The History Bush Got Wrong on His Trip





Mr. Greenberg is the author of NIXON'S SHADOW: THE HISTORY OF AN IMAGE (2003). He teaches history at Rutgers University.

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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 leaders—especially Jews, socialists, and liberals—for"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 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 and the Kurile Islands, then under Japanese control. He forswore any designs on Manchuria, which would be returned to China.

By far the knottiest problem—and the source of lingering rage among the far right afterwards—was 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 gunpoint."

Stalin, of course, never allowed elections in Poland or allowed real freedom 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 Europe—charges that Bush's recent comments echo. They asserted that the ailing Roosevelt—he would die only weeks later—had 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 worse—a 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 standoff.

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 undisturbed.


This piece first ran in Slate and is reprinted with permission of the author. Click here to see a list of his other History Lesson columns in Slate.


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Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007


1. To point out that there is little evidence of FDR and Churchill deliberately acquiescing in the establishment of Soviet hegemony and oppression over East Europe, is not proof of those leaders' infallibility. For example, certainly (as noted above) it was foolish to trade anything at all for a worthless Soviet war declaration against Japan.

2. GW Bush's making a politically expedient comment about Yalta at the WW II commemorations does not magically transform him into a competent statesman, reliable historian, or effective U.S. president.


Kevin Solomon - 7/4/2005

We aren't going to win them all. We just need to pick up where we are, and chalk it up to experience. We can not point fingers because of failure.


Arnold Shcherban - 5/29/2005

How about the far-right icon W. Churchill?
Was he also sick and not in his right (no pun intended) mind, when sided with the ill-advised Roosevelt?
And how about hundreds of thousands of Greeks that were
either slaughtered or thrown to jails by British, Americans, and their Greek fascist puppets (Greece was handed by Soviets to the West in exchange for Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary.)?
Isn't it good enough bargain for blood-thirsty heuislers of this world? Or they continiously desperate to fill their blood bank with more, especially Russian one, considering the loss of 22 millions by the latter as insufficient?
When does this current process of substitution of natural history by the neo-con quasi-history, ideological history, history of zoological anti-communism stop?
I guess never... at least, as long as the history remains the servant of the Power and Wealth.


Arnold Shcherban - 5/29/2005

Without any personal comments I suggest as a reading for the discussed topic: http://www.aeronautics.ru/archive/wwii/baltic_nazis/latvia/index2.htm

Maybe (just may be) then some "experts" on relations between Soviet "evil empire" and today's Russia with Baltic republics, such as Mr Friedman, eg., realize
whom they so passionately defend.


Maarja Krusten - 5/21/2005

Mr. Rodden, I probably should not have assumed that you had read many of my previous posts. You may not know that I worked as an employee of the National Archives for 14 years. For ten of those years, it was my job to listen to the Nixon White House tapes to determine which segments could be released to the public and what required restriction. Of the approximately 3,700 hours of Nixon's tapes, I listened to about 2,000 hours to scren them for potential public access. There is only one other former NARA employee who has listened to so many of Richard Nixon's released and unreleased conversations as I have. I also spent several years screening Nixon White House documents for public access.

Although I choose not to share my impressions of Richard Nixon, I can say that my experiences confirmed my impression that Presidents in general, and their advisors, are just as human as you or I. They are neither paragons nor demons. I see many gray areas in their actions. We can figure out why they acted as they did in some areas but not in others. Of course, we can support or oppose their actions and policies but we never will know fully what drove them. That leaves considerable latitude for all of us to judge them--that includes people such as you but also Mr. Robertson. I don't see why my feeling that way would leave you feeling insulted or even for you to conclude that you know how I view Nixon.

You say you have done extensive research on Eisenhower. I very much doubt you came across a document which stated clearly that he or his advisors did not really care about the captive nations in Eastern and Central Europe. You may well have come across documents in which they may have discussed the political impact of their actions or statements. But do such documents provide definitive proof of motivation? I would say not.

You say you judge Nixon based on his actions, not his motivations. Perhaps that was not clear in your earlier postings. Since you implied cynicism, I took your comments to apply to motivation and focused on that aspect of your postings.

I hope this clears up where I'm coming from!


Maarja Krusten - 5/20/2005

But I haven't given _my_ interpretation of Nixon, above or anywhere else.


Glenn Rodden - 5/20/2005

"I'm curious as to why you referred to Mr. Robertson's views as "delusions."

Because they are.

"I've read his comments and they seem to just reflect his interpretations of past events, based on his research."

What research are you referring to?

"In fact, I notice that you contradict your reference to "delusions" by saying he is "free" to attribute whatever motives he wishes. If you believe he is free to do so, how can you then call his views delusions?"

Mr. Robertson is free to believe what he wants, but I am not convinced by his arguments and obviously he is not convinced by mine.

"Given the fact that none of us know all the motivations of public figures, don't we all to some extent attribute motives to them in assessing their actions? Absent the ability to read politicians' minds, there is no way to adjudicate such interpretations and definitively assess why they did everything they did."

I could not agree more. I am judging Nixon by his actions and not by his motivations. I will leave that task to you and Mr. Robertson.

"I don't understand why you brushed off comments about Eisenhower and Nixon the way you did. You stated that they did not hold genuinely held beliefs on Eastern and Central Europe and on Vietnam, etc. That seems overly cynical."

So, I am being cynical, but Nixon was not. Then I have some questions for you: If Richard Nixon cared about democracy in the Middle East why did he advocate overthrowing an elected government in Iran? If he cared about democracy in Latin American why did he support the overthrow of an elected government in Guatemala? Why did he overthrow the elected government of Chile? If he cared about human rights in Asia, why did he support the Suharto regime that slaughtered thousands of Indonesians and East Timor? Why did he launch a "secret" bombing of Cambodia and invade Cambodia? Why did he invade Laos? Why did Nixon normalize relations with Communist China in 1971 after opposing that policies for two decades?

"In fact, don't we all do that on the job, to some extent? You or any other HNN probably would be offended if someone stated categorically that all your actions on the job were motivated by a cynical desire to advance and get raises, that all your actions were opportunistic, and that you had no genuinely held beliefs."

My comments here are about Nixon and no one else.

"You might answer, "but how can you say that, you don't really know me." But isn't that essentially the approach you have applied to Eisenhower, Cold War era Republicans, and Nixon? Governance just isn't as simple as your comments imply."

I am not implying anything. I am stating that your interpretation of Nixon is not supported by the evidence.

"I agree with Mr. Robertson that Nixon was a complex person and that readers who apply a broadbrush, kneejerk view would benefit from doing further research."

I should be offended by your remarks, but I am not thin-skinned. I have done extensive research on the Eisenhower administration. I am not arguing that Nixon was not a "complex" person. I am not convinced that the current Nixon revisionist history is accurate. But that is just my broadbrush, "knee-jerk" response.


Brian Gibson - 5/19/2005

Hello everyone. My first post here at HNN.

My problem with the Bush speech is that there was little need to reference Yalta. If his point was that because of our inaction/inability to help Eastern European countries post-WWII, those countries suffered under a repressive regime and that we as a nation bear some responsibility, then why not simply say that?

Why mention Yalta at all? I think that most agree that there was very little that could be done at Yalta to change the fate of Eastern Europe after Germany fell. FDR and Churchill tried to make the most from a bad hand. Could they have gotten more from Stalin? Perhaps. But it would have extraordinarily difficult for them to wrest control of Poland, much less Bulgaria, Romania, or the Baltics, from Stalin. The Russians had paid very dearly for that land and were not about to give control of it to people they openly distrusted(i.e. the Western powers).

If we are to say that a failure was made it was a culmulative failure of American foreign policy from 1935-1980.

It is my opinion that this was an intentional move. He was trying to portray the current administration actions as being the BETTER course than the policies of FDR. By positioning himself as being superior to FDR he panders to the hard right of his party and justifies his policies to the more moderate. Sure the rank and file Democrats may hate the comment but he doesn't much care about them anyway.

I think that his point was valid but either his speech writers completely ignored political reality or they intentionally made a divisive speech.


Maarja Krusten - 5/19/2005

I'm curious as to why you referred to Mr. Robertson's views as "delusions." I've read his comments and they seem to just reflect his interpretations of past events, based on his research. In fact, I notice that you contradict your reference to "delusions" by saying he is "free" to attribute whatever motives he wishes. If you believe he is free to do so, how can you then call his views delusions? Given the fact that none of us know all the motivations of public figures, don't we all to some extent attribute motives to them in assessing their actions? Absent the ability to read politicians' minds, there is no way to adjudicate such interpretations and definitively assess why they did everything they did.

I don't understand why you brushed off comments about Eisenhower and Nixon the way you did. You stated that they did not hold genuinely held beliefs on Eastern and Central Europe and on Vietnam, etc. That seems overly cynical. I've never seen anything in publicly available archival materials to support so categorical a contention about either President. Most historians believe that Presidents balance a number of factors in decision making, including pragmatic, political, public and personal considerations, etc.

In fact, don't we all do that on the job, to some extent? You or any other HNN probably would be offended if someone stated categorically that all your actions on the job were motivated by a cynical desire to advance and get raises, that all your actions were opportunistic, and that you had no genuinely held beliefs. You might answer, "but how can you say that, you don't really know me." But isn't that essentially the approach you have applied to Eisenhower, Cold War era Republicans, and Nixon? Governance just isn't as simple as your comments imply.

I agree with Mr. Robertson that Nixon was a complex person and that readers who apply a broadbrush, kneejerk view would benefit from doing further research. See
http://hnn.us/readcomment.php?id=40041 .


