The Myth of the Eastern Front: The Nazi-Soviet War in American Popular Culture

In This Review

The Myth of the Eastern Front: The Nazi-Soviet War in American Popular Culture

By Ronald Smelser and Edward J. Davies II
Cambridge University Press, 2007
327 pp. $75.00
Purchase

The underlying thesis of this book is that although the American public was enthusiastic about its glorious Russian allies during the war, a new narrative took over once the Nazis were defeated. The Cold War led to a growing disposition to take a harsh view of the Russians, which was reinforced by Soviet behavior in postwar Europe. More important, a number of Hitler's leading generals were given an opportunity to write the history of the Eastern Front to help develop lessons for the Americans on fighting the Russians, and in doing so they provided a sanitized version of events. The basic line was to play up the great fighting qualities of the Wehrmacht; play down any role it had in atrocities, including the Holocaust; and blame Hitler for all strategic misjudgments. As Smelser and Davies demonstrate, the reality was far less flattering to the Germans, with the generals implicated in Hitler's racial policies and strategies and their troops involved in the implementation. The authors also show how romantic images of tough military professionals, detached from any political context, has led to cultish reenactments of Wehrmacht operations. As an exercise in historiography, this is fascinating. The authors highlight the objectionable aspects of this warped narrative, although the actual impact on U.S. perceptions is less clear.