Eighty years ago, the Soviets promote an image of heroism and culture

 




Churchill’s critics continued their campaign of largely ineffectual harassment after they failed to draw blood over the reconstruction of the Ministry of Information, arguably the government’s point of greatest vulnerability. Now the ostensible goal  of the insurgents was to secure the establishment of a Ministry of Supply. In practice their target was Lord Beaverbrook, recently elevated to the Ministry of Supply, and the most conspicuous specimen of Churchill cronyism in the Cabinet; insofar as a Ministry of Production would have served any purpose, it would have largely duplicated the work of the Ministry of Supply. The extreme left hankered after even greater state control of the economy but the true motive was discontent at the lack of opposition to Churchill’s monolithic government. With a contemptuous inquiry as to what the “superman” Minister of Production was supposed to achieved, Churchill easily rode out the agitation.

Having paid the penalty in Syria and the Lebanon for leaning towards Germany, Vichy France was faced with the choice of deciding which way to jump in the Far East. Here the Japanese held the military whip hand and Vichy decided that the risk of punishment by Britain (or the US) was worth the risk of buying a quiet life with Tokyo. Under agreements signed between the Vichy prime minister Admiral Darlan and the Japanese ambassador Kato, the Japanese were allowed into French Indochina and they immediately took advantage. They were permitted military airbases but ground troops moved in as well.

Serious conflict was coming ever closer in the Far East with President Roosevelt upping the ante. Again, the immediate battleground was economic. The US (followed the day after by the UK) froze all Japanese assets in reach. The practical impact was far smaller than the embargo on oil supplies to Japan, but the symbolism was inescapable. In a separate move the armed forces of the Philippines were put under US control to defend the territory against any threat. General Douglas McArthur was placed in command.

The German invasion of the Soviet Union ploughed on remorselessly. Another vast pocket was encircled at Smolensk. By any normal standards, the 100,000 prisoners taken were an immense haul; only the huge scale of other Soviet defeats made this seem routine.

The Soviet regime could – just – console itself with a propaganda coup. The composer Dimitri Shostakovich was a member of the volunteer fire fighting team at the music academy where he taught in Leningrad. The photograph of him in the elaborate garb of a Russian fireman taking part in practice drills was reproduced around the world. Shostakovich would very gladly have participated more actively, but somehow the school’s management kept him out of danger. This was not the end of Shostakovich’s contribution to the image of Soviet resistance to Nazism. His 7th Symphony was actually composed the following December when he had left for the safer region of Samara but was premiered in Leningrad during the siege and took its sub-title from the city.

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