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9: The Munich Called Yalta: War’s End - William Henry Chamberlin, America’s Second Crusade 
America’s Second Crusade (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, Amagi, 2008).
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The Munich Called Yalta: War’s End
The second conference of the Big Three, held at Yalta in February 1945, represented the high point of Soviet diplomatic success and correspondingly the low point of American appeasement. This conference took place under circumstances which were very disadvantageous to the western powers.
Roosevelt’s mental and physical condition had disquieted Stimson at the time when the Morgenthau Plan was being approved.1 It certainly did not improve as a result of the strenuous presidential campaign and the long trip to the Crimean resort.
There has been no authoritative uninhibited analysis of the state of the President’s health during the war. But there is a good deal of reliable testimony of serious deterioration, especially during the last year of Mr. Roosevelt’s life. And it was during this year that decisions of the most vital moral and political importance had to be taken.
Among the symptoms of the President’s bad health were liability to severe debilitating colds, extreme haggardness of appearance, occasional blackouts of memory, and loss of capacity for mental concentration. An extremely high authority who may not be identified described Roosevelt’s condition at three of the principal conferences as follows:
“The President looked physically tired at Casablanca; but his mind worked well. At Teheran there were signs of loss of memory. At Yalta he could neither think consecutively nor express himself coherently.”
An official who was in frequent contact with Roosevelt during the last months of his life gave me the following account of getting essential state papers considered:
I would go to the President with perhaps a dozen documents requiring his approval or signature. By talking fast as soon as I opened the door of his study I could get action, perhaps, on three or four. Then the President would begin to talk about irrelevant matters, repeating stories and anecdotes I had often heard from him before and falling behind in his schedule of appointments. It was difficult and embarrassing to get away from him.
A similar impression was carried away by General Joseph Stilwell, who talked with Roosevelt after the Cairo and Teheran conferences and asked what American policy he should communicate to Chiang Kai-shek after returning to China. The reply was a long rambling monologue. The President told how his grandfather made a couple of million dollars out of China in the 1830’s and “all through the Civil War.” He expounded a plan for taking fifty or one hundred million American dollars and buying up Chinese paper money on the black market so as to check inflation. He talked about postwar airplanes and how much the Chinese should pay American engineers. And Stilwell never got his direction as to policy.
It is certainly no exaggeration to say that Roosevelt was physically and mentally far less fit than Churchill and Stalin during the period when American military power was at its height, and the supreme decisions which confronted the national leaders in the last phase of the war had to be taken. Had Roosevelt been able to delegate power, and had there been a strong and capable Secretary of State, some of the unfortunate consequences of the President’s incapacitation might have been averted and softened.
But Roosevelt clung to power with hands that were too weak to use it effectively. After his death it required much searching of files and ransacking of the memories of the participants to reconstruct what had occurred and to find out just what the President had or had not agreed to.
When Hull laid down his office on account of bad health in November 1944, his successor was Edward Stettinius. The ignorance and naïveté of the latter in foreign affairs soon became a byword to his associates in government service and to foreign diplomats. Stettinius was much better qualified to be master of ceremonies at the high jinks of some fraternal organization than to direct American foreign policy at a critical period.
Stettinius shared Roosevelt’s harmful delusion that successful diplomacy was largely a matter of establishing friendly personal contacts. At the Dumbarton Oaks conference which shaped the preliminary draft of the United Nations charter, Stettinius made himself ridiculous by cheerfully shouting “Hi, Alex” and “Hiya, Andrei” at his partners in the negotiations, the correct and pained Sir Alexander Cadogan and the sullen and bored Andrei Gromyko.
The appointment of Stettinius was due to the influence of Hopkins. The latter’s star as court favorite, after a temporary eclipse, was again in the ascendant at the time of the Yalta Conference. Hopkins was a very sick man and had to spend most of his time at Yalta in bed.
Roosevelt went to Yalta with no prepared agenda and no clearly defined purpose, except to get along with Stalin at any price. He had been provided with a very complete file of studies and recommendations, drawn up by the State Department, before he boarded the heavy cruiser Quincy, which took him to Malta, where there was a break in the journey to the Crimea. But these were never looked at. The President suffered from a cold and from sinus trouble, and his appearance “disturbed” James F. Byrnes, who accompanied him on this trip.2
The conference at Yalta lasted a week, from February 4 until February 11, 1945. The principal subjects discussed were Poland, German boundaries and reparations, the occupation regime for Germany, the conditions of Soviet participation in the war against Japan, procedure and voting rights in the future United Nations organization.
At the price of a few promises which were soon to prove worthless in practice, Stalin got what he wanted in Poland: a frontier that assigned to the Soviet Union almost half of Poland’s prewar territory and the abandonment by America and Great Britain of the Polish government-in-exile in London. Roosevelt made a feeble plea that Lwów and the adjacent oil fields be included in Poland. Churchill appealed to Stalin’s sense of generosity. Neither achieved any success.
On the German question, Churchill took a stand for moderation. Stalin recommended that the western frontier of Poland should be extended to the Neisse River, bringing large tracts of ethnic German territory under Polish rule. Churchill suggested that it would be a pity to stuff the Polish goose so full of German food that he would die of indigestion.
The British Premier privately estimated to Byrnes that nine million Germans would be displaced by giving Poland a frontier on the Neisse River and that such a number could never be absorbed. It is the Neisse River that marks the Polish-German frontier in 1950, although the Yalta communiqué merely stated that “Poland must receive substantial accessions of territory in the North and West.”
There was agreement in principle that Germany should be broken up into separate states. However, no positive decision was adopted. The matter was referred to the European Advisory Commission, composed of American, British, and Soviet representatives sitting in London. Here it died a natural death. The dismemberment of Germany was not discussed at the next major conference, at Potsdam.
