When Men Were Men and Continents Were Divided

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President Bush's stirring speech in Latvia Saturday, in which he said "The agreement at Yalta followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact," has been greeted by some over-excited commentators as a jarring break with U.S. foreign policy, and a slap in the face to Saint Franklin Roosevelt himself. Jacob Heilbrunn, for instance, has a mad-as-hell column today titled Once Again, the Big Yalta Lie, that puts forth the following proposition:

The claim that Roosevelt betrayed Eastern Europe at Yalta, and that he set the stage for 40 years of Soviet domination, is an old right-wing canard. By repeating it, and by publicly charging that the Yalta agreement was in the "unjust tradition" of Hitler's deal with Stalin, Bush was simply engaging in cheap historical revisionism. His glib comments belong to the Ann Coulter school of history.

Nasssty right-wingerssses! It's all bullshit, of course. Get a load of these noted right-wing canardistas daring to challenge the great statesmanship of Yalta.

  • Madeleine Albright, March 1999: After the foreign ministers, Albright reinforced the message that the three countries would never again face isolation or abandonment, as at Yalta in February 1945 when the "Big Three" powers that won World War II-the United States, Britain and Russia-relegated Eastern Europe to the Soviet sphere of influence. "Never again will your fates be tossed around like poker chips on a bargaining table," she said. "Whether you are helping to revise the Alliance's Strategic Concept or engaging in NATO's partnership with Russia, the promise of `nothing about you without you,' is now formalized; you are truly allies; you are truly home."
  • Strobe Talbott, May 1997: "After World War II … many countries in the East suffered nearly half a century under the shadow of Yalta. That is a place name that has come to be a codeword for the cynical sacrifice of small nations' freedom to great powers' spheres of influence, just as Versailles has come to signify a short-sighted, punitive, and humiliating peace that sows the seeds of future war. … Part of the challenge we face in dealing with Russia now that the Cold War is over is to avoid both a new Versailles and a new Yalta."
  • William Jefferson Right-Wing-Canardton, January 1994: "Let me, therefore, conclude by expressing my firm conviction that this meeting has become an important landmark on the road toward a new democratic and truly peaceful Europe, sharing firm and natural ties with the North American continent. At one time, the city of Yalta went down in history as a symbol of the division of Europe. I would be happy if today the city of Prague emerged as a symbol of Europe's standing in alliance."

Munich doesn't = Yalta, but A) I don't think Bush was saying that, and B) they do share some notable characteristics, namely that the fate and even existence of several small countries was decided at a superpower conference where the little guys weren't even invited. I would hope that's a tradition no one finds worthy of defense.

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  1. Nasssty right-wingerssses!

    They lied to us! We hates them!

    We shall take the Precious and smash them!

  2. So how do the right-wingers rationalize their criticism of Yalta with their worship of neocon hero Saint Winston Churchill? At least FDR had the excuse that he was already terminally ill at that point. Winston also had been an open foe of Stalin in the 1930s when many in the US were very naive about the USSR, but he still acquiesced readily to Stalin’s demands. The neocons don’t like to recall that Winston sat firmly in the British tradition of not caring much about the fates of little nations.

  3. Not to get off-topic or anything, but how come there wasn’t an ad for Reason as a Mother’s Day gift?

  4. Vanya,

    Who then had the strength to stand against Stalin and Roosevelt? Against Moscow and Washington, in the union of the two superpowers…

  5. Roosevelt’s excuse was he was terminally ill? That’s an interesting concept there.

  6. Munich Agreement? Coming as it does on the anniversary of Neville Champerlain’s resignation as PM, this somehow seems appropriate.

  7. Well, if you really want to hear about it, Stalin and Churchill and Roosevelt got together in a place called Yalta. What a bunch of fat-assed phonies. They sat around and smoked cigars and divided up Europe and all. Very big deal. Old Stalin and Churchill and Roosevelt. Only, Stalin ended up giving them both the time in the back of Ed Stankey’s car. Then old Churchill stood up and made this crumby speech. He said “an Iron Curtain has descended across your lip,” or something like that. “Iron Curtain.” That just about killed me. Funny thing, though. Looking back, I kinda miss old Roosevelt and Churchill. I even kind of miss that old Stalin. Then I went outside in the rain in this goddamn red hunting cap I have, bawling like a madman.

