A Sideshow 60 Years Ago

Lex’s post, as always, gives us much history and even more thought. His picture of the laconic Ike and the eloquent Churchill take us back to that period. And the sense of relief, of heroism that earned that triumph resonates. Much as I would rather emphasize the elections in Iraq than Abu Ghraib (in part because the former is far more important), I believe the great celebration for today should be V-E Day and the history to be noted his. But this note isn’t only about the dark side of VE day, but the bright side of today – of free and independent Baltic nations. Bush’s speech looks to the past, but mostly it aims at the present – aims at an audience of Putin, of those in the Middle East. He notes that Yalta was based on the belief stability could be bought by using others. In that, it was wrong.

And we remember part of the history that lead to that treaty was another one by which Hitler & Stalin divided Europe–giving Germany Poland, while Stalin would “protect” Estonia and Latvia (eventually the two added a clause for Lithuania). Bush celebrates Baltic independence, certain principles, and defines American policy.

Pundits ridicule Bush for his “look into Putin’s heart,” but Bush “gets it” about Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Stability bought at the expense of others is no great victory. Today, we make trade-offs, in other places and with other peoples. But I am reassured: my vote last fall was for a sense of proportion that leads to Bush’s Latvian & Georgian visits, to an apology and awareness that trade-offs may be necessary but also that the cost is no less great because we are not the ones that have to pay. And to a sense the Bush’s speeches, whoever may be writing them, say much that needs to be said.

Update: Powerline’s John Hindraker also argues that the news services have ignored the core of the speech. He praises Bush’s vision:

To a greater extent than any politician since Churchill, President Bush has set forth and defended his policies in a series of speeches that combine intellectual brilliance and philosophical gravity. Today’s speech in Latvia was the latest in this series, and, like the others, it will be studied by historians for centuries to come.

Then, he adds, from Deacon: Bush has been criticized for alienating our “friend” Russia by visiting Latvia and Georgia. But Russia’s problem with Bush’s visits to countries that the Soviet Union victimized shows how far Russia from being our friend . . . . The Middle East represents the subtext of Bush’s speech in Latvia, as John points out. But President Bush also recognizes that the western states of the former Soviet Union could themselves once again become a major battleground in the struggle for freedom

Update:Wretchard (for whom I have immense respect) notes of Bush’s speech: “In one sense, it is always futile to apologize for history. But George Bush’s apology is really addressed toward his perception of American historical intent.” One of the commentors, Joel Gaines, argues that Bush replies to a context defined by Putin.

“I do not disagree with you [Wretchard], however, this line comes just after Putin’s State of the Nation address in which he stated (paraphrase)”the fall of the Soviet Union was the geopolitical tragedy of the century”. While I do not question the President’s sincerity – it is as you say a huge leap – I believe the primary message is two-fold:

1) Dear Russia, don’t you even think about it.

2) Dear Former Satellites, we have your back.

Note Bush’s words, clearly as much about the present as the past:

Once again, when powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable. Yet this attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability left a continent divided and unstable. The captivity of millions in Central and Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the greatest wrongs of history.

Update: Further discussion (and a round-up of the Left’s take on Bush’s speech) by Matt Welch. He also links to his earlier note. Welch, of course, is more sympathetic to the Central European point of view than most. (May 11)

Update: The Buchanan (the man of 15 degree vision) steps in and is fisked by Stephen Green. (May 12)

Update: The History News Network begins with a post by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. on Huffington’s blog (whose interpretation and emotion is predictable); they counter this with “The Real Myths of Yalta” by John Radzilowski who publishes in FrontPage (equally predictable–harsh on communism) . HNN quotes from two editorials (those paired in our local paper). One is Jacob Heilbrunn, who concludes “Once Again, the Big Yalta Lie:”

What’s more, it was the isolationist right that never wanted to fight the war in the first place, which it conveniently forgot once it began attacking Democrats as being soft on communism. Nothing of course could be further from the truth. Roosevelt went on to recognize Stalin’s perfidy shortly before he died, and it fell to Truman to fight the Cold War.