Glenn Rodden - 5/18/2005

I suppose you were being profession when you wrote: "You're free to believe in all of the anti-war and far left characterizations of Nixon that you wish."

If you are going to make comments like that you should be expecting a response.


Brian R Robertson - 5/17/2005

"delusions"...very unprofessional and arrogant.


Glenn Rodden - 5/17/2005

You are free to believe your delusions about Nixon. If you want to believe that Nixon's policies toward China and SE Asia were driven by a desire to spread democracy and free markets that is up to you.

"Unfortunately, I don't have time to provide you with an in-depth examination of all of your presumptions about Nixon. I would, however, add that Nixon was a much more complicated man than a person with no ideology who intentionally sought to further divide the American people and support communist dictators. Even most scholars disagree with the darker portraits of Nixon. Dr. Stanley Kutler, one of the foremost Nixon scholars and critics, does not agree with the portrait of the Nixon you have provided."

I was not presuming anything about Nixon. I am looking at what he actually did as a political figure. You are free to read all the motives you want into his actions, but that does not change his record.


Brian R Robertson - 5/16/2005

You're free to believe in all of the anti-war and far left characterizations of Nixon that you wish. But, I am afraid that your interpretation does not constitute the balanced "historical record." I've collected hundreds of hours of Nixon's tapes, conducted several interviews, read every monograph on the Nixon administration, and conducted research in a number of archives.

Unfortunately, I don't have time to provide you with an in-depth examination of all of your presumptions about Nixon. I would, however, add that Nixon was a much more complicated man than a person with no ideology who intentionally sought to further divide the American people and support communist dictators. Even most scholars disagree with the darker portraits of Nixon. Dr. Stanley Kutler, one of the foremost Nixon scholars and critics, does not agree with the portrait of the Nixon you have provided.

In fact, when the journalist Anthony Summers approached Dr. Kutler to write the forward to his ridiculous book "The Secret World of Richard Nixon," Dr. Kutler told me he refused. Mainly on grounds that it was written to sell books and was not real scholarship.


Edward Siegler - 5/16/2005

The reason that things always seem to degenerate into Republican vs. Democrat partisanship is that political debates are largely driven by anger. Recall that when Clinton was in office, the right simply hated his guts. Ditto now with Bush and the left. The upshot to this anger is that whatever president so-and-so does, he must be wrong. I can't stand him, therefore whatever he does must be trashed. This is how Bush's recognition of the plight of Eastern Europe in the wake of World War II has come to be seen as empty political posturing. It's all about the anger.


Edward Siegler - 5/16/2005

Perhaps the looniest view of Yalta comes from a book by the same name by one Diane Shaver Clemens. In it she argues that Truman broke with Roosevelt's policy of accomodation with Stalin, violated the letter and spirit of Yalta, and in so doing triggered the Cold War. If only Truman had been more warm and wonderful towards Stalin none of this Cold War business would have happened. Clemens makes this argument, as all Cold War revisionists do, by distorting the historical record. For example, a quote by Truman concerning the San Fransisco conference in which he says the Soviets "can go to hell" is taken out of context and said to be a broad statment of American policy towards Stalin. These distortions are echoed in the atomic-bombing-of-Japan-as-threat-to-the-Soviets literature.


Edward Siegler - 5/16/2005

...the Soviet promise to declare war on Japan, at the time, looked like it would be needed. Recall that the atomic bomb had not been tested yet in February, 1945. Truman went to Potsdam in July specifically to ensure that the Soviets would in fact enter the war as promised. On the other hand, acquiescing to the forcable return of refugees and soldiers to the Soviets (one provision agreed to at Yalta)was a mistake.


Edward Siegler - 5/16/2005

Barron's claims that oil prices would be $10 per barrel cheaper, not $10 per barrel, if the insurgency ended.


Edward Siegler - 5/16/2005

The act of a nation's defining its history is in itself a political one. What did we do right? What did we do wrong? Who is to blame for the mistakes and who gets credit for the successes? And most important, what does this history mean for us today, and what does it say about the sort of people we are? These are highly charged questions. At least in part they help determine a nation's viewpoint on its own historical narrative.

Cohen asks why the crimes of Communism have never come before an international tribunal. The answer, I think, is because the communist powers who have committed these crimes have not lost a war and then been occupied by a democratic power. The Soviet Union won World War II; China's communists won the Chinese civil war; Pol Pot won in 1975 (and then was removed by communist Vietnam); North Korea survived its failed attempt to grab the south in 1950, and the list goes on. Many great questions in history have been decided by military victory or defeat. We are seeing this again today in Iraq, where victory for the insurgency will mean the end of democratic progress there wheras its defeat will change the perception and the reality of what goes on there is enormous ways. One example: Barron's claims that oil prices would be $10 a barrel if the insurgency's sabatoge of this industry in Iraq stopped.

Piles of corpses are not created equal. Those being created as we speak in Darfur and North Korea are not judged to be as important as those in Iraq or elsewhere. The world is suffering from the lack of any broad international agreement on where and when to interviene in other country's internal affairs for humanitarian purposes. The result is that certain horrors gain wide celebrity while others are simply ignored.

It's not just the "search for truth" that "remains a work in progress" but the search for morality as well. On this count the human race may not have progressed any further than the neandrathals.


Edward Siegler - 5/16/2005

...that Munich wasn't an agreement of necessity, like Yalta. Chamberlain may well have been looking at his country's lack of preparation for war and the need for more time to rearm. In addition, public opinion was against war. With a clear memory of the horrors of World War I and a belief that co-existence with dictatorships was possible and even desirable, Chamberlain did not have a popular mandate to play hard ball with Hitler.


Maarja Krusten - 5/16/2005

Whether one believes Western leaders handed over Eastern Europe or made what they believed was the best possible deal at the time in 1945, the decisions made at the end of World War II resulted in tragic consequences. We on HNN should be able to discuss that and debate whether other alternatives were possible for western leaders -- without getting into left and right disputes. It isn't ALL about Republicans attacking Democrats or vice versa. Personally, I dislike the vibe that liberals choose certain issues to care about and conservatives choose other issues to care about and that some kind of ideological loyalty or knee jerk defense of or attack on Presidents of either party prevents people from crossing those supposed lines. But that's the sense you sometimes get from some people posting on HNN. Surely there can be points of agreement between liberals and conservatives about the tragic fate of people swept up by the consequence of wars or other historical events.

Roger Cohen pointed out in yesterday's New York Times that "unraveling the tangled legacy of the cold war is time-consuming." Not everyone seems to want to take the time to do that, although hopefully not because it may result in conclusions that do not fit into neat little packages. But most of us know that history can be messy and tough to unravel.

Mr. Cohen notes that "there can now be little debate that the exercise of Communism, whatever the idealism of its origins, killed upward of 80 million people in the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, Eastern Europe, North Korea and Vietnam.

Nor can there be any doubt that terror, concentration camps and wholesale liquidations in the name of class struggle (against "kulaks" or "reactionaries") formed an intrinsic part of the system brought to an apogee of terror by Stalin."
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/15/weekinreview/15cohen.html?oref=login (registration required)


Nathaniel Brian Bates - 5/16/2005

I am not a Bush supporter. However, his account of history is accurate. We did indeed hand Eastern Europe over to the Communists, while it was St*lin who made an agreement with Hi*ler in 1939.

Sadly, it is the Old Right, the original Hi*ler loving devils, who often make this point. I do not much care for their company. However, one cannot say that handing free democracies or traditional authoritarian Monarchies over to totalitarianism is anything but wrong.


Maarja Krusten - 5/16/2005

Yep, no President gets everything right or everything wrong. They all do some things well, others not, they make some great decisions, some poor ones, and some that just reflect making the best of it. A President who flubs one issue might finesse another one beautifully. As I keep saying, historical discussions are not a zero sum game. And it's certainly right to debate these issues, fairly, on a history news network!


N. Friedman - 5/16/2005

Maarja,

I agree. I think that Bush has not always been fairly treated. He could find the cure for AIDS and be accused of causing the disease. And I say that as a non-fan of Bush.


Maarja Krusten - 5/15/2005

Hi, N, it's good to hear from you! Thanks for the kind words. Yes, much of the reaction to Bush's speech seems disproportionate. Let's see, on the one hand we have Eastern and Central European countries, many of whose people wanted nothing but to live in peace and freedom but who were subjected by two totalitarian regimes. And on the other hand we have FDR, a U.S. President whose judgment and the consequences of whose decisions historians surely can analyze and debate.

In today's Washington Post, Jon Meacham defends FDR, calling Bush's word

"Harsh words -- overly harsh, in my view, and not because great leaders of the past deserve automatic absolution at the altar of history. "To do justice to a great man, discriminating criticism is always necessary," Churchill once wrote. "Gush, however quenching, is always insipid." But Bush's criticism is more damning than discriminating. In its sweep, the president's characterization of Yalta essentially indicts Roosevelt and Churchill as knowing actors in the manufacture and hanging of the Iron Curtain."

But I did not read in Bush's words so much a damning of choices made in 1945, knowingly or unknowingly, but an acknowledgement of the consequences of those choices. Of course, one can argue about political leaders in many countries in various eras that they made the best of a bad situationk, took an expedient approach, that their hands were tied, that they made deals with less than exemplary characters, etc. Does that mean we give them all a pass? If we can't point to the consequences of decisions made, and debate what went into those decisions, historians would have to absolve many officials in various countries and differing periods of history and I don't seen them doing that here on HNN and elsewhere!


Maarja Krusten - 5/15/2005

See
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/15/weekinreview/15cohen.html for "1945's Legacy: A Terror Defeated, Another Arrives" a thought provoking piece by Roger Cohen in today's New York Times.

