Barring the possible existence on earth of undetected saints and major prophets, about the most important person in the world last week was Joseph Vissarionovitch Djugashvili. He was better known to the world as Joseph Stalin, Marshal and chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics.
In Poland and the Reich, his gigantic armies were (in Winston Churchill's feral phrase) "tearing the guts out of the German Army." In the world at large, his ambiguous political purposes were giving the creeps to practically everybody except professional Communists and those men of good will for whose professional unrealism (when it turns up among Russians) Stalin had always saved his most scathing barbs.
Not since the Red Army burst into the Balkans had there been such a surge of Allied gratitude and respect for Russia as followed its Army's burst into the Reich. There was not only respect for the drive as a military featfor mass and power and accomplishment, no Allied campaigns of World War II compared with it.
There was also a sporting pride in the fact of Russia's comeback: in two years the Russian nation in arms had climbed back 1,300 miles from retreat (finally halted at Stalingrad) to crashing victory on the Polish plains.
There was immense admiration, too, for the skillful powering of diplomacy with military might which had enabled the Russians within five months to knock out of the war four Axis satellites (Rumania, Bulgaria, Finland and Hungary) and, with the help of Marshal Tito's Partisans, to liberate most of Yugoslavia and force the German withdrawal from Greece.
To the plain fighting men in the Allied armies, who know at firsthand that the bills of victory are footed in blood, the Russian success meant the shortening of the war by monthsmeant, in one word of universal longing, home. To those at home, waiting for the return of sons, brothers and husbands, it meant new hope. To all it meant peacepeace, in the sense that Abraham Lincoln had said it"wonderful, wonderful peace."
There was still the war against Japanno one knew how long that would last. But against Japan, too, Russia might well play a decisive role. And there was also the possibility that German resistance might slow down the Russian advance. But at least it did not seem too much to hope that, if this Russian drive was not the last, it was the next to last, that a joint summer offensive from east and west would completely shatter the power of the Reich to wage war.
Bisection of Europe. And yet, even as Britons and Americans followed the Red Army's advance on their war maps, they could not escape at least a visual uneasiness. The line of Russia's 800-mile military front practically bisected Europe. How much farther west was it going to move? And what went on behind that line, where the western Allies had no effective power and little real information?
Britain had staked out a formal claim to interest in the affairs of Yugoslavia. She still recognized King Peter. But the Yugoslavs seemed about ready to jettison their King. In Belgrade the Government was dominated by Marshal Tito, a Communist.