The other side is argued by Anne Applebaum, whose “Saying Sorry” concludes:

Both left and right should also consider contexts more carefully. Certainly the president’s speech last weekend did not sound personal, as if he were apologizing to feel good about himself. It did not mention Roosevelt by name or wallow in Cold War rhetoric. On the contrary, Bush went on afterward to talk about the democratic values that had replaced Yalta, and to draw contemporary lessons. The tone was right — and it contrasted sharply with the behavior of Russian president Vladimir Putin, as perhaps it was intended to. Asked again last week why he hadn’t made his own apology for the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe, Putin pointed out that the Soviet parliament did so in 1989. “What,” he asked, “we have to do this every day, every year?”

The answer is no, the Russian president doesn’t have to talk about the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe every day — but during a major, international anniversary of the end of the war, he clearly should. And no, the U.S. president does not have to talk about Yalta every year, but when he goes to Latvia to mark the anniversary of the end of the war he should — just as any American president visiting Africa for the first time should speak of slavery. No American or Russian leader should appear unpatriotic when abroad, but at the right time, in the right place, it is useful for statesmen to tell the truth, even if just to acknowledge that some stretches of our history were more ambiguous, and some of our victories more bittersweet, than they once seemed.

(Last update added May 15. As if anyone is reading things this far down.)
Back to my own meandering at the earlier date::

Bush acknowledges the compromises that were a part of the treaties that ended WWII. He notes that in the following years

of struggle and purpose, the Baltic peoples kept a long vigil of suffering and hope. Though you lived in isolation, you were not alone. The United States refused to recognize your occupation by an empire. The flags of free Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania — illegal at home — flew proudly over diplomatic missions in the United States.

Bush says,

As we mark a victory of six days ago — six decades ago, we are mindful of a paradox. For much of Germany, defeat led to freedom. For much of Eastern and Central Europe, victory brought the iron rule of another empire. V-E Day marked the end of fascism, but it did not end oppression. The agreement at Yalta 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. Yet this attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability left a continent divided and unstable. The captivity of millions in Central and Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the greatest wrongs of history.

Speaking to the Prime Minister of Latvia and the presidents of Estonia and Lithuania, he describes America’s fellowship with these states during both WWII and the Cold War, describing the Cold War as a Cold Warrior.

The end of World War II raised unavoidable questions for my country: Had we fought and sacrificed only to achieve the permanent division of Europe into armed camps? Or did the cause of freedom and the rights of nations require more of us? Eventually, America and our strong allies made a decision: We would not be content with the liberation of half of Europe — and we would not forget our friends behind an Iron Curtain. . . . And we set the vision of a Europe whole, free, and at peace — so dictators could no longer rise up and feed ancient grievances, and conflict would not be repeated again and again.

His trip & its perspective orders the chaos of people and memories tumbling about my mind. In the seventies, I remarked something to the effect (probably in the melodramatic tone I favored then) that we didn’t think enough about Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The break-room response from my academic colleagues was one of cynical bemusement; ah, Ginny’s being nutty again. And what is an Estonia? Well, I don’t intend to worry, they said. My responses were probably stupid and certainly inchoate. But I did know it was something, out there, that was just, well, just not right.

I admire my fellow bloggers – I expect that they have always thought about these things more deeply and read more widely. I never puzzled out what little I knew nor looked harder. Besides, given that within a year or two after that coffee room chat I was a good deal more obsessed with paper prices than the boat people streaming out of Vietnam, I was (and am) in no position to be critical of my peers. But growing up, we knew refugees – Latvians settled in the western part of the state (a girl in my dorm freshman year was Miss Latvia U.S.A.) and Lithuanians were scattered around (the old woman that lived upstairs in the last place I lived in Lincoln was Lithuanian). States like Nebraska aren’t just red because of the independent self-reliance and stubborn patriotism of the heartland. It is also because we listened to the Latvians and Lithuanians, Czechs and Cubans that washed up upon the landlocked plains. My brother once told me he had casually remarked that perhaps assassination of a few despicable leaders was not such a bad idea. His roommate, whose father was beheaded in a turnover in Pakistan, countered late into the night with his own take on the subject. But as I moved into grad school, there were fewer checks – generally, we only knew people that thought like we did, had experienced what we had. We didn’t talk history even if we did politics. Austin was, if possible, even less aware than Nebraska’s counter culture society. (Being a yippie who tried to levitate the Pentagon then retreated to Austin’s pleasant climate is not quite the same as being aware.)