Mr. Cohen is the author of a new book about U.S. prisoners of war during World War II. He refers to "historical poker" today and notes in his article, "At the core of the explosive issues confronted by the president in the Baltic states and Moscow lies this vexed question: Can a meaningful distinction be made, in moral terms, between Communist totalitarian terror and Nazism?" He concludes, "The search for truth remains a work in progress."


Glenn Rodden - 5/15/2005

Am I not "missing" any point. I am disagreeing with your interpretation of FDR critics. You appear to believe that FDR critics were driven by some sort of idealism that was motivated by sympathy to free captive peoples in Eastern Europe and South Vietnam. I believe that the right-wing of the Republican party was driven by anti-communism.

I agree with Greenburg that right-wing Republicans created the myth that FDR "gave away" Poland at Yalta. FDR's policy toward Eastern Europe was based on the situation on the ground. The Soviet army occupied Eastern Europe and Stalin was not moving that army any time soon. Why were Republicans interested in Europe after WWII? Afterall, these freedom-loving Republicans had no interest in freeing the people of Eastern Europe when that region of dominated by right-wing dictatorships during 1920s and 1930s.

Your analysis of Nixon runs counter to the historical record. Nixon was not heir to the old guard conservatives of the Republican party. Nixon had no political ideology. Nixon did make statements about liberating Eastern Europe and China before he became president, but what did he do when he became president?

"When Nixon became President in 1969, the nation was deeply divided and in no position to pursue a foreign policy that Nixon had always advocated. He had to stop the bleeding and end the Vietnam War."

The US was deeply divided in 1969 and Nixon helped played on those divisions. Prior to becoming president, Nixon condemned anyone who thought about recognizing Communist China or abandoning South Vietnamese to the communist forces in Vietnam. After he became president, he not only recognized Communist China, but formed a strategic partnership with the very country that he had condemned. What principles do you see in this policy? I see someone pursuing a very cynical geo-strategic policy that was exactly like the policies that he had previously condemned.

Nixon also began negotiating with the North Vietnamese to end the war in Vietnam, but at the same time he spread the war into Cambodia and Laos. How did Nixon's escalating the war "stop the bleeding?"

"One of the methods he used was to exploit the divisions within the communist world. His visit also encouraged free markets and democraticization in China."

How did Nixon's visit to China "encourage" free markets and democraticization in China?

"I NEVER SAID ANYTHING ABOUT A SECRET PLAN TO END THE VIETNAM WAR. Please do not put words into my mouth. Nixon used SECRECY to try and pursue his foreign policy ambitions. Despite massive opposition to the war, Nixon tried to save South Vietnam. The politically popular move would have been to simply end the war. But, because of his commitment to his career ideals, he could not abandon South Vietnam."

This is pure Nixonian double talk. Nixon's policy toward Vietnam was meant to exploit the divisions in American society that you wrote about earlier. He appealed to some anti-war advocates by claiming that he had a secret plan to end the war. He also appealed to pro-war advocates by claiming that he would pursue peace with honor. In other words, his position on the war was sufficiently vague.

"Furthermore, I never said that Nixon's policies in Vietnam were correct. I used them as an example of Nixon's commitment to nations that he believed were threatened by totalitarian communists. The point being that Nixon would rather expand the war in private than abandon South Vietnam."

I am happy to know that you realize that Nixon's policy toward Vietnam was not correct. But I do not believe that Nixon was committed to freeing anyone. His move to recognize Communist China was pure geo-politics and had nothing to do with freeing the Chinese people from the Communist Chinese party that still runs that country today. And could you please explain why he became an adviser to Chinese Communist party officials in his post-presidency? Did he suddenly lose his concern for the Chinese people?

And please explain what you mean by Nixon's preference for "expanding the war in private." Exactly how does a president do that?

"The historian I am responding to is David Greenberg who claims that the McCarthyite heirs(the new internationalist Republicans that I've described before)created historical myths to discredit a despised President. My contention is that these same Republicans passionately believed in their criticisms of FDR and Truman."

How could you know what people passionately believed or not? Unless you have access to the inner most thoughts of people who are no longer alive, you should not be making these statements.



Glenn Rodden - 5/15/2005

Am I not "missing" any point. I am disagreeing with your interpretation of FDR critics. You appear to believe that FDR critics were driven by some sort of idealism that was motivated by sympathy to free captive peoples in Eastern Europe and South Vietnam. I believe that the right-wing of the Republican party was driven by anti-communism.

I agree with Greenburg that right-wing Republicans created the myth that FDR "gave away" Poland at Yalta. FDR's policy toward Eastern Europe was based on the situation on the ground. The Soviet army occupied Eastern Europe and Stalin was not moving that army any time soon. Why were Republicans interested in Europe after WWII? Afterall, these freedom-loving Republicans had no interest in freeing the people of Eastern Europe when that region of dominated by right-wing dictatorships during 1920s and 1930s.

Your analysis of Nixon runs counter to the historical record. Nixon was not heir to the old guard conservatives of the Republican party. Nixon had no political ideology. Nixon did make statements about liberating Eastern Europe and China before he became president, but what did he do when he became president?

"When Nixon became President in 1969, the nation was deeply divided and in no position to pursue a foreign policy that Nixon had always advocated. He had to stop the bleeding and end the Vietnam War."

The US was deeply divided in 1969 and Nixon helped played on those divisions. Prior to becoming president, Nixon condemned anyone who thought about recognizing Communist China or abandoning South Vietnamese to the communist forces in Vietnam. After he became president, he not only recognized Communist China, but formed a strategic partnership with the very country that he had condemned. What principles do you see in this policy? I see someone pursuing a very cynical geo-strategic policy that was exactly like the policies that he had previously condemned.

Nixon also began negotiating with the North Vietnamese to end the war in Vietnam, but at the same time he spread the war into Cambodia and Laos. How did Nixon's escalating the war "stop the bleeding?"

"One of the methods he used was to exploit the divisions within the communist world. His visit also encouraged free markets and democraticization in China."

How did Nixon's visit to China "encourage" free markets and democraticization in China?

"I NEVER SAID ANYTHING ABOUT A SECRET PLAN TO END THE VIETNAM WAR. Please do not put words into my mouth. Nixon used SECRECY to try and pursue his foreign policy ambitions. Despite massive opposition to the war, Nixon tried to save South Vietnam. The politically popular move would have been to simply end the war. But, because of his commitment to his career ideals, he could not abandon South Vietnam."

This is pure Nixonian double talk. Nixon's policy toward Vietnam was meant to exploit the divisions in American society that you wrote about earlier. He appealed to some anti-war advocates by claiming that he had a secret plan to end the war. He also appealed to pro-war advocates by claiming that he would pursue peace with honor. In other words, his position on the war was sufficiently vague.

"Furthermore, I never said that Nixon's policies in Vietnam were correct. I used them as an example of Nixon's commitment to nations that he believed were threatened by totalitarian communists. The point being that Nixon would rather expand the war in private than abandon South Vietnam."

I am happy to know that you realize that Nixon's policy toward Vietnam was not correct. But I do not believe that Nixon was committed to freeing anyone. His move to recognize Communist China was pure geo-politics and had nothing to do with freeing the Chinese people from the Communist Chinese party that still runs that country today. And could you please explain why he became an adviser to Chinese Communist party officials in his post-presidency? Did he suddenly lose his concern for the Chinese people?

And please explain what you mean by Nixon's preference for "expanding the war in private." Exactly how does a president do that?

"The historian I am responding to is David Greenberg who claims that the McCarthyite heirs(the new internationalist Republicans that I've described before)created historical myths to discredit a despised President. My contention is that these same Republicans passionately believed in their criticisms of FDR and Truman."

How could you know what people passionately believed or not? Unless you have access to the inner most thoughts of people who are no longer alive, you should not be making these statements.



N. Friedman - 5/15/2005

Maarja,

Very, very good post. I could not agree more. My wife is a refusenik from Kiev. While she had no greater sympathy for the Ukrainians than the Russian - and, in fact, even thought the Russians to be substantially less prejudiced -, it is always interesting when she notes that people in Kiev not untypically spoke an idiomatic form of Russian and that things Russian dominated despite the contrary will of the people. Of course, the Ukraine was within the Czarist empire and not merely the Soviet empire so the connection is long standing.

I might add that the tendency to view the world as a mere reaction to the "homeland" goes all the way back - at the very least - to Biblical times. Hence, those who wrote the Bible interpretted ancient Israel and Judea's histories as relating to their own collective moral standing. Quite a number of historians - especially when the US can somehow be tied or, at least, alleged to be tied to an event and particularly, but not only, when the historians are of the Marxist stripe - employ the same sort of moral/historical pseudo-logic, albeit dressed up in modern garb.

I think that people who hold such a viewpoint should be referred to psychiatrists.



Greg Bobo - 5/14/2005

What does one expect from him anyway. To state an opinion is one thing but to express these views publicly as the leader is down right embarrassing. I'm not defending FDR or Churchill but I'm sure their decision was well thoughtout and realized the possiblities of Stalin. Besides how in the world could Bush makes these comments when he went into Iraq?


Maarja Krusten - 5/14/2005

Here is what Anne Applebaum, author of a book on Soviet gulags, wrote in an op ed in this week's Washington Post.

"Both left and right would do better to stand back and think harder about how important it is for American diplomacy, and even Americans' understanding of their own past, when U.S. presidents, Republican or Democrat, admit that not every past U.S. policy was successful -- which, by any measure, Yalta was not. Since the end of the Cold War, historical honesty has become more normal everywhere in the West, and rightly so: We aren't, after all, trying to withstand a Soviet propaganda onslaught, and we've grown more used to thinking, at least some of the time, of our national disputes as evidence of the authenticity of our democracy. To put it differently, apologies are something that democracies can do, at least occasionally, but that the Chinese or the Syrians always find impossible. Infallibility nowadays is something that only dictatorships claim.

