Russia’s parade and the United States
Russia has just marked the 72nd anniversary of the capitulation of Nazi Germany, featuring a victory parade through Moscow showing the latest military equipment. Because of bad weather this year, a fly-by of around 75 aircraft had to be canceled, but the rest of the parade went off despite fog, cold, light snow, and rain. No U.S. representative stood on the reviewing stand.
Russia became our ally in World War II, and had Russia been defeated by the Nazis, or had the then-Soviet government under Stalin collapsed, it is a sure thing we would have had to make a costly deal with Hitler. Europe would have entered a dark age, and America would be paying stiff reparations to Hitler and his evil successors.
We need to remember that Russia suffered greatly. The generally accepted figure is that Russia suffered 20 million dead, of which eight million were military. Although at war's start Russia was allied to Nazi Germany (the famous Ribbentrop-Molotov pact of 1939 that lasted 22 months), after Hitler invaded Russia, Stalin had to mobilize his armed forces, re-energize and relocate his industrial might, and recover from years of harsh Communist policies, depredations, gulags, and mass killings. That he did so and Russia held together is, in itself, a remarkable feat, attributed in the main to the courage of the Russian people.
It is therefore quite appropriate to call attention to a remarkable part of the World War II Victory Parade in Moscow that has not gained much notice in the West. It is called the March of the Immortals. This march is a celebration and memory of those who fought in World War II, and it features the families of these heroes carrying placards with photos of the family members who fought then. Many were killed, others wounded, and some survived and lived to old age. These days, most of those holding the pictures are marching for their grandparents and, for some, great grandparents. The parade is a massive demonstration of the deep love and affection the Russian people have for their forbears who suffered but fought hard and successfully in World War II, contributing with the other allies to Hitler's defeat.
While not all the numbers are in, in Moscow alone, 800,000 people marched – a significant increase over last year, when 500,000 marched in Moscow in the Victory Parade. Across Russia, there are also Victory Parades and Marches of the Immortals, so the final tally will probably come close to two million.
I noticed in the live video feed that a good-sized American flag was prominently carried by one of the families marching. That was appropriate.
We don't have anything that is quite equivalent, but there is a justifiable pride for veterans in the United States.
A few years ago, I was waiting for an airline flight at Baltimore Airport. There were the usual crowds around the different airline departure desks, but nothing else remarkable. Then, everything went silent for a moment. Next, applause, and the applause grew as the departing passengers starting some distance away walked up the corridor heading for the exit. They were World War II veterans, and they had come to Washington, D.C. to visit the National World War II Memorial. People clapped and cheered them, stood on chairs, and made it clearly and affectionately known how much they cared. It was entirely spontaneous and wonderful.
It seems to me, as the ranks of our World War II veterans thin, that we should hold a March of the Immortals for those veterans, living and past, who defended our freedom.
While good in itself, our simultaneous honoring veterans with our Russian brethren families might also be a fine way to demonstrate that the sacrifice of our veterans, both here and there, should be above politics. Perhaps we can convince the other allies who fought the Nazis, especially the British, French, Polish, Commonwealth Nations, and others, to join in.
It would send a clear, positive, and humane message to the Russian people, and perhaps it will lead to some progress in resolving the divisive issues between our two countries.