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Melania Rocha

SWC 100

August 9, 2009

Soviet Union Benefits Few Returning Soldiers but Families Left to Struggle

After many devastating wars and battles, the Soviet Union was left in complete disarray.

People were left to live in cellars where their houses once stood. Many lives were lost,

especially those of the male soldiers. Due to this loss, women and children had to take over the

farmlands, many of which were not fertile. In A Russian Journal, John Steinbeck and Robert

Capa demonstrate this struggle in dealing with a life that has been complicated due to the war.

In contrast, journalists in America, like Drew Middleton from the New York Times, portray a

country in which war has improved life. Small bits of information are given in truth but these

are forgotten as the article progresses and distort the true view of how life is for many in the

Soviet Union after the war.

“Russian Industry Courts Veterans”, an article written for the New York Times by Drew

Middleton, discusses the many benefits that are given to returning veterans. As veterans return

to their homes they are bombarded with job offers from factories that desperately need their help.

The jobs are often better than those they had before the war, with better pay and working

conditions. Middleton address the amount of men lost in the war as a cause for this. “This

reflects, of course, the labor shortage in the Soviet Union which is the result of the loss of

7,000,000 men in the war and the demands of the expanding national economy” (Middleton).

This is the only time in which Middleton mentions the great loss of men the country experienced

due to the war, but the way in which it is said does not necessarily get across the severity of the

situation. The amount of men returning from the war is a very small part of the population and

these are the only people being offered these jobs. The fact that the article only mentions the
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minute number of living veterans once, allows the reader to forget that these opportunities are

only being offered to a very few amount of people and leads the audience to believe that the

whole country is experiencing this advancement and improvement in living conditions.

“When I got to the factory I found that my pay was higher than it was before the war and

that I had learned enough in the engineers to qualify for a better job soon,” (Middleton) said a

soldier returning home from the war. The increase in available jobs and in wages demonstrates a

growing economy in the Soviet Union yet there still were many people who remainedin poverty.

In “A Russian Journal”, John Steinbeck and Robert Capa come across women left without

husbands who must live in the cellars of their houses which once stood before the war. They see

women dressed in tattered clothes who must eat from garbage piles. They visit farms which are

having a difficult time harvesting crops. How can the economy be growing when there are still

so many impoverished people? The cities are destroyed, and there are not many men available to

help reconstruct. The Soviet Union is in a difficult place and has so many barriers to overcome.

The soldier also mentions having a better education that could lead to better job

opportunities that would help his country and himself move ahead. This was a great advantage

in being a soldier. They were able to attain more skills and attain opportunities for specialized

jobs. The problem with this is that there is an insufficient amount of soldiers returning to move

the Soviet economy ahead. The loss of so many men also leads to children having to take over

their positions on the farm. The women and children now had to take over all of the hard labor

on the farm. It was much more difficult for those who did not live on fertile land. The amount

of time that the children must spend on the farm to help support the family does not allow them

to go out to earn an education. As a result, the very few soldiers that return are able to succeed

and obtain an education, but the young men of the future must work and are stuck in the farm life

unless they too decide to become a soldier. In the failure to mention these things,the article
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makes it seem as though the Soviet Union could still be a very powerful force against the United

States. After the war, Americans still had fear of an attack by the Soviet Union on American

grounds. This article strengthens that fear through the implications of a growing economy and

the returning soldiers who are now more educated and have better jobs. This idea is somewhat

false due to the matter that the amounts of soldiers returning are few and the only people who are

left are women, children, and the elderly.

Another fact that this article exhibits is the desire for the farmer to work in factories.

“’Besides, I’ve learned a good deal about machines in the Army. Why shouldn’t I put my

knowledge to work? The country needs mechanics” (Middleton). The view of the people was

that the future of the country lied in factory jobs. This notion leads readers to believethat the

Soviet Union’s industry could possibly be growing. Although it may be growing, once again

there is a problem in the lack of men available to take these jobs. There is also a problem with

the women and children who are left on the farms. If the soldiers who do return do not go back

to the farms where others are left suffering, those families will never get back what they once

had before the war. While the lives of these soldiers may be improving, those that are left back

on the farm with no man power are worsening. The article later goes on to quote another soldier

saying, “’They may need me down on the farm for awhile to help set things straight, but after

that I’ll try my luck in the city. These days a man’s future is in the factories” (Middleton). Some

soldiers recognize that help is needed on the farmland but still desire to work in the factories and

leave the farm behind. But if the soldiers are not able to go into the factories because their help

is needed on the farm, the education they received in the army and the opportunities for better

paying jobs go to waste.

