[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
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,
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
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
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 >
Alternate: < fortean1 at msn.com >
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