Listening to Bush’s remarks, I realize how little I actually knew. But, I suspect we might notice something else – something about what we knew and didn’t know in those days. We read Leon Uris’s Exodus and all Americans now read Anne Frank in grade school. We should (and I believe do) keep the evils of the holocaust in mind. Other evils, well, they aren’t so accessible.

Re context then: While the arguments on this blog about the Russian soldiers’ courage in the face of considerable odds is quite important – and another part of World War II we often forget–another “fact” is the Hitler/Stalin pact. Lex’s quite excellent regard for the incredible sacrifices of the Russians during the war is a perspective we need to take. Russian bravery was tested to the full. But the swallowing up of the three Baltic nations proved a rather uncomfortable piece of history to those on the left in the thirties and through the Cold War. It showed that not only was Russia imperialist, but even more dramatically, only too happy to make deals with Hitler. Anyone who looks at literature of those few years notes the sympathy with which pacifism was held in certain quarters between the signing of the Hitler/Stalin pact and the invasion of Russia. The socialist utopia wasn’t dimmed in those years, as we remember the bright halo at the socialist camp in The Grapes of Wrath, lighting that implies the Joads have at long last arrived in the world of socialist equality and socialist plenty. The America Firsters contributed to America’s isolation but so, too, in that brief period, did the fellow travelers. In August of the same year that movie came out, Stalin and Hitler signed

The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, also known as the Hitler-Stalin pact or Nazi-Soviet pact, was a non-aggression treaty between Germany and Russia, or more precisely between the Soviet Union and the Third Reich. It was signed in Moscow on August 23, 1939, by the Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov and the German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. The non-aggression treaty lasted until Operation Barbarossa of June 22, 1941, when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union.

In a secret appendix to the pact, the border states Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania were divided in spheres of interest of the parties, that within a year would injure their sovereignty.

Re Chicagoboyz & Blowhard context now: In such small and embattled countries, the artistic life leaves little naval gazing; there we see Lithuania’s early choice of a musicologist as president. Artists do not see service to country at odds with the artistic life (service to art, perhaps). And there, I suspect, art retains its liveliness.

As time passes, bloggers (even blog commenters) seem to read the speech as a whole and with some historical context; other sources choose soundbites.

Re: What we can hope is that Bush’s speech and Bush’s vision triumph and define our policy so that in twenty years whoever is in office, Democrat or Republican, will feel duty-bound to still say “we have your back” whenever we can to freedom fighters wherever they are. And if we our army can’t “have their backs”, at least we can speak the truth to the Putins of that time as well.

14 thoughts on “A Sideshow 60 Years Ago”

  1. “The agreement at Yalta followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.” This is a vicious falsehood. Bush is saying that FDR and Churchill were no better than Chamberlain, or even Hitler himself. No way. Yalta is the best deal we could get. It is worth reading the agreement, here. We made Stalin promise to have free elections. Were we in any condition to compel him to do so? No way.

    As Bush goes on to say “…we set the vision of a Europe whole, free, and at peace …” That is what the Yalts agreement called for. It just took us 50 years to make the Russians live up to it.

    Throwing bones to people based on historical falsehoods is morally and intellectually wrong and this is a low point for Bush.

