Monday, April 29, 2013



The Yalta Conference, held on February 4 to 11, 1945, was the WWII meeting of the heads of government of the US, the UK and the Soviet Union, represented by a very ill Franklin D. Roosevelt, a pretty feisty Winston Churchill and a very covetous and non-trustworthy Joseph Stalin. The 3 met to discuss the post-war organization of Europe. The conference was held in Livadia Palace near Yalta, in the Crimea.

The meetings was intended mainly to discuss the re-establishment of the nations of war-torn Europe. Within a few years, with the Cold War dividing the continent, Yalta became a point of intense controversy and to some extent has remained so.

I see Poland, I see France, I see Stalin's Underpants...

Yalta was the 2nd of 3 wartime conferences among the Big Three (Britain, the US and the USSR) which were represented by Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, until the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, which was attended by Stalin, Attlee (who had replaced Churchill at the polls) and Truman (who had stepped in when Roosevelt died in April 1945).

The 3 leaders were trying to establish an agenda for governing post-war Germany. Churchill's attitude towards the USSR differed vastly from that of Roosevelt, with the former believing Stalin to be a “devil”-like tyrant leading a vile system. Roosevelt's view was mitigated and he truly believed that Stalin wanted nothing but a type of “noblesse oblige” (?) “he won't try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of democracy and peace.”

Churchill held firmly to his beliefs, however and this outlook is partly responsible for his losing as Prime Minister before war's end. No less a general than Patton saw this coming as well. As Russia drove west during 1943 and 1944, parts of Poland and Romania were “liberated” from the Nazis but the Russian boot stayed. Churchill was right, as subsequent events proved.

When it came time to decide on the conference site for Yalta, Stalin insisted it could not be the Mediterranean, as his doctors forbid his lengthy travel at this time. Roosevelt was very ill, yet took a journey that most certainly did nothing to lengthen his life in February of 1945 to the Crimea. So, Stalin was already dictating terms to his fellow conference participants. Churchill did his utmost to hold Stalin at bay, but with Roosevelt's illness, it was difficult to do. The two men had forged a strong bond, wrote to one another almost every day for years and depended on one another. Winston was worried that his friend was sick and dying. Yet the two men soldiered on.

Premier Stalin wanted Poland; he termed it a question of security and honor. Roosevelt bought into that, hoping the United Nations would be able to deal with Stalin if and when it came to that.

Later, many Americans considered Yalta, a “sellout,” encouraging Soviet expansion of influence to Japan and Asia and because Stalin eventually violated the agreements in forming the Soviet bloc.

Some of the key points that came out of Yalta; agreement to the priority of the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. After the war, Germany and Berlin would be split into four occupied zones.

Stalin agreed that France would have a fourth occupation zone in Germany, but it would be formed from the American and British zones.

Germany would undergo demilitarization and denazification and their reparations were partly to be in the form of forced labor (as forced labor of Germans was impelled upon Germans in the USSR)

Creation of a reparation council which would be located in the USSR

Status of Poland was discussed. It was agreed to reorganize the communist Provisional Government of the Republic of Poland that had been installed by the USSR “on a broader democratic basis.”

Poland's border would be pushed along the Curzon line basis. Reparations would be coming from Western Germany.

In other words, where the Russians sat, east of the Green Curzon line, that was given over to Russia. The rump state of Poland was Poland, but "under occupation." There were never elections.

Churchill alone pushed for free elections in Poland. The British leader, whose country had hosted the government-in-exile, felt that the “U.K. Could never be content with any solution that did not leave Poland a free and independent state.” Although Stalin pledged to permit free election in Poland, he forestalled, never honoring his promise.

Citizens of the USSR and of Yugoslavia were to be handed over to their respective countries, regardless of their consent.

Roosevelt obtained commitment by Stalin to participate in the U.N.

The aftermath of the Yalta Conference is like most. Messy and inconclusive. Some conditions were met, some weren't and some were stalemates. Many were expedient lies made during desperate times. Wars tend to bring out the worst in people. Why should we expect more from our leaders?

With the exception of Joseph Stalin, the men who met at these conferences were honorable men. They were playing the hands they were dealt and in the cases of Roosevelt and Churchill, you'd have to go a far piece in history to find 2 such able men occupying an era fraught with such peril. Hitler and Stalin were 2 sides of the same coin. It is no exaggeration to say that between the pair, we're talking about 2 men who were responsible for the deaths of 100 million people; easily. Between the wars, ovens, holocausts, famines and plots. We haven't even talked about the Maos and the Pol Pots. Just 2 men whose time in power encompassed maybe, 25 to 35 years, total. That is a special kind of evil.

Churchill and Roosevelt had very unique roles to play and I put to you that only Churchill understood the true savagery he was dealing with. After FDR's passing and Harry Truman came along, his whole understanding of war was focused on Oppenheimer and the Bomb, really. I know this sounds simplistic, because Harry Truman was capable and very responsible, but he had huge shoes to fill and a short learning curve. Yet, of course, the world knew nothing of this. Roosevelt spent years and years writing to Winnie and had an earnest, trustful relationship with the man. It's not to say Roosevelt was out of his depth; he was a very shrewd man. But, Churchill had Old World sensibilities. He'd been in the Boer War; he'd witnessed Concentration Camps. He led and was beaten badly at Gallipoli; made a hash of it and understood how cruel and horrible war could be.

This was the War Admiral, the man who went up against Stalin, fully understanding the danger and paranoia of this most evil of men and Roosevelt followed his lead. Americans may have felt sold out, but, Joseph Stalin? We're lucky we still have a country. Winnie knew the peril and did everything he could to ameliorate it. I hope to never have to be in thrall to allies such as this again. I hope to never have to crawl in bed with the devil, to beat an enemy that is worse. What does that say about us as human beings? What we would be better off doing is looking to ourselves and caring for those we have at home.

Post a Comment