Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Yalta reality

Jacob Heilbrunn whips out his spoon and begins whacking his high chair after President Bush's comments on the 1945 Yalta Conference:

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.

Really? That must be why Churchill left Yalta in "despair" and Western media began immediately questioning the outcome of Yalta in the wake of revelation of the Conference's conclusions.

The slander against Roosevelt that Bush has taken up dates back to the early 1950s, after Harry Truman and Dean Acheson had supposedly "lost" China to communism.

No, this criticism dates from 1945 when the FDR-loving press questioned the wisdom of allowing Stalin a sphere of influence that stretched into Central Europe.
One element of the right-wing mythology developed in those years was that Alger Hiss, who served during the war as an assistant to Secretary of State Edward Stettinius Jr. — and who was charged in the years that followed with being a Soviet spy and was convicted of perjury — was instrumental in getting Roosevelt to collude with Stalin against Churchill.

Note two things here: (1) Heilbrunn STILL believes that Hiss is innocent despite conclusive proof in the Venona archives that Hiss indeed WAS A SOVIET AGENT; (2) Heilbrunn does not refute claims of Hiss' influence, he merely claims they are myths.

The truth is that Yalta did not hand Eastern Europe to the Soviets. That territory was already in their possession. Stalin had made clear his plan to take over as much territory as possible back in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939, which carved Poland in half and gave the Soviets the Baltic states. The discovery in 1943 of the massacre of Polish officers by the Soviet army in the Katyn forest was further evidence of Stalin's malign intention to exterminate the leadership of Poland. Then, in 1944, during the Warsaw uprising by the Polish Home Army, Stalin halted the advance of his army on the banks of the Vistula River and allowed Nazi SS units to return to slaughter the Poles. By the time of Yalta, the Red Army occupied all of Poland and much of Eastern Europe.

This analysis is incorrect because it confuses the presence of the Red Army driving out the Germans with the geopolitical reality that (1) the Americans and British could have advanced to Prague and Budapest; (2) the Soviets were no match for American resolve because the Red Army suffered more losses in WWII than any other. The facts on the ground COULD HAVE BEEN ALTERED.

Theoretically, Churchill and Roosevelt could have refused to cut any deal with Stalin at Yalta. But that could have started the Cold War on the spot. It would have seriously jeopardized the common battle against Germany (at a moment when Roosevelt was concerned with winning Soviet assent to help fight the Japanese, which he received).

Three points: (1) The UK was so overextended and worn out by the war at this point that Churchill was relying upon FDR to carry the standard of freedom. Churchill had no illusions about Stalin's evil. (2) Soviet help against the Japanese was nonexistent and unnecessary -- this concession that FDR won was as useful as an appendix transplant. (3) There's no reason that starting the Cold War on the spot would have been bad -- it could have saved part of Poland, all of Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Albania and Yugoslavia from Communism and thwarted the rise of Communism in Greece that eventually triggered the Truman Doctrine.

Instead, FDR's naivete and willingness to throw Anglo-American relations into the woodchipper enabled Stalin to play him for a fool:

When Roosevelt was preparing to meet Stalin for the first time at the Teheran Conference in November 1943, William C. Bullett, former U. S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union, tried to explain the true brutal nature of Stalin and the Soviet regime to FDR. Roosevelt replied:
Bill, I don't dispute your facts. They are accurate. I don't dispute the logic of your reasoning. I just have a hunch that Stalin is not that kind of man. Harry [Hopkins, Roosevelt's confidant and personal envoy to Stalin] says he's not and that he doesn't want anything but security for his country, and I think that if I give him everything I possibly can and ask nothing from him in return, noblesse oblige — he won't try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of democracy and peace.
When Bullett pressed his fears and doubts about any good outcomes from a mindless altruism towards Stalin, FDR closed the discussion by saying, "It's my responsibility and not yours; and I'm going to play my hunch."

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