In This Review

The Stuff of Soldiers: A History of the Red Army in World War II Through Objects
The Stuff of Soldiers: A History of the Red Army in World War II Through Objects
By Brandon M. Schechter
Cornell University Press, 2019, 344 pp

Schechter looks at the Great Patriotic War (as World War II is referred to in Russia) through Soviet soldiers’ everyday objects (spoons, spades, knapsacks, uniforms, weapons, war trophies), with the aid of their letters and diaries, wartime manuals, and postwar fiction and memoirs. With this original approach—in itself an amazing achievement given the immense literature in this historical field—Schechter uses the material culture of the Red Army to trace the makeover of Soviet life and politics brought about by the war. The story of pogony (shoulder boards) is a good example of Schechter’s nimble analysis. This feature of the military uniform was discarded initially as a trapping of the ancien régime, only to be reintroduced during World War II. In Schechter’s view, this shift illustrates the transformation of the Soviet Union from a project of global proletarian revolution into a nation drawing on its history in defending the motherland from a foreign enemy. For the many millions of Red Army soldiers of different cultures and nationalities, the everyday reliance on the same government-issued gear was a unifying experience, one that came to define the Soviet Union until its eventual implosion.