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Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan: The Definition of a SNAFU

In military jargon, a SNAFU is an acronym which stands for “Systems Normal: All F***ed Up.” This acronym perfectly sums up the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, for several reasons. But how did the entire situation come about?

As described by the Seventeen Moments module, the invasion was prompted by a sort of “domino-esque” executions of Afghani leadership. At the time of the invasion, which began on December 25, 1979, the leader of Afghanistan had executed his predecessor, who had executed his predecessor( I know it’s a little confusing, but bare with me.×300/81/163481-004-F3434EB5/Hafizullah-Amin.jpg
Hafizullah Amin, brief leader of Afghanistan

The first leader to be ousted in this murderous timeline, Nur Mohammad Taraki, was executed by Hafizullah Amin, whose background is important to this timeline. Amin was a reformist and member of the Democratic party within Afghanistan. So, naturally, the Russians weren’t thrilled when he took over. Adding to their distrust of Amin, he was a nationalist, and supported improving relations with Pakistan and the US(
Babrak Karmal, took over after Amin’s death

In steps Babrak Karmal, installed by the Russians after the disposal of Amin, who was to restore order in the already tumultuous environment that was Afghanistan at the time. Karmal had the task of trying to make peace with the mujahideen, or Islamic freedom fighters who were not happy with the previous regime’s attempts at secularization and reform. This didn’t go well, and after US support and armament, they became a real force to be reckoned with(
Soviet troops in Afghanistan, armed with modern era equipment

On to the war. The Russian’s didn’t really like to think of the whole thing as an invasion; they preferred the phrase, “exertion of fraternal aid”( The war was a complete disaster. The guerrilla fighters opposing the Soviets had the home field advantage, not to mention help from Western powers which included modern era fighting equipment. They used the mountainous terrain which they knew extremely well, as well as their fancy new equipment to keep the Soviets at bay for ten grueling years. The Soviets poured money and manpower into a losing war, and at the end of the day it cost them dearly. Tens of thousands of young Soviet men never came home after having been drafted into service, and the money diverted from the civilian economy into the war effort only made the economic situation at home worse than it already was(
Mujahideen Islamic freedom fighters, in the hills of Afghanistan

The Soviet war in Afghanistan is comparable to the US intervention in Vietnam. Public support was extremely low, as the public watched young men off to fight a war they had no business being in. After ten long years, the Soviets withdrew. Foreign relations with the Western world were severely hurt as a result, and all the efforts of détente from Brezhnev’s government were seen as fallacy. The growing dissident movement didn’t help either, along with the failing economy( Ch. 13).

All this put together made the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan into the SNAFU that I mentioned earlier. It is also a great example of how economic, cultural, and political developments were all interconnected during this time period. A poor decision made by the Brezhnev regime on the international level, growing dissent at home, and a failing domestic economy all made for a terrible war for both sides. Not to mention the fact that it would go on to fuel a similar conflict pitting the West against an enemy it had hand fashioned for itself.

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The Battle of Kursk: Fields of Destruction

On July 5, 1943, the German Army launched Operation Citadel. It was an attempt to encircle and crush a bulge of Soviet troops concentrated in and around the city of Kursk. This bulge stretched for 150 miles from north to south, and jutted 100 miles west into German lines( The Germans attempted to drive behind the bulge from both north and south, therein surrounding the Soviet forces at Kursk and eventually crushing them. In order to do this, the Germans had amassed some “50 divisions, two tank brigades, three tank battalions, and eight artillery assault divisions comprising 2,700 Tiger and Panther tanks, some two thousand aircraft, and 900,000 men in all”( What could possibly go wrong?
A map of the Battle of Kursk. Notice how the Germans gained little ground against the Soviet defenses.

Well for starters, the Soviets had anticipated such an attack. It seemed rather obvious that the giant bulge in their lines might try to be exploited! So to counter this, the Soviets withdrew the bulk of their forces from the bulge and set a nasty trap of minefields and anti-tank emplacements for their aggressors. When the Germans launched their assault, they made only 10 and 30 miles progress from the north and south respectively, losing many of their tanks in the process. With the Germans struggling to advance and vulnerable to counter-attack, the Soviets did just that! (
A column of infamous German “Tiger” tanks advance during the Battle of Kursk. The Tiger was one of the most feared tanks in Europe during the war, boasting up to 100mm of frontal armor and an 88mm main gun, it was all but impregnable to Soviet tanks except from the sides and rear.