The Soviet representatives at Yalta had large and fairly precise ideas as to what they wished to take from Germany as reparations. They wanted to remove physically 80 per cent of Germany’s heavy industries and also to receive deliveries in kind for ten years. Churchill recalled the unsuccessful experience with reparations after the last war and spoke of “the spectre of an absolutely starving Germany.” Ivan Maisky, Soviet spokesman on this question, proposed that reparations be fixed at the figure of twenty billion dollars, with the Soviet Union to receive at least half of this sum.
Roosevelt had little to suggest on this subject, except to remark that the United States would have no money to send into Germany for food, clothing, and housing. It was finally decided to leave the details to a reparations commission. There was no firm promise on America’s part to support a Soviet claim for ten billion dollars in reparations, although the Soviet Government, with its usual tendency to lose nothing for want of asking for it, later tried to represent that there had been such a commitment.
If one considers the value of the territory lost by Germany in the East, the prodigious looting, organized and unorganized, carried out by the Red Army, and the system in the Soviet zone of occupation under which a large share of German industrial output is siphoned off for Soviet use, it is probable that Germany was stripped of assets considerably in excess of ten billion dollars in value.
The protocol on reparations mentioned “the use of labor” as a possible source of reparations. Roosevelt observed that “the United States cannot take man power as the Soviet Republic can.” This gave implied American sanction to the large-scale exploitation of German war prisoners as slave labor in Britain and France, as well as in Russia, after the end of the war. The Morgenthau Plan, which Roosevelt and Churchill had approved at Quebec, recommended “forced German labor outside Germany” as a form of reparations.
Procedure in the United Nations was discussed at some length. The records show that Roosevelt and Churchill were as unwilling as Stalin to forego the right of veto in serious disputes, where the use of armed force was under discussion. There was a dispute, not settled at Yalta, as to whether the right of veto should apply to discussion of controversial matters. The Russians insisted that it should, the western representatives contended that it should not. Stalin conceded this minor point when Harry Hopkins visited Moscow in June 1945.
The Soviet Government received Roosevelt’s consent to its proposal that Byelorussia and the Ukraine, two of the affiliated Soviet republics, should be granted individual votes in the United Nations Assembly. When Byrnes learned of this he raised vigorous objection, reminding Roosevelt that some of the opposition to America’s entrance into the League of Nations was based on the argument that Britain would have five votes, one for each member of the Commonwealth. Roosevelt then asked for and obtained Stalin’s consent to an arrangement which would give the United States three votes in the Assembly. This compensation was never pressed for and did not go into effect.
In reason and logic there was no case for giving separate votes to the Ukraine and Byelorussia. If the Soviet Union was a loose federation of independent states, like the British Commonwealth, each of its sixteen constituent republics should have been entitled to a vote. If it was a centralized unitary state, it should have received only one vote. No one with an elementary knowledge of Soviet political realities could doubt that the Soviet Union belongs in the second category. It would cause no special shock or surprise to see Canada, South Africa, Australia, or India voting in opposition to Britain on some issues. It would be unthinkable for the Ukraine or Byelorussia to oppose the Soviet Union.
So far as the Assembly is concerned, Moscow’s three votes have thus far been of little practical importance. The Assembly possesses little power, and the Soviet satellites are in the minority. But, as Byrnes was to discover later during the arduous negotiation of the peace treaties with Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria, Rumania, and Finland, it was an advantage for the Soviet Union to start with three of the twenty-one votes of the participating nations in its pocket.
Contempt for the rights of smaller and weaker nations was conspicuous in the Soviet attitude at Yalta. At the first dinner Vishinsky declared that the Soviet Union would never agree to the right of the small nations to judge the acts of the great powers. Charles E. Bohlen, American State Department expert on Russia,3 replied that the American people were not likely to approve of any denial of the small nations’ right. Vishinsky’s comment was that the American people should “learn to obey their leaders.”4
Churchill, discussing the same subject with Stalin, quoted the proverb: “The eagle should permit the small birds to sing and not care wherefore they sang.” Stalin’s low opinion of France, as a country that had been knocked out early in the war, was reflected in his remark: “I cannot forget that in this war France opened the gates to the enemy.”
What Stalin did forget, and what no one reminded him of, was that while France was fighting the Germans, the Soviet Government was enthusiastically collaborating with the Nazi dictatorship, sending messages of congratulation after every new victory of the Wehrmacht. French Communists, acting under Stalin’s orders, certainly contributed more than other Frenchmen to “opening the gates to the enemy.”
Stalin was only willing to grant France a zone of occupation on condition that this should be carved out of territory assigned to the United States and Great Britain. For a time he held out against giving France a place on the Allied Control Council for Germany. In the end he yielded to Roosevelt on this point. The President’s attitude toward General de Gaulle had always been strained and chilly. But, in Hopkins’s words, “Winston and Anthony [Eden] fought like tigers” for France. They enlisted the aid of Hopkins, who persuaded Roosevelt to use his influence, in this case successfully, with Stalin.
On the subject of Iran there was complete disagreement. That country had been jointly occupied by Russia and Britain since 1942. There had been an agreement at Teheran that all foreign troops should be withdrawn six months after the end of the war, but the Soviet Government was already displaying the balkiness about implementing this agreement which was to lead to a serious international crisis in 1946. The brief text of the final discussion at the meeting of foreign ministers on February 10 is worth quoting as a foretaste of Molotov’s methods in negotiation:
Mr. Eden inquired whether Mr. Molotov had considered the British document on Iran.
Mr. Molotov stated that he had nothing to add to what he had said several days ago on the subject.
Mr. Eden inquired whether it would not be advisable to issue a communiqué on Iran.
Mr. Molotov stated that this would be inadvisable.