Both left and right should also consider contexts more carefully. Certainly the president's speech last weekend did not sound personal, as if he were apologizing to feel good about himself. It did not mention Roosevelt by name or wallow in Cold War rhetoric. On the contrary, Bush went on afterward to talk about the democratic values that had replaced Yalta, and to draw contemporary lessons. The tone was right -- and it contrasted sharply with the behavior of Russian president Vladimir Putin, as perhaps it was intended to. Asked again last week why he hadn't made his own apology for the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe, Putin pointed out that the Soviet parliament did so in 1989. "What," he asked, "we have to do this every day, every year?"

The answer is no, the Russian president doesn't have to talk about the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe every day -- but during a major, international anniversary of the end of the war, he clearly should. And no, the U.S. president does not have to talk about Yalta every year, but when he goes to Latvia to mark the anniversary of the end of the war he should -- just as any American president visiting Africa for the first time should speak of slavery. No American or Russian leader should appear unpatriotic when abroad, but at the right time, in the right place, it is useful for statesmen to tell the truth, even if just to acknowledge that some stretches of our history were more ambiguous, and some of our victories more bittersweet, than they once seemed."

She also noted, "Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about Bush's comments is that they constitute an apology for a historical disaster most Americans don't remember. I certainly knew nothing of the bitterness that many East Europeans felt toward the United States and Britain until I was personally accused of "selling out" Poland at Yalta -- a deal done 20 years before I was born -- during my first trip to Warsaw in the 1980s."


Bill Heuisler - 5/14/2005

Mr. Rodden,
You apparently missed my point, and the goals of WWII, all in one fell swoop. Quite an accomplishment.

You wrote, "In what way was Poland handedover at Yalta by FDR? I thought the Soviet Army took Poland from the Germany Army."

Took? They were supposed to have liberated Poland. The Yalta chess game was sold as establishing spheres of influence, not ceding countries into slavery. Stalin tried to gobble up Greece and he attempted to force the Allies out of Berlin (remember the Berlin airlift?).

The US Army took Italy. Does that mean we govern Italy for fifty years? England entered the war to keep Poland free from Germany, not to give Poland to the USSR. Patton held up his Third Army in Germany so the Soviets could take Berlin as agreed at Yalta. What was the purpose of that? Why allow the USSR to take captive all of eastern Europe? Didn't we fight WWII for freedom and Democracy?

What did Ike or Nixon do? There was little they could do. Stalin had been given the bomb by the Rosenbergs and their friends and the American people believed he would use it if we attempted to help Nagy in October of 1956 or any other group trying to get rid of the Soviets. JFK made a gesture, "ich bin ein Berliner", and was answered with the Berlin wall, the pounding shoe and missiles in Cuba. What exactly should Ike or Nixon have done to help the Hungarians? Recall how the Soviets crushed the revolt after the UN only adopted a resolution of condemnation? How they executed Nagy after a secret trial in June 1958?
These were mad dogs loose in the world. They had the bomb and many of us weren't sure we'd survive a hot war.

We were taken advantage of at Yalta. We were sold out by Soviet spies like Hiss. Greenberg knows it. The facts just don't fit his Leftist world-view so he lashes out at the Far Right and McCarthy. Knee-jerk nonsense.
Bill Heuisler



Brian R Robertson - 5/13/2005

Comment removed at request of poster.


Glenn Rodden - 5/13/2005

Mr. Robertson:

What I am saying is that President Bush gave a speech to justify current US policy toward Russia by distorting history. Republicans talked tougher about confronting the Soviet Union, but they followed the containment policies that they denounced.

"Although the late Stephen Ambrose's reputation has come under attack lately(especially his third volume on Nixon), he did contribute to the historical record. According to Ambrose, a large number of the political figures who rose to prominence at the end of WW-II, Republicans and Democrats, were critical of FDR, Truman, and Eisenhower. They idealistically believed that there was no limitation to American power and that there was nothing that the U.S. could not accomplish. This characteristic was visible in the policies and public statements of Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon."

Actually, these three presidents followed the policy of containment.

"n 1969, I think it is fair to say that Nixon was displeased with the hand he felt that he was dealt. In his view(I am not suggesting that Nixon's view was 100% accurate), the Democrats had screwed up Vietnam, divided the nation, and caused a huge decline in morale and public support. Without public support and a deeply divided nation, Nixon had to compromise on his beliefs. However, he continued to pursue his foreign policy goals in secret and as we all know, this led to Watergate. (Since Greenberg brouth up Vietnam, I thought I would too)."

What did Nixon actually do to solve the problem in Vietnam? Do you think that his widening of the war into Laos and Cambodia helped? And did Nixon help to unite the nation? I remember him as one of the most devicive politicians of the 20th century.

"As Patrick Moniyhan stated: "He just could not leave Vietnam alone." If Nixon abandoned Vietnam, it would have been against everything that he stood for throughout his political career. To complicate matters, Congress and a large portion of the American people wanted the war to end but Nixon still tried to preserve South Vietnam in secret. However, to a number of people on the 'far left,' the only reason Nixon continued the war was to be relected and produce a decent intervel so Vietnam would not look like a direct U.S. defeat. This far left view of Nixon is similiar to Greenberg's description of what he calls the McCarthyite heirs that despised a President. The belief that these new Republicans created myths for political ends."

What exactly did Richard Nixon stand for during his political career? He began as a hardline anti-communist who ended up advising communist dictators how to stay in power. Would you care to explain that?

"In my opinion, historians often forget that Nixon and many Republicans believed in liberating Eastern Europe, saving China, and saving South Vietnam. To them, these were serious issues and not merely dirty political tricks. And as we've seen, Nixon went as far trying to support South Vietnam in secret."

I am not sure which historians you are talking about, but I do not find any historical records that support the claim that Republicans were attempting to liberate Eastern Europe during the cold war or saving China. To think that Nixon who while president made a strategic alliance with Communist China was an idealist is just ridiculous. I have no idea where you are going with the secret Nixon plan to save South Vietnam.


Glenn Rodden - 5/13/2005

Thanks for the link the official NATO website, but that site does not explain why the Bush administration wishes to see NATO expanded to the Russian border. If you have some thoughts on that policy, I would like to hear them.

You are correct when you say that FDR was not referred to by name in Bush's speech, but Bush was criticizing the Yalta agreement that FDR signed with Stalin and Churchill. Why did Bush make that point? My guess is that he is attempting to justify current NATO expansion and not just lamenting 50 years of Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.


Brian R Robertson - 5/13/2005

Comment removed at request of poster.


Maarja Krusten - 5/13/2005

1. Current members of the existing NATO are listed here http://www.nato.int/structur/countries.htm. For how expansion issues are considered, see http://www.nato.int/issues/enlargement/index.html

2. I did not see FDR referred to by name in Bush's speech (text linked to above in Dr. Greenberg's article). I read the speech as a nod to the tragic history of the captive nations.

3. I haven't seen anyone posting here assert that Republican policies during the Cold War were geared towards "liberating" Eastern Europe. Considering the plight of captive nations is very different from taking direct action to "liberate" them. See for the 1959 "REPORT ON SOVIET-DOMINATED NATIONS IN EASTERN
EUROPE," text posted at
http://dosfan.lib.uic.edu/ERC/frus/frus58-60x1/05easteur4.html .

This noted in 1959, "In the existing state of relative balance between Free World and Soviet bloc military power, voluntary resort to force (including incitement to internal revolution) for the achievement of U.S. policy objectives in Eastern Europe is not in prospect. Therefore, efforts to achieve U.S. policy objectives are based upon the concept of evolutionary development rather than the concept of liberation."

It also is worth studying the Captive Nations Week proclamations (for an example, see President Reagan's remarks at
www.reagan.utexas.edu/resource/speeches/1986/72186a.htm+">http://64.233.167.104/search?q=cache:N21sA1v4G9UJ:www.reagan.utexas.edu/resource/speeches/1986/72186a.htm+%22captive+nations%22+proclamation&hl=en&lr=lang_en


Glenn Rodden - 5/13/2005

"Eisenhower was not one of the so-called 'McCarthyite' heirs. In fact, both parties tried to get him to run on their ticket in 1952. He eventually chose the Republican Party but members from both parties felt that Eisenhower's foreign policy was too inactive and passive. Consequently, In the 1960 campaign, Kennedy attacked Ike on the issue of a supposed missile gap and declared that the Eisenhower administration was losing the Cold War."

I never said that Eisenhower was a McCarthyite. I was responding to an earlier post that somehow Republicans adopted POLICIES that were designed to free Eastern European nations from the Soviet bloc. I find no support for such an argument in the historical record of the Eisenhower or Nixon administrations.

"I tend to agree with Mr. Robertson that many Republican politicians during the Cold War reflected genuinely held beliefs about Central and Eastern Europe and that these did not all reflect simply opposition to FDR or a desire to appeal to certain constituents. To attribute such attitudes only to politics or to opposition to FDR is far too simplistic and fails to do justice to the complexity of such matters."

You are entitled to believe anything that you want, but again I find no evidence that Republicans adopted policies that were designed to liberate the people of Eastern Europe.

Back to the original point of this thread. Why is President Bush going to Latvia to denounce a former American president? What is the Bush administration's policy toward Russia? Does the Bush administration intend to expand NATO up to the borders of Russia?


Maarja Krusten - 5/13/2005

I remember the painting of Vice President Nixon with Hungarian refugees. It is called “Nixon at Andau.” I just googled it and found an image at http://www3.sympatico.ca/bozoki/_A8A-E.html .

