Thursday, September 25, 2008

Churchill and Stalin

Secret conversations. (Via Lew Rockwell.)
It is impossible to continue to argue, for example, that Franklin Roosevelt was merely naïve about the true nature of Stalinism during the Yalta Conference of February 1945, whereas Churchill was much more nuanced and doubtful. In fact Burgis records Churchill telling the first War Cabinet after his return from the Crimea that, 'Stalin I’m sure means well to the world and Poland. Stalin has offered the Polish people a free and more broadly based government to bring about an election; I cannot conceive any government has the right to be treated like that. Stalin about Poland said, 'Russia has committed many sins about Poland – pacts and partitions – it is not the intention of the Soviet Government to do such things but to make amends.’ Stalin had a very good feeling with the two Western democracies and wants to work quite easily with us. My hopes lie in a single man, he will not embark on bad adventures. Re: Greece – Stalin was jocular.’ Words that would have embarrassed Churchill deeply by the time of the Berlin airlift three years later were to stay hidden for six decades.

1 comment:

El Jefe Maximo said...

I would wonder how much the Prime Minister's ruminations on Stalin to the War Cabinet in 1945 represented what Churchill really in his heart believed; or, on the other hand represented an effort to put the best face on things and make the War Cabinet swollow a pill that Churchill (and for that matter Roosevelt), knew was going to have to be swollowed anyway.

Once German military collapse was a fact, Soviet domination of eastern Europe, including Poland, was another fact that followed, and could not be prevented. From early 1941 on, Britain was really playing at great power status -- a fully funded and subsidized by the United States. By 1944, extreme war-weariness had set in, and manpower was so short the British were faced with the necessity of cannibalizing some military units to fill out others. Moreover the country was bankrupt.

As for Roosevelt, the US Chiefs of Staff were fully aware that when the war ended the continent would be divided between a well-armed but bankrupt Soviet Union, and a bunch of bankrupt European states propped up by the US.

I don't think that either Roosevelt or Churchill were naive as to Stalin's intentions. But I also don't think that there was much they could do for Poland or anybody else who had the misfortune to live too far to the east. I do think they both had a certain amount of concern and anxiety at keeping the Grand Alliance together until the war was concluded.

Hitler and Goebbels, among others, were sure the unnatural east-west alliance would break up at some point -- and they were of course right. The task of Roosevelt and Churchill was to prevent that from happening too soon. What kind of world we might live in had Hitler tried to make a new pact with Stalin when he still had the chips to bargain with does not bear thinking about.

In any event, I wonder how much of what many of us call naivety on the part of Roosevelt and Churchill was dissembling, to protect them and their political allies from criticism over what happened to eastern Europe (particularly Poland), and keep things together long enough to put a period on the war.

The President and Prime Minister were both in a position to know that Poland, in 1945, was unfortunately not going to be redeemned without another war. Thankfully, in the fullness of time, the Soviet Union passed away.