    Never tell anybody about the Yalta Conference. You always end up missing everybody.

  8. Damn. I misquoted old Churchill. He said, “An Iron Curtain has descended across the condiments,” or something. He could give a fancy speech, though. I have to admit it. And he was a terrific whistler. Goddamn. Old Churchill.

  9. Vanya,

    From what I’ve seen of the neocons, they seem to like FDR. They might not like everything about him, but they sure as hell like his handling of forign policy.

  10. Wellsssesss, if we reeeally wantsssess to knowsess abouts it — oh, hell with it.

  11. Vanya…

    I’m guessing your argument goes something like this…..

    As the nasty right wingers worship the neocon hero Saint Winston Churchill (boy, i can just see the sarcasm dripping off of that statement, nice use of the perjoritive “neo-con” too, i’m already skered), and, as Roosevelt was ill, Roosevelt did not really participate in a conference where the status of small states was decided with out the participation of those small states?

    Or, are you saying, that as nasty right wingers worship the neocon (ooooh, I shiver) Saint Winston Churchill, and as Roosevelt was ill, it is O.K. that he participated in a conference where the status of small states was decided with out the participation of those small states?

    Or, do you irrationally hold onto fallacious arguments due to your delusional fear of the evil neo-cons?

  12. Actually, calling Churchill a neo-con is almost exactly right, since he was a Liberal who became a Conservative (though the reason was less that he was mugged by reality than that his party disappeared underneath him).

    Also, he was fond of an aggressive foreign policy (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), and didn’t particularly care about the socialization of his country under his watch (as evidenced by his handing off all the domestic ministries to Labour during his Coalition government of 1940-45).

    Complicating things, though, is that he was the first guy to use of weapons of mass destruction (poison gas) against the Iraqis. I understand that now qualifies you for having your country invaded by the United States.

  13. Let’s be honest about this: In 1945, people were tired of fighting the bloodiest war mankind has ever known. The will to start shooting Soviets once we’d shot all the Nazis, simply for the freedom of Estonia, just wasn’t there. Given that hand, you’d fold let and Stalin collect that kitty of penny-ante Baltic poker chips too.

    Revisionistssssssss

  14. A,

    Please repost, and try to make sense this time. Your reading of my post seems to include a lot of inference from limited evidence. But I suppose you’re one of those post-modernists who believes any reading is equally valid regardless of the author’s intentions.

  15. I think everyone needs to admit that Churchill, FDR, and Stalin, were simply three typical power hungry world leaders who sat around at Yalta and divided the spoils of war. The neo-cons and their forebears are just as nasty and despotic as the New Dealers and theirs, slicing up Europe and bargaining with people’s lives with the “man of steel.”

  16. Actually I suppose Winston made a pretty good deal for Britain considering how weak his hand was. I wouldn’t call him a neo-con – he was a realist. Presumably a neo-con would not have traded Eastern Europe for a free hand in the Mediterranean. His ideals were not “freedom for all the little peoples”, his goal was to maintain the British Empire. He was quite amenable to concepts like “spheres of influence.” When he gave the “Iron Curtain” speech was he really concerned about Poland? Or the fact that Communists in Greece, Italy and France were showing themselves to be a real threat? I think Churchill’s primary concern with the Soviet Union was that it was expansionist, not that it brutally oppressed its own people. (And no, I’m not saying that Churchill didn’t care about Soviet oppression, just that it was not his primary reason for opposing Communism).

  17. The fate of Poland was *not* decided at Yalta. (BTW, how could Poland have been represented at Yalta when the question of what was the Polish government was precisely one of the big issues dividing the Western Allies form the USSR?) The fate of Poland was decided by the fact that the Red Army was in the country, period. The only way to “save” Poland was to start a third world war, and nobody was willing to do that.

    Note that Clinton was merely saying that Yalta was a *symbol* of the division of Europe, not the cause. Likewise Talbott simply refers to it as a “codeword”. And in any event, let’s even say that Clinton, Talbott, and Albright really did believe that Yalta caused the division of Europe. That would prove that the Yalta myth is not believed solely by right-wingers. But it wouldn’t make it any less of a myth.

