The Last Plane from Stalingrad

Christian DeHaemer

Written By Christian DeHaemer

Posted May 6, 2024

New York Times opinion writer Frank Bruni has been doing the media circuit hawking his new book: “The Age of Grievance.”

Novelist Lionel Shriver reviews the book in the NY Times and writes:

Frank Bruni portrays the contemporary United States in “The Age of Grievance” as consumed by a corrosive resentment on both ends of the political spectrum, driving its poles further apart and rewarding hyperbole, bitterness, acrimony and self-pity.

His book is at its best when it is most evenhanded, expressing a curse-on-both-your-houses despair. There’s plenty of culpability to go around, and the poisoning of national politics with mutual loathing and grudge-bearing needn’t be a contest. Regarding every party, sex, race, sexual orientation or class: “They feel cheated. They feel disrespected. They’re peeved unless they’re outright furious.” The aggrieved on all sides “have lost — or lost interest in — the ability to see beyond their slights to a common good in which they don’t get all that they want. Grown-ups are supposed to be able to compromise like that. But ours is an era of mass immaturity.”

Bruni is leftwing and of course, blames all the whining on the right.   Shriver puts the blame firmly on the left.  

So there we have it: a book review complaining about a book complaining about complaining.  So meta…

It didn’t use to be this way.  There was a time when real men did real deeds and didn’t complain when times got hard.

The Last of the Real Men

I met one of these men at my father’s retirement home.  He was 96 at the time and one of the most interesting people and best storytellers I’ve ever met. He was old and frail and slumped in a wheelchair…

But if you had patience and showed interest, he might have told you about the time he took the last plane out of Stalingrad…

My father’s friend was 17 years old in 1942 when the Germans came knocking on his mother’s door in Bucharest, Romania. The Wehrmacht gave him a choice: volunteer for the Romanian Army or get a bullet in the head. He chose the one where he might live.

And so it was that he found himself in the frozen January of 1943 as a medic at the apex of the German advance on the Eastern Front. He was witness to one of the largest and costliest battles in the history of the world: the Battle of Stalingrad.

Zhukov, the great Russian general, moved on the Germans and their allies in November of 1942 with two encircling movements. The under-motivated and under-equipped Romanians who held the flanks for the German 6th Army collapsed under the pressure.

The Germans were encircled and any attempt at a breakout was forgotten when Hitler told them to hold the Stalingrad at all costs.  It cost the war.

In the end, the Russians destroyed an army and captured about 105,000 Germans which were taken to Siberia. Fewer than 10% made it back to Germany alive with the last German POW released in 1956.

However, our storyteller, now in a luxury retirement home was at the time patching up an injured pilot who said he had a working airplane that could carry five people but no gas. 

If they could find the gas, they might live. So they bought, siphoned or stole enough fuel for a handful of Romanians to just make it over the Russian lines and crash-land in Ukraine, where they avoided partisans by traveling at night, and eventually, he made it the 900 miles back to his mother’s house.

Then, after the war, he took a long train ride to Siberia to free his brother, who was captured at Stalingrad, from a labor camp and certain death. Miraculously, he was able to bribe the camp commander with gold and bring his brother home.

Our man went on to flee Bulgaria, then Hungry, and eventually made it to the United States where he became a renowned doctor and had a long, distinguished career at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

So, when you hear people kvetch and complain you might stop and tell them it could be worse.  All things considered, despite what you see in corporate media, we have it pretty good.  The stock market is pushing all-time highs.  Unemployment is low.  Sixty-five percent of us own a home and the United States is mostly at peace.  

As for a book about complaining?  Who needs it?

All the best,

Christian DeHaemer

Outsider Club

P.S. Buy gold.