As part of the background research I'm doing for 'The Demi-Monde: Fall', I've been reading about famous urban battles. That's why I came to read 'Leningrad: State of Siege' by Michael Jones. It describes the 900-day siege of Leningrad in the Second World War when the Nazis attempted to starve the city - now renamed St Petersburg - into submission.
In fact I only half read of the book: I found this graphic account of the suffering endured by the Russian people so harrowing that I couldn't finish it. But what I took away from the book - apart from an admiration of the tenacity of the citizens of Leningrad - was that this suffering was inflicted by maniacs posing as messiahs. That ordinary soldiers - both German and Russian - could be persuaded to do some of the terrible things they did in the name of the specious creeds mouthed by charismatic psychopaths is a warning to us all.
Yesterday on the BBC News there was the sad report of the death of two servicemen in Afghanistan, but it is chilling to remember that just seventy years ago 200,000 Russian soldiers were dying each day to preserve the power of one madman from the onslaught of another. The death toll on the eastern front was the result of the rivalry between the criminally xenophobic Adolf Hitler and the insanely paranoid Stalin.
The one lesson we must take from this is it is everyone's duty to distrust demagogues who come with a message.
This is why it is so important to teach history in schools: only by understanding the mistakes of the past can we hope to avoid them in the future