Roosevelt's failure at Yalta.

Author:Beichman, Arnold

For some time now I have been researching a political biography of former Vice President Henry A. Wallace and trying to understand why during his incumbency from 1940 on he adhered so closely to Soviet foreign policy ambitions. In seeking answers to this question, I felt that it would be valuable to make a study of the politico-cultural climate of the Wallace period. I was amazed at the extraordinary pro-Soviet atmosphere in the United States from the White House on down during the years of World War II.

The murderous Moscow trials were overlooked, and Stalin's dictatorship was redefined as a new form of democracy. Life Magazine described the FBI as roughly analogous to the Soviet secret police, the NKVD, and described Lenin as "perhaps the greatest man of modern times." It devoted an entire issue, March 29, 1943, to glorifying Russia including these words: "If the Soviet leaders tell us that the control of information was necessary to get this job done, we can afford to take their word for it." Hollywood produced pro-Soviet films like Mission to Moscow, Song of Russia, North Star, and Counterattack. James Reston of the New York Times asserted that "anti-Russian remarks [were] a shabby un-American game." The New York Times itself gushed that "Marxian thinking in Soviet Russia is out ... the capitalist system, better described as the competitive system, is back." (1)

Collier's Magazine in 1943 suggested that the Soviet Union was moving "toward something resembling our own and Great Britain's democracy." The Saturday Evening Post published 24 articles between 1943 and 1945 by its correspondent Edgar Snow, all of them pro-Soviet. George Kennan summed up the situation well: "Those who criticized the Soviets during the crucial years of 1942-1943 were sometimes accused of near treasonous behavior." (2) As Evelyn Waugh put it: "During the German War it was thought convenient to attribute heroic virtues to any who shared our quarrel and to suppress all mention of their crimes." (3)

Since the end of the Cold War there has been considerable reviewing of President Roosevelt's policies towards the Soviet Union. Most notable has been the essay of Professor Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who has argued that the 1989 counter-revolution in Central Europe vindicates President Roosevelt's wartime diplomacy which, he says, had been criticized for its "naivete" about Stalin.

However, I argue that, from the time he took office in 1933, FDR ignored informed assessments within the State Department of the nature of Soviet diplomacy and that, consequently, the peoples of Central Europe for some four decades paid the price. As sources for my rebuttal of Schlesinger, I will cite the writings and memoirs of Charles Bohlen, Averell Harriman, Loy Henderson and George Kennan, participant-observers in the development of Soviet-American diplomacy between 1933 and 1945. I begin with a discussion of Professor Schlesinger's article as he is the most authoritative of FDR's defenders.

The eminent Pulitzer prize-winning historian's op-ed essay in the Wall Street Journal was titled, "FDR Vindicated." Professor Schlesinger's theme was that despite longtime disparagement of President Roosevelt's wartime diplomacy, especially the 1945 Yalta agreement, the successful counter-revolutions in Central Europe were really "the fulfillment of Roosevelt's purposes at the Yalta conference." (4)

"Roosevelt was much criticized too for naivete," wrote Professor Schlesinger, "in supposedly thinking that he could charm Stalin into amiable postwar collaboration ... FDR's determination to work on and through Stalin was, it seems in retrospect, founded on shrewd insight. As Walter Lippmann once observed, Roosevelt was too cynical to think he could charm Stalin."

I argue to the contrary that President Roosevelt was naive about Stalin and about communism from 1933 until some days, perhaps, before his death in 1945. I will argue from the published record that Professor Schlesinger's essay is a piece of a historical revisionism aimed at restoring FDR's blemished reputation as a statesman. Those I quote in rebuttal of Professor Schlesinger's thesis, such as Kennan, Bohlen, Henderson, and Harriman, can in no way be described as representing a rightist viewpoint.

I do not intend to argue about President Roosevelt's "purposes" at Yalta. Obviously the co-author of the Atlantic Charter could not have wanted Central Europe to fall prey to Stalin's postwar designs. The question, then, is not the virtuousness of FDR's purposes but the quality and intelligence of his diplomacy in seeking the fulfillment of those purposes.

I begin by examining President Roosevelt's decision to engage in...

To continue reading