Once Again, the Big Yalta Lie

IJ Reilly

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By Jacob Heilbrunn
Jacob Heilbrunn is a Times editorial writer.

May 10, 2005

During his visit to the Baltics over the weekend, President Bush infuriated Russian leader Vladimir V. Putin by declaring the obvious: that the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe was "one of the greatest wrongs of history." But it was what he said next — comparing the Yalta accord among Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin in 1945 to the Hitler-Stalin pact — that should cause outrage here at home.

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.

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. That's when the American right first decried what it viewed as a consistent pattern of "appeasement" in the Democratic Party. The right contended that Roosevelt "sold out" Eastern Europe at the Yalta conference by promising the Soviets an unchallenged sphere of influence in the region.

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. It was none other than Joseph McCarthy who declared in February 1950 that "if time permitted, it might be well to go into detail about the fact that Hiss was Roosevelt's chief advisor at Yalta when Roosevelt was admittedly in ill health and tired physically and mentally." In later decades, conservatives such as Ronald Reagan would denounce any negotiations with the Soviet Union as portending a new "Yalta."

But what actually happened at Yalta? Let's review the facts. The conference itself took place in the seaside Crimean city in February 1945, during the final months of the war. A delegation of more than 600 British and U.S. officials, including FDR and Churchill, met with Stalin. They discussed postwar borders and issued a "Declaration on Liberated Europe" calling for free elections in Poland and elsewhere.

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.

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).

Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower was happy to let the Soviets bear the brunt of the fighting as they marched toward Berlin, and he was unwilling to expend American troops on storming the German capital. The only one who was eager to do that was Gen. George Patton, who hoped to take on the Russians as well. Given the domestic pressure to "bring the boys back home," Roosevelt would have been taking a politically suicidal course had he broken with our allies, the Soviets.

Roosevelt was hardly perfect at Yalta. He was naive about Stalin's intentions and believed he could cajole the dictator into following more moderate policies. But FDR's approach was not particularly different from that of Churchill (who had declared that he would "sup with the devil" to win the war, which is what he and Roosevelt, in effect, did).

As for the charges about Hiss' influence, they've been overblown by the right for political purposes; in fact, Hiss was a minor player at Yalta.

What's more, it was the isolationist right that never wanted to fight the war in the first place, which it conveniently forgot once it began attacking Democrats as being soft on communism. Nothing of course could be further from the truth. Roosevelt went on to recognize Stalin's perfidy shortly before he died, and it fell to Truman to fight the Cold War.

Roosevelt's record is no cause for shame, but Bush's comments are.
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-heilbrunn10may10,0,5175404.story
 

Desertrat

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Heilbrunn either knows or briefed himself on Yalta a helluva lot better than Dubya or his advisors...

"Roosevelt...was naive about Stalin's intentions and believed he could cajole the dictator into following more moderate policies. But FDR's approach was not particularly different from that of Churchill (who had declared that he would "sup with the devil" to win the war, which is what he and Roosevelt, in effect, did)."

Actually, this is more the way I always heard about the Yalta conference than the ultra-right stuff.

"What's more, it was the isolationist right that never wanted to fight the war in the first place, which it conveniently forgot once it began attacking Democrats as being soft on communism."

With no dates as to when who attacked whom in the politics of the late 1930s/early 1940-'41, this is BS. Yeah, there was an isolationist right. There were a lot of Nazi sympathizers, as well. Jew-baiters and suchlike creatures. Lindhbergh came back all admirous of Hitler, like Armand Hammer and George Bernard Shaw with Stalin.

In the 1930s, a lot of people were "soft" on Communism. Some had been Democrats. Some had been Republicans. Some had once had jobs. To many of my mother's generation, "Capitalism has failed!" It was in no way anti-Americanism to be willing to examine other socio-economic systems.

December 7, 1941 changed a helluva lot of things.

Historical question for the class: What country declared war on Japan before the U.S. did?

'Rat
 

IJ Reilly

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There was no such concept as being "soft on communism" during the 1930s. This was terminology that came out of the Cold War and had a specific political meaning that didn't even exist prior to that time.

The writer here is admittedly stingy with his historical details (a diet of 600 words will do that to you), but I can safely say he wasn't singling out celebrity admirers of Hitler when he refers to the isolationist right. In fact isolationism (led by the America First Committee, which was formed in 1940) was the dominant orientation of the Republican Party during the 1930s. They ran against FDR in 1940 (his closest electoral victory) on that platform. ("I shall never send an American boy to fight in a European war." -- Wendell Wilke)
 

miloblithe

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Desertrat said:
Historical question for the class: What country declared war on Japan before the U.S. did?

