Steve Chapman

But Stalin didn't attack only his class enemies. His allies were equally at risk. During the Great Terror of the 1930s, he launched a purge of close aides, officials as well as ordinary members of the Communist Party, secret police, diplomats and military commanders. This frenzy killed millions, many of them worked to death in the vast network of labor camps that became known as the Gulag Archipelago.

Putin's propaganda celebrates Stalin for winning World War II. But if not for his paranoia and gullibility, the war would have been far easier to win.

If Stalin's plans had worked out, the Soviet Union would not have stood against the Nazis. At the outset, he entered into an alliance with Hitler that allowed him to recover Russian land lost in World War I, annex various Baltic nations and swallow up a chunk of Poland.

His reward was to be double-crossed in 1941, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Writes historian Paul Johnson, "Stalin, who trusted nobody else, appears to have been the last human being on earth to trust Hitler's word." In the conflict that followed, there is no telling how many soldiers died because the Red Army had been purged of its best officers by Stalin.

The new texts compare Stalin to Otto von Bismarck, the "Iron Chancellor" who unified Germany in the 19th century. But though Bismarck fought his neighbors on the battlefield, he didn't make war on his people. The latter habit is what distinguishes Stalin. If his record is grounds for pride, what could possibly be grounds for shame?

Putin's people deserve sympathy for the burdens the past has placed on them, but those don't justify his attempt to promote self-deception. Germans have proved it is possible to build a thriving nation without being blind to one's own history. Russians should respond to this campaign not with pride but with fear. If a government can justify what Stalin did, it can justify anything it wants to do.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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