I tend to agree with Mr. Robertson that many Republican politicians during the Cold War reflected genuinely held beliefs about Central and Eastern Europe and that these did not all reflect simply opposition to FDR or a desire to appeal to certain constituents. To attribute such attitudes only to politics or to opposition to FDR is far too simplistic and fails to do justice to the complexity of such matters.

Most positions taken by a President of either party reflect a balancing of numerous considerations and it is no different for Republican Presidents than it is for Democratic Presidents. We can guess from studying public statements and archival records how they balance these considerations but won’t always find definitive answers for everything.

The best description of governance that I have seen derives from Colin Powell’s memoirs. Colin Powell described why Joe Laitin, one of his Nixon administration mentors, opposed exposing young White House Fellows to the machinations of high level governance: "Democracy is give and take. People have to trade, change, deal, retreat, bend, compromise, as they move from the ideal to the possible. To the uninitiated, the process can be messy, disappointing, even shocking. Compromise can make the participants look manipulative, unprincipled, two-faced. . . `some of these bright-eyed kids start wandering around the West Wing and cabinet members' offices and they're horrified to find how things really get done."'

Presidents are people, just like you and I. They deal with issues of greater import and complexity than most of us do on the job. But they are just as human. They get some things right and some things wrong. And sometimes, with some issues, there are no good solutions available, they have to pick from a number of bad alternatives and then to sell the results of their decisionmaking to the public. That’s why I tend to resist putting Presidents into neat little boxes or painting black and white pictures of the issues with which they struggle.


Brian R Robertson - 5/13/2005

Comment removed at request of poster.


Glenn Rodden - 5/13/2005

"As one who is still enraged by the handover of Poland at Yalta,"

In what way was Poland handedover at Yalta by FDR? I thought the Soviet Army took Poland from the Germany Army.

"Furthermore, most of Greenberg's "McCarthyite heirs" did not create trumped up myths for political reasons but passionately believed in liberating Eastern Europe. For instance, after the 1956 Soviet opression of a Hungarian Revolution, Vice President Nixon visited Hungary and made an unscheduled late-night visit to the refugee camps."

What exactly did the Eisenhower Administration do to free the people of Eastern Europe? And what did the Nixon accomplish?


Brian R Robertson - 5/13/2005

Comment removed at request of poster.


Bill Heuisler - 5/12/2005

Mr. Greenberg,
As one who is still enraged by the handover of Poland at Yalta, I wonder how you arrive at your terms. Is the Political Right of Germany in your first paragraph different from the Old Right here in your second? Does the Far Right have an equal/opposite counterpart on the Left? Do you use the term Right as a pejorative or do you have some niggling sense of a definition?

After all, we are dealing with a Treaty where FDR was ailing and being counseled by that scion of the Old Left, Alger Hiss. That would be the same Alger Hiss who was decorated in Moscow a few weeks after the country England entered the war to save from Hitler's National Socialism (Poland) was given over to Stalin's Communism. Was Hiss Far Left? Or was he Old Left? Could those Communist Poles have had an ally at the Yalta Conference?

To resent fighting a war in order to hand millions over to Communist slavery isn't Far anything, Mr. Greenberg.
That is just common sense.
Bill Heuisler


Brian R Robertson - 5/12/2005

Comment removed at request of poster.


Maarja Krusten - 5/12/2005

Hi, Mr. Robertson,

I understand your frustration but is it fair to single out Dr. Greenberg? I don't always agree with what he writes (sometimes I do, sometimes I don't) but I don't find his approach arrogant or demeaning. But, you're as entitled to your views as I am. Personally, I find that many of the historians who write on HNN appear to use absolutes, it's a common characteristic of the people who present their historical interpretations here.

In this case, Dr. Greenberg chose to look at Yalta in part through the prism of U.S. politics. As with everything I read on HNN, I view the article as a reflection of the writer's areas of interest, not the definitive account of how World War II ended. As a U.S. historian, but someone of Baltic heritage, I chose to look at Bush's comments and the end of World War II through a different prism--the fate of the people in the captive nations.

I think part of the problem lies in the fact that HNN has about a 1200 word limit for its articles. So no one can cover everything, even if they wanted to. Dr. Greenberg's article is about 1200 words. Who knows what more he would say about the end of World War II, if he were writing a book rather than an op ed type article. Even in this short article, Dr. Greenerg does throw in some references to Stalin's barbarity, etc.

Most authors pick their points, often after heavy pruning, and it is up to us, the readers, to add supplemental information or to introduce other points of interest. History certainly isn't a zero sum game, discussion of one interpretation doesn't cancel out consideration of other issues, we posters can pingpong around topics and add whatever we want, except on those blogs which actively discourage what they call trolls (LOL).

I tend to agree with Mr. Siegler that "There's no evidence in Bush's remarks that he is a 'FDR hater.' The worst he can be accused of is catering to Eastern [and I would add, Central] European sensibilites."

I also think some of the reaction to Bush's comments is overblown. Presidents of both parties often use events of the near past in a context which their opponents might find political. We've seen it again and again, not just with Yalta. Personally, I find this practice so commonplace, I don't find it surprising. As a historian, I would have used my professional capital to focus on other aspects of the events of 1945 and the immediate postwar period, but hey, that's what the comment boards are for!

BTW, I hope all "young students" don't "dislike history!"


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 5/12/2005

Edward,
I must respectfully disagree with a small part of your post. I do not believe that the author of this piece meant to suggest that Bush is an FDR hater. As he says in the article, “Bush stopped short of accusing Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill of outright perfidy.” His point was about the statement uttered by Bush, and did not really venture beyond that. Indeed, his only statement that seems directed towards Bush as president was when he said that “Bush's cavalier invocations of history for political purposes are not surprising.”

The main point of the article was to compare Bush’s “words” with “those of hardcore FDR- and Truman-haters circa 1945,” not contemporary FDR-haters. I also disagree with you that “Greenberg utterly fails to show how Bush got history wrong.”

Greenberg attempts (successfully in my opinion) to demonstrate how the Yalta agreement was one of necessity and not one of mere appeasement (as in the case of Munich) or conquest (as was the case in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact).

It should be noted that while I agree with the article on that one statement, the remainder of Bush’s speech should indeed be applauded as you suggest, and does give this country and its leaders due credit for the ultimate liberation of Poland and others.

As Bush went on to say:
“Eventually, America and our strong allies made a decision: We would not be content with the liberation of half of Europe -- and we would not forget our friends behind an Iron Curtain. We defended the freedom of Greece and Turkey, and airlifted supplies to Berlin, and broadcast the message of liberty by radio. We spoke up for dissenters, and challenged an empire to tear down a hated wall. Eventually, communism began to collapse under external pressure, and under the weight of its own contradictions. And we set the vision of a Europe whole, free, and at peace -- so dictators could no longer rise up and feed ancient grievances, and conflict would not be repeated again and again.”

Finally, you are absolutely right to note that the truth is the truth regardless of who says it. Too often, people tend to judge a statement by its author rather than by the facts of the statement. As one HNN posters one said to me, and which I often repeat: The world would be round even if Hitler said it was.


Brian R Robertson - 5/12/2005

Comment removed at request of poster.


Edward Siegler - 5/12/2005

Your post turned my stomach, Ms. Krusten. But more importantly it helps fill a gap in our knowledge of this period. It also explains, at least in part, why Bush's remarks about Yalta are laudable. He did not refer to any of the "stab in the back" theories that Greenberg tastelessly compares to those explaining Germany's defeat that were taken up by Hitler after World War I. There's no evidence in Bush's remarks that he is a "FDR hater." The worst he can be accused of is catering to Eastern European sensibilites. Greenberg utterly fails to show how Bush got history wrong. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'd applaud those remarks even if they were spoken by Attila the Hun because they're the truth.


Maarja Krusten - 5/12/2005

I'm not surprised that even HNN's history buffs don't know much about the repatriation issues. However, the questions received wide press play in the United Kingdom during the libel suit brought by Lord Aldington. I think that was during the 1990s. The New York Times recounted the issues in its January 2, 2001 obituary, "Lord Aldington, 86, Libeled for 1945 Yalta Repatriations."

There is some information on these issues in Nexis. I have not done research in the primary source documents myself. Some of the documentation was released in the late 1970s. The Associated Press reported in 1978 that "U.S. and British military forces in World War II sent Soviet soldiers back to Russia knowing that the soldiers feared death or exile for the "crime" of being captured by the Germans, documents released Monday confirm.

About 400 pages of previously secret documents dealing with the forced return of Soviet soldiers, many of them freed from German prison camps, were released jointly by the National Archives and the British Defense Ministry."

Maclean's published an article on the repatriation issue in 1985, "The tragic victims of a superpower game." Here's an extract:

“The Yalta agreement made no reference to the use of force in repatriating people liberated by either the Allies or the Soviets. Neither did international law nor conventions in effect at the time -- The Hague (1899 and 1907) and Geneva (1929). But six months before Yalta, London made a secret pact with Moscow to forceably return all Soviet prisoners. And even without an agreement, the U.S. army in 1944 herded 1,100 Russian prisoners onto a Soviet ship in San Francisco. . . . Many Western diplomats argued against the actions, but the military's fear of Soviet reprisals against 100,000 Allied POWs won out.”

Further, “By the end of the war more than 30,000 anti-Communist Cossacks, including women, children and emigre's who had left Russia between 1917 and 1920, were living near Lienz, Austria. Their British captors had assured them that they would be protected under the Geneva conventions. When they learned that their captors planned to return all of them to the Soviet Union, they staged a hunger strike, carrying placards that read, "We prefer to starve rather than return to the Soviet Union." Refusing to board transport trucks, they were struck with rifle butts until they were unconscious, then thrown by British soldiers onto the convoys.

