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Underestimate Russia at your own risk: A comparison of Hubris by Germany during WWII and today’s collective West

Originally published: Naked Capitalism on July 10, 2023 by Conor Gallagher (more by Naked Capitalism) (Posted Jul 12, 2023)

In honor of the NATO summit July 11 and 12, this is a comparison of how the Nazi leadership in World War Two and today’s collective West similarly underestimated Russia and overestimated their capabilities.

Despite Russia’s overwhelming upper hand in Ukraine, Western officials and media continue to largely pump sunshine and weave stories of Russian collapse.

There are increasing breaks in the fever, and it looks like maybe, hopefully the acceptance of the loss is gaining traction in Washington.

Meanwhile, the unwillingness or inability for hardliners to objectively assess efforts against Russia occurs today just as it did during Operation Barbarossa. As Seymour Hersh writes:

There is an enormous gap between the way the professionals in the American intelligence community assess the situation and what the White House and the supine Washington press project to the public by uncritically reproducing the statements of Blinken and his hawkish cohorts.

This too is reminiscent of the Nazi offensive against the Soviet Union when the failure was hidden from the German public. Adding to the similarities is the fact that both the Third Reich command and today’s officials in the West simultaneously downplay Russia’s military capabilities while endlessly hyping the threat from Moscow.

Hitler, similar to so many Western “experts” and officials today, mocked Russia’s supposed backwardness while also hyping the threat “Slavic Bolshevism” posed to the West. The progression of his comments show him seesawing between a reluctant acceptance and desperate hope as his miscalculations of Russia slowly dawn on him. It’s a path today’s governments in the West are still discovering.

On the other hand, Goebbel’s diary entries are faster to admit that Operation Barbarossa was a disaster.

Prior to the operation, he writes how there is no way the USSR could hope to oppose “the strongest army in all of history” and adds that “I consider the Russian military force to be very weak, even weaker than the Fuhrer believes. If anything is a sure thing, it is this.”

Indeed, German high command anticipated a quick collapse of Soviet resistance along the lines of the Blitzkrieg in Poland, but within a few weeks of the launch of the German offensive, it’s clear that Berlin underestimated the Russians. And the winter of 1941-42 saw the Nazi war machine stopped 12 miles short of Moscow and then driven back. It was all downhill from there.

Despite evidence that Russian resistance was much more capable than anticipated, Hitler continues to talk of Russian inferiority and a breakup of the country for months before a realization of the situation begins to set in. Read in tandem with Goebbels’ more honest diary entries, it calls to mind today’s battle within the Blob between the realists and anti-Russian fanatics.

We’ll start with Hitler and Goebbels followed by a sampling of miscalculations by today’s West.

The following quotes from Hitler and Goebbels are from Hitler’s Table Talk 1941-1944” andTagebücher 1924-1945,” respectively. 

Goebbels, July 2, 1941:

…the fighting is hard and stubborn. We can in no way speak of a walk in the  park. The red regime mobilized the people.

Goebbels, August 1:

In the Fuhrer’s headquarters it’s also openly admitted that they were somewhat mistaken in their evaluation of the Soviet military force. The Bolsheviks reveal a greater resistance than we had suspected; in particular, the material resources available to them were greater than we thought.

Goebbels, August 19:

Privately, the Fuhrer is very irritated with himself for having been misled to such an extent–regarding the strength of the Bolsheviks–by the reports [by German agents] coming from the Soviet Union. In particular, the underestimation of the enemy’s armored vehicles and planes caused us many problems. He suffers a lot because of this. We’re dealing with a grave crisis…

Goebbels, September 16:

We have totally underestimated the strength of the Bolsheviks.

October 17, 1941. Hitler speaking to Reich Minister Dr. Todt and Gauleiter Sauckel:

We shall have to settle down to the task of rebuilding the Russian track, to restore it to the normal gauge. There’s only one road that, throughout all these last months of campaigning, was of any use to the armies on the central front—and for that I’ll set up a monument to Stalin. Apart from that, he preferred to manufacture chains of mud rather than to build roads !

What a task awaits us! We have a hundred years of joyful satisfaction before us.

Hitler, November 12, 1941:

It’s a huge relief for our Party to know that the myth of the Workers’ Paradise to the East is now destroyed. It was the destiny of all the civilised States to be exposed to the assault of Asia at the moment when their vital strength was weakening.

…From the point of view of their value as combatants, the armies of Genghiz Khan were not inferior to those of Stalin (provided we take away from Bol- shevism what it owes to the material civilisation of the West).

…We shall give the natives all they need: plenty to eat, and rot-gut spirits. If they don’t work, they’ll go to a camp, and they’ll be deprived of alcohol.

Hitler, October 25, 1941:

I never saw anybody so amazed as that Russian ambassador, the engineer, who came to me one evening to thank me for not having put any obstacles in the way of a visit he paid to some German factories. At first I asked myself if the man was mad! 1 supposed it was the first time he saw things as they are, and I imagine he sent his Government an indiscreet note on the subject.

