The Mysteries of War

Is modern history objective concerning the past?
The Japan war broke out 100 years ago; it turned out to be a defeat for Russia, a crushing defeat for the Navy and a moral triumph for seamen. The Russian-Japanese war that broke out in 1904-1905 still remained a mystery for majority of people born in the Soviet epoch. The events that occurred in the Far East were included into all history books, but they were traditionally interpreted as preconditions for the 1905 revolution.

It is not a surprise at all that the tragic epoch in Russia's life was full of mystery, phenomena and facts that were not convincing enough.

Two Versions of Tsushima
The book by A.Novikov-Priboi, The Tsushima, tells us about the precursor and the tragedy of the Russian Navy at Tsushima. The book describes the events consistently and arrives at a conclusion typical of that period when the book came out: it turned out that autocracy and untalented czar admirals were guilty of the tragedy. The conclusion might be correct as concerning autocracy, but it is not right to call czar admirals untalented. Any war of any scale is a complicated thing to be described that categorically. The opinion of the book author, a participant of the Tsushima battle is just one of the views upon the events, a view from the lower deck so to say. However, there is a different opinion, The Retribution by Vladimir Semenov. The author of the book also took part in the war and in the battle of the 2nd Pacific squadron. Vladimir Semenov gives a clear idea of how the military command took decisions and for what reason. This is a different position of a researcher who wants to look into the origins of the tragedy. Unfortunately, for some reasons the book by Semenov and the author himself could not be available for Soviet readers for a rather long period. Those who want to know the history of the country should read both books, The Tsushima by Novikov-Priboi and The Retribution by Semenov.

The honor of Admiral Rozhdestvensky

Vice-admiral Zinoviy Rozhdestvensky was the commander of the 2nd Pacific squadron during the Tsushima campaign. Even today Navy historians have different views and opinions concerning the admiral's personality. Some time ago, the admiral was declared guilty of the Tsushima defeat. Researchers try to find out whether the admiral was an untalented czar minion or a doomed commander who knew how sending of the squadron to the Far East might end. Other authors say that Zinoviy Rozhdestvensky was an imperious despot while Navy theorists insist it was thanks to "a strange manoeuvre" of the admiral that Russian vessels avoided even more crushing extermination. But what kind of man was the admiral in fact? Was he stimulated with vanity, the fear not to execute the order, the duty and honor of the officer? It is unlikely that a dishonest man would demand a trial over himself, shoulder the responsibility for the defeat and demand a capital punishment. This is what Admiral Rozhdestvensky did. None of the numerous admirals of the Yeltsin's epoch has shouldered the responsibility for the ruthless and systematic liquidation of the Russian Navy. Russian admirals decided they had no connection with the problem. But were they? Recently, I have arrived at an opinion that esprit de corps are just empty words today. 
February 8 was the 100th anniversary of the feat of Varyag cruiser. The battle that took place on the first day of the Russian-Japanese war is an example of Russian heroism and the national relic. The present-day epoch is rather cynical when it is believed that new views upon history may yield much money and people can slander Russian seamen. For instance, some people have uncovered mistakes of Varyag commander Rudnev which he had allegedly committed.

Unfortunately, no finance is appropriated to conduct serious researches today. In fact, even the Japanese admired the feat of Russian heroes; they rendered homage to Russian seamen and founded the Varyag museum in Chemulpo. The Japanese squadron who attacked the two Russian vessels did not doubt Russians were heroes, while today Russian researchers call this fact into question. Why does it happen? Probably people dare such remarks because no eyewitnesses of the events can be found today, and the official historiography is not meant for objective investigation of the past.

Majority people in Russia's north do not know that Varyag cruiser came to the city of Murmansk where the Arctic Ocean flotilla was formed. That happened several years after the Russian-Japanese war. Before that, the Japanese took much effort to raise the cruiser from the bottom of the Bay of Chemulpo. Japan raised the vessel, repaired it and made it part of the national fleet under the name Soya. It was the point of honor for Russia to retrieve the cruiser: it was rather hard for the country to find enough money to pay for the vessel. It was during WWI that Varyag cruiser came to Murmansk to reinforce the Russian Navy in the north. The cruiser required thorough repairing and was sent to England. Then the October Revolution broke out, and the British refused to give the vessel back to Russia. In a year, when Varyag was towed for demounting it sank in the Irish Sea. A special expedition that has recently investigated the water area of Varyag demise confirmed that it was actually the heroic vessel that had went down in the Irish Sea.

Oleg Khimanych
Korabelnaya Storona, Severodvinsk

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Author`s name Michael Simpson