That was only the beginning. In the United States about 200 Soviet nationals were still being held at Fort Dix, N.J., four months after Yalta. Determined to carry out the repatriation accord, the army drove the prisoners from their barracks with tear gas in June, 1945, but not before three had hanged themselves. At Dachau, in January, 1946, U.S. soldiers tear-gassed Soviet prisoners to force them from their barracks as part of the program. Bleeding from self-inflicted wounds, the Soviets pleaded with the Americans to shoot them rather than be returned to the Soviet Union -- and indeed 11 prisoners died and 21 were wounded in the operation. At Plattling, Germany, Rev. William Sloane Coffin Jr., then a U.S. army translator, saw several men commit suicide. "Two rammed their heads through windows, sawing their necks on the broken glass until they cut their jugular veins," he wrote in Once to Every Man: A Memoir.” '

[END extract Maclean's]



Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 5/12/2005

A point well-taken, Oscar. I agree completely.


Oscar Chamberlain - 5/12/2005

I am glad that J. Goldberg mentioned that the Atom Bomb had not been developed yet. This fact is too often left out of the recent discussions concerning Yalta. Even so, I think that needs to be considered more carefully.

If the defenders of the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima are correct--and I believe they are--that the FDR and his advisors at Yalta believed that an invasion would take 100's of thousands of American lives. We need to consider FDR's decisions in Yalta in the light of that belief.

The bomb had not yet been tested. Its development was a case where cutting edge science and technological development to exploit that science were being done almost simultaneously. FDR had to negotiate with the Soviets on the assumption that the bomb would not work.

If this was an important part of his thinking, then he is guilty of putting the lives of American soldiers above the lives and futures of Eastern Europeans. That may be a crime, but I think it's an important part of the circumstances in which the crime should be judged.

That does not make the decisions at Yalta "moral". Nor does it mean that a better course of action could not have been found. I simply think that it is a factor that should be given great weight, along with the others mentioned above.


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 5/12/2005

Edward,
I too was unaware of the repatriation of Russians, and agree with your conclusions as well: big mistake. I also have no problem posting editorials that present a different perspective from the HNN piece, so I thank you for the article.

I remember a French film made in the 1990’s about a Russian expatriate joining a boatload of other expatriates thrilled to be finally returning to their homelands, which they remembered fondly before being exiled. This particular French-Russian was also accompanied by his fully French wife and French children. Upon reaching Russian soil, the boatload of singing and dancing people were greeted in Russia with soldiers and were all murdered on the stop, the one Russian and his family spared because he was a prominent doctor. The remainder of the film centered around he and his family trying to escape from the Soviet Union, which was essentially a continent-wide prison.

I bring this up only to suggest that given the highly reclusive nature of the Soviet Union, I don’t really know whether the Western powers realized what awaited expatriates when they returned.

I agree 100% with the rest of your post, Patton’s idea was crazy (although the movie that bears his name is perhaps one of my all-time favorites, I must confess).

There are indeed those on the far left who truly hate America, and by extension, are sympathetic to any enemies of America, such as the former Soviet Union. It is unfortunate that these people give the word “liberal” such a bad name.

Without question, during WWII we allied ourselves with the second most evil regime in history in order to defeat the first. How much of Yalta was simply giving into to Stalin’s demands, and how much Stalin wanted that he didn’t get as a result of the negotiations, I have no idea.

However, Howard Fineman of the Washington Post recently wrote an editorial cited on the HNN mainpage about some theories on why Bush chose to invoke the conference.


Edward Siegler - 5/12/2005

Adam - I agree with much of what you've said here. I posted two articles from National Review because they provide some information and views that the HNN article does not. National Review is clearly a right-leaning publication while the HNN article is clearly left-leaning. I was not aware the Yalta agreement is what resulted in the forced repatriation of many to the Soviet Union. This is the most important piece of information in Golberg's article and one that is missing from the HNN article. I think we can all agree that this part of the Yalta accords was a clear mistake.

Patton's plan to invade the Soviet Union was sheer lunacy and everyone knew it at the time. He was reprimanded for making these remarks, and the implication by National Review that Patton may have had a good idea here is pure partisan garbage.

Even if it were Kim Jong Ill saying that Eastern Europe was consigned to slavery after World War II I would agree with him because this statement is obviously correct. On one hand it's true that there wasn't really anything that the U.S. could have done to prevent it, on the other hand we didn't necessarily have to lend it our explicit support so readily. And the reality of what Eastern Europe and the Baltic nations experienced after World War II shouldn't be overlooked as we congratualte ourselves on our victory. Perhaps I'm not so objective about this. In the spirit of full disclosure I'll inform you that I'm of Latvian heritage.

The thing about FDR supporters and Stalin is a bit perplexing to me. Obviously this is another heavily partisan jab, however there are those on the far left who still seem to deny the true horror of Stalin's regime and its implications for the Marxian ideology of which was a part.


Edward Siegler - 5/12/2005

Yes, I realized that about a minute after I posted it. Thanks for the correction


Maarja Krusten - 5/12/2005

Thanks for your good post, Mr. Seigler!

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that many people who post on HNN seem to frame these issues as a "zero sum game." One would think on a history news network, you could look at the events of 1945 and trace the consequences for the people in Northern, Central and Eastern Europe most affected by them without having to get caught in U.S. politics. But no, somehow it becomes an argument about FDR and how Republicans (a more nuanced group than some people seem to realize, in my experience) viewed him, then and now. President Bush may have had various reasons for speaking as he did, they certainly have not all been covered here on HNN. I guess it just shows how hard it is to "do nuance" here on HNN!

To see how Europeans have dealt with some of these complex issues of late, I had to turn to Nexis rather than HNN. Here are a couple of extracts you might find interesting!

(1) The Europe Information Service reported on May 11, 2005 that

“Members of the European Parliament have agreed a resolution to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of Second World War. After long and difficult discussions, MEPs managed to strike a deal on the text which combined tributes to all those who fought against Nazi tyranny while acknowledging that the end of the war ushered in a new era of oppression for countries who suffered under Soviet occupation.”

Further, “The final text commemorates and mourns all the victims of Nazi tyranny and the Holocaust and expresses gratitude to all those who contributed to the liberation from National Socialism. It highlights the allied forces of nations who sacrificed their lives including those of the US, the UK, the Soviet Union and other Allied states. However, it notes that 'for some nations' the end of World War II 'implied a renewal of the tyranny inflicted by the Stalinist Soviet Union'. It also highlights the 'magnitude of suffering, injustice and long-term social, political and economic degradation of captive nations' on the Eastern side of the Iron Curtain.

It hails the success of the European integration process and the transatlantic alliance as a 'forceful answer' to the lessons learned from past misfortunes and failures. It notes that the process of integration had helped overcome almost all post-war dictatorships on the European continent, both in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and in Spain, Portugal and Greece.

However, calls from MEPs to include mentions of the Yalta conference on the post-war division of Europe and the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were dropped.

EPP-ED leader Hans-Gert Pottering said that the final text of the resolution was a 'balanced compromise' which included a clear condemnation of the start of the war as well as condemnation of the oppression of the post-war period for Central and East European countries. He added that Russia should come to terms with its own past in the same way that Germany had. Mr Pottering called reports of debates in Russia about restoring Stalinist memorials as 'horrifying', commenting on the outcry which would result if in Germany there were discussions about restoring Nazi monuments.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, co-President of the Greens/EFA group, said that it was important to recognise the suffering of the Russian people, even though that did not mean remaining silent about what happened in some countries after the end of the war. 'We should signal that after Yalta one third of Europe was occupied and oppressed', he said. He said it was important than the EU put human rights at the heart of its dialogue with Russia. The refusal to speak about Chechnya was an 'error', he said. On the Baltic states, he commented that there was a need to recognise their double resistance to Nazism and the Soviet regime. But he added that the rights of all people in those countries must be recognised, referring specifically to the Russia minorities.”

2) From BBC Monitoring Europe - Political - May 11, 2005:

“In connection with the Moscow celebrations, a commentary in the French LE MONDE is disturbed by President Vladimir Putin's description of the collapse of the Soviet Union as ‘the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century’.

‘What is badly missing in the drive to build a Russian identity free of the myths and illusions of Soviet ideology,’ the paper says, is "a lucid and honest historical reappraisal of the past.’

This is why Moscow refuses to recognize the injustice of the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states, it believes, because any question marks raised by Russian historians over the Great Patriotic War and its consequences, are, as the paper puts it, ‘seen as an act of treason’.”


Matt Duss - 5/11/2005

Edward, you forgot to credit the National Review editorial you took this from.

http://www.nationalreview.com/editorial/editorial2200505110923.asp


Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 5/11/2005

On another article on this site, I disagree with those who today condemn the decision to drop the atomic bomb, arguing that “Truman not only made the right decision, but the only decision imaginable in 1945.” Of course, I do not mean that the murder of so many innocent people was “right,” but it was right for Truman to have made the decision, given the circumstances. Now I see that FDR is under the same attacks for very similar reasons.

The same applies here as with Truman and the bomb. Yalta did not follow, as Bush says, “in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.” The Munich pact was made because Britain and France did not wish to hold Germany to account of their treaty obligations, and the motivation behind the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was that it satiated Stalin’s thirst for a land grab for the time being.

