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Duped at Yalta

Yalta Conference. Winston Churchill, Franklin

In the 1952 election, the Republican Party theme was “20 years of treason,” which, whether sincerely believed or cynically exploited, perfectly tapped into the public perception that the FDR and Truman administrations had been honeycombed with communist spies. For Americans, panicked by the Soviet acquisition of nuclear weapons and the communist takeover of China, this slogan answered so much. Why did FDR endorse Stalin’s imperialist designs at the conference at Yalta in 1945?

For decades, liberal pundits mocked this perception of Yalta, arguing that these Fifties-era characterizations were the product of hysteria and a desire to present voters with simple answers to complex questions. They argue that there was very little the United States could have done at the close of the Second World War to stop the Red Army from overrunning Eastern Europe.

Perhaps, but time has not been kind to liberal characterizations of what really happened at Yalta, where the Allies met 70 years ago. It has become apparent that, however ineffectual it might have been to try to get Stalin to allow democratic elections in Poland and the other Central and Eastern European states, the American side was hardly sympathetic to such an effort.

A photo of Alger Hiss hovering behind an obviously sick Franklin Roosevelt has in fact led some to overplay his participation at the conference. He was little more than a logistical bureaucrat. During his time at the State Department, he occupied mid-level posts in which he never dealt directly with Roosevelt.

Not that those in charge of foreign policy were paragons of skill. Hiss’s boss, Secretary of State Edward Stettinius, was a neophyte at foreign policy (he had only held the job in State for two months when the conference met), and when confronted with matters beyond his ken would often direct people to “see Alger about it.”

As Whittaker Chambers stated years later, the main job of Hiss and other American officials who secretly worked with Soviet intelligence was to “mess up policy.” Hiss passed along documents to Moscow and also no doubt did his best to mess up Washington’s doomed China policies, on which he also worked. It bears looking into as well, suggest historians M. Stanton Evans and Herbert Romerstein, whether Hiss also had anything to do with Operation Keelhaul, the product of one of the most shameful Allied decisions at Yalta. Operation Keelhaul implemented the decision by Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin that over two million Russian POWs who had been held by the Nazis would be forcibly returned to the Soviet Union. Amid Stalin’s mass purges of Russians who had contact with foreigners, these men faced certain doom upon their return home. Secretary of State Stettinius always denied his knowledge of this shameful policy.

Evans and Romerstein’s evidence is extremely thin, it must be noted. Much higher in the policy hierarchy than Alger Hiss were trusted advisers such as Lauchlin Currie and Harry Dexter White, both of whom were Soviet spies. FDR’s right-hand man Harry Hopkins has never been proved to have been a Russian spy. But given his views, and his instrumental position in the administration, he might has well have been. Hopkins, a supporter of Stalin’s absorption of Poland and other Baltic states (some of which were acquired during the Nazi-Soviet military partnership in 1939), said that these countries were eager to be under Soviet control.

It didn’t help that FDR himself told advisers that he was determined at Yalta “to give Stalin everything he wants and ask for nothing in return.” To his credit, the aging President was, at the very end, wising up to Soviet-style “democracy.” He became alarmed about Soviet behavior in Poland and was crafting a note to Stalin accusing him of violating the Yalta agreements when he died. Too little, too late.

Reader Discussion

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on February 04, 2015 at 11:47:31 am

I came across a mention of a female communist who was the contact between Roosevelt and the Communist Party. However true or false that may have been it seems hardly to matter given the presidents painfully obvious weak spot for that ideology and those around him who subscribed to it. Concerning Operation Keelhaul what difference does it make how accurate Evans and Romerstein's evidence is if in fact Operation Keelhaul was the disaster and atrocity that it was and the communist clique surrounding Roosevelt were effective in their machinations. Bottom line, what does this all tell us about Roosevelt?, and did it take a by then sick and fading FDR twelve or thirteen years to catch on, really?