Mr. Stettinius urged that some reference be made that Iranian problems had been discussed and clarified during the Crimean Conference.
Mr. Molotov stated that he opposed this idea.
Mr. Eden suggested that it be stated that the declaration on Iran had been reaffirmed and re-examined during the present meeting.
Mr. Molotov opposed this suggestion.5
In Yugoslavia, as in Poland, the Yalta Agreement provided a screen of fair words behind which the friends of the West were ruthlessly liquidated. It was decided to recommend that a new government be formed on the basis of agreement between Tito and Subasic.6 The antifascist Assembly of National Liberation (an organization of Tito’s predominantly Communist followers) was to be enlarged by the addition of members of the last Yugoslav parliament who “had not compromised themselves by collaboration with the enemy.” Legislative acts passed by the Assembly were to be subject to ratification by a constituent assembly.
All this sounded fair enough. What is meant in practice was that two non-Communists, Subasic and Grol, joined Tito’s regime, the former as Foreign Minister, the latter as Vice-Premier. But their tenure of office was precarious and brief. Grol’s newspaper was suppressed, and he resigned from the government in August 1945, accusing the regime of a long series of violations of elementary political and civil liberties. Subasic followed his example soon afterwards and was placed under house arrest.
And Tito’s constituent assembly was chosen under an electoral law “which rendered the very appearance of a candidate’s name on the opposition list a danger to that candidate’s life.”7 The “new democracy,” so very like the old fascism in psychology and methods, marched on to further victories. Yalta put the seal on the process which had begun at Teheran of betraying the East Europeans who preferred free institutions to communism. All that followed, or could follow, was a long series of futile diplomatic protests from Washington and London.
Another country was offered up as a sacrifice on the altar of appeasement at Yalta. This was China. Stalin had told Hull at Moscow and Roosevelt at Teheran that he would be on the side of the United States and Great Britain against Japan after the end of the war with Germany. At Yalta, with German military collapse clearly impending, the Soviet dictator set a price for his intervention in the Far East. The price was stiff. And it included items which it was not morally justifiable for the United States to accept. The Big Three agreed that
the former rights of Russia, violated by the treacherous attack of Japan in 1904,8 shall be restored, viz.:
(a) The southern part of Sakhalin as well as the islands adjacent to it shall be returned to the Soviet Union.
(b) The commercial port of Dairen shall be internationalized, the pre-eminent interest of the Soviet Union in this port being safeguarded and the lease of Port Arthur as a naval base of the Soviet Union restored.
(c) The Chinese Eastern Railway and the South Manchuria Railway, which provide an outlet to Dairen, shall be jointly operated by the establishment of a joint Soviet-Chinese company, it being understood that the pre-eminent interests of the Soviet Union shall be safeguarded and that China shall retain full sovereignty in Manchuria.
The Kurile Islands, a long chain of barren, volcanic islands extending into the North Pacific northeast of Japan proper, were to be handed over to the Soviet Union. The status quo was to be preserved in Outer Mongolia, a huge, sparsely populated, arid region which the Soviet Union took over without formal annexation in 1924.
South Sakhalin (which had belonged to Russia until 1905) and the Kurile Islands might be regarded as war booty, to be taken from Japan. And China had no prospect of upsetting de facto Soviet rule of Outer Mongolia by its own strength. But the concessions which Roosevelt and Churchill made to Stalin in Manchuria were of fateful importance for China’s independence and territorial integrity.
Manchuria, because of its natural wealth in coal, iron, soya beans, and other resources, and because of the large investment of Japanese capital and technical skill, intensified after 1931, was the most industrially developed part of China. To give a strong foreign power control over its railways, a predominant interest in its chief port, Dairen, and a naval base at Port Arthur was to sign away China’s sovereignty in Manchuria.
And this was done not only without consulting China but without informing China. The Chinese Government was prevented from even discussing Soviet claims in the future. For, at Stalin’s insistence, the agreement to satisfy his annexationist claims was put in writing and contained this decisive assurance:
“The Heads of the three Great Powers have agreed that these claims of the Soviet Union shall be unquestioningly fulfilled after Japan has been defeated.”
In the opinion of former Ambassador William C. Bullitt “no more unnecessary, disgraceful and potentially disastrous document has ever been signed by a President of the United States.”9
Severe as this judgment sounds, it has been borne out by the course of subsequent events. The Soviet intervention in the Far Eastern war was of no military benefit to the United States, because it took place only a few days before Japan surrendered. Politically this intervention was an unmitigated disaster.
During the Soviet occupation of Manchuria industrial equipment of an estimated value of two billion dollars was looted and carried off to Russia. This delayed for a long time any prospect of Chinese industrial self-sufficiency. As soon as Soviet troops occupied Manchuria, Chinese Communist forces, as if by a mysterious signal, began to converge on that area.
The Soviet military commanders shrewdly avoided direct, ostentatious co-operation with the Communists. After all, the Soviet Government had signed a treaty of friendship and alliance with the Nationalist Government of China on August 14, 1945. One clause of this treaty prescribed that “the Soviet Government is ready to render China moral support and assistance with military equipment and other material resources, this support and assistance to be given fully to the National Government as the central government of China.”
This treaty was to prove about as valuable to the cosignatory as the nonaggression pacts which the Soviet Government concluded with Poland, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. There is no indication that the Soviet Government gave the slightest “moral” or material support to the Chinese Nationalist Government. But Manchuria became an arsenal for the Chinese Communists, who were able to equip themselves with Japanese arms, obligingly stacked up for them by the Soviet occupation forces.
Soviet control of Dairen was used to block the use of this important port by Nationalist troops. Manchuria became the base from which the Chinese Communists could launch a campaign that led to the overrunning of almost all China.
