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© 2005
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Roosevelt and Stalin: Portrait of a Partnership
bySusan Butler

Picture of Stalin and Roosevelt

NINETEEN THIRTY-EIGHT was the year Germany’s armies began marching across Europe. Hitler announced the Anschluss with Austria and accomplished it with a bloodless invasion on March 12. In September, in the misbegotten hope that this would slake Hitler’s thirst for territory, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain of Britain, Prime Minister Édouard Daladier of France, and Prime Minister Benito Mussolini of Italy flew to Munich and signed an agreement ceding Germany the Sudetenland, the German-speaking part of Czechoslovakia.
In 1939, as it became obvious that Hitler and his Wehrmacht were ready to spring again, the question that occupied the international community was not so much if as where the next strike would be.
Most Americans still thought of Europe’s problems as being as far away as the moon. Isolationists believed the oceans were impenetrable moats that protected America from harm. Roosevelt didn’t. He had been influenced at an early age by Admiral Alfred Mahan’s Influence of Sea Power upon History (according to his mother, he buried himself in it “until he had practically memorized the whole book”) and found incomprehensible the isolationist idea that America could retreat from the world, safe behind the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. From Mahan he had learned that if a country did not defend and patrol its oceans, its shores could always be breached; a nation’s commerce, its economic health, depended on freedom of the seas.
The president decided to discuss the growing danger to the country in his annual message to Congress on January 4, 1939. He pondered over the right words for days, remembered the speechwriter Sam Rosenman, intent as he was to alert people and get his message across without raising the hackles of pacifists and isolationists—the vast majority of citizens—who still believed America could stay untouched, no matter what happened in Europe, no matter how many countries Hitler and Mussolini overran.
He had begun to prepare America for war in various ways, which he carefully didn’t mention. He explicitly couched his words in terms of defense of American institutions and stressed religion throughout. He referred to God and religion nine times. “Storms from abroad directly challenge three institutions indispensable to Americans, now as always,” he said. “The first is religion. It is the source of the other two—democracy and international good faith…Religion, by teaching man his relationship to God, gives the individual a sense of his own dignity…Democracy, the practice of self-government, is a covenant among free men to respect the rights and liberties of other nations of men.”
On the other hand, he wanted to warn Hitler that America would fight if provoked too far. Therefore, he ended by saying, “In our foreign relations we have learned from the past what not to do. From new wars we have learned what we must do. We have learned that effective timing of defense and the distant points from which attacks may be launched are completely different from what they were twenty years ago.”
To the three writers working with him on the speech—Tom Corcoran, Ben Cohen, and Sam Rosenman—he said, so that they were absolutely clear on how he felt about Chamberlain and the Munich Agreement, “We can do business with him [Hitler] all right but in the process we would lose everything that America stands for.”
As the threat of Hitler grew, the countries within marching distance of the Wehrmacht sought to make alliances, the Soviet Union among them. Poland, the only country, after Hitler annexed Czechoslovakia and Austria, still remaining between Germany and Russia, was torn between fear of newly militant Germany and fear of its ancient borderland foe: Russia. The enmity between Russia and Poland dated back centuries. In Red Square stands the famous statue that commemorates the two Russian heroes—the prince and the butcher—who threw the Poles out of the Kremlin in 1612. The sculpture is the only structure besides Lenin’s tomb in that vast space, testimony to how long and deep the quarrel between the two countries ran.
Even so, Polish public opinion—although muted in a feudalist society still run by colonels and landed aristocrats—was strongly anti-German. The colonels in power, however, and particularly Poland’s powerful foreign minister, Jósef Beck, who controlled foreign policy, were strongly pro-German. Beck came away saying, after a meeting with Hitler at Berchtesgaden, “If the Soviet Union is militarily feeble, what good is it to be tied to it; if the Soviet Union is strong they will never leave.” Even in the face of Hitler’s insistent and patently false claims of Polish atrocities against Germans as the rationale for threatening to grab Danzig, the Polish port on the Baltic, as well as taking control of the Polish Corridor, Beck clung to the belief that Hitler was not going to attack Poland. It was a fatal mistake. (One interesting explanation for Poland’s otherwise inexplicable mésalliance has always been a suspicion that Beck was a German agent and that Hitler had talked him into a German alliance by dangling before him the prospect of Poland’s claiming a piece of the Ukraine. This has the ring of truth, for his young son Anthony, whom he sent out of harm’s way to Loomis, an exclusive prep school in America, would find, after his father’s death, among his prized possessions a photograph album consisting of his father posed with Nazi generals and various officials of the Nazi government elite.)

STALIN WANTED AN ALLIANCE with Chamberlain and Daladier because there was no other choice: there were no countries other than Britain and France to which he could turn to protect the Soviet Union from Hitler.
He made a speech broadcast over the radio to the nation and the world on March 10, 1939, on the occasion of the Eighteenth Party Congress. To the assembled Soviet delegates in the great hall built in 1935, equipped with thirteen hundred desks, one for each representative of each republic, he said,
But war is inexorable. It cannot be hidden under any guise. For no “axis,” “triangles” or “anti-Comintern pacts” can hide the fact that…Germany has seized Austria and the Sudeten region, that Germany and Italy together have seized Spain—and all this in defiance of the interests of the non-