  2. Here, here — can’t agree more — this is a low point, and until something more substantial comes of the statement, I ain’t “buying” the line that some commentators and or apologists have rushed to make, viz, “well, what he really meant was x.y.z” Maybe he did mean, “we will be more ruthless no matter what the cost when it comes to standing up to tyranny” — but IF THAT IS WHAT HE MEANT TO SAY — why not say that? I take W’s statement as a shameless, inaccurate and disgraceful slam that dishonors the sacrifices and gut-wrenching decisions that were made by dozens of men on the spot and who were demonstrably better equiped to take the long view of the situation. I want some clarification; there is no “hidden meaning” by which we can be enlightened without first explicit, clear articulation — since when does Bush engage in moral equivalence? our hands are as bloody as Stalins? The US was privileged to Churchill’s “naughty agreement” that when all was said and done, Stalin didn’t live up to? I’m with Lex — this is low and misguided — forget about playing to the “peanut gallery” — to whom were his remarks directed, and what was the point? The effect is to say that anyone who believed in the beacon of freedom held forth by the West, and the US especially, placed their faith wrongly in a cynical, manipulative, run-of-the-mill “power just like any power” — “oh, sorry … we used to be as morally culpable as your Soviet and Nazi oppressors, but as of today, we are new and improved; and that’s a promise” — WTF?

  3. Bush said: “V-E Day marked the end of fascism, but it did not end oppression.” Is that a lie?

    Bush said: “The captivity of millions in Central and Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the greatest wrongs of history.” Is that a lie?

    Of course the agent of the “wrongs” was not the United States. Whether or not we could have taken a stronger position at Yalta, these statements remain true.

    Indeed, Czechoslovakia as it was then actually voted in the communists – America could have done nothing to stop it. But America could and did recognize that after that election, the choices were not theirs – that they were not “protected” by Russia nor were the Russian occupying troops “invited” to stay.

    Did Bush say that American hands were as bloody as Stalin’s? No, instead he called attention to the bloodiness of Stalin’s hands and the resolute choices of the west in the forties. “The end of World War II raised unavoidable questions for my country: Had we fought and sacrificed only to achieve the permanent division of Europe into armed camps? Or did the cause of freedom and the rights of nations require more of us? Eventually, America and our strong allies made a decision: We would not be content with the liberation of half of Europe — and we would not forget our friends behind an Iron Curtain.”

    And the context is not something an apologist contrived: Putin complained Bush was intending to visit Latvia and Georgia; Putin had announced shortly before that the dissolution of the USSR was a great tragedy; Putin’s ambitions appear to be imperialistic. This is a good time to note that we did not then and do not now cele*brate the division of Europe into countries under Russia’s protection and those not.

    I appreciate a link to the document. But given Russian ideology and its history at that point, I did not find the section describing “The establishment of order in Europe and the rebuilding of national economic life” one that surely anyone expected the Russians to follow in any of the territories they occupied. The idea the Russians would nurture “the earliest possible establishment through free elections of Governments responsive to the will of the people” was surely not believed by any who knew Russian history at that point – an example being the annexation of the Baltic states under the earlier treaty. (One you find offensive when put in the same category.)

    I realize that I will lose in any honest argument with Lex over history and will accept his greater sense of historical context at the end of the war. Perhaps, indeed, his anger is justified and the phrasing of Bush’s is insulting. But your chief argument seems to me that those on the ground were, at that point in time, unable to get a better treaty than that at Yalta. They did the best they could. It is no disrespect to them that what followed Yalta was, to many eastern Europeans, a generation and a half of life lived in fear, full of the tragedies and petty subterfuges of life under communism. To them, the war didn’t end for another forty-five years.

    And I do think that it was very important given that context for Bush to make those two stops; to note the Latvian ships that fought with us in World War II and the Latvian soldiers fighting with us today. It was especially important not to let Putin define history.

  4. “The agreement at Yalta followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.”