Roosevelt’s concessions at Yalta represented an abandonment of the historic policy of the United States in the Far East. This policy was in favor of the “open door,” of equal commercial opportunity for all foreign nations, together with respect for Chinese independence. The American State Department had always been opposed to the “closed door” methods of Imperial Russia.
But at Yalta the “open door” was abandoned in a document that repeatedly referred to “the pre-eminent interests of the Soviet Union” in Manchuria. Those interests have now become pre-eminent in China. And the surrender of Manchuria to Stalin is not the least of the reasons for this development.
The Yalta concessions were a violation of the American pledge at Cairo that Manchuria should be restored to China. If New York State had been occupied by an enemy and was then handed back to the United States on condition that another alien power should have joint control of its railway systems, a predominant voice in the Port of New York Authority, and the right to maintain a naval base on Staten Island, most Americans would not feel that American sovereignty had been respected.
Whether considered from the standpoint of consistency with professed war aims or from the standpoint of serving American national interests, the record of Yalta is profoundly depressing. The large-scale alienation of Polish territory to the Soviet Union, of German territory to Poland, constituted an obvious and flagrant violation of the self-determination clauses of the Atlantic Charter. An offensive note of hypocrisy was added by inserting into the Yalta communiqué repeated professions of adherence to the Atlantic Charter.
The hopes of tens of millions of East Europeans for national independence and personal liberty were betrayed. The leaders of the Axis could scarcely have surpassed the cynicism of Roosevelt and Churchill in throwing over allies like Poland and China. The unwarranted concessions to Stalin in the Far East opened a Pandora’s Box of troubles for the United States, the end of which has not yet been seen.
There was not one positive, worth-while contribution to European revival and stability in the sordid deals of Yalta, only imperialist power politics at its worst. The vindictive peace settlement, far worse than that of Versailles, which was being prepared promised little for European reconstruction. Roosevelt not long before had piously declared that “the German people are not going to be enslaved, because the United Nations do not traffic in human slavery.”10 But at Yalta he sanctioned the use of the slave labor of German war prisoners, a throwback to one of the most barbarous practices of antiquity.
The agreements, published and secret, concluded at Yalta are defended mainly on two grounds.11 It is contended that military necessity forced the President to comply with Stalin’s demands in Eastern Europe and East Asia. It is also argued that the source of difficulties in postwar Europe is to be found, not in the Yalta agreements, but in the Soviet failure to abide by these agreements.
Neither of these justifications stands up under serious examination. America in February 1945 was close to the peak of its military power. The atomic bomb still lay a few months in the future. But the United States possessed the most powerful navy in the world, the greatest aircraft production in quantity and quality, an army that, with its British and other allies, had swept the Germans from North Africa, France, Belgium, and much of Italy.
The lumbering Soviet offensive in the East was dependent in no small degree on lend-lease American trucks and communication equipment. There was, therefore, no good reason for approaching Stalin with an inferiority complex or for consenting to a Polish settlement which sacrificed the friends of the West in that country and paved the way for the establishment of a Soviet puppet regime.
No doubt Stalin could have imposed such a regime by force. Only the Red Army in February 1945 was in a position to occupy Poland. How much better the outlook would have been if Churchill’s repeated prodding for action in the Balkans had been heeded, if the Polish Army of General Anders, battle-hardened in Italy, had been able to reach Poland ahead of the Red Army!
But there would have been a great difference between a Soviet stooge regime set up by the naked force of the Red Army and one strengthened by the acquiescence and endorsement of the western powers. The former would have enjoyed no shred of moral authority. As it was, nationalist guerrilla resistance to the made-in-Moscow government was prolonged and embittered. Many thousands of lives were lost on both sides before the satellite regime, with a good deal of Russian military and police aid, clamped down its rule more or less effectively over the entire country. How much stronger this resistance would have been if the United States and Great Britain had continued to recognize the government-in-exile and insisted on adequate guarantees of free and fair elections!
There was equally little reason to give in to Stalin’s Far Eastern demands. The desire to draw the Soviet Union into this war was fatuous, from the standpoint of America’s interest in a truly independent China. Apparently Roosevelt was the victim of some extremely bad intelligence work. He was given to understand that the Kwantung Army, the Japanese occupation force in Manchuria, was a formidable fighting machine, which might be used to resist the American invasion of the Japanese home islands which was planned for the autumn.
But the Kwantung Army offered no serious resistance to the Soviet invasion in August. It had evidently been heavily depleted in numbers and lowered in fighting quality.
Apologists for the Yalta concessions maintain that Japan in February 1945 presented the aspect of a formidable, unbeaten enemy. Therefore, so the argument runs, Roosevelt was justified in paying a price for Soviet intervention, in the interest of ending the war quickly and saving American lives.
But Japanese resistance to American air and naval attacks on its own coasts was already negligible. American warships were able to cruise along the shores of Japan, bombarding at will. According to an account later published by Arthur Krock, of the New York Times, an Air Force general presented a report at Yalta pointing to the complete undermining of the Japanese capacity to resist. But the mistaken and misleading view that Japan still possessed powerful military and naval force prevailed.
Acceptance of this view by Roosevelt was especially unwarranted, because two days before he left for Yalta Roosevelt received from General MacArthur a forty-page message outlining five unofficial Japanese peace overtures which amounted to an acceptance of unconditional surrender, with the sole reservation that the Emperor should be preserved. The other terms offered by the Japanese, who were responsible men, in touch with Emperor Hirohito, may be summarized as follows:
MacArthur recommended negotiations on the basis of the Japanese overtures. But Roosevelt brushed off this suggestion with the remark: “MacArthur is our greatest general and our poorest politician.”