Hitler, Night of January 5-6, 1942.

A few days before our entry into Russia, I told Goering that we were facing the severest test in our existence. Goering fell off his perch, for he’d been regarding the campaign in Russia as another mere formality.

What confirmed me in my decision to attack without delay was the information brought by a German mission lately re- turned from Russia, that a single Russian factory was producing by itself more tanks than all our factories together. I felt that this was the ultimate limit. Even so, if someone had told me that the Russians had ten thousand tanks, I’d have answered : “You’re completely mad!”

The Russians never invent anything. All they have, they’ve got from others. Everything comes to them from abroad—the engineers, the machine-tools. Give them the most highly perfected bombing-sights. They’re capable of copying them, but not of inventing them. With them, working-technique is simplified to the uttermost. Their rudimentary labour-force compels them to split up the work into a series of gestures that are easy to perform and, of course, require no effort of thought.

They eat up an incredible number of tractors, for they’re incapable of performing the slightest repair.

Hitler, January, 1942:

Stalin pretends to have been the herald of the Bolshevik revolution. In actual fact, he identifies himself with the Russia of the Tsars, and he has merely resurrected the tradition of Pan-Slavism. For him Bolshevism is only a means, a disguise designed to trick the Germanic and Latin peoples. If we hadn’t seized power in 1933, the wave of the Huns would have broken over our heads. All Europe would have been affected, for Germany would have been powerless to stop it. Nobody suspected it, but we were on the verge of catastrophe.

Hitler, February 6, 1942.

There’s one thing that Japan and Germany have absolutely in common—that both of us need fifty to a hundred years for purposes of digestion: we for Russia, they for the Far East.

Hitler, February 19, 1942:

I’ve always detested snow; Bormann, you know, I’ve always hated it. Now I know why. It was a presentiment.

Hitler, February 22, 1942:

The Russian, as an individual fighting man, has always been our inferior. Russians exist only en masse, and that explains their brutality.

Hitler, April 19, 1942:

In short, our policy in the wide Russian spaces should be to encourage any and every form of dissension and schism.

Hitler, July 19, 1942:

Just when the difficulties of the eastern winter campaign in the East had reached their height, some imbecile pointed out that Napoleon, like ourselves, had started his Russian campaign on 22nd June. Thank God, I was able to counter that drive with the authoritative statement of historians of repute that Napoleon’s campaign did not, in fact, begin until 23rd June!

Hitler, July 22, 1942:

For at the same time as they were trying by Communist Party terrorism, by strikes, by their press, and by every other means at their disposal to ensure the triumph of pacifism in our country, the Russians were building up an enormous army. Disregarding the namby-pamby utterances about humanitarianism which they spread so assiduously in Germany, in their own country they drove their workers to an astonishing degree, and the Soviet worker was taught by means of the Stakhanov system to work both harder and longer than his counterpart in either Germany or the capitalist States. The more we see of conditions in Russia, the more thankful we must be that we struck in time. In another ten years there would have sprung up in Russia a mass of industrial centres, in-accessible to attack, which would have produced armaments on an inexhaustible scale, while the rest of Europe would have degenerated into a defenceless plaything of Soviet policy.

It is very stupid to sneer at the Stakhanov system. The arms and equipment of the Russian armies are the best proof of its efficiency in the handling of industrial man-power. Stalin, too, must command our unconditional respect. In his own way he is a hell of a fellow ! He knows his models, Genghiz Khan and the others, very well, and the scope of his industrial planning is exceeded only by our own Four Year Plan. And there is no doubt that he is quite determined that there shall be in Russia no unemployment such as one finds in such capitalist States as the United States of America.

Hitler, July 26, 1942:

One must give the Russians their due and admit that, in this respect, they have succeeded in limiting the power of monopolies and eliminating private interests. As a result, they are now in a position to prospect throughout their territory for oil, whose position and probable extension are studied by experts with the assistance of very large-scale maps. In this way, they have not only been able to trace the course of the oil-veins, but have also verified their facts and extended their knowledge by test borings carried out at the expense of the State. There is a lot we can learn from them.

Hitler, August 26, 1942:

If Stalin had been given another ten or fifteen years, Russia would have become the mightiest State in the world, and two or three centuries would have been required to bring about a change. It is a unique phenomenon! He has raised the standard of living—of that there is no doubt; no one in Russia goes hungry any more. They have built factories where a couple of years ago only unknown villages existed—and factories, mark you, as big as the Hermann Goring Works. They have built railways that are not yet even on our maps. In Germany we start quarrelling about fares before we start building the line !

Hitler, August 28, 1942:

As regards the Russians, their powers of resistance are inimitable, as they proved in the Russo-Japanese War. This is no new characteristic which they have suddenly developed. If anything happens to Stalin, this great Asiatic country will collapse. As it was formed, so it will disintegrate.

The concentration of effort in the defence of Stalingrad is a grave mistake on the part of the Russians. The victor in war is he who commits the fewest number of mistakes, and who has, also, a blind faith in victory.


A sampling of similar miscalculations from today’s collective West:

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