated threats of prosecution he endured from elected officials and the other legal obstacles he faced, while elsewhere he directly addresses himself to the unseen government authorities whom he knows are reading over his shoulder. When stepping too far outside the bounds of accepted history carries the serious risk that a book’s entire print-run will be burned and the author imprisoned, a reader must necessarily be cautious at evaluating the text since important sections have been skewed or preemptively excised in the interests of self-preservation. Scholarly debates on historical issues become difficult when one side faces incarceration if their arguments are too bold.
American Pravda: When Stalin Almost Conquered Europe
Ron Unz • The Unz Review • June 4, 2018 • 4,200 Words
Most recently, Sean McMeekin’s outstanding 2021 history Stalin’s War has provided a wealth of additional evidence strongly supporting the theory that the Soviet dictator had massed his enormous offensive forces on the German border and was probably preparing to invade and conquer Europe when Hitler struck first.