That the President, after receiving such a clear indication that Japan was on the verge of military collapse, should have felt it necessary to bribe Stalin into entering the Far Eastern war must surely be reckoned a major error of judgment, most charitably explained by Roosevelt’s failing mental and physical powers.12
Captain Ellis M. Zacharias, Navy expert on Japan whose broadcasts in fluent Japanese hastened the surrender, asserts that intelligence reports indicating Japanese impending willingness to surrender were available at the time of the Yalta Conference.
One such report, communicated in the utmost secrecy to an American intelligence officer in a neutral capital, predicted the resignation of General Koiso as Premier in favor of the pacific Admiral Suzuki. The Admiral, in turn, according to the report, would turn over power to the Imperial Prince Higashi Kuni, who would possess sufficient authority and prestige, backed by a command from the Emperor, to arrange the surrender.
I am convinced that had this document, later proven to be correct in every detail, been brought to the attention of President Roosevelt and his military advisers, the war might have been viewed in a different light, both Iwo Jima and Okinawa might have been avoided, and different decisions could have been reached at Yalta.13
Zacharias also believes that if the Japanese had been given a precise definition of what America understood by unconditional surrender as late as June, or even at the end of July 1945, both Soviet intervention and the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki could have been averted.14
Certainly there was a hopeful alternative to the policy, so disastrous in its results, of encouraging and bribing the Soviet Union to enter the Far Eastern picture. This was to aim at a quick peace with Japan, before the Soviet armies could have been transferred from the West to the East. There is every reason to believe that such a peace was attainable, if the Japanese had been assured of the right to keep the Emperor and perhaps given some assurance that their commercial interests in Manchuria and Korea would not be entirely wiped out.
There is little weight in the contention that the Yalta agreements, in themselves, were excellent, if the Soviet Government had only lived up to them. These agreements grossly violated the Atlantic Charter by assigning Polish territory to the Soviet Union and German territory to Poland without plebiscites. They violated the most elementary rules of humanity and civilized warfare by sanctioning slave labor as “reparations.” And the whole historic basis of American foreign policy in the Far East was upset by the virtual invitation to Stalin to take over Japan’s former exclusive and dominant role in Manchuria.
There was certainly no reason for self-congratulation on the part of any of the western representatives at Yalta. But human capacity for self-deception is strong. According to Robert E. Sherwood, “the mood of the American delegates, including Roosevelt and Hopkins, could be described as one of supreme exultation as they left Yalta.”15 And Hopkins later told Sherwood:
We really believed in our hearts that this was the dawn of the new day we had all been praying for and talking about for so many years. We were absolutely certain that we had won the first great victory of the peace—and by “we,” I mean all of us, the whole civilized human race. The Russians had proved that they could be reasonable and farseeing and there wasn’t any doubt in the minds of the President or any of us that we could live with them and get along with them peacefully for as far into the future as any of us could imagine.16
A chorus of hallelujahs went up from the less perspicacious politicians and publicists in the United States. Raymond Gram Swing perhaps took first prize for unqualified enthusiasm. He said: “No more appropriate news could be conceived to celebrate the birthday of Abraham Lincoln.” William L. Shirer saw in Yalta “a landmark in human history.” Senator Alben Barkley pronounced it “one of the most important steps ever taken to promote peace and happiness in the world.” In the face of such authoritative declarations the suicides of scores of “unknown Polish soldiers” in Italy, desperate over the betrayal of their country, received little attention.
However, the honeymoon mood inspired by the first news of Yalta did not last long. The ink on the agreements was scarcely dry when there were two serious and flagrant violations: one in Rumania, one in Poland. It had been formally agreed at Yalta that the three big powers should “concert their policies in assisting the peoples liberated from the domination of Nazi Germany and the peoples of the former Axis satellite states to solve by democratic means their pressing political and economic problems.” The three governments were “to jointly assist the peoples in these states in such matters as establishing conditions of internal peace and forming interim governmental authorities.” And there was to be immediate consultation on “the measures necessary to discharge the joint responsibilities set forth in this declaration.”
The Kremlin decided to get rid of the government of General Radescu, set up after Rumania had turned against Germany, and to replace it with a regime subservient to Moscow. Rejecting and ignoring repeated American proposals for three-power consultation on the question, the Soviet Government sent Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Vishinsky to Bucharest on February 27. Vishinsky stormed and bullied until the young Rumanian King Michael dismissed Radescu and appointed the Soviet-designated Prime Minister, Petru Groza. The Soviet envoy’s methods of persuasion varied from slamming a door in the royal palace so hard that the plaster cracked to threatening the King that it would be impossible to guarantee the further existence of Rumania as an independent state if Groza were not appointed.
The King yielded, and Rumania was started on the road to complete Communist dictatorship. When the American Ambassador in Moscow, Averell Harriman, proposed that a three-power committee be set up in Bucharest to implement the Yalta resolution on consultation, Molotov’s rejection was prompt and blunt. This was typical of the Soviet attitude not only in Rumania, but in all countries under Red Army occupation.
Meanwhile the Soviet Government was delaying and sabotaging the creation of a new government in Poland. Stalin and Molotov interpreted the Yalta agreement on this point (the phrasing was loose and elastic) to mean that no Pole distasteful to the Provisional Government (made up of handpicked Soviet candidates) should be eligible for membership in the new government.
And the Provisional Government authorities, backed up by Soviet military and police power, were rapidly making the Yalta promise of “free unfettered elections” an empty mockery. There were numerous arbitrary arrests. Freedom of the press was nonexistent. The historic Polish parties were dissolved and replaced by pro-Communist groups which stole their names. In order to conceal the reign of terror that was going on, foreigners were systematically excluded from Poland. There was long delay even in admitting representatives of UNRRA, interested in working out a program to meet the country’s urgent need for food, clothing, and other relief supplies.17
Toward the end of March, Churchill warned Roosevelt that the Yalta agreement on Poland was clearly breaking down. The President on March 27 informed Churchill that he too “had been watching with anxiety and concern the development of the Soviet attitude since Yalta.”18 Along with this message he sent the draft of a proposed communication to Stalin.
