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Heroism is a very ambiguous concept so it is often difficult to tell the difference between a hero and a dictator, since many people have different perspectives and opinions on what makes someone a hero. One of the controversial heroes would be Joseph Stalin, the supreme ruler of the Soviet Union.
Joseph Stalin, one of the most influential leaders in the 20th century, is somehow the most respected person yet the most criticized person in an academic and historical perspective. He was born into a family of domestic violence, extreme poverty.
However, his deep interest and obsession towards revolutionary activities led him gain a low-priority leadership position in the new Soviet government. After the death of Vladimir Lenin, he took control over the Communist Party and the whole country. Having a name that meant ‘man of steel’ in Russian term, Stalin abused his power and used armed forces, which led to colossal death. However, his economic prosperity led to widespread support among the Russian people.
Consequentially, he is remembered and celebrated by many Russians, being affectionately referred to as their beloved leader. Stalin can also be considered as an ideal example of a hero, from the perspective of Joseph Campbell’s ‘The Hero’s Journey Cycle’ for them. He overcame failures and met mentors that changed his viewpoint. Stalin stepped into the new world of politics and brought back changes the whole world recognizes as important.
Stalin’s achievement made many people follow him. Stalin made Russia one of the superpowers from agriculture based poor society, which was a drastic change for the Russian society.
BBC recalled that production increased radically between 1928 and 1937 that production of Coal increased from 36 million tons to 130 million tons, Oil increased from 2 million tons to 29 million tons, and Electricity increased from 5,000 million to 36,000 million kilowatts(BBC). Due to the fact that more citizens were able to afford the resources, this radically increased the quality of life of Russian citizens. Stalin is also honored for defeating the Nazis. Similar to the concept how Winston Churchill asserted in his essay ‘We shall fight on the beaches’, he never gave up fighting against Nazis, even in the status when they were disadvantageous. If it weren’t Stalin and its army, uncountable victims may had made Nazi overwhelm the whole continent. Ishaan Tharoor, the reporter of the Washington Post covering foreign affairs, geopolitics, and history, commented, The Red Army was “the main engine of Nazism’s destruction,” writes British historian and journalist Max Hastings in “Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945” (Tharoor). Also, through his policies like free health care and expansion of education, Stalin increased civil participation within Russia, earning the support of citizens in the process.
Stalin was not always a good man throughout his regime for a quarter of a century, and there are many cases that show Stalin’s dictatorial appearance. Stalin was wrongly into the concept of heroism and wanted everyone to respect him as a heroic figure. He killed everyone who was against him. BBC IWonder mentioned, ‘Yet he is increasingly paranoid and purges the Communist party and Army of anyone who might oppose him. Ninety-three of the 139 Central Committee members are killed and 81 of the 103 generals and admirals are executed. The secret police strictly enforce Stalinism and people are encouraged to inform on one another. Three million people are accused of opposing Communism and sent to the gulag, a system of labour camps in Siberia’ (IWonder). He also felt inferior to powerful nations, so he tried to make Russia the strongest nation above all. However, his scheme for development in limited years including the ‘5-Years Plan’ brought some problems. Palash Ghosh wrote in the International Business Times that, ‘Stalin’s extremely brutal 30-year rule as the absolute ruler of the Soviet Union featured so many atrocities, including purges, expulsions, forced displacements, imprisonment in labor camps, manufactured famines, torture and good old-fashioned acts of mass murder and massacres’ (Ghosh). Due to these problematic behaviors, tremendous cost and more than 40 million sacrifice including the people who perished in the war incurred during his regime were made. For Nazis or people who suffered from Stalin’s regime, Stalin would rather be a villain than a hero.
We can take away a lot from this historical and political analysis on Joseph Stalin’s life. Our biggest takeaway is that depending on the background we grew up in, the values that we have, what education we got, or how we are affected by the model, we can have a different perspective on whether they are dictating heroes or heroic dictators. There is no right or wrong, however, we should not judge a person by generalizing their life or their goals. In order to gain an objective perspective on a person’s true nature, one must try to be logical and take into consideration different sides of the story history offers and look back to one’s life. Also we should be aware of one abusing the power of heroism or improperly accepting the concept of heroism.
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