    Stalin had already conquered Eastern Europe. Munich was a betrayal of Czechoslovakia, which France had a treaty obligation to defend, and which was readly, willing and able to fight the Germans. Instead the British and the French told Hitler, “take it, we’re afraid of you, we won’t fight you.” The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was an agreement between Hitler and Stalint divide Eastern Europe between them.

    “Yalta” has become a code word for “American should have compelled Stalin to give Eastern Europe its freedom.” We couldn’t. We were not going to go to war with Stalin over these places. The American and British voting publics were not going to support a war with Stalin for the benefit of Poland, or Latvia or any of these places. It was not FDR signing the Yalta agreeemnt that subjugated Eastern Europe, it was the Red Army. We could have signed an agreement recognizing spheres of influence, which Stalin would have signed and Churchill might have signed. The Americans insisted on a form of words which showed Stalin and the Communists were liars and could not be trusted.

    Moreover, we spent the next 50 years insisting that the terms of the agreement be enforced. And, finally, they were. Short of iniitating a war with the Soviet Union there was no other way to do it.

  5. “The agreement at Yalta followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.” This is a vicious falsehood. Bush is saying that FDR and Churchill were no better than Chamberlain, or even Hitler himself.

    I don’t read it that way. The paragraph that Ginny quotes appears to have been very carefully written. Its clauses are independent. One clause says idealistically that the days of big nations disposing of small nations, without adequate consideration of the fates of the populations of the small nations, are over. That sounds like a noble sentiment. The next clause says analytically that “this attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability left a continent divided and unstable.” That’s true, and it in no way impugns our then-leaders’ motives or humanity to say it (any more than it impugns the motives or humanity of his father, who made comparable decisions in Iraq). The final clause says accurately that “the captivity of millions in Central and Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the greatest wrongs of history.” That’s a pointed reminder of the Soviet Union’s evil, and (as I read it) a warning to Putin that we will not aquiesce to any attempt by Russia to re-assert its influence over its former empire. It is not a statement of moral equivalence.

    Anyway, to accuse Bush, who is not prone to such things, of stating a “vicious falsehood” is over the top.

  6. “this attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability left a continent divided and unstable.” This is also a vicious falsehood. No one “sacrificed” anyone freedom. It was not ours to sacrifice. It was gone already. The Soviets occupied those territories. The false notion embedded in this is that we had a duty to remove the Soviet Union from those places, which as a practical matter means we were somehow obliged to go to war on behalf of those countries. Wrong. We had no such obligation. We were not complicit in their subjugation. We said it was wrong all along. We opposed the Soviet Union for 50 years. If we had wanted “stability” at the price of freedom we would have cut a deal with the Soviets and said, “Eastern Europe is yours, keep it.” We never did that.

    We did as much as we were obliged to do.

    Let me go straight to the point. The United States does NOT SHARE IN THE GUILT FOR WHAT HAPPENED TO EASTERN EUROPE. Bush is saying we do. It is false and wrong for him to say this.

  7. At the end of a long war, when Roosevelt was on his last legs physically and Churchill politically, and US and UK voters were sick of war, we made a deal with Stalin to stabilize the post-war situation in Europe. Part of the deal specified self-determination for Eastern Europe, but that was an area under Soviet control. Was it unforseeable that Stalin would cheat? I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that we let down the Eastern Europeans.

  8. “Was it unforseeable that Stalin would cheat?”

    Of course he was going to “cheat”. We knew what Stalin was. The question is, what else could we have done? Nothing is the answer, short of trying to compel him. There is no way we were going to do that. But Bush is a baldfaced liar when he says that the nations of Eastern Europe were treated as “expendable” by us. We didn’t have them to expend. Stalin had them already. They weren’t ours to “expend”. We didn’t agree he could have them. We didn’t even remain silent about him having them. We did all we could have short of going to war with him, and we persisted for 50 years.