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john trainor
on February 04, 2015 at 12:12:02 pm

"It didn’t help that FDR himself told advisers that he was determined at Yalta “to give Stalin everything he wants and ask for nothing in return.” To his credit, the aging President was, at the very end, wising up to Soviet-style “democracy.” "

really? And when exactly did this "wise-up" occur? Yalta ends Feb 11, 1945 - FDR dies Apr 12, 1945.
I don't think so as even your statement above shows. He WAS determined to give everything to "Uncle Joe" - no, not because, as some would allege that FDR was a "commie" but because he was simply an earlier incarnation of Barrack Hussein Obama. The sheer force of his personality, his brilliance, etc etc would be sufficient to change the thinking / predatory predilections of Uncle Joe (insert the Ayatollah here for the Big 0). Let us use cooperation to change the enemy. Witness how he strove to minimize Churchill's influence at all of the conferences.
Gee, it worked pretty well for FDR. I guess the same MUST be said for Barrack Hussein 0bama.

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gabe
on February 05, 2015 at 09:09:51 am

Yalta was a "win win" diplomatic victory for both the USSR and the United States. Stalin got what he wanted: a defensive shield around the Soviet Union. FDR came to Yalta with two main objectives in mind, one military and one political. Militarily, he wanted to assure Stalin's promise made in Tehran in December 1943 that the Soviets would enter the war against Japan after the defeat of Germany and commit to a specific date for entry into the Pacific war. FDR and the joint chief's goal was to save countless American lives and shorten the war by perhaps years. The President achieved that.

Roosevelt's political goal was to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement with Stalin and Churchill (in many ways a more challenging task than bringing around 'Uncle Joe' since Churchill was devoted to protecting the interests of an empire in decline)) on the terms of a future peace in Europe; FDR achieved that too in the United Nations agreements. General George C. Marshall summed up the sentiments of the American delegation at the time when he stated, "For what we have got here [at Yalta] I would gladly have stayed a month."

As for Alger Hiss, thoughtful historians who have examined the record and available evidence have long surmised that his role at Yalta was relatively insignificant in the development and execution of the Yalta agreements. Hiss's lasting contribution to the UN agreement was helping to settle the flap over the creation of a Trusteeship Council. The language Hiss was requested to craft settled the matter and was entered into the record of proceedings. It became the official language regarding the Council in the UN Charter. As Hiss recalled proudly years afterward, "I don't think a word of it was even changed at San Francisco [during the San Francisco Conference].

For those interested in learning more about Yalta consider consulting Russell D. Buhire's Decisions at Yalta: An Appraisal of Summit Diplomacy (1986) and Harvard historian S. M. Plokhy's Yalta: The Price of Peace (2011). Both are excellent both in assessing the facts and putting the Yalta agreements into broader historical context.

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R Bruce Craig
on February 05, 2015 at 15:10:57 pm

What you say is true. FDR did achieve what he wanted. In that sense it was a success.
It is the nature of the *agreement* that I suspect many of us have some difficulties with.
The political agreement assured that Uncle Joe could run rampant over half of the Eurasian land mass. This was agreed to over Churchill's objections and warnings. And while it is true that Winston Churchill was interested in preserving the shell of his empire, it had already been made quite clear to him by FDR that this was not going to happen. FDR wielded the "purse" and the weapons and had seen fit to let the Brits know that empire was over. so one could perhaps proffer that Churchill had at least some measure of rational altruism involved in his pleas to FDR.

Stalin certainly got what he wanted! He also wanted to engage in the Pacific War. This, of course, is after his agents, (Harry Hopkins, Currie, etc) had done their best to so position the US and its negotiating stance that the US would become involved in the Japanese War (see Operation Snow). This would, at first, seem odd. Yet Stalin feared the growing power of the US and many suspect that he did not want another massive military power confronting him in Europe after Germany was defeated and having the US contend with a two ocean war would make Stalin's ultimate task easier. Stalin did have his eyes on China, Mongolia, etc. I guess he did get what he wanted.
The connection to Stalin and pre-war subterfuge with Japan - US relations is somewhat murkier but it is argued that even prior to the War Stalin feared US power and meant to keep US pre-occupied.

Anyway, you are correct Stalin certainly did get what he wanted.

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gabe
on October 11, 2015 at 10:40:01 am

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