All Wars Are Civil Wars

One side brings a knife, the other brings a gun. One side invades Poland, the other runs down Berlin while destroying anything in its path. One side begins systematically destroying its own citizens, the other does the same. Edele and Geyer describe a concept they dubbed as “interior and exterior fronts”,1 and further categorize the conflict between Russia and the Soviet Union as a multi front war, fought both on the line between the two nations, and within the respective countries. Their discussion led me to consider the potential consequences of this sort of mentality.

Both the Russians and the Germans engaged in a form of combat against their own people in order to improve the strength of their armies in the front, and the resolve of the citizens back home. The Germans engaged in a civil war against the Jews, while the Soviets engaged in a civil war of sorts against anyone that they viewed as weak, detrimental, or not committed enough to the beliefs of their “republic”. In addition to this rampant destruction within their own borders (the “civil war” aspect of Edele and Geyer’s statement), the escalation and radicalization of both of these countries led to a “destroy or be destroyed’ mentality.((Edele and Geyer, “States of Exception,” 356)) In a foreign and domestic sense, did this attitude cost the Germans and Soviets too much? Did the “interior and exterior” fronts of the war, combined with the escalation and radicalization, end up costing Germany the war, and the Soviets precious lives and infrastructure that took years to re-build?

Think about it: the German government spent millions on the development of the infrastructure necessary to carry out the holocaust. In addition to construction costs, the Germans had to funnel personnel, food, money, weapons, and medical staff into these camps in order to make them run properly. Had the Germans avoided this “civil war”, Hitler and the German army would’ve been equipped with valuable assets. Assets that, perhaps, when applied properly, would’ve turned the tide of the eastern front in favor of the Axis. The Soviets, too, lost a lot because of their interior activities. By deporting hundreds of thousands of individuals to the gulag, they robbed themselves of able bodied soldiers. Perhaps, with those men and women on the line, fewer lives would’ve been lost during the German advance.

  1. Edele, Mark and Michael Geyer. “States of Exception” in Beyond Totalitarianism. New York: Cambridge University Press. 2009.  349 []

3 thoughts on “All Wars Are Civil Wars

  1. We discussed in an earlier class that prisoners in the gulag’s were given an opportunity for redemption if they fought in the Soviet army. The USSR covered a vast territory, and had almost unlimited reserves of men and women to fight, they were not limited by gender as the Germans were. The Soviet civilians also fought back against the German invaders. They used any form of weapon they could find, in addition to destroying anything and everything in their retreat the German could have found useful. The Soviet army was not prepared for an attack like the one the Germans launched, having more bodies on the front lines would have just meant a higher casualty rate.

  2. The functions of the GULAG camps and the Nazi extermination camps were different. While camps such as Auschwitz, Dachau, etc. consumed massive amounts of resources to deplete the German/Jewish population, the GULAG camps generated massive amounts of free labor that helped harvest resources for the war.

  3. I really liked reading your post. I believe that the “Jewish-Bolshevik” enemy was so intertwined in the German portrayal of the enemy, the internal and external wars were not separable. Saving Jewish lives to monopolize human capital against the Soviet enemy was not an option to the Germans. Both Jews and Communists were equally detestable from a Nazi point of view, neither deserved to be spared at any cost.

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