[extropy-chat] FWD (SK) What Bush got wrong about Yalta

Terry W. Colvin fortean1 at mindspring.com
Mon May 16 20:24:00 UTC 2005

history lesson
Know Thy Allies
What Bush got wrong about Yalta.
By David Greenberg
Posted Tuesday, May 10, 2005, at 10:23 AM PT

After World War I, the political right in Germany developed a myth 
called the "stab in the back" theory 
to explain its people's defeat. Though military leaders had helped 
negotiate the war's end, they fixed blame on civilian leaders­especially 
Jews, socialists, and liberals­for "betraying" the brave German fighting 
men. This nasty piece of propaganda was later picked up by Hitler and 
the Nazis to stoke the populist resentment that fueled their rise to power.

America has had its own "stab in the back" myths. Last year, George W. 
Bush endorsed <http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4179618/> a revanchist view 
of the Vietnam War: that our political leaders undermined our military 
and denied us victory. Now, on his Baltic tour, he has endorsed a 
similar view of the Yalta accords, that great bugaboo of the old right.

Bush stopped short of accusing Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston 
Churchill of outright perfidy, but his words 
recalled those of hardcore FDR- and Truman-haters circa 1945. "The 
agreement at Yalta 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. Yet 
this attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability left a 
continent divided and unstable. The captivity of millions in Central and 
Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the greatest wrongs of history."

Bush's cavalier invocations of history for political purposes are not 
surprising. But for an American president to dredge up ugly old canards 
about Yalta stretches the boundaries of decency and should draw 
reprimands (and not only from Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr 

As every schoolchild should know, Roosevelt and Churchill had formed an 
alliance of necessity with Josef Stalin during World War II. Hardly 
blind to Stalin's evil, they nonetheless knew that Soviet forces were 
indispensable in defeating the Axis powers. "It is permitted in time of 
grave danger to walk with the devil until you have crossed the bridge," 
FDR said, quoting an old Bulgarian proverb. He and Churchill understood 
that Stalin would be helping to set war aims and to plan for its 
aftermath. Victory, after all, carried a price.

In February 1945, the "Big Three" met at a czarist resort near Yalta, in 
the Soviet Crimea, to continue the work begun at other summits, notably 
in Tehran in 1943. (Many of the alleged "betrayals" of Yalta, at least 
in rough form, were actually first sketched out in Tehran.) By this 
time, Soviet troops had conquered much of Eastern Europe from the 
Germans, including Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, East Prussia, and 
Eastern Germany. The Western allies, meanwhile, remained on the far side 
of the Rhine River. Having made terrible military sacrifices to gain 
these positions, Stalin resolved to convert them into political payoffs.

Many of the agreements the Big Three reached at Yalta were relatively 
uncontroversial: The Allies decided to demand unconditional surrender 
from Germany, to carve up the country into four zones for its postwar 
occupation, and to proceed with plans to set up the United Nations.

But other issues were contentious. Asia was one. FDR wanted Stalin to 
enter the war against Japan, so as to obviate any need for an American 
invasion. In return, Stalin demanded that Russia regain dominion over 
various lands, notably Sakhalin <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sakhalin> 
and the Kurile Islands <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurile_Islands>, 
then under Japanese control. He forswore any designs on Manchuria, which 
would be returned to China.

By far the knottiest problem­and the source of lingering rage among the 
far right afterwards­was the fate of Poland and other liberated Eastern 
European countries. Over several months, the Allies had been divvying up 
Europe according to on-the-ground military realities and their own 
individual national interests. The United States and Britain had denied 
Stalin any role in postwar Italy. Churchill and Stalin had agreed 
(without Roosevelt's participation) that Britain would essentially 
control Greece, and Russia would essentially control Romania, Bulgaria, 
and Hungary.

Poland was another matter. In Lublin, Poland, the Soviets had set up a 
government of pro-Communist Poles. Back in London, however, a 
pro-Western group claimed to be the true government-in-exile. Throughout 
the war, Stalin had acted with customary barbarity in seeking an 
advantage. In 1940 he ordered the slaughter of thousands of Polish army 
officers in the Katyn Forest, fearing their potential allegiance to the 
London Poles. In 1944, he stalled his own army's march into Poland to 
let the Germans put down the Warsaw Uprising, again to strengthen the 
Communists' hand.

At Yalta, Stalin wanted FDR and Churchill to recognize the Lublin 
government. They refused. Instead, all agreed to accept a provisional 
government, with a pledge to hold "free and unfettered elections" soon. 
For other liberated European countries, the Big Three also pledged to 
establish "interim governmental authorities broadly representative of 
all democratic elements in the population" and committed to free elections.

Roosevelt knew that Stalin might renege, and it was perhaps cynical for 
him to trumpet elections that might never take place. But as the 
historian David M. Kennedy has written, he had little choice, "unless 
Roosevelt was prepared to order Eisenhower to fight his way across the 
breadth of Germany, take on the Red Army, and drive it out of Poland at 

Stalin, of course, never allowed elections in Poland or anywhere else. 
"Our hopeful assumptions were soon to be falsified," Churchill wrote. 
"Still, they were the only ones possible at the time." Short of starting 
a hot war, the West was powerless to intervene, just as it was in 
Hungary in 1956 or Prague in 1968.

Because FDR kept many details of the Yalta agreements under wraps, 
people in Washington began whispering conspiratorially about "secret 
agreements." Soon, critics, especially on the far right, were charging 
that FDR and Churchill had sold out the people of Eastern Europe­charges 
that Bush's recent comments echo. They asserted that the ailing 
Roosevelt­he would die only weeks later­had come under the malign 
influence of pro-Communist advisers who gave Stalin the store.

But Yalta did not give Stalin control of the Eastern European countries. 
He was already there. Moreover, as Lloyd C. Gardner has argued, it's 
possible that postwar Europe could have turned out worse than it did. 
For all its evident failings, Yalta did lead to a revived Western 
Europe, a lessening of open warfare on the continent, and, 
notwithstanding Bush's remarks, relative stability. Without Yalta, 
Gardner notes, "the uneasy equilibrium of the Cold War might have 
deteriorated into something much worse­a series of civil wars or 
possibly an even darker Orwellian condition of localized wars along an 
uncertain border." Such "what if" games are generally pointless, but 
they can remind us that the harmonious Europe that Yalta's critics tout 
as a counter-scenario wasn't the only alternative to the superpower 

Along with the myth of FDR's treachery in leading America into war, the 
"stab in the back" interpretation of Yalta became a cudgel with which 
the old right and their McCarthyite heirs tried to discredit a president 
they had long despised. Renouncing Yalta even became a plank in the 1952 
Republican platform, although Eisenhower did not support it. In time, 
however, these hoary myths receded into the shadows, dimly remembered 
except as a historical curiosity, where, alas, they should have remained 

David Greenberg writes the "History Lesson" column and teaches at 
Rutgers University. He is the author of Nixon's Shadow: The History of 
an Image 

Article URL: http://slate.msn.com/id/2118394/

"Only a zit on the wart on the heinie of progress." Copyright 1992, Frank Rice

Terry W. Colvin, Sierra Vista, Arizona (USA) < fortean1 at mindspring.com >
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