On July 12, the Soviets began their counter-offensive, marking the beginning of the largest armored battle in the history of warfare. In all, around 6,000 tanks, two million men, and 4,000 aircraft would take part( The combat took place mostly in and above the sprawling fields surrounding Kursk, making for an epic battle of man and machines. The Germans would go on to lose 30 of their 50 divisions, and some half of a million men( The battle would draw to a close on August 23, marking the second in a string of Soviet major victories to come. The German army would not launch another comparable assault until the Battle of the Bulge in December of 1944, which also failed miserably.
Albeit grainy, this image shows a wave of Soviet T-34-85s along with infantry support advancing. The T-34-85 boasted an 85mm cannon, capable of engaging the feared Tigers frontally at close to medium ranges. Twentieth century problems require twentieth century solutions!

I found a personal account of the battle, at this location from a Soviet tank commander(, and want to give a short excerpt from it:

“Three red signal flares soared up. After passing a few hundred meters we saw German tanks pushing forward. Both sides stared firing. Katyusha rockets swished over our heads and German defenses were wrapped in a cloud of dust. There we closed in. I couldn’t imagine that I would find myself in such a senseless, albeit well organized on both sides, slaughter. I feared I might get lost and run over one of the nearby friendly tanks! ” – Fadin Alexander Mikhailovich.

If this at all gets your blood pumping or you have the slightest interest in military history, please check out the link I left above. It contains some incredible stories and recollections from veterans of the Great Patriotic War! In creating this blog post, I spent at least an hour reading through some of these incredible accounts from Soviet men and women on this site(

To tie this whole post into the key concepts for this blog post, Kursk was the icing on the cake coming out of the Soviet victory at the Battle of Stalingrad. Having been thwarted twice, and having lost some 800,000 men at Stalingrad alone, the Germans had no choice but to retreat( The aforementioned Soviet victories showed the world, and more importantly the German army, that the Russians were not the disorganized band of peasants they were originally thought to be. Without those victories, I’m not sure that the Russian army would have been able to reach Berlin before the Western allies did.
A knocked out German “Ferdinand” tank destroyer at Kursk. For anyone with an interest in cars, the Ferdinand was designed by and christened after Ferdinand Porsche. Also known as the “Elefant”, notably for its massive size and weight, it was an impressive machine. However like many German tanks of the war, it was over-engineered. It boasted one main petrol powered motor, powering an electric motor and transmission for each tread, meaning it was a hybrid tank! Who knew tanks could be so eco-friendly? However it wasn’t, and it was prone to mechanical issues and constant breakdowns. Porsche eventually moved his engineering prowess into the automotive field, and the rest is history.

This post has been my favorite so far, wherein I’ve been able to apply some of my useless knowledge about tanks and WWII! I apologize in advance for my ramblings in the image captions, and hope that you found them and my post somewhat informative and pertinent to our studies!

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The Most Interesting Soviet Man in the World

Despite my featured image having its origins later in Soviet history, I could not leave it out of the post which I hope captures the cult of personality who was, and in many ways still is, Joseph Stalin. As the Seventeen Moments module states, “historians rewrote party history ” at his command, and did so to make him the star of the show. One example of this appears in the Freeze text, in chapter 11. It reads, “… until the Central Committe – or, in the case of historical writing, Stalin himself – intervened to restore order…”(357). This was not by accident either, because in doing so allowed Stalin to claim responsibility, and more importantly credibility, for the great accomplishments of the past fifteen years.

I think that this image really captures the aforementioned idea of Stalin as a cult of personality for a few reasons. The first being the text caption within the image, which reads: “Stalin’s kindness illuminates the future of our children!” ( It is Stalin’s kindness alone, not that of any other party officials or members, that will shape the future of the Soviet Union.

The second reason is the image itself, which depicts him lofting a small child waving the mighty sickle and hammer. The reason why I chose this image despite its origins in post-war period of the 40’s, is that it is a call back to the period which I am focusing on in this post which is the late 30’s. During this time, the people of the Soviet Union looked up to Stalin to continue to revolutionize the country, and bring it out of the dark yet revolutionary period in the decades prior. Despite the image being a portent of what’s to come in the following decade, I think that it captures the essence of just how highly people thought of Stalin, and just how much they thought he was capable of doing. Especially if they trusted him holding their kid!
This propaganda poster depicts Stalin receiving a tribute above from the Rodina and paying tribute below to soldier of the revolution.

The second primary source of this post is that featured above, which is a propaganda poster from 1937, is set more in appropriate era of Soviet history. I will break it up into three sections, the top image, the middle caption, and the bottom image.