    I will simply ask Matt Welch: What would *you* have done to save Poland? Yes, we could have continued to recognize the London government in exile. What good would that have done the Poles? About as much good as the commitment Stalin made at Yalta to hold free elections in Poland. (Contrary to the notion that FDR was naive, he was pretty well aware of the worthlessness of this commitment, and of Stalin’s promise to “reorganize” the Lublin government. “When Presidential aide Admiral William Leahy read the compromise document on Poland submitted at the plenary meeting on February 10, he remarked to FDR that it was “so elastic that the Russians can stretch it all the way from Yalta to Washington without technically breaking it.” To this, FDR replied: “I know, Bill — I know it. But it’s the best I can do for Poland at this time.” http://www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/AD_Issues/amdipl_6/stefan2.html By the way I have often found it amusing that people simultneously claim that Yalta was a sell-out *and* that Stalin broke the agreements he made there. They can’t very well have it both ways…)

    At least isolationists like Justin Raimondo who argue we should never have entered the war, precisely because the defeat of Hitler made the Soviet take-over of eastern Europe inevitable, have a more coherent case than the blame-Yalta crowd. (The problem of course is that their alternative to letting Stalin control half of Europe would have been to let Hitler control *all* of it…)

  18. Words, words and more words. If Bush’s pledge proves accurate, it will only be because circumstances allow it to be, not because we’re more moral now, or because Bush is more moral than Roosevelt, or whatever the basis of the pledge is supposed to be. Thinking words are reality is a mistake I thought only liberals were supposed to make. Perhaps Bush’s pledge was good PR though, and that’s what words are good for. Sometimes.

  19. The editorial is in the grand tradition of last year’s election campaign; whatever your opponent says, no matter how innocuous, you must passionately, fervently, rediculously, oppose it:

    Headline: “Bush wipes ass”
    Next Day Headline: “Dean outraged at Bush’s wiping of ass; “he uses extremist right wing toilet paper”

    That said, I find it a little hypocritical that Bush would give Israelis a certain amount of free-pass justified by “the facts on the ground,” yet he discounts what the facts on the ground were at Yalta.

  20. Looks like David T stole some of my thunder. I would add that almost every half-way serious foreign affairs policy maker or commentator would admit that Yalta is a symbol more than anything else. In other words, if you pressed the most hardcore neo-cons on the point, they would all agree that domination of Poland and most of Eastern Europe by the Soviet Union was a fait accompli by the time of Yalta. At most they would argue that Roosevelt should have made a bigger stink, short of provoking WWIII, about what everyone knew were Stalin’s intentions. The ardent neo-con might argue, somewhat plausibly, that a little sabre rattling could have lead to a less assertive Soviet Union viz. Eastern Europe, or we might have gotten perestroika a little bit earlier.

    I don’t think you should expect a president, who has made democracy promotion a cornerstone of his foreign policy to give a nuanced account in a political speech where the main goal is effective rhetoric rather than careful analysis.

  21. Let’s be honest about this: In 1945, people were tired of fighting the bloodiest war mankind has ever known. The will to start shooting Soviets once we’d shot all the Nazis, simply for the freedom of Estonia, just wasn’t there. Given that hand, you’d fold let and Stalin collect that kitty of penny-ante Baltic poker chips too.

    I think that you can understand why people did what they did, and not even blame them entirely for doing it, and still think that they did the wrong thing. I understand why the terrorists did what they did on 9/11; I don’t therefore condone it, or think that they should get a free pass.

    From what I know of history, Yalta was necessary. The way to defeat Hitler, the greater evil, was to make a deal with Stalin, the lesser evil (at that time, under those circumstances). But Yalta was still a raw deal for the people of Eastern Europe, and I don’t think that the fact that Yalta was necessary makes that okay. It makes it an unavoidable lesser evil, but it’s not okay.

  22. But if Madeleine Albright said it, how can it be true? Everyone knows that Albright is one o’ dem evil Demmycrats, and that makes everything she sez wrong by deffy-nition. I knows cuz I read it in World Net Daily, and- and-

    (head explodes)

  23. From my limited understanding of Yalta, it seems like the war weary powers (you know the ones that did most of the heavy lifting) needed to come up with a workable agreement. We needed the Soviets in case of an extended Pacific war, so we made some natural concession. At the same time, we need to be realistic. Millions of soldiers and people had died in this war, the Russians, UK and US were the reasons why the Nazi Army was no longer in Poland (I know, Nazis and Soviets, six of one, half dozen of the other). There just wasn’t much we could do. There was absolutely zero will to lose more American lives to free the Eastern Europeans and Churchill and FDR took the best hand they could get.

