Blogs > Cliopatria > let no quarrel faltah

Aug 22, 2005 11:02 am

let no quarrel faltah

In the next week, before the BBC erases it, you might spare 45 minutes to listen to this morning's episode of"Six Places that Changed the World," which features Zbigniew Brzezinski, Gregor Dallas, Stephen Graubard, and Mart Laar arguing over the effects of the Yalta agreement. (This link takes you to the"s" section of the alphabetized BBC Radio 4"Listen Again" page; once there, look for"Six Places That Changed the World.")

They batted the word"naïve" around far too much -- FDR, Churchill, and Stalin were probably the three least naïve people on the planet at the time and it strains credulity to suggest that even the sunny FDR believed Stalin would democratize Poland, or anything else. Brzezinski admitted that the best that could have been hoped for was the Finlandization of Poland, and nearly admitted that really, the Americans were much too interested in defeating Japan to press for that at the time. Perhaps most strikingly, you could hear Dallas claim that with FDR being ill, Harry Dexter White was running the Treasury, Alger Hiss was running State, and therefore Washington was in the hands of Soviet spies.

Three observations: first, Dallas made the reasonable point that the pass had been sold long before Yalta, and it seems true that the Anglo-American interest in air war and staying off the European battlefield for as long as possible did ensure the Red Army could make the most of its opportunities; second, the most provocative argument on Yalta that I've read in years is Alterman's in When Presidents Lie, which gives pretty short shrift to naïve and talks about FDR's deliberate attempt to hide what he'd done at Yalta; third, knowing that Harry Dexter White passed intelligence to the Soviet Union, how do we understand his rather nationalistic behavior at Bretton Woods, which was almost certainly his most important historical moment? Skidelsky does an excellent job on this in his Keynes biography but it hasn't filtered into the more general historiography of the postwar world. But then, Bretton Woods itself hasn't much, either.

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David Pickering - 8/23/2005

'the Anglo-American interest in air war and staying off the European
battlefield for as long as possible' : Stalin wanted the US and Britain to open the second front earlier than they did.

Roosevelt seems to have underestimated Stalin's cynicism (this and following details from Channel 4's recent programme 'Warlords' ).

You're right that 'the pass had been sold long before Yalta'. Like at the time of the Warsaw uprising. The Red Army stood by. British and American assistance depended on their planes, based in Britain and Italy, being allowed to land in Russian-controlled territory to refuel for the return flight. When Churchill and Roosevelt requested this, Stalin refused. Reports of the Poles being massacred continued to reach Churchill and he asked Roosevelt to join him in sending a second request to Stalin. This Roosevelt was unwilling to do.