This communication, sent to Moscow on April 1, was phrased in sharper terms than Roosevelt had been accustomed to use in exchanges with the Soviet dictator. Perhaps by this time the President had realized that personal charm and an avoidance of unpleasant subjects do not constitute an unfailing formula for diplomatic success.
Roosevelt in this telegram expressed concern over the development of events. He regretted the “lack of progress made in the carrying out, which the world expects, of the political decisions which we reached at Yalta, particularly those relating to the Polish question.” The President emphasized that “any solution which would result in a thinly disguised continuation of the present government would be entirely unacceptable and would cause our people to regard the Yalta agreement as a failure.”
Roosevelt urged that American and British representatives be permitted to visit Poland. If there was no successful co-operation in solving the Polish question, he warned, “all the difficulties and dangers to Allied unity will face us in an even more acute form.” The President also referred to Rumania, suggesting that developments there fell within the terms of the Yalta declaration on liberated areas and requesting Stalin to examine personally the diplomatic exchanges which had taken place on this subject.19
Stalin’s reply, dispatched on April 7, offered no satisfaction. It contested Roosevelt’s interpretation of Yalta and flatly refused to permit the sending of American and British observers to Poland—on the ground that the Poles would consider this an insult to their national dignity! Apparently Stalin felt no corresponding squeamish fear of insulting Polish national dignity by filling high posts in the Polish Army and police with Russian agents, some of whom could not even speak Polish.
Roosevelt and Churchill decided to send a new joint message to Stalin. While this was in preparation Roosevelt died. News of the treacherous arrest of fifteen Polish underground leaders could scarcely have strengthened his confidence in Stalin’s good faith and good will. And even before the sharp exchanges on the Polish question, this confidence had been shaken by another incident.
About the middle of March, there was a preliminary meeting in Berne of American, British, and German military representatives to arrange for the surrender of the German armies in Italy, under the command of Marshal Kesselring. The Soviet Government had been informed of this development, and Molotov had expressed a desire to send Red Army officers to take part in the discussions. The Chiefs of Staff informed Molotov that nothing would be done at Berne, except to make preparations for a further meeting at Allied headquarters in Caserta, in Italy. This elicited from Moscow a sharp reply, refusing to send military representatives and “insisting” that the “negotiations” be stopped.
Roosevelt personally assured Stalin that no negotiations had taken place and that the Soviet Government would be kept fully informed of further developments. Then Stalin sent a message which Roosevelt took to heart very deeply as an insult to his integrity and loyalty to the alliance. Stalin declared that Roosevelt had been misinformed by his military advisers. According to Red Army intelligence reports, Stalin continued, a deal had been struck with Kesselring. The front would be opened to the American Army, and Germany would be granted easier peace terms in exchange.
These allegations are devoid of any shadow of probability. American policy toward Germany had been based on rigid adherence to the unconditional surrender formula and avoidance of any step that would have remotely suggested separate dealing with Germany.
Roosevelt’s hurt feelings found reflection in a reply which expressed “deep resentment” over “the vile misrepresentations of Stalin’s informers.” The President intimated that these informers wished to destroy the friendly relations between the two countries.
The friction over the Polish and Rumanian issues and over Stalin’s insinuations of American bad faith were shrouded in secrecy at the time. This friction is now a matter of record and seems to dispose of a favorite thesis of Soviet sympathizers. This is that American-Soviet relations were invariably smooth and friendly during Roosevelt’s lifetime and only began to deteriorate after his death. The evidence indicates that this is not the case, that Roosevelt was hurt and offended by what he regarded as a betrayal of the Yalta assurances, and had he lived, he would quite probably have shifted America’s policy more quickly than Truman felt able to do.
Two well-known American journalists who saw Roosevelt separately in the last weeks of his life agree that he was both discouraged and indignant over what he regarded as breach of faith and lack of cooperative spirit on the Soviet side. He was considering, according to their reports, a fundamental re-examination of American policy toward the Soviet Union.
What Roosevelt would have done, had he lived longer, is a matter of conjecture. He left an unhappy legacy in foreign relations to his successor, who was without personal knowledge and experience in this field. So secretive and personal had been Roosevelt’s diplomacy that for some time it was impossible for the new Chief Executive to get a clear picture of what assurances had been given to foreign governments, of what diplomatic IOU’s were outstanding.
Mr. Truman was not predisposed in favor of appeasement and cherished no sentimental sympathy with communism. He gradually eliminated from his Administration extreme New Dealers and fellow travelers. But in the first months of office his hands were tied, partly by inexperience, partly because of reluctance to give the impression that Roosevelt’s friendly policy was being reversed. If a frank public statement setting forth the points at issue had been made, American public opinion would have been better prepared to support the government in a firmer attitude toward Moscow. But the feeling that nothing should disturb the outward show of harmony prevailed. Only an initiated few knew how sharp was the tone of the communications which had been passing between Washington and London and Moscow.
After Roosevelt’s death Churchill tried his hand at winning Stalin by a personal appeal. He sent a letter on April 29, in the last days of the war in Europe, addressing the Soviet Premier as “my friend” and begging him “not to underrate the divergences which are opening about matters which you may think are small, but which are symbolic of the way the English-speaking democracies look at life.”20
In this letter Churchill declared that “we in Great Britain will not work for or tolerate a Polish government unfriendly to Russia,” but added:
Neither could we recognize a Polish Government that did not truly correspond to the description in our joint declaration at Yalta, with proper regard for the rights of the individual as we understand these matters in the western world. . . .
