Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Who Lost Czechoslovakia?

From History Today:
It is often taken for granted that all European nations involved in the early Cold War, save Germany, fell naturally onto one side of the Iron Curtain or the other. Yet Czechoslovakia was not pre-ordained to become part of the Soviet sphere. There were multiple opportunities for the United States to influence its position on the political map of Europe.

Czechoslovakia emerged from the Second World War unaligned. Hitler and Stalin had not allocated it in the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Stalin and Churchill had not included it in their secret 1944 ‘percentages’ deal, which designated spheres of influence in eastern and southern Europe. The victorious Allies had not discussed its orientation at Yalta or Potsdam. Both the Soviets and the Americans had liberated it. But whatever cards Washington had to play, diplomatically and militarily, it gave most of them up in 1945.

‘I believe that Russia wants to and will cooperate’ in Czechoslovakia, President Roosevelt told the Czech Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk, a democrat unaffiliated with any party, in February 1944. Red Army officials, however, made clear to their Czech counterparts that the country would be brought within the Soviet sphere. What capacity the US Army had to countervail was circumscribed by the fateful decision of Generals George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower to stop its own advance 50 miles west of Prague.

The Red Army, which had been 150 miles further from the Czech capital than General George Patton just before the war’s end, marched into Prague on 9 May 1945. It was one of its easier victories, but also one that had great subsequent historical significance. ‘We could have liberated Prague’, lamented one bitter US embassy official. ‘After the war we spent a lot of time trying to convince the Czechs that they weren’t part of the Eastern Bloc. But no matter what we said, the Soviets came to Prague first.’ The Czech Communists used this to their advantage, proclaiming it as evidence that only the Russians cared about the Prague citizens being brutalised by the Nazis. (Read more.)

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