In some cases, the benefits offered to these returning soldiers are not as good as they

seem. “One provision of the Demobilization law is that local authorities in the devastated areas
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must allow demobilized soldiers to cut down trees for the lumber needed in construction or

repair of home without charge”(Middleton). Although this is a very positive benefit that will help

a great deal, these soldiers arephysically disabled so it would be very difficult for them to rebuild

their homes. Soldiers are also offered “loans of from 5,000 to 10,000 rubles for five or ten years

to finance reconstruction” (Middleton). This is also a very good offer but how will the soldiers be

able to pay this back? They will be working on reconstruction of their homes and

simultaneously working to bring the farm back to life or working a factory job in the city.

The assumptions that the American people were lead to believe about the Soviet Union

was that it was a terrible place where people had no freedom and where their every movement

was controlled by the government. To some extent this was true, but the government did not

only provide harm to their people. This article breaks a part of that assumption showing

Americans the great advantages that the government gives to these brave veterans of war. The

author sees the many benefits that the Soviet government grants to these returning soldiers and

possibly wants the same for the American soldiers. The Soviet soldiers are seen as heroes and

are given top priority in everything. They are better off than they used to be financially and have

numerous opportunities presented to them. In this way the author shows some admiration

towards the Soviet Union and may feel that if the Soviet Union can provide this to their citizens

than so should the United States.

A Robert Capa photo from “A Russian Journal” depicts the hard farm life that children and

women must endure in the absence of the men. On page 77 is a photograph of a wheat farm. In

the background are women dressed in dark clothing shoveling something that is probably wheat,

into some sort of vehicle. There is a small farmhouse with a pile of wheat lying behind it. In

the forefront of the picture is a small child looking down. Behind the child are rakes and tools

that are not in use. There are no men present in this photograph which clearly demonstrates the
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lack of them and the fact that the children and women must now take over the farmland. The

rakes also show this sameabsence. They are not being used which show that there are not

enough people to help out on the farm. The women in the background are dressed in dark colors

presenting a gloomy feeling over the photograph. The dark colors represent the sadness and

depression that these women must deal with. They must cope with losing their loved ones,

whether it is theirhusbands, uncles, or fathers, and then must also think about how they will now

support their family on their own. The child in the front probably is one the most concerning

parts of this photograph. This child is, “stationed at the edge of the canvas so that any grains

which happened to jump off and fall into the dirt could be put back, for every grain was

precious” (Steinbeck). First of all, this child is now left to work all day in the fields and has to

miss out on having a normal childhood full of games and no worries. This child is also put to

make sure that no grains disappear. This depicts the very hard situations some were left in where

the crops were not very good. Farmers had to save every little piece of harvest they could

because it was all “precious.” Another thing about this child is that it is looking down, which

embodies a sadness and depressed feeling once again. Childrenoftentimes represent the future.

So when this child is looking down it signifies the downfall of the future in the Soviet Union.

The struggles represented in Robert Capa’s photograph from “A Russian Journal”

challenges the assumptions that are made from the New York Times article. By focusing on the

veterans and saying their lives are so much better than they once were before the war, the article

leads the reader to believe that this progression is the same for all other citizens when in actuality

the number of returning veterans was an exceedingly small amount of the population. Because

of the amount of soldiers that died, those that are coming back to obtain these opportunities of

success are very few. The small farms that were once in control by these soldiers are now left to

the wife and children who must now take on all the hard labor to support the family.
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Works Cited

Middleton, Drew. “Russian Industry Courts Veterans.” New York Times 7 Dec. 1946.

Steinbeck, John, and Robert Capa. A Russian Journal. New York: Viking, 1948.