    Bush’s words are all fine and dandy. By the way, how’s that sellout of the Sudanese going?

  24. BTW, just as not all perpetrators of the Yalta myth are on the Right, not all the critics of the myth are on the Left. Here is what Conrad Black writes in the *Globe and Mail* (registration required):

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/ArticleNews/TPStory/LAC/20050510/COYALTA10/TPComment/TopStories

    Yalta was no betrayal, Mr. Bush

    The U.S. President is perpetuating a canard, says FDR biographer CONRAD BLACK

    By CONRAD BLACK

    Tuesday, May 10, 2005 Page A19

    In his otherwise eloquent remarks at Riga on the weekend, U.S. President George W. Bush, as has been his habit when in Eastern Europe, revived the Yalta myth about the origins of the Iron Curtain and the postwar division of Europe. He said that “the Yalta Agreement followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Once again, when powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable.”

    Yalta’s Declarations on Liberated Europe and on Poland were all that the most ardent democrat would have wished: assurances of free, multiparty elections, secret ballots and the benefits of Western standards of freedom. Apart from these two declarations, Yalta did not otherwise dispose of Eastern Europe. As historian Ted Morgan wrote: “Yalta was a defeat for the Soviets and they so regarded it. What they won at the negotiating table, their armies already possessed. If Yalta was a sell-out, why did [Stalin] go to such lengths to violate the agreement?” The problem with Yalta was not that it was a bad agreement but that Stalin ignored it.

    Eastern Europe was not written off, as Mr. Bush implies. At Tehran in November of 1943, it was agreed to move the Soviet and Polish western borders 200 miles to the west, rewarding Russia for her mighty war effort and compensating Poland at the expense of Germany. Stalin made it clear that the USSR would reoccupy the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, which had been Russian provinces for 200 years from the time of Peter the Great to the end of the First World War. He dismissed Franklin Roosevelt’s request for a referendum in those countries and pointed out that the British and Americans had never asked the Romanovs to hold referendums there.

    Mr. Bush is correct that the liberty of small countries must be protected against the aggressions of larger powers, but there was no practical step the Western leaders could take to assist the Baltic countries as the 360 divisions of the Red Army rolled into Central Europe.

    In February of 1944, the European Advisory Commission, against the wishes of the United States, produced a plan for the division of postwar Germany into three approximately equal zones. This was a triumph for the British, who would have only a fraction of the forces of the Americans in Western Europe at the end of hostilities, much less the Russians. Not knowing that Tehran had a secret agreement and changed the Polish borders, the commissioners awarded most of the Russian zone of prewar Germany from territory that would be Polish.

    This condemned Poland to Russian occupation, but also assured that Germany would move demographically to the West and become an unambiguously Western country for the first time. About 10 million Germans decamped to the West ahead of the Red Army. It was a tragedy for the Poles but a good geopolitical trade for the West. The United States had not wanted to demarcate occupation zones in Germany but leave it to where the armies ended up. Roosevelt correctly believed that the Germans would resist more fiercely in the East against the Russians than against the Western Allies, who generally observed the Geneva Conventions.

    Winston Churchill, who was hardly soft on communism and was leader of the opposition to the 1938 Munich agreement, went to Moscow in October of 1944 and agreed that the Soviet Union would have pre-eminent influence in Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary; that the West would prevail in Greece; and that Yugoslavia would be a 50-50 division between them. This was essentially what occurred. It was, in Churchill’s phrase, a “naughty” arrangement, made against Roosevelt’s wishes, but it reflected military realities on the ground. Apart from these agreements, Eastern Europe was not formally carved up or assigned among the Great Powers.

    The Russians were taking almost 90 per cent of the casualties among the Big Three Allies in fighting the Germans. It has never been clear how Roosevelt and Churchill were to deny Stalin what he considered his share of the spoils. Roosevelt wanted the Russians to take some of the anticipated one million casualties that would be involved in subduing Japan, if atomic weapons did not work. The first atomic test was only in July of 1945, more than five months after Yalta.

