Monday, May 26, 2014

Moscow War Museum

"This was built to remember WWII,” he told me.  Barett’s friends had picked us up at the apartment, taken us for pancake breakfast and would later take us for lunch.  With their son we were walking through the beautiful fountained plaza before the monument to the victory of the Russians over the Germans when Hitler invaded Russia.
“You’ve not been invaded in America. Here there’s been a war every 50 years of so.”  he said, realistically.  It’s a fact of life in other parts of the world not protected by Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Another monument we’d seen earlier, celebrated the Russian Victory over France when Napoleon invaded Russia. This very intelligent young gentleman with a wry sense of humour and passable English, would tell us that he worked in the production of military uniforms.  “I”m just a businessman.” he said.
I told him, through Barrett’s translation, the plot of William Gibson’s book in which there is “industrial espionage” surrounding a new military fabric that not only is excellent camouflage but also attractive so that itassisted recruitment. Whoever had the fabric could get the richest contracts considering how many men and women were in the military.  Despite translation everyone laughed especially as I’d synchronistically only told Barrett about the book hours before meeting them.  He told us that their fabrics had to wholly Russian made that he wasn’t in design but production. And it really was a production making sure all the parts of the uniforms came together and everything was wholly local.
I told him the story of the English having their Tank Opticals made in Germany when WWI broke out and what trouble that caused.  “That happens a lot,’ he said. “All the uniform must be made in Russia.”
We walked through the museum together. I appreciated how he told his son about the reality of the wars. There were school tours going on and I thought how busy this museum was compared to the Canadian War Museum.  “Lest we forget,” came to mind.  It was clear how much he honoured the soldiers.  The museum showed in terrible detail the worst battles the Russians fought in. Barrett and his wife, her friend, followed and talked of mutual friends and changes in Russian. Barrett asked him to explain the details of one campaign.  I told them how my father had been in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Dad took my brother and I often to the Canadian War Museum  to remind us of the cost of peace and the sacrifice the military makes. We all enjoy the peace and prosperity but rarely think of the real politics.
I told Barrett later how living in London years back I’d heard often how the Brits were irritated by the American Hollywood portrayal of the war being all about them. Indeed the brits thought the Americans  were ‘johnny come late lies’ to the European front. Mostly they were in it for the money, the Brits having to pay in land and pounds for their initial support.  The Pacific in contrast was the American war despite the cost to the Australians.   I’d just read an account of WWII by a non aligned historian who pointed out the greatest theatre of the war and the one that truly broke the Nazi had been the Russian. The cost in lives to the Russians was overwhelming. It explains even to today to some degree the concerns that the Russians have about security.  Even Freud said, ‘sometimes the paranoids are right’.
Later we’d have lunch in a fine Ukranian Restaurant. It was a magnificent meal and the Ukranians were delightful hosts.  Naturally Russians were partisan to their cause.  Barrett had learned from other friends that the Crimea was formerly Russian.  It was Russian from 1783 till 1954. Barrett asked our host about that and he said, “Yes, we gave it to Ukraine. A lot of Russians were always against that. ”  That explained to some extent the Russians now Crimea. It seemed a bit like  marriage and divorce. Nobody is ever happy but we make the best of a bad lot.   The Quebec Separatists have never been too happy with what Ottawa thinks they can ‘take’ if  they want to leave Federation.
I’ve got Russian and Ukranian friends in Canada.  They’re the best of Canadians.  I further appreciate the west’s position is against Russia. But it’s all above my pay grade. As far as I could see both the Russians and the Ukranians wanted peace as much as the next one.  In Russia there’s no evidence of hostility I could see. Whenever we heard of the dispute the tone of voice was always that of ’sadness’.    No one we spoke with was against Putin except a Chetyn moslem who didn’t like the Russian military at all.  He seemed to like Russians just fine, indeed he preferred the Soviet Union to the new cosmopolitan and orthodox Russia.  Naturally I couldn’t say.   What  I certainly saw was that Russians were happiest when they were with their children or when they were eating out at restaurants.  My favourite hockey has always been when Russians played Canadians.
Ironically, itt was National Jewish Day in Russia.  I couldn’t help but think walking through their War Museum,  seeing the extraordinary lists  of people killed, the widespread damage to the country and city, that to Russians, WWII is as close to them as Auschwitz is to Jews.  Every family had lost someone close.  In Canada, despite Afghanistan, I like, the vast majority of Canadians, have no experience of war, famine,  chaos or the clean up.  The Ukranians and Russians and indeed Europeans in general have a proximity to the insanity that we in North America have thankfully be protected from
Thanks to Barrett I had the  pleasure of the company of this generous friendly and humorous Russian family. A really informative and very  pleasant day.  Barett and her friend laughed a great deal. Her husband dolted on her and their child. Not understanding most of what was said I was just thankful to be included.  Everyone was talking a mile a minute in Russian. Then they’d sot, .share a phrase in English with me then  and off they’d go,  talking of cottages, dances, friends and families. Barrett talked of Alaska and Hawaii.  I know t because both Alaska and Hawaii were said in English.
I enjoyed the sculpture of King George slaying the dragon.  It was incredible in the museum to see the soldiers and tanks in the pictures of the Red Square I’d just seen lovers kissing in.



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