Much of the story about the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany has yet to be told. In Motherland in Danger, Karel Berkhoff addresses one of the most neglected questions facing historians of the Second World War: how did the Soviet leadership sell the campaign against the Germans to the people on the home front?
For Stalin, the obstacles were manifold. Repelling the German invasion would require a mobilization so large that it would test the limits of the Soviet state. Could the USSR marshal the manpower necessary to face the threat? How could the authorities overcome inadequate infrastructure and supplies? Might Stalin’s regime fail to survive a sustained conflict with the Germans?
Motherland in Danger takes us inside the Stalinist state to witness, from up close, its propaganda machine. Using sources in many languages, including memoirs and documents of the Soviet censor, Berkhoff explores how the Soviet media reflected—and distorted—every aspect of the war, from the successes and blunders on the front lines to the institution of forced labor on farm fields and factory floors. He also details the media’s handling of Nazi atrocities and the Holocaust, as well as its stinting treatment of the Allies, particularly the United States, the UK, and Poland. Berkhoff demonstrates not only that propaganda was critical to the Soviet war effort but also that it has colored perceptions of the war to the present day, both inside and outside of Russia.
I can only recommend this admirable work by an outstanding historian. Motherland in Danger is indispensable for anybody interested in the history of World War II, of propaganda, or of the Soviet experience… Accessible to undergraduates, it will stimulate historiographical debate among graduate students and scholars. Do not miss it.
Motherland in Danger is a superb contribution to our understanding of the Soviet home front and the role played more broadly by propaganda in Soviet history and the comparative history of the Second World War.
[Berkhoff] persuasively argues that, contrary to the popular notion that the war loosened Soviet cultural and political controls, the goal of mobilizing citizens led to greater centralization and censorship of information… He contends that censorship and centralization led to largely bland, uninspiring, and uninformative propaganda, which succeeded in its goal of mobilizing the population only because Nazi Germany’s war aims and practices left Soviet citizens no other choice but to resist. Berkhoff shows that, nevertheless, postwar (and post-Soviet) Russians largely subscribe to the myths created by wartime propaganda, indicating its enduring legacy.
Adds a new and important dimension to our understanding of Soviet wartime propaganda. Berkhoff explains as no one before how Stalin and his government wished to present the war to the people. Using previously unexamined materials, he shows that the propagandists who sold the war effort understood the struggle in an entirely different way than did those who ran the war machine itself. He also skillfully analyzes the decisions and policies of Stalin’s message-makers and chronicles the contradictions and confusion that resulted from some of their most ill-conceived directives.
- 416 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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