There is not much comfort in looking into a future where you and the countries you dominate, plus the Communist parties in many other States, are all drawn up on one side, and those who rallied to the English-speaking nations and their associates or dominions are on the other. It is quite obvious that their quarrel would tear the world to pieces, and all of us, leading men on either side, who had anything to do with that would be shamed before history.
But neither this letter nor Roosevelt’s earlier note moved Stalin one iota from his grand design of conquering as much of Europe as he could by the device of setting up not friendly, but vassal governments, run by obedient local Communists. The desire to keep up the pretense of friendship and co-operation with the Soviet Union caused the American and British Governments to neglect valuable political opportunities in the last weeks of the war. Churchill emphasized this point with regret in a speech of October 9, 1948.
The gulf which was opening between Asiatic Communist Russia and the western democracies, large and small, was already brutally obvious to the victorious War Cabinet of the national coalition even before Hitler was destroyed and the Germans laid down their arms. . . .
It would have been wiser and more prudent to have allowed the British Army to enter Berlin, as it could have done, and for the United States armored divisions to have entered Prague, which was a matter almost of hours.
Churchill was not speaking with the insight of hindsight. He had pressed for action of this kind when it was feasible. After the western armies had crossed the Rhine and enveloped the Ruhr Basin in March 1945, Eisenhower worked out a plan for the final blow at the collapsing German resistance and communicated this plan to Stalin. The Soviet Generalissimo was doubtless pleased. For Eisenhower left Berlin to the Russians and proposed to advance across central Germany, with flanking moves to the north, to cut off Denmark, and to the south, aimed at Austria.
Churchill, according to Eisenhower,21 was disturbed and disappointed because the plan did not call for a rapid sweep to Berlin ahead of the Russians by the British army on the left wing, under command of Field Marshal Montgomery. Churchill also felt that Eisenhower’s message to Stalin exceeded his authority to communicate with the Soviet ruler only on military matters.
Eisenhower was profoundly innocent in high politics. He probably did not know what a serious cleavage had developed since Yalta. So, when Marshall communicated Churchill’s criticisms to him, he replied with complete disregard of political considerations:
“May I point out that Berlin itself is no longer a particularly important objective. Its usefulness to the German has been largely destroyed and even his government is preparing to move to another area.”22
Eisenhower argues in his memoirs that the capture of Berlin or any other advance beyond the agreed line of demarcation with the Soviet forces was immaterial, because the American and British forces would have to be pulled back anyway. A demarcation line very unfavorable to the western powers and agreed on in the European Advisory Commission, where America was ineptly represented by Ambassador John G. Winant, had been ratified at Yalta. Almost half of Germany was assigned to Soviet occupation.
Eisenhower is convinced in retrospect that the western allies could probably have obtained an agreement to occupy more of Germany.23 Despite his refusal to press for Berlin, despite his acceptance of an urgent Soviet request not to let American troops move on to Prague, western troops were far to the east of the agreed demarcation line when the fighting stopped with the German surrender on May 8. A considerable area in Saxony and Thuringia was evacuated and handed over to the Russians.
Eisenhower’s view that the United States Government should stand by its bargain,24 even though it proved to be a bad one on the demarcation line, would have been quite reasonable if the Soviet Government had carried out its obligations. But this important condition was not fulfilled. In the short interval of time between the Yalta Conference and the German surrender, there had been repeated Soviet violations of the Yalta agreements.
There would, therefore, have been full moral and political justification for checking Stalin’s designs. Berlin and Prague would have been invaluable pawns for this purpose.
Suppose American and British troops had occupied both these cities and the intervening German and Czechoslovak territory. Suppose that the American and British Governments had then dispatched a joint note to the Kremlin, intimating that these troops would be withdrawn when, and only when, “free and unfettered elections” had been held in Poland and other violations of the Yalta agreement had been made good.
It is most improbable that Stalin would have risked a new war against the comparatively fresh American and British armies, backed as these were by the enormous productive power of American industry. He would have been forced to choose between loosening his grip on Poland and seeing almost all Germany and the capital of Czechoslovakia, most industrialized of the East European states, pass under western influence and control. Whichever horn of the dilemma he might have chosen, the western position in the impending cold war would have been immensely strengthened.
But this precious opportunity, enhanced because the Germans were eager to surrender to the western powers, rather than to the Russians, was allowed to slip by unused. Churchill might have possessed the vision and audacity to seize it. But Churchill’s voice was not decisive. The men who were in the seats of authority in Washington were still prisoners of the disastrous illusions which had dominated Roosevelt’s wartime policy toward Russia. So the Soviet Union was able to overrun Germany up to the Elbe and, in places, beyond the Elbe. Czechoslovakia was made ripe for the Communist coup d’état of February 1948, for the disillusioned death of Beneš and the pathetic suicide (or murder) of Jan Masaryk, after both had done their utmost to get along with the Kremlin.
There was a feeble attempt to use the American occupation of territory beyond the agreed demarcation line as a bargaining counter for satisfactory conditions of joint occupation in Berlin, located deep in the Soviet zone. There was an exchange of communications between Truman and Stalin on this subject on June 14 and 16. Truman stated that the American troops would be withdrawn to the agreed line when the military commanders had reached a satisfactory agreement, assuring road, rail, and air access to Berlin to the western powers.
An agreement was worked out on June 29. But the ability of the Soviet military authorities to impose a blockade upon the western sectors of Berlin in 1948 shows that it could scarcely be considered satisfactory. There were provisions for an air corridor for western planes and for a single railway line and a highway from Magdeburg to Berlin to be placed at the disposal of the non-Russian occupation powers.
It was characteristic of Winant’s woolgathering methods in negotiation that he never raised in the European Advisory Commission the question of providing a corridor, under western military control, to insure rail and road communications with Berlin. General Lucius D. Clay, Eisenhower’s deputy, tried to get a corridor stipulation written into the final military agreement. But Soviet Marshal Zhukov flatly refused. The subsequent necessity of resorting to the expensive airlift in order to thwart the Soviet blockade was part of the price of this excessive confidence in the goodness of Soviet intentions.
