Military History in the Former Soviet Union & the Lessons of World War I

Military History in the Former Soviet Union & the Lessons of World War I

Karen Petrone, University of Kentucky


Even though World War I was peripheral to the mythologies of the new Soviet state, there was a vibrant and multi-faceted discourse about World War I in the 1920s. The three case studies undertaken here (the rise and fall of the Moscow Military History Museum; the fate of the Red Army Staff's project for a 12-volume document collection on World War I; and vicissitudes in the representation of General Aleksei Brusilov reveal clear trends in the Soviet memory of World War I. In the 1920s, the Tsarist Army's achievements were acknowledged and its symbols were displayed in such venues as the Moscow Military History Museum and Brusilov's funeral.

The Red Army Staff also planned a grand documentary history project on World War I. But at the end of the 1920s, this emphasis on World War I fell victim to competing views of ideology and history that devalued both the Tsarist legacy and former Tsarist officers. Active study of the war disappeared for more than half a decade and the expertise of the professional military historians was not utilized. Study of the war only resumed at the end of the 1930s when the fear of military conflict with the Germans made coming to terms with the successes and failures of World War I an urgent necessity. Ultimately, World War I was not a "forgotten" war. It was remembered; then forgotten; then remembered once more; and finally forgotten again after the cataclysm of World War II became the defining moment of Soviet military history.

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