December 01, 1996

Marshals of Victory

The paradox is as prevalent today as it ever was — almost all the outstanding military geniuses that Russia has seen have been out of favor with its leaders for most of their careers. There are two reasons for this: they were often more talented than the leaders themselves; and, however great they were, they served Russia rather than themselves or their superiors.

This reality is vividly expressed in the example of two great Russian marshals of the twentieth century. Their names, Georgy Zhukov and Konstantin Rokossovsky, are synonymous with the Soviet Union’s victory in the Second World War. And both were born 100 years ago this month.

Both men had modest beginnings, in poor rural families in central Russia, and won their spurs in the First World War and the Civil War (both on the side of the Reds), and then rose through the ranks.

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