Stalin got his way on every important European postwar issue, with one exception. This was the disposition of the port of Trieste. Some of Tito’s Partisans forced their way into that city together with a New Zealand unit which belonged to the Allied forces in Italy, under the command of Marshal Sir Harold Alexander. The Partisans created a reign of terror. Thousands of Trieste citizens who were obnoxious to them disappeared, to be seen no more. But they were not allowed to take over the city. Marshal Alexander gave out this challenging statement:
Our policy, publicly proclaimed, is that territorial changes should be made only after thorough study and after full consultation and deliberation between the various governments concerned.
It is, however, Marshal Tito’s apparent intention to establish his claims by force of arms and military occupation. Action of this kind would be all too reminiscent of Hitler, Mussolini and Japan. It is to prevent such action that we have been fighting this war.
The American and British Governments backed up Alexander, and Tito finally withdrew his forces. Trieste, with its 70 per cent Italian population, was preserved as one of the outposts of the West in a Europe that was becoming increasingly divided by the line of the iron curtain.
Roosevelt in the last weeks of his life was certainly shaken, if not altogether disillusioned, in his great expectations of Stalin’s co-operation. But Harry Hopkins seems to have remained naive and self-deluded to the bitter end. On this point we have the testimony of a sketchy memorandum which he wrote in August 1945, shortly before his death.
We know or believe that Russia’s interests, so far as we can anticipate them, do not afford an opportunity for a major difference with us in foreign affairs. We believe we are mutually dependent upon each other for economic reasons. We find the Russians as individuals easy to deal with.25 The Russians undoubtedly like the American people. They like the United States. . . .
The Soviet Union is made up of 180 million hardworking proud people. They are not an uncivilized people. They are a tenacious, determined people, who think just like [sic] you and I do.26
The secretary of some branch of the Council of American-Soviet Friendship could scarcely have pronounced a judgment more dismally lacking in intelligent anticipation of the shape of things to come. And this man, as ignorant of foreign languages as of history and political and economic theory, was, after Roosevelt, the main architect of America’s disastrous foreign policy.
There were trained and experienced foreign service officials who saw the situation far more realistically. Joseph C. Grew, Undersecretary of State during the first months of 1945, wrote his views on the growing Russian danger in a remarkably prescient memorandum in May 1945. Arthur Bliss Lane fought gallantly and consistently for justice to Poland. Loy Henderson and George Kennan never succumbed to the trend in favor of blindly trusting Stalin and appeasing him at any cost.
Unfortunately the judgments and recommendations of these trained experts were often brushed aside. Roosevelt preferred the opinions of his court favorites, inexperienced amateurs, dilettantes, wishful thinkers. It is, after all, not difficult to be a wishful thinker on a subject of which one has no real knowledge.
The war ended with the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers. But the realization of this vainglorious Casablanca slogan did not usher in the reign of assured peace, international justice, and all the humane virtues which the more imaginative evangelists of intervention had so confidently prophesied. What followed the world’s worst war was the world’s most dismal inability to achieve any kind of peace settlement. Indeed, five years after the end of the fighting, there was no formal peace at all, only the shadow of another war. There is the measure of the failure of America’s Second Crusade.
[1. ] See Chapter 12.
[2. ] Byrnes, Speaking Frankly, 22-23.
[3. ] Bohlen, an excellent Russian linguist with experience as a member of the Embassy staff in Moscow, had risen rapidly in influence during the later phase of the war. He was not only an interpreter, but a policy adviser at Yalta.
[4. ] Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins, 852.
[5. ] Ibid., 865.
[6. ] See p. 208, above.
[7. ] Fotitch, The War We Lost, 311.
[8. ] This was not an objective picture of the origins of the Russo-Japanese War, nor did it correspond with the general American sympathy with Japan in the course of this war.
[9. ] See Mr. Bullitt’s article in Life for October 13, 1947.
[10. ] Roosevelt could scarcely have been altogether ignorant of the vast network of slave labor camps in the Soviet Union.
[11. ] The three main sources of information about the Yalta conference are James F. Byrnes’s Speaking Frankly, Robert E. Sherwood’s Roosevelt and Hopkins, and Edward R. Stettinius’s Roosevelt and the Russians. Sherwood’s account is the liveliest, that of Stettinius the most detailed. All these authors have a defensive, apologetic attitude toward the conference.
[12. ] The story of the Japanese peace overtures is told in a dispatch from Washington by Walter Trohan, correspondent of the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Times-Herald. It appeared in these two newspapers on August 19, 1945. Previous publication had been withheld because of wartime censorship regulations. Mr. Trohan personally gave me the source of his information, a man of unimpeachable integrity, very high in the inner circle of Roosevelt’s wartime advisers.
[13. ] Zacharias, Secret Missions, 335.
[14. ] Ibid., 367-68.
[15. ] Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins, 869.
[16. ] Ibid., 870.
[17. ] Further details of the disregard of the Yalta assurances on Poland are contained in Chapter 11.
[18. ] Byrnes, Speaking Frankly, 54.
[19. ] Ibid., 54-55.
[20. ] Churchill made the contents of this letter public in Parliament on December 10, 1948. See The (London) Times, December 11, 1948, p. 2.
[21. ] Churchill, Crusade in Europe, 399.
[22. ] Ibid., 401.
[23. ] Ibid., 474.
[24. ] It was not merely a question of Eisenhower’s personal view. The President and the War and State departments seem to have concurred.
[25. ] This was emphatically not the impression of General Deane and of the great majority of other Americans who had to deal with Soviet officials.
[26. ] Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins, 922-23.