The Guardian

The Guardian January 31, 2001


Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

Propaganda war of the century continues

Last week in these pages, Peter Mac exposed some of the lies, 
distortions and half-truths that make up the new BBC series on the ABC, 
War of the Century.

When the first ads for this series appeared, with the catchline "Nazism 
versus Stalinism", we expected another piece of crude anti-Soviet 
propaganda like Russia's War on SBS. What we got was something 
different.

Yes, War of the Century is propaganda, but it is anything but crude. 
It is clever, sophisticated and subtle.

It eschews the baldly stated disprovable falsehood in favour of 
insinuations. It conveniently omits significant facts, leading the viewer 
to draw erroneous inferences from the carefully selected facts it does 
present.

The series misses no opportunity to smear Stalin, of course. He is 
personally held responsible for every set back suffered by the Red Army.

More significantly, the program heavily implies (even intercutting 
Moussorgsky's opera of intrigue and betrayal Boris Godounov 
throughout) that Stalin was constantly prepared to betray his country, his 
people and his Party to save his own skin. Or to sacrifice them for the 
same purpose.

With the Germans already in the outskirts of Moscow, an armoured train was 
readied to take Stalin  Commander in Chief, head of the Party and the 
Government  to Kuibishev where the rest of the government had already 
gone. It would have been irresponsible indeed if arrangements had not been 
made for Stalin's removal.

War of the Century however insinuates that the presence of the train 
is evidence of Stalin's cowardice in the face of the victorious Germans.

That he did "not" go, his continued presence in the city being a rallying 
point for the capital's defenders, is glossed over. Stalin gets no credit 
from the makers of this program for staying put.

The series' use of the omitted fact is worth examining in detail. Take its 
coverage of the Finnish War.

No context is given: The USSR just arbitrarily invades Finland. There is no 
mention of the virulently anti-Soviet nature of the Finnish regime of 
Whiteguard General Baron Mannerheim, nor of his extremely cosy relationship 
with his mate Adolf Hitler.

The series does not deign to mention the amazing number of military 
airfields being built in Finland in the late '30s  many more than the 
Finnish airforce could utilise.

Nor does it mention the joint military exercises held by Nazi Germany and 
Finland, or the regular visits of Lufftwaffe officers to Finland, where 
they inspected Finnish "defences".

The fact that the Mannerheim Line, the heavily fortified Finnish side of 
the Soviet-Finnish border, was so close to Leningrad that the city was 
within Finnish "artillery" range (let alone bomber range) is not worth 
noting apparently.

Nor is the fact that the Soviet Government made diplomatic approaches to 
Finland seeking an agreement to move the border back from Leningrad and 
offering more than twice as much land in neighbouring Karelia in exchange.

Only when the Finns rejected all peaceful approaches and continued to 
collaborate with Germany on building up their capacity as an armed base did 
the Soviet Government resort to armed force.

But as told in War of the Century, the USSR simply launched a war on 
Finland out of the blue.

Underestimating the extent of Finland's war preparations, the Soviet high 
command left the war to the local commanders. They tried to outflank the 
Mannerheim Line by attacking across the densely wooded Karelian Peninsula, 
an area made to order for guerrilla warfare.

The initial phase went badly for the Soviet forces. Their troops became 
bogged down in hit and run engagements with high casualties and no decisive 
results.

Eventually, the Soviet Government demanded that decisive measures be taken. 
The regular Red Army was given the task. A million men launched a frontal 
assault on the Mannerheim Line.

Finland was crushed in short order and sued for peace.

The victorious USSR moved the border back from Leningrad but otherwise left 
Finland free to pursue its previous foreign policy. When Hitler 
subsequently invaded the USSR, his forces were supported by those of 
Finland.

War of the Century conveniently cuts off its coverage of the Finnish 
War while the Soviet forces were still having a hard time.

A Soviet participant (from the Ukraine) tells of the high casualties 
suffered by his unit, then we cut to a shot of Hitler and the commentator 
informs us that "six months after the Russian disaster in Finland" Hitler 
took decisive steps towards invading the USSR.

But the USSR "won" in Finland. If Hitler was being influenced by that war, 
surely its outcome would have been of significance? Viewers of this 
program, however, unless they knew better, would think that Finland 
defeated the USSR!

It suited that series makers' thesis on the origins of Germany's invasion 
of the USSR to obscure the outcome of the war in Finland. Hitler it seems, 
not German capitalism, wanted to destroy Bolshevism and seize the territory 
of the Soviet Union.

Something else the program does not mention is the way Churchill tried to 
embroil Britain in a war with the USSR over "gallant little Finland".

Fortunately for all concerned, the Red Army successfully concluded 
hostilities in Finland before Churchill could get beyond sending ambulances 
for Mannerheim's forces.

War of the Century does not lie. It just does not tell the truth."

Back to index page