Yalta, by contract, was forging a new agreement, not holding anyone to some prearranged treaty, and it was not out of a desire to acquire territory. Ironically, the same event that Truman is rightfully praised for had the same justification as the allies: to avoid prolonging a world war for God-knows how long. Russia lost over 27 million people in WWII, compared to 450,000 Americans. Is there any doubt that it would have taken WWIII to boot Stalin out of Eastern Europe? Either that, or leveling Moscow with A-bombs (although given the carnage at Stalingrad, it is possible that even that would simply be absorbed). I am curious as to how else the Soviet Union could have been urged to return to their pre-WWII borders, even aside from the fact that by Yalta, we still needed Stalin’s cooperation with regards to Japan. Let us also not forget that by this time, Great Britain, France, and others still had colonial possessions. What is it about Poland that should have made the allies risk another war and not, say, India, or Indo-China, just so name a few?

Honesty and self-reflection is something that more American leaders should be praised for. However, Bush’s statement was not, in my opinion, honest, and to be perfectly frank, I do not believe that it was sincere. Roosevelt and the New Deal programs are under attack today as never before, not just politically but also ideologically. It is very difficult for me to ignore this overall political context in evaluating the sincerity of Bush’s statement, although I could be wrong here.

I would like to respond to the article provided Edward Siegler above. I will respond to the points I disagree with the most below.

1) “Defenders of FDR, who always had a soft spot for Stalin…”

I do not know the credentials of this author, but from the outset, I already know his ideological disposition. As a so-called defender of FDR, I can assure any reader that I have no soft-spot for Stalin and to brush anyone who disagrees as a Stalin-supporter is not only petty and partisan, but reminiscent of a school yard debate rather than a historical one.

2) “If, for example, General Patton had had his way, much of the occupation wouldn't have been a fait accompli.”

As I note above, only the opening of another front of WWII, a front which could have lasted quite a while, would Stalin have crawled back to Russia. Perhaps it would have been the most moral decision, but only with hindsight.

3) “Schlesinger & co. argue that Yalta was a concession to the necessities of reality. I wonder if FDR's defenders think tougher diplomacy is similarly pointless regarding, say, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank? Israel has it now, so that should settle the issue.”

This author obviously disdains Israel to compare it with the Soviet Union. Israel has given up everything it won in its defensive wars except the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights. If Poland was a serious threat to the Soviet Union, vowed to continue fighting it after the occupation, and was continuously conducting terrorist attacks on Soviet citizens, then the Soviets would have been justified in maintaining a military presence there until peace was restored, just as with Israel.

4) “It's ironic: Liberals celebrated Bill Clinton's numerous apologies for America's Realpolitik "mistakes" during the Cold War as a sign of great statesmanship. But when an apology reflects poorly on the mistake that basically launched the Cold War, they bang their spoons on their highchairs about any attempt to tarnish FDR's godhood.”

Ah of course, when all else fails, simply accuse your opponent of being a Stalin supporter (check) and of mere partisanship (check).

I should not have to “prove” my objectivity, but I will: FDR was a racist and withdrew a bill that would have made lynching a federal crime. His decision to intern Japanese-Americans was as wrong and baseless as it was racist, and when millions of Jews were burning in Europe, he refused to list a finger to help, not even altering the quote of Jewish immigrants to give more a chance to escape. He did nothing to indicate to the Germans that they would be held accountable for their actions against civilians and would not even consider bombing the rail-lines or the gas chambers. I could go on but I think I made my point that a discussion about history should not descend into what political party the president is.

5) “This raises the larger moral point. After a war to end one evil empire, we signed a piece of paper accepting the expansion of another evil empire. And it happened at Yalta.”

This is very true, and just as launching an atomic bomb, igniting the nuclear age and murdering thousands of innocent civilians, it is not a choice that I would have liked to make. However, under the circumstances, I really do not see any alternative that would have not resulted in the deaths of thousands of more Americans, and the igniting of another war.


Edward Siegler - 5/11/2005

Reconsidering Yalta
by J. Goldberg

This week, while touring the remnants of the former Soviet Union on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany, President Bush gave perhaps the greatest diplomatic performance of his career, balancing a host of moral and strategic interests simultaneously. In the Baltic republics, he recognized that the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe was "one of the greatest wrongs in history." In Russia he carefully avoided alienating the Russians too much. In Georgia he literally danced a jig and championed liberty for the entire world.

But the most exciting part of the president's trip, for some of us, was when he reignited one of the great debates of the 20th century: Did America betray Eastern Europe at the end of the Cold War? This question, symbolized by the debate over the Yalta conference, which codified the division of Europe, has preoccupied the Left and Right for nearly 50 years. Indeed, by revisiting the issue this week, Bush showed the consistency of his foreign policy since he took office. In his first European address — in 2001, before 9/11 — Bush declared "No more Munichs, no more Yaltas!"

Some quick background. The conference took place in the Crimean city of Yalta in February 1945. The war in Europe was winding down and America didn't yet have the atomic bomb. At the conference, America and Britain conceded to a host of Stalin's demands, including acceptance of the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe and the forced repatriation of all soldiers, refugees, and other escapees of the Soviet Gulag.

This second set of concessions is usually left out of the debate over Yalta because it was so indefensible. The Allies understood that they were sentencing hundreds of thousands of men (and quite a few women and children) to death and misery. Many of these refugees went to extraordinary lengths to end the war in British and American custody only to be forcibly — i.e., at gunpoint — returned to the Soviets for liquidation. Many killed themselves and their families rather than go back. Shame on us all.

As for the more famous controversy over conceding Eastern Europe to the Soviets: This is a tougher nut to crack, and hyperbole has been common to all sides of the debate. One of the many layers to the controversy is the fact that Alger Hiss, the proven Communist spy — once beloved by liberals everywhere — was an advisor to FDR at the conference. How much of a role he played remains hotly debated. But only fools and Communist sympathizers would today disagree with the statement that he played too much of a role.

Defenders of FDR, who always had a soft spot for Stalin — "I like old Joe" — and defenders of Churchill, who understood completely what a barbarian Stalin was, claim that there was nothing the West could do. And besides, by consigning millions of East Europeans to slavery for generations we received in return a promise from Stalin to help defeat Japan in the pacific — eventually. Of course, Hiroshima made that chit worthless.

For example, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the revered liberal historian who has always considered it part of his job description to carry more water than Gunga Din for Democratic presidents, responded to Bush's speech with the usual haughty incredulity. "The American president is under the delusion that tougher diplomacy might have preserved the freedom of small East European nations. He forgets the presence of the Red Army. No conceivable diplomacy could have saved Eastern Europe from Soviet occupation."

Jacob Heilbrunn was more splenetic in the Los Angeles Times, caterwauling about Bush's peddling of "right-wing mythology" and the "Ann Coulter school of history."

The history is debatable. Schlesinger's emphasis on the word "diplomacy" is revealing. He writes, "It was the deployment of armies, not negotiating concessions, that caused the division of Europe." But the concessions at Yalta were possible because America chose to let Stalin occupy Eastern Europe. If, for example, General Patton had had his way, much of the occupation wouldn't have been a fait accompli. Schlesinger & co. argue that Yalta was a concession to the necessities of reality. I wonder if FDR's defenders think tougher diplomacy is similarly pointless regarding, say, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank? Israel has it now, so that should settle the issue.

It's ironic: Liberals celebrated Bill Clinton's numerous apologies for America's Realpolitik "mistakes" during the Cold War as a sign of great statesmanship. But when an apology reflects poorly on the mistake that basically launched the Cold War, they bang their spoons on their highchairs about any attempt to tarnish FDR's godhood.

This raises the larger moral point. After a war to end one evil empire, we signed a piece of paper accepting the expansion of another evil empire. And it happened at Yalta.


Edward Siegler - 5/11/2005

Yalta Regrets


I n the catalogue of 20th-century misery, Eastern Europe’s place is lamentably prominent. Ravaged by Nazi brutality in World War II, it fell to Soviet domination after the war. Speaking over the weekend in Latvia, President Bush said that the Yalta agreement codifying that domination “followed in the unjust tradition of Münich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Once again, when powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable.”

Yalta’s outraged defenders are now out in force. Jacob Heilbrunn, writing in the Los Angeles Times, made two typical criticisms of Bush’s history: first, that Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe was inevitable because “the territory was already in their possession”; second, that refusing to cut a deal with Stalin “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).”

The second point is unconvincing. Stalin was just as eager to defeat Hitler as Roosevelt and Churchill were, and by the time the Allies sat down at Yalta in February 1945, the Third Reich was already in its death throes. As for Japan, the U.S. was quite capable of winning in Asia with or without Russian “assent.”

The first point, on the other hand, contains an element of truth. But, while the proximity of the Baltic states to Russia made their annexation into the USSR almost inevitable, the fates of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Germany weren’t necessarily sealed. Even if their occupation was unpreventable, it does not follow from this that the U.S. and Great Britain had to bless the Soviet occupiers. Eastern European democrats would have been strengthened by early encouragement from the West — even if that encouragement was nothing but a silent refusal to endorse Stalin’s ambitions.

So, Bush was right to regret Yalta. Of course, he was speaking as much to Latvia’s eastern neighbor as to the crowd assembled before him. Russia is awash with nostalgia for the bad old days of Soviet Communism: Vladimir Putin has recently called the breakup of the USSR “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century,” and statues of Stalin are popping up across the country. Bush’s speech was an implicit but powerful criticism both of Russia’s flirtation with authoritarianism and of its swooning sentimentality about Soviet brutality.

And his message will be heard beyond Russia. The fundamental question raised by Yalta is: What should powerful democracies do to aid and protect those who live under totalitarian regimes? Bush rightly called Yalta an “attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability [that] left a continent divided and unstable.” That sounds an awful lot like the implicit deal the U.S. struck for decades with the regimes of the Middle East. Bush’s words may have been spoken in Riga, but they were meant to encourage democrats from Moscow to Tehran.