    Roosevelt had hoped that the existence of atomic weapons in the hands of the U.S., plus a promise of immense economic assistance and co-operation in the durable demilitarization of Germany, could induce Stalin to be comparatively flexible in Eastern Europe. Stalin’s rejection of this offer from Roosevelt and Harry Truman was a colossal blunder. The violated Yalta accords furnished much of the moral basis for the Western conduct of the Cold War, which ultimately the Russians could not win and which led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and of communism itself.

    Mr. Bush should remember, even if he does not want to repeat it to live audiences in Eastern Europe, that, of all those countries, only the Czechs were politically distinguished before the war. The Hungarians and Poles jubilantly joined in tearing up Czechoslovakia after Munich. Munich was a bad arrangement, undertaken with good intentions by British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, because he knew that Britain and France could not go to war against the desire of the Sudeten Germans to join Germany.

    The Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 was an act of stupefying cynicism, carving up Poland and the Baltic states, and submitting them all to brutal occupation. Yalta was an unexceptionable arrangement that required 45 years of vigilant containment to enforce. Mr. Bush should not perpetuate the Yalta myth and should not give ammunition to the forces of anti-Americanism in Europe, which claim that the English-speaking countries betrayed Eastern Europe. The West went to war for Poland. The English-speaking countries liberated Western Europe and, with those liberated countries, withheld recognition of Stalin’s violation of his Yalta promises until Eastern Europe, too, was liberated.

    Sixty years after V-E Day, this Republican president should stop parroting McCarthyite defamations of Roosevelt, Churchill and Truman. He cannot seriously lament that the West did not go to war with the USSR over Eastern Europe in 1945. He should stop apologizing for what was not, in fact, a discreditable episode in American diplomatic history.

  25. By the above, I mean this.

    Fuck Clinton and Albright for selling out Rwanda, while I’m at it.

  26. I agree. Though you can argue FDR should have done more at Yalta, his real screw up was in all the events leading up to that point. By the time Yalta came around the war for Eastern Europe was already lost. Still, Yalta was the moment of the West’s final surrender, so I have no problem using it in a speech the way Bush did.

  27. Necessary or not, having Alger Hiss prominently involved (behind the scenes, per some accounts) in the Yalta conference does not exactly give me confidence that the U.S. had Eastern Europe’s best interests at heart.

  28. Funny post, Matt, very funny. I totally cracked up. I also liked the link to the guy who says shit to really ram home his indignation. I mean, when the left uses shit other colorful language, then they’re pissed at the evil establishment and somebody really better do something to straighten, um, shit up and I mean now.

    Anyway, funny stuff. All this rage and nowhere to put it. I love when the left hates the right.

  29. Hiss’s role at Yalta was actualy quite minor, and involved technical work on the organization of the new United Nations, not the division of Europe. Interestingly, Hiss actualy write a memo *opposing* Stalin’s demand for the admission of all sixteen Soviet “republics” to the UN! (Eventually, Stalin setled for the Ukraine and Belorussia.)

    This memo was later used by Hiss’s apologists as “proof” he wasn’t a Communist. Of course it was nothing of the sort. FDR had made it clear that the US was opposed to the Soviet demand, and Hiss just presented the legal arguments to back up a position that had already been decided on. What the whole incident does show is that while Communists in the government could do considerable harm in terms of espionage, their capactity to manipulate US policy aginst US interests was limited, since they did have to answer to their non-Communist superiors.

  30. Bets on how soon GWB does something Yaltaesque when it suits him.

  31. “I think that you can understand why people did what they did, and not even blame them entirely for doing it, and still think that they did the wrong thing.”

    Screw that. We don’t need to understand why mass murderers commit their crimes, we just need to know where they are so that we can give them a dose of precision-guided munitions that’ll make them wish they’d never been born. Sheesh, I feel like 6gun’s description: “All this rage and nowhere to put [the PGM’s].”

    “Bets on how soon GWB does something Yaltaesque when it suits him.” – VF

    He already has, several times over. Not that that’s a bad thing, tho. Hell, I’m not even upset over Yalta itself.

