The central premise of The Devil’s Alliance is that the 1939 Nazi-Soviet agreement, secured just prior to the German invasion of Poland, is wrongly considered by most historians to be only an incidental event of World War II but was, rather, one of the central events that made the war possible. Mr Moorhouse argues that the alliance is barely mentioned in most histories of the period but should be examined in detail to understand how it affected the ability of Germany to wage war and especially how it affected Germany’s ability to wage war against the Soviet Union.
Most histories of of World War II in Europe that I have read do mention the agreement and consider it to have been essential in securing Germany’s eastern borders and in allowing Hitler to fight a single front war during his battle against France and England, and all of those books describe the events in western Poland and the effect the German invasion had on the peoples of that part of Poland. However almost describe the events the alliance set in motion for the peoples of eastern Poland, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania and none describe how the alliance functioned, the effect it had on Germany’s ability to wage war, the effect it had on the Soviet Union’s rearmament efforts and the political and social effect it had on the German and Soviet population.
This book is quite different. It covers the 22 months of the agreement in detail and provides wonderful information about subjects I have never seen covered at all. How did the ideologues of both governments handle the political fallout of a friendship agreement between two tyrannies that hated and despised each other? How did the agreement effect international organizations like the Comintern that had been set up to propagandize against Nazi Germany? How did Communists in other countries handle the friendship agreement with a country the Soviet Union had been vilifying for years? What did the Soviet Union get in exchange for their raw materials? What effect did the Soviet raw materials have on the German ability to wage war? Who benefited most? And many, many other subjects that make for fascinating reading including an epilogue discussing how the events during that period ended up affecting the the Soviet Union years later during the late 1980s and early 1990s as all the Soviet Republics gained their freedom. Of special note was how the 1939 deportations by the Soviet Union of the citizens of the Baltic Republics ended up generating intense hatred still felt in 1990 and how that affected relations between those newly independent republics and the dying Soviet Union.
Mr Moorhouse’s writing is clear and interesting, the material is largely fascinating and the narration of the book is very well done. Some parts are a bit more graphic than they need to be and are difficult to listen to, but I have learned a great deal concerning the period in question and feel that it has been very helpful in clarifying much about the agreement and how it worked. Some information was fascinating and I was surprised to find out that the Soviet Union received, among other finished goods from Germany, war making material such as a pocket battleship, improved artillery and German planes. On the German side it can fairly be said that the alliance provided Germany with much of the petroleum and lubricants that allowed it to wage war against the Soviet Union itself. This book is a welcome addition to the literature concerning World War II in Europe and I recommend it to those with an interest in that period of time.
I bought this book thinking it was a biography of Stalin. It is not and you will not find much about his young life, his marriage and children, his life in the early Communist Party and so on. Rather the book is a study of Stalin during a series of political crisis, many of his own devising, how he came to dominate the Communist Party and State, how he disposed of his rivals and how he maintained that control. It is a frightening portrait of how one person could terrify first a party organization and then an entire state. It is also a view of how a ruthless person who has no controls on his behavior can keep and maintain terror as a weapon.
The author's family apparently grew up in Russia during the time of Stalin and this connection allows him to add a personal touch to the episodes in this book. The very first story in the book concerns Stalin's birth and how the entire Soviet State observed a fictitious anniversary on his “birthday”. This episode is meant, I assume, to assure us that everything we thought we knew about Stalin as likely to be wrong and simply a device through which the dictator fashioned and maintained the information the public thought they knew about him.
Most of the information is related to Stalin's seizure and maintenance of power. Other events, such as the Second World War, occupy little or no space at all. However the re-imposition of terror after the Soviet Union's victory in World War II is given a great deal of space as is his plans for a final round of terror prior to a new war. The book is chilling and one is left with the feeling that only providence prevented World War III.
While much in this book was surprising to me perhaps most surprising was the willingness of some of Stalin's victims to be victims. Their loyalty was more to the Communist Party and the Soviet State than to their own lives and they were prepared to be humiliated and degraded rather than be seen as varying from “the party line”. This seemed to be true of almost all of the early Communist revolutionaries with the exception of Trotsky who never was willing to bend to Stalin.
The title I gave to this review is from a line in the book. Stalin's associates apparently knew that their day would come and felt that as long as he was humiliating them, they were safe. Hence the line – humiliating the living dead. They knew they were, as the expression goes, dead men walking, and he seemed to get a great deal of pleasure out of humiliating the living knowing that they were eventually doomed to be killed in one of his purges. And their view of Stalin is shown in the story of how Khrushchev acted when he found Stalin almost dead from a stroke. While I had read this story before Khrushchev's actions explain perfectly the way Stalin's associates viewed him.
While this book did not give me much information about Stalin's life outside of his struggle to gain and then maintain power, he left me with much more knowledge about this despot than I had before and I feel that it was well worth reading. The narration, by David McCallum, was powerful and perfectly suited for the subject. I would have given it 6 stars had I been able to.
Highly recommended with some warnings. It is not a biography and it is not for young children.