'Rat
China? The Soviet Union? The Soviets fought Japan in Mongolia and abouts in the 1930s, turning Japanese ambitions south towards China.
 

mactastic

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Bush didn't just criticize the actions of a US president while he was abroad, did he? :eek:

Cuz if he did, all his albums should be run over by a big American-made tractor...
 

tristan

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I wonder why Bush felt the need to say this. Is there a widespread feeling over in Eastern Europe that the US sold them out at Yalta? I hope not - I don't see how the blame could really fall on anybody but the Soviets. Besides, from what I know about those countries, they're not sitting around talking about stuff that happened sixty years ago, they're figuring out how to join the EU and become part of the world community.
 

takao

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skunk said:
If FDR had run his war as ineptly as GW has run Iraq, we'd all be speaking with German accents.
which i can experience first hand with my mother and her US /english speaking friends... it drives me insane when i'm at home and she receives an english call
and with the friends being here in personal it starts to get problematic when you want to drink something ;) i nearly bursted out in laughter mutliple times with my mouth full of water,apple juice and not to forgetthe cake

perhaps i've got not enough sauerkraut as a kid ;)
 

Desertrat

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miloblithe: Honduras.

My uncle had been hired in 1939 by PanAm to engineer airport construction in Central and South America. The US Govt was supporting PanAm both for business and for airfields for anti-invasion efforts if Japan invaded via those areas. He worked at Caracas and Managua. I have various letters and photos from that era. (Including some P-39s landing at Managua before the runways were paved.) Anyway, in one of his letters to his mother, he noted the irony as to the Declaration of War.

One thing to remember about the Isolationists of the 1930s: They were affected by memories of WW I. Not a lot different from France, really. French villages had many men who had horribly scarred faces from the mix of machine guns and trench warfare. (That's part of why France did little to dissuade Hitler from his military buildup, even though in the early 1930s the French had the largest standing army in the world. The "BTDT, didn't like the tee-shirt" syndrome.) Lots of other aspects to the isolationism, of course, but it wasn't totally irrational...

'Rat
 

solvs

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Is it me, or is Bush just trying to piss of the rest of the world? Seriously, I used to joke about this stuff. It's not so funny anymore. We are so gonna get blown up (well, all except Bush... he'll be safe in some underground bunker somewhere).

:cough: hypocrite :cough:
 

Desertrat

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Well, solvs, there's a bit of irony there.

About 45 years back, a sorta-popular guy spouted off about "bear any burden, pay any price" to spread democracy throughout the world. Quite a large number of people agreed with him--notably in Berlin. "Ich bin ein Berliner!" Remember?

Now, if you look at the governmental systems of the countries who are members of the UN, you'll see that democracies as we know them in the western world are rather a minority.

So, I reckon that spouting off about expanding democratic processes would indeed piss off a lot of the world's Big Bosses. The idea of the local equivalent of Joe Sixpack having some say in a country's management wouldn't play well in such bastions of freedom as Iran or North Korea, among others--although there are the occasional signs that such ideas do play well among the Joe Sixpacks.

Sorta depends on who you think's the more important, I guess...

'Rat
 

skunk

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Desertrat said:
So, I reckon that spouting off about expanding democratic processes would indeed piss off a lot of the world's Big Bosses.
Misrepresenting Yalta and dissing Churchill and FDR is NOT going to "expand democratic processes". It's just going to piss people off.
 

solvs

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Desertrat said:
About 45 years back, a sorta-popular guy spouted off about "bear any burden, pay any price" to spread democracy throughout the world. Quite a large number of people agreed with him--notably in Berlin. "Ich bin ein Berliner!" Remember?
I'm not even sure how to respond to that, since I don't see any connection. I just see a President who's lecturing our former allies and pissing people off left and right. How is that "spreading" democracy?

I remember when he went to Canada, and they tried to extend an olive branch to a man they obviously (and with good reason) do not trust. Remember how that went? Not so well. This man does not know the meaning of the word Diplomacy. Spreading democracy is great, but that's not really what's going on here. Besides the re-writing of history, he is essentially spitting in the face of someone who should be an allie, but could once again become an adversary. The rest of the world is afraid of the direction we are heading, and I don't blame them.

Instead of re-hashing old mistakes (and trying to spin them for political reasons), he should be focusing more on trying not to make those same mistakes himself.
 

Desertrat

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:D I don't recall saying that Dubya's methodology was all that wise and efficient. Here, there and yonder he calls for more democracy. I thought we were already pretty much in accord that the way he recalled Yalta was out of touch; refer back to my first post in this thread.

solvs, since Bush first appeared on the scene, folks on this board have noted correctly and often that saying things in a diplomatic manner is not exactly Bush's strong point. Nothing's changed. The boy doesn't get better with age. Regardless, we're stuck with the fact that he's sincere about wanting more democratic process in countries around the world and wanders about saying it.