Edward Siegler - 5/11/2005

I agree entirely. I can't help but wonder if Bush's remarks would have been welcomed (in the west, that is) as a rare example of honesty and self-criticism during a victory celebration - which are almost always an orgy of self-congratualation - if they had been spoken by a president who wasn't so widely despised.


Edward Siegler - 5/11/2005

Just as the cold war could only have been won through alliances with less than savory regimes, World War II could not have been won without an alliance with Stalin. This fact is often overlooked by those who criticize America's support for various right-wing despots.

It is true, as Greenberg points out, that there was little that could have been done to prevent Stalin's dominance of Eastern Europe after World War II. However this takes nothing away from the moral honesty of Bush's remarks. It's remarkable that he recognized that in the wake of a war ostensibly fought for democracy and freedom, Eastern Europe ended up in chains for 50 years. It's remarkable because victory celebrations are almost always an orgy of self-congratulation and rarely, if ever, an occasion where the victors admit their faults. Bush is correct that the Allied victory was a flawed one and is the first American president, to my knowledge, to publically state this. The fact that the Yalta agreement was a source of right-wing rage for a time has nothing to do with it.

This sort of honesty on the part of an American president should be welcomed. Instead Greenburg remind us that cutting deals with tyrants for the sake of "stability" is the usual course of action. This practice has actually resulted in much instability and anti-American sentiment throughout the world.

In my view it is the plight of the various peoples of Eastern Europe during 50 years of communist rule that is the most important thing to keep in mind here.


Edward Siegler - 5/11/2005

...indeed! That is exactly what this whole thing is all about, Ms. Krusten. Politicized finger pointing. What does it matter that Yalta got the American right upset for a short time? I, too, am of Eastern European heritage - in my case Latvian. As you point out, it is the treatment of the people of these Soviet dominated countries that is ignored by this article but recognized by Bush. However it is true that there really wasn't anything the Western allies could have done to prevent the Soviet takeover.


John J. Kulczycki - 5/11/2005

Instead of objective analysis, in “The History Bush Got Wrong on His Trip,” David Greenberg repeatedly tries to dismiss Bush’s statement that “The agreement at Yalta followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact” by associating it with “the political right in Germany” [that is, Hitler and the Nazis], “hardcore FDR- and Truman-haters,” “ugly old canards about Yalta,” “the far right” [twice], and “the old right and their McCarthyite heirs.”
Greenberg is right in saying “By far the knottiest problem—and the source of lingering rage among the far right afterwards—was the fate of Poland and other liberated Eastern European countries.” Let us look at the case of Poland. Just as Czechoslovakia was not represented at Munich, where the Great Powers decided to cede part of its territory, Poland was not represented at the Teheran and Yalta Conferences, where the Great Powers ceded part of its territory, in effect recognizing almost all the territorial gains at Poland’s expense that the Soviets had made in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Even experts in the British Foreign Office advised Churchill that a Polish-Soviet border that would have given the Soviet Union less territory would have been a more equitable settlement dividing the territory in question between Ukrainians and Poles. Instead, Roosevelt and Churchill gave in to Stalin’s version of what the border should be, leaving far more Poles in the Soviet Union than Ukrainians in Poland.
The second contentious issue with regard to Poland was the question of its government. Again, without Poland’s participation, it was decided by the Great Powers. Churchill and Roosevelt and their representatives gave credence to Stalin’s claim that the Polish communists actually represented a significant portion of the Polish population. Greenberg does the same by stating “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,” as if they were equal contenders for the support of the Polish population. He goes on to write that Stalin “ordered the slaughter of thousands of Polish army officers in the Katyn Forest, fearing their potential allegiance to the London Poles,” as if there were any doubt about where the allegiance of the vast majority of them lay. Yes, FDR and Churchil refused to recognize the Lublin government, but the provisional government that they accepted consisted overwhelmingly of elements from the Lublin government, giving democracy little chance to succeed.
The parallel between Munich and Yalta (and Teheran) lies in Churchill’s and Roosevelt’s acceptance of Stalin’s Diktat with regard to Poland’s territory and government without participation of representatives of the overwhelming majority of the Polish population. Whether this would have made a difference in the post-war fate of Poland and Eastern Europe is another question and a highly speculative one.



John J. Kulczycki - 5/11/2005

Instead of objective analysis, in “The History Bush Got Wrong on His Trip,” David Greenberg repeatedly tries to dismiss Bush’s statement that “The agreement at Yalta followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact” by associating it with “the political right in Germany” [that is, Hitler and the Nazis], “hardcore FDR- and Truman-haters,” “ugly old canards about Yalta,” “the far right” [twice], and “the old right and their McCarthyite heirs.”
Greenberg is right in saying “By far the knottiest problem—and the source of lingering rage among the far right afterwards—was the fate of Poland and other liberated Eastern European countries.” Let us look at the case of Poland. Just as Czechoslovakia was not represented at Munich, where the Great Powers decided to cede part of its territory, Poland was not represented at the Teheran and Yalta Conferences, where the Great Powers ceded part of its territory, in effect recognizing almost all the territorial gains at Poland’s expense that the Soviets had made in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Even experts in the British Foreign Office advised Churchill that a Polish-Soviet border that would have given the Soviet Union less territory would have been a more equitable settlement dividing the territory in question between Ukrainians and Poles. Instead, Roosevelt and Churchill gave in to Stalin’s version of what the border should be, leaving far more Poles in the Soviet Union than Ukrainians in Poland.
The second contentious issue with regard to Poland was the question of its government. Again, without Poland’s participation, it was decided by the Great Powers. Churchill and Roosevelt and their representatives gave credence to Stalin’s claim that the Polish communists actually represented a significant portion of the Polish population. Greenberg does the same by stating “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,” as if they were equal contenders for the support of the Polish population. He goes on to write that Stalin “ordered the slaughter of thousands of Polish army officers in the Katyn Forest, fearing their potential allegiance to the London Poles,” as if there were any doubt about where the allegiance of the vast majority of them lay. Yes, FDR and Churchil refused to recognize the Lublin government, but the provisional government that they accepted consisted overwhelmingly of elements from the Lublin government, giving democracy little chance to succeed.
The parallel between Munich and Yalta (and Teheran) lies in Churchill’s and Roosevelt’s acceptance of Stalin’s Diktat with regard to Poland’s territory and government without participation of representatives of the overwhelming majority of the Polish population. Whether this would have made a difference in the post-war fate of Poland and Eastern Europe is another question and a highly speculative one.



Maarja Krusten - 5/11/2005

Discuss, by all means, what alternatives practically were available to the Western Allies at the end of the war. This, to some extent, Dr. Greenberg and others on HNN, such as Alan Allport and Ralph Luker, have done. Missing throughout HNN, however, is any mention of the impact of the loss of democracy in Eastern and Central European countries. That, too, is part of history.

Dr. Greenberg notes “’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.” I would have added a little more at that point to illustrate what that meant for those countries.

A few sentences about the killings and deportations in the occupied countries, including the Baltic countries where Bush spoke, along with a nod to the long-term political, social, and economic impact for their inhabitants, would have been nice on a website devoted to history. I’m not saying Dr. Greenberg, Dr. Allport, and Dr. Luker are more interested in bashing President Bush than in looking at such issues. HNN does not lend itself to long articles or postings and I understand authors have to pick and chose what to cover. But it would have been helpful if Dr. Greenberg and Dr. Allport on Cliopatria would have linked readers to scholarly works which would have helped explained why and how, for so many countries, 1945 did not bring peace but new horrors, and World War II did not really end until around 1991. I for one do not assume that all HNN readers know the sobering statistics and anecdotes that illustrate this.

Life in a totalitarian state is so different from what most of us have experienced in our sheltered lives of relative ease. My nephew grew up in Estonia, one of the countries that only regained independence and democracy in 1991. Since he lived in a country under Soviet occupation, he enjoyed few of the freedoms we seem to take for granted. He went to school in an educational system where many classes were taught in Russian rather than his native tongue of Estonian. He was conscripted into the Soviet Army and forced to serve in another Soviet Republic. Picture living in the United States but being forced to learn and take all your exams in another language. And being drafted for involuntary service in the army of another country. And having to submit to all that, not having the freedom to protest, well, anything. That’s what life was like in those countries in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, well after Stalin died and the killings and mass deportations of the late 1940s and early 1950s had ended.

A side mention of the fate of some of these small nations -- the speed bumps on the map of Europe -- would have been nice, even on a website where we so often look at issues through an American superpower lens. (See, for examples, Dr. Allport’s comment in his article on Cliopatria, “That the repatriation of Soviet prisoners, however gruesome, was a tacit but necessary precondition for the release of thousands of British and US ex-PoWs accidentally swept up by the Soviet armies at the end of WWII I will mention only in passing.” I don’t think he was saying American lives are worth more than others’ lives but the passage illustrates how rarely writers on HNN look deeply into the messier _consequences_ of American decisionmaking. Thousands of Europeans faced repatriation to countries that before the war had been sovereign republics but which in 1945, and for decades to come, suffered under Soviet occupation. For them, going “home” was very different from the joyful homecoming U.S. soldiers faced.)

For a slice of history many of you probably have not looked into deeply, I recommend _War in the Woods: Estonia's Struggle for Survival 1944-1956_ by Mart Laar.

As usual, the points I raise are outside the mainstream of what people seem to like to debate here. So I don’t look for any responses. Still, it’s worth pointing out some of these things, even if they don’t lend themselves to easy answers and neat historical or political packages.


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