“OMG guys, you shouldn’t have!” – expression on Stalin’s face

I think my favorite thing about this part of the poster is the expression on Stalin’s face, which to me reads, “OMG guys, you shouldn’t have!” All kidding aside however, this image depicts many different people of the Soviet Union paying tribute to Stalin for his accomplishments in writing the Constitution of 1936 and the bountiful harvest it produced in 1937. Among these figures is the Rodina, a maternal symbol of the Motherland, bearing a cornucopia of the bountiful harvest. Also featured is a buff of Lenin, whose disembodied head looms above like some kind of Soviet saint( Again we see that Stalin is the sole figure to thank for the accomplishments of the Soviet people, as he stands above the crowd on a raised platform. This is despite the fact that the crowd features key party members like aviators, workers, children, and the elderly who all contributed to the great successes of the state, even if on the small individual level.

“I am pleased and happy to know how our people fought and how they have achieved a world-historic victory. I am pleased and happy to know that the blood freely shed by our people, was not in vain, that it has produced results!”

The text in the caption which separates the two images reads, “I am pleased and happy to know how our people fought and how they have achieved a world-historic victory. I am pleased and happy to know that the blood freely shed by our people, was not in vain, that it has produced results!”(

This is a quote from Stalin from the Report on the draft constitution of the USSR,  Extraordinary Eighth Congress of Soviets of the USSR, 25 Nov. 1936. From the above quote, Stalin is applauding his efforts in drafting the new Constitution, as well as its accomplishments which are now documented within it.

Stalin and Lenin stand firmly behind the great soldiers of the Red Army in the Civil War.

The final part of the poster is an image of the Red Army charging into battle during the Civil War. Behind them stand Stalin and Lenin, as tall as giants, seemingly as equals. However noting that Stalin stands tall above the Red Army men distinguishes him as the real hero here, and the focus of the image is again on Stalin (and Lenin) as the ones to thank for victory over the enemies of the state.

Works Cited

Freeze, G. L. (2009). Russia: a history. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Miass Station from the Mountain

Background Info

The Ural mountains are a range that spans from the northern tip of western Russia to the southern tip and form a border between the continents of Europe and Asia. The town of Miass, which this photograph overlooks, is situated in the Miass River Valley and has its origins in copper smelting dating back to 1773. It eventually became a hub for gold prospectors, however the population remained small. Then in 1891, the town became the western starting point of the sprawling Trans-Siberian Railroad. Prokudin-Gorskii took this photo from a hill in the Ilmenskii Range, and the view is breathtaking.

There’s Gold in them there Hills!

The town of Miass originated as a copper smelting site, and later added iron smelting. It was then realized that a significant deposit of gold resided in the mountains straddling the river valley, and the town became a popular site for prospectors. Despite this, the town’s population never exploded such as that of a San Francisco in the United States around the same time. This is an interesting fact considering the political and social climate of Imperial Russia at the time, and highlights the differences between the cultures of the United States and Russia. Whereas many American citizens had the freedom to practice capitalism and run off to the hills of California to dig for gold, most Russian citizens were still forced to remain as peasant farmers or at best travel to the cities to become factory workers. Even with the emancipation of the serfs in February of 1861, many restrictions such as redemption payments, poll taxes, and passport restricted travel kept the former serfs bound to the land which they now ‘owned'(Freeze 207).

Trans-Siberian RR

Path of the Trans-Siberian Railroad

The original path of the Trans-Siberian Railroad was meant to stretch from Vladivostok on the Pacific coast to Moscow in the West. However, after the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, officials feared Japanese takeover of Manchuria(rightfully so!) and a much more circuitous route was chosen to avoid the region. The project was initiated by Tsar Alexander III, who saw the project as one ‘of the people’, which led to the railroads construction using Russian labor and resources. Construction of the railroad was an enduring and arduous task to say the least. The builders – mostly exiled prisoners and soldiers – faced horrid weather conditions, permafrost, river crossings, and nearly impassable terrain. At some points, mountains needed to be blown through using explosives in order to create tunnels. This disconnect between the Nobility and the peasantry really shows in the construction of the rail line, considering the fact that the Russian government decided against using foreign investors to help fund the project, opting instead to take money out of the Russian treasury. Despite this fact, the completion of the railroad in 1903 – an astonishing feat in and of itself – resulted in a significant economic boost for Russia.

Why I Chose it?

Apart from the breathtaking scenery in this image, I chose it based on the location it depicted. The town of Miass was the original launching point of the Trans-Siberian railroad, and the railway station constructed there represents a turning point in Russian economic development. With the onset of construction, the idea of industrialization must have been in mind. That idea of industrialization led to immense economic and social change in Russia, resulting in things such as the rise of the intelligentsia and the rise of factories and workers in major cities.

The construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad itself characterizes a shift in Russian economic policy, from one of an agrarian and rural nature to one of industry and development. Without this shift and its social implications, I think that many of the revolutionary movements during this period would have been significantly delayed, or at least altered in their ideologies.


Freeze, G. L. (2002). Russia: a history. Oxford: Oxford University Press.