Due to a technical problem in the earlier train, my express train had to take the other track, so the one that is usually used by trains going in the opposite direction. We also boarded the train from the platform on the opposite side of the station. People were overly excited. The all seemed to be chatting about the strange service behavior they were experiencing. As the train switched back to the normal track, many of them gathered in the front car by the only window in the train that looks forward, watching and cheering. It truly seemed like the only exciting thing that happened to many of them in a long while.
Hiking up to a peak above Silicon Valley, it’s impossible to ignore the freeways carved into the ground. Like wide rivers, they dissect the sprawling suburbs, and are to be crossed only by the occasional bridge. The sheer area they occupy is astonishing. Imagine how many homes and parks could have been built on the acreage used by just one of their lanes. Even the one made for <buzzword goes here, try “hybrid”> cars.
On a smaller scale, but with more occurrences, let’s have a look at just one suburban court, or dead end street. The two-way fire truck law from the 50’s still applies: this short street, leading nowhere, must cover a field of at least 30 feet in width with asphalt. There’s an even wider space for U-turns at the end of it. Looking at the houses, they dedicate much of their area for cars as well. Outside, the driveway ranges between the size of a car and a half, to a full drive-in road (end-houses). This renders the sidewalks dangerous and limits their use. They became roads for drivers in reverse, which are diagonally tilted. Inside the homes, the size of a bedroom or even living room serves as a garage. This leaves a small chunk of the acreage as livable space. What more, the space compromised is mostly in the areas connecting the homes, making it life threatening, for example, for kids to visit their neighbor friends.
We took up cars in order to increase our freedom and improve our style of living. Is it still the case? Haven’t we gone too far?
It was quite a plunge, for this dude who knew nothing about the decisive WWII battle, to read 400 pages about its smallest details. Yet at no point did I feel that I was missing knowledge. On the contrary. My ignorance gave this read the air of a thriller.
I was educated by the Israeli school system, which understandably puts more emphasis on the Final Solution and the suffering of Jewish population than on front line action. Reading “Stalingrad”, I was shocked to find out though how involved the Wehrmacht had been in the elimination of Jewish populations at occupied cities and villages. I believed, or maybe I wanted to believe, that less of the German people were involved in carrying out the holocaust.
Reading Stalingrad, I got a good peek at the work of Hitler as a leader. In that regard, it was an eye opener for me, similar to the movie Der Untergang. As much as Hitler was the devil, his administration was still a regime, with its decision making processes, with officials and officers better and less liked by their peers and the Fuehrer, and with good and bad communication instances among the staff. It is nicely narrated side by side with Stalin’s regime management style. Specifically in decision making, it is clear in the book how Hitler relied mainly on himself and his deteriorating instincts, while Stalin, although still very involved, picked the best men for the job and did his best to trust them. The fate of the men not picked varied hugely as well; while Hitler would move them from office or deploy them elsewhere, Stalin would simply execute them. This reflects in a reverse manner in the simple soldier’s brave acts. The German soldiers, highly reliant on their superiors, seem practically lost when abandoned. They confront and observe the Russian privates, who keep fighting even on their own and in absurd circumstances, when all is lost.
Not enough can be said about the suffering of civilians under WWII occupation and re-claiming of territory. And it goes way beyond the Nazi mission of leaving cities ‘Judenrein‘. Everyone suffers. The Wehrmacht steals their livestock and crops as part of its restocking plan, and a re-occupying Red Army treats them as traitors. In the mean time, their young men fighting at the front, pushed further away from their home, are torn.
Beevor does a good job at portraying the advantage of the Germans in the summer, versus their complete inability to adapt to the Russian winter. The first advances of 1941 over a thousand miles seem almost too easy for the Nazis. They take more land than they can handle. Slowly, the delays in action force them to keep fighting through the winter. It is devastating to them, and makes it is hard to believe that they will have to fight into yet another one.
It is obvious that in his research, Beevor had access to plenty of correspondence between soldiers and their families. He even quotes from letters that have never reached their destination. Nor did the writer. Letters can add a personal touch to facts. Beevor uses them rather to give the reader a look into the morale of the soldiers and the issues with which they are most occupied.
Repetition throughout the book gives the feeling of reading a reference rather than a continuous work. In the first part of the book, Stalingrad’s demise and reduction to ruins is described over and over again. But it seems right and the reader is still tolerant here. It really feels like no words can describe the damage. This repetition occurs again though in the descriptions of snowy battlefields lined with corpses and hungry, sick live soldiers infested with lice. It causes some exhaustion.
Some facts are heaped up with no real context. It’s as if, whether they fit in or not, Beevor had a hard time giving up some of the facts he meticulously gathered. Some of these facts are nice to have, even with no real context, but some damage the book’s fluency.
Traitor stories from the Russian side are heartbreaking. A chapter about Russian traitors is inserted right at the right spot, when the Russian army is in a desperate situation. The reader is spared no horror, by details about the famous second line of NKVD, ready to shoot retreating soldiers of their own people. By stories of soldiers shooting their comrades who tried to run over to the German side. And with examples of extreme traitor punishment, like the battalion whose commander accused its soldiers of retreating, then put them in formation and shot every tenth soldier in the face.
Some of the horror made me appreciate the long way we came, where today we value each individual’s life. Back then it sometimes seems to be of no value. A drunk Russian commander ordered his subordinate to take his men, 300 cadets, to react to a German tank formation attack. Since the cadets had no weapons, it was simply a massacre.
This book gives great insight into one of the most important battles of the 20th century. Sometimes it heaps up more details than one would find interesting, but rarely does it miss any. Armed with the amazing facts of the battle as its plot, “Stalingrad” is one book I will not forget.
As a user of many website services and a creator of one, I get the feeling that sites usually avoid sending out too many emails beyond your usual registration confirmation email. Once in a blue moon you’d get some site update. Some sites, like shelfari, have newsletters you can subscribe to at will and unsubscribe at any time. Some have alert notifications, such as facebook’s. And again, you can control the ones you get, if any.
But these are free websites. Paid services, for some odd reason, take the liberty of emailling you frequently. Subscription services like Intuit’s QuickBase, hosting companies like Rackspace, take the initiative to contact me at their discretion.
You may easily find justification to this behavior. But take a step back and you’ll realize the absurdity of it.
Since middleschool I was dubbed ‘Ice Man’ because of a resemblance to the then rising Top Gun star. On halloween, with just a long wig, resemblence to Jim Morrison was mentioned. Last night a new encounter at a dinner party mentioned that I reminded her of a movie star. I was ready to get a youth jitter again, when it turned out the guy she had in mind was Woody Harrelson. I’m devastated.