    This paleoconservative mythology about “Yalta” should not be exhumed. Why Bush chose to make this stupid Clintonian move of apologizing for something that was not wrong to do is beyond me. We owe no one in Eastern Europe any apologies for anything. This is worse than Clinton apologizing for Hiroshima, which at least is open to some kind of rational dispute. The United States did not abandon Eastern Europe. It was not ours to abandon. We took the harder course and the longer course that eventually led to their liberation.

    I have no idea who the audience is that Bush is reaching out to with this unnecessary and baseless self-flagellation. Did Carl Rove tell the GOP would pick up some Polish and Lithuanian votes in Pennsylvania? Is the idea that Putin will be more malleable if we pretend that we share with Russia the responsibility for the oppression of Eastern Europe that his country inflicted? Or is Bush saying that we should have gone to war with the Soviet Union in 1945 to “spread democracy” as a way to justify further wars of his own for the same supposed purpose? None of these are justifications for falsifying the historical record and vilifying better men than him facing greater threats and challenges than he has had to face.

    Bandying around historical falsehoods is a form of slow, poisonous intellectual corruption. It’s consequences take a while to manifest themselves.

    My opinion of Mr. Bush has been in free fall since his inaugural speech. But that is a whole post I may write if I can get my blood pressure down enough to type it.

  9. Lex,
    I’m really impressed with your belief that Rowe masterminded this to pick up Lithuanian and Polish votes in Pennsylvania. And your sense that a speech that discusses the role of America in the cold war, that says “In these decades of struggle and purpose, the Baltic peoples kept a long vigil of suffering and hope. Though you lived in isolation, you were not alone. The United States refused to recognize your occupation by an empire” is an example of self-flagellation. Clearly we read quite differently, look for quite different motivations and see quite different contexts.

  10. Bush didn’t have to visit Latvia or Georgia. It seems likely to me that he did so to express support for ex-communist countries that are now US allies, to make clear that the US will not tolerate renewed Russian adventurism, and to encourage democrats in places like Iran and Iraq, who may fear that we will abandon them.

    The US didn’t explicitly abandon the Iraqi Shiites in 1991. But by stopping our advance, encouraging them to revolt, and then not supporting them when they did revolt, we condemned them as surely as if we had intended to. I think that one of the long-running themes in Bush’s rhetoric is his desire not to repeat that mistake. His recent speech fits well in that conceptual frame.

  11. I was joking about Rove.

    Most of Bush’s speech is fine. To point out that the Russians were tyrants, oppressors, brutal, occupiers, etc. is something that cannot be repeated enough.

    But then there is this stuff where he says “The agreement at Yalta 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.” He is dead wrong. The United States was a party to that agreement. There was nothing wrong with the agreement. It was a better deal than most people thought we’d get. Churchill, recall, made a “percentages” deal with Stalin, which did concede Soviet control over Eastern Europe. The Americans went through the roof — we rejected this approach. The Yalta agreement did not say small nations were expendable. To the contrary. Nor was it a matter of the big powers handing out the little countries like prizes. To the contrary. The agreement was not in any such “tradition” as the sell-out at Munich or the deal between dictators signed by Molotov and Ribbentrop. The Yalta agreement did not “divide Europe” or any of the other things attributed to it. The Red Army divided Europe by conquering half of it. And we were neither willing nor able to eject it.

    Also, an important point I should have raised earlier, it was not necessarily delusional or liberal muddleheadedness or pro-communist complicity to think the Russians could be compelled to comply with the Yalta agreement. Recall that their country had been pulverized by the war. Tens of millions dead. Industrial plant, railroads, buildings, destroyed or worn out. The place was a field of rubble. Reasonable and hardnosed American leaders believed that Russia would be desperate for US assistance to rebuild, and that we could extract concessions in return. This was not an obviously foolish view. But Stalin was a harder man than that. He was willing to prolong the misery of his people as long as necessary, and so he made the Russians rebuild out of their own resources and what they could loot from Eastern Europe.

  12. I agree completely that going to Latvia and Georgia was a good idea. To go to Russia and NOT to have gone to any of the “near abroad” countries would have sent the wrong message. Bush is right to say we will help these people maintain their independence.