The gripe is not with WHAT he's doing; it's with HOW he's doing it.

'Rat
 

zimv20

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Desertrat said:
he's sincere about wanting more democratic process in countries around the world and wanders about saying it.
frankly, i'm not convinced he understands democracy.
 

mactastic

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Is Pat Buchanan crazy? Is he really questioning whether or not it was worth it to get involved in WWII?

Any guesses as to the reaction if, say, Michael Moore had questioned our involvement in WWII?

Link'd

In the Bush vs. Putin debate on World War II, Putin had far the more difficult assignment. Defending Russia's record in the "Great Patriotic War," the Russian president declared, "Our people not only defended their homeland, they liberated 11 European countries."

Those countries are, presumably: Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Finland.

To ascertain whether Moscow truly liberated those lands, we might survey the sons and daughters of the generation that survived liberation by a Red Army that pillaged, raped and murdered its way westward across Europe. As at Katyn Forest, that army eradicated the real heroes who fought to retain the national and Christian character of their countries.

To Bush, these nations were not liberated. "As we mark a victory of six decades ago, we are mindful of a paradox," he said:


For much of Eastern and Central Europe, victory brought the iron rule of another empire. V-E day marked the end of fascism, but it did not end the oppression. The agreement in 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. ... The captivity of millions in Central and Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the greatest wrongs in history.
Bush told the awful truth about what really triumphed in World War II east of the Elbe. And it was not freedom. It was Stalin, the most odious tyrant of the century. Where Hitler killed his millions, Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot and Castro murdered their tens of millions.

Leninism was the Black Death of the 20th Century.

The truths bravely declared by Bush at Riga, Latvia, raise questions that too long remained hidden, buried or ignored.

If Yalta was a betrayal of small nations as immoral as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, why do we venerate Churchill and FDR? At Yalta, this pair secretly ceded those small nations to Stalin, co-signing a cynical "Declaration on Liberated Europe" that was a monstrous lie.

As FDR and Churchill consigned these peoples to a Stalinist hell run by a monster they alternately and affectionately called "Uncle Joe" and "Old Bear," why are they not in the history books alongside Neville Chamberlain, who sold out the Czechs at Munich by handing the Sudetenland over to Germany? At least the Sudeten Germans wanted to be with Germany. No Christian peoples of Europe ever embraced their Soviet captors or Stalinist quislings.

Other questions arise. If Britain endured six years of war and hundreds of thousands of dead in a war she declared to defend Polish freedom, and Polish freedom was lost to communism, how can we say Britain won the war?

If the West went to war to stop Hitler from dominating Eastern and Central Europe, and Eastern and Central Europe ended up under a tyranny even more odious, as Bush implies, did Western Civilization win the war?

In 1938, Churchill wanted Britain to fight for Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain refused. In 1939, Churchill wanted Britain to fight for Poland. Chamberlain agreed. At the end of the war Churchill wanted and got, Czechoslovakia and Poland were in Stalin's empire.

How, then, can men proclaim Churchill "Man of the Century"?

True, U.S. and British troops liberated France, Holland and Belgium from Nazi occupation. But before Britain declared war on Germany, France, Holland and Belgium did not need to be liberated. They were free. They were only invaded and occupied after Britain and France declared war on Germany – on behalf of Poland.

When one considers the losses suffered by Britain and France – hundreds of thousands dead, destitution, bankruptcy, the end of the empires – was World War II worth it, considering that Poland and all the other nations east of the Elbe were lost anyway?

If the objective of the West was the destruction of Nazi Germany, it was a "smashing" success. But why destroy Hitler? If to liberate Germans, it was not worth it. After all, the Germans voted Hitler in.


If it was to keep Hitler out of Western Europe, why declare war on him and draw him into Western Europe? If it was to keep Hitler out of Central and Eastern Europe, then, inevitably, Stalin would inherit Central and Eastern Europe.

Was that worth fighting a world war – with 50 million dead?

The war Britain and France declared to defend Polish freedom ended up making Poland and all of Eastern and Central Europe safe for Stalinism. And at the festivities in Moscow, Americans and Russians were front and center, smiling – not British and French. Understandably.

Yes, Bush has opened up quite a can of worms.
I guess genocide isn't a good enough reason for Mr. B.

Talk about your revisionist history...
:rolleyes:
 

zimv20

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yeah, i wouldn't characterize it as, "the germans voting hitler in." anywya, it seems like a twisted way to excuse anything bush has done or might do.
 

mactastic

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And the kicker is, Bush was practically hauling out FDR's corpse and slow-dancing with it when he was trying to claim FDR would have supported private SS accounts. And only a couple weeks apart.
 

Xtremehkr

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The boy is drunk with power.

There is less and less doubt that he is a sociopath.

Maybe he has a brain implant, Manchurian Candidate style.