  32. Grylliade,

    I understand why the 9/11 hijackers did what they did — well, sort of — but I think they are evil shits for it. I understand why Rooseveldt and Churchill cut a deal with Stalin, and I think it was the right thing in the historical circumstances. Following up WWII with an immediate encore of WWIII was a bad idea, not merely a failure of Western willpower.

  33. Trotsky –
    There were, in fact, semi-serious discussions in the US and Britain about rearming German divisions and pointing them East as soon as Germany capitulated. It says something that Churchill had a report drawn up on the possibility of “impos[ing] upon Russia the will of the United States and British Empire”, complete with projected casualty figures, but it also says something that the plan was titled “Operation Unthinkable”.

    A bad idea…well, the slaughter of thousands more is always a bad idea, but leaving the millions of Eastern Europeans to suffer the tender mercies of the USSR doesn’t look like such a hot idea in retrospect either. I think that the people of the West simply would not have accepted the possibility of another five-plus years of war.

    Oh, and about the original topic – I didn’t realize until I started reading some center-left political blogs just what some people’s view of FDR is. He really is a secular saint to them, and no evil may be spoken of him, for he SAVED AMERICA, amen.

  34. By the way, the realy outrageous part of Bush’s remarks was comparing Yalta to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, as though the US and Britain were themselves totalitarian countries greedily annexing countries the way the USSR and Nazi Germany had done. The comparison to Munich is merely unfair.

  35. JD,

    Sure, they thought about it. I’m glad they did. I’m also glad they didn’t rearm the Germans, just as I’m glad we’re not rearming form Baathist thugs. (Wait, anyone read Peter Maas’ story in the NYT mag two Sundays ago?) As for slaughtering thousands … that may be an understatement.

    Whatever, history — the history of WWII not least — is tragic. Thank the Lord we’re treaty-bound to defend the territorial integrity of Latvia henceforward.

  36. How can anyone take Bush seriously, when he’s playing footsie with Uzbekistan’s leader?

    Yalta is far more understandable than Bush’s policy towards a guy who has people boiled alive.

  37. As many posters have already pointed out, by February 1945 the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe was a fait accompli – nothing that FDR and Churchill could have done would have altered that, short of going to war with their erstwhile ally. For those who want to equate the diplomacy at Yalta with the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, I suggest you look at the way Britain and the US treated both France and Germany during and after the war. There was no attempt to install a puppet government in France, even though I suspect that both FDR and Churchill were strongly tempted at times, and West Germany was set up as a functioning democratic state in a very short period of time. There was simply nothing that the Western Allies could do about Eastern Europe, period.

    The other thing to keep in mind is that in early 1945, WWII was very far from being over. The Nazis may have been on their last legs, but the Japanese were still fighting fanatically. Iwo Jima was invaded that month with massive US Marine casualties, the Japanese Army had just concluded a successful offensive in China, and the US was contemplating an invasion of the home islands. There was no A-bomb yet, nor any assurance that there would be one. The last thing FDR wanted to do was to alienate a Soviet Union that could be a vital factor in the defeat of Japan. I imagine that for Roosevelt, the single most important thng that came out of Yalta was Stalin’s assurance that he would enter the war against Japan within 90 days of a German surrender.

  38. Something that seems to be glossed over here is FDR’s mistaken assuptions about Stalin. It is easy to for us to see in retrospect, but part of the problem in the events that led up to Yalta was the fact FDR completely underestimated or just plain didn’t understand the Soviet threat. FDR saw a postwar world in which the US and the Soviet would be partners, and it was this naive view that led to the subjegation of Eastern Europe.

  39. I have always thought that FDR’s alleged naivite about Stalin has been exaggerated. In a speech in February 1940 to representatives of the American Youth Congress, he asserted: “The Soviet Union, as everybody who has the courage to face the facts knows, is run by a dictatorship as absolute as any other dictatorship in the world. It has allied itself with another dictatorship [i.e., with Hitler’s Germany], and it has invaded a neighbor. . .infinitesimally small” [i.e. Finland]. Earlier, at the time of Stalin’s invasion of Finland at the end of November 1939, FDR had privately expressed dismay and remarked: “No human being can tell what the Russians are going to do next.” http://www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/AD_Issues/amdipl_6/stefan.html#intro

    Now, is it likely that FDR forgot about all that simply because Hitler invaded the Soviet Union? I doubt it, though he may have tried to reassure himself and others that the US and the USSR could get along after the war. I think it is more a matter of realizing that the US needed the USSR as an ally:

