Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.: Bush's Rewriting of the History of Yalta

Roundup: Historians' Take

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., at the Hufflington Blog (5-9-05):

The Yalta conference in February 1945 produced, according to President Bush, "one of the greatest wrongs of history." The Yalta agreements"followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.…Once again, when powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable."

The 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. And military action against the Soviet Union was inconceivable so long as the Pacific War was still going on. Our military planners, in order to reduce American casualties, counted on the Red Army to enter the war against Japan . At Yalta Stalin promised a firm date in August. And in February the atom bomb seemed a fantasy dreamed up by nuclear physicists.

As for Eastern Europe, Stalin"held all the cards" in the words of Charles E. Bohlen, the Russian expert. But FDR managed to extract an astonishing document – the Declaration on Liberated Europe, an eloquent affirmation of"the right of all people to choose the form of government under which they will live." Molotov warned Stalin against signing it, but he signed it anyway. It was a grave diplomatic blunder. In order to consolidate Soviet control, Stalin had to break the Yalta agreements – which therefore could not have been in his favor.

The Declaration stands as the refutation of the myth, given new currency by the president of the United States , that Yalta caused or ratified the division of Europe . It was the deployment of armies, not negotiating concessions, that caused the division of Europe.

Related Links

  • Jacob Heilbrunn: Once Again, the Big Yalta Lie
  • John Radzilowski: The Real Myths of Yalta
  • Anne Applebaum: What Liberals (And Conservatives) Are Missing About Bush's Yalta Mistake

  • comments powered by Disqus

    More Comments:

    John J. Kulczycki - 5/14/2005

    In his commentary "Once Again, the Big Yalta Lie," Jacob Heilbrunn concludes "Roosevelt's record is no cause for shame, but Bush's comments are." He comes to this conclusion by supposedly examining what happened
    at Yalta without really doing so.

    As Bush stated, "The agreement at Yalta followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact." Just as Czechoslovakia was not represented at Munich nor Poland in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, 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. As a result, the United States and Great Britiain recognized a Polish provisional government
    overwhelmingly dominated by Polish communists and their allies, giving democracy little chance to succeed.

    The parallel between Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact on one hand and Yalta (and Teheran) on the other lies in Churchill's and Roosevelt's acceptance of Stalin's Diktat with regard to Poland's territory and government without the 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. But this does not gainsay the shameful record of Roosevelt and Churchill at Yalta and Teheran.

    John J. Kulczycki, Professor Emeritus
    Univesity of Illinois at Chicago