    Agreed also, the episode in 1991 where we encouraged the Shiites to revolt then stood aside and let them be massacred is one of the most disgraceful events in American history.

  13. Jonthan & Lex,
    Thank you both for your comments. Jonathan’s point about Iraq seems to me quite good. And Lex’s point about the reasoning at Yalta is helpful. I certainly have a lot to learn about this period (which unlike you two, I almost lived through. My mother left the Navy after VE day in part because she was pregnant with me.)

    I would also like to clear up any misunderstanding of my quite rambling post. Because I’ve been irritated that during the Stalin/Hitler pact some Americans’ engaged in a short-lived pacifism doesn’t mean to imply I believe Yalta, 7 years later, was the result of some kind of conspiracy with Stalin. Pop culture and statesmanship were fairly separate in those days. Although I do think some Americans were unaware of how large a monster he was, Russia pulled its share during the war and needed to be respected for that. And Bush, too, honors that by troop review in Russia.

    Nor would I fault leaders who were signing documents that ended a hard-fought and bloody war; your argument that they believed Stalin would accept some voting in those countries in exchange for aid makes sense. Besides that, Russia had lost much. This is quite probably not the time to sever relations with Pakistan because some of its policies are, well, unattractive.

    (Oh, I figured you were joking about Rove but then that kind of statement is said with all seriousness by others. And frankly that comment was not as informative as your last & so less interesting except to be nasty about.)

    The dismissive nature of my colleagues that I remember thirty years later is part of an attitude that has long rankled.

  14. I’m stuck in a position somewhere between the president’s apology and Lex’s complete distaste for that sentiment. As much as I may hate equivocal statements, Yalta was a grey area.

    Like everything that happened in those days, it’s difficult for us to imagine the decision making that occurred, and the partitioning of post-war Europe was far from a simple moral dilemma.

    Realistically, there wasn’t much the allies could do to liberate eastern European nations, short of invading Soviet-occupied territory. The Soviet army was massive, and, although we enjoyed a significant technology edge over the Red Army, American and British forces on the continent were vastly outnumbered.

    With an invasion of the Japanese home islands planned for ’46 in which hundreds of thousands of Americans were expected to be killed, we needed all the resources we could muster, and the A-bomb was still in testing. One of the outcomes of Yalta was the Soviet agreement to join the war against Japan (an agreement only kept after Hiroshima was destroyed).

    Add all this to the fact that, after four years of US government propaganda, sympathy for the Soviet Union was high in America. We were in no place to fight another war in Europe.

    With that said, I think it wrong to completely disassociate any moral blame from the allies at Yalta. FDR was more than eager to accommodate Stalin, even while Churchill urged caution. Roosevelt’s naivety in dealing with Uncle Joe is astounding, as are the agreements on Poland which set up a new state certain to be dominated by Moscow (nobody outside of the US diplomatic corps believed in all that voting crap Stalin was agreeing to). The Baltic states aren’t even mentioned. The American monopoly on atomic weaponry was coming, and it wouldn’t have hurt to show a little backbone.

    However, that’s monday morning quarterbacking, and can only be taken so far. In the end, I think Lex is pretty much right, there isn’t much we could have done even if we’d wanted to (which we didn’t). Bush’s apology was at least mild revisionism, but usefully so. By marking an apologetic tone, he is saying “we’ll not make the same mistake again”. This sounds a lot better than the truth, which is “we didn’t care enough to spend 5 years and millions of lives while completely exhausting our economy in a war which we would have been unlikely to win, but you can trust us now.”

    I can’t get that upset about the “throwing of bones” as Lex calls it. Distorting history to fit your political purposes is as old as human speech. Churchill was the king of this, and this particular instance seems mild and inoffensive compared to most. Low-point? C’mon, this is the president who calls the Medicare Modernization Act a success. An inaccurate feel good speech in some puny former Soviet state hardly rates on the ‘ol suck-o-meter.

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