    “FDR summarized the rationale behind his approach at Yalta on the countries of Eastern Europe, especially Poland, to a small group of Senate leaders in Washington, D.C., just prior to his departure for the Crimea. FDR explained that the Russians had the power in Eastern Europe, that it was obviously impossible to have a break with them [presumably because of the need for Soviet military power to defeat the Germans and the Japanese], and that, therefore, the only practicable course was to use what influence we had to ameliorate the situation.” http://www.unc.edu/depts/diplomat/AD_Issues/amdipl_6/stefan3.html#top

    And the remarks I quoted above that he made to Admiral Leahy–“I know, Bill — I know it. But it’s the best I can do for Poland at this time.” –don’t exactly suggest someone all starry-eyed about Stalin.

    But anyway, even assuming he was naive, we have to ask, Suppose he *hadn’t* been? What (in substance) could he have done differently at Yalta? And my answer is: Nothing, really. For that reason Churchill, who is usually seen as more “realistic” than FDR about Stalin, went along fully with the agreement.

  40. so churchill and roosevelt arguably had to agree to yalta in Feb. 1945 (i call BS, but whatever).

    as of August 1945, there was no longer any reason to accept Yalta. The US could, and should, have rolled up the sovs with very few casualties on the Western side. Add Stalingrad, Moscow, Kharkov, and a few other places too the list of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and poof, no more USSR. TRhat is where the communist subversion of the american government (through Hiss, Wallace, and others) really derailed history. Once Japan surrendered we should have demanded that the USSR surrender, and then nuked the *&^*#s. Easy peasy.

    But then, I’m from the Conan the Barbarian school of Neo-Cons.

  41. It has never been clear how Roosevelt and Churchill were to deny Stalin what he considered his share of the spoils.

    How about this: Concentrate on winning the war instead of holding up Churchill’s pipedream of maintaining the Mediterranean as a British lake. Don’t waste two years doing bupkes in Africa and Italy. Open the second front in the spring of 1943, when France was occupied by about 12 or 13 Germans. Knock Hitler out while the Eastern Front was still deep inside Russia.

    The road to Yalta was paved by the British Mediterranean strategy. You folks are right: FDR wasn’t to blame; Churchill was.

  42. Though you can argue FDR should have done more at Yalta, his real screw up was in all the events leading up to that point.

    Yeah, FDR really missed his chance by going after the Nazis in the Battle of the Bulge. He really should have done an end run through Italy and set up a Maginot line outside of the Ukrine.

  43. My hunch is that this statement critical of Yalta was also intended to send a signal to nascent Russian revanchism that appears to be stirring. Putin has talked about the breakout of the USSR was the single greatest catastrophe of the century. One can imagine how Russian nationalists viewed that statement.

    Seems to me that perhaps the defenders of FDR are so worried about conserative criticism of him that they lose sight of the larger issues involved here.

    Why do I think I see a Krugman column coming up? E.g, Bush’s statement is setting the scene for another assault on FRD and the New Deal programs by the rights.

    SMG

  44. Tim,

    Don’t you think invading Europe would have been a little bit harder with Italy still in the war?

  45. All this all proves is that hindsight is NOT always 20-20, but people still get to act like it is!

  46. Tim Cavanaugh,

    Have you read Rick Atkinson’s “Army at Dawn”? Great book, but explores at some length the good reasons for the North African campaign.

    Course, if I had 50 divisions at my disposal, I’d play an entirely different game of Risk.

  47. No more divided continents! I miss Pangea.

  48. Don’t you think invading Europe would have been a little bit harder with Italy still in the war?

    I’m sure that the Italians would have defended Normandy from US and British invasion with nearly all the vigor they applied in defending Italy itself.

    Incidently, during Normandy, German generals argeed to surrender essentially the Western German armies to the allies. Churchill wanted to accept, but deferred to FDR, who refused the offer. Even Stalin was a bit taken aback by this.

    So perhaps at Yalta, FDR didn’t hold much over the Soviets. But had he accepted the German surrender in ’44 (of the armies facing the Western allies, obviously Hitler wasn’t offering surrender), the map might look quite a bit different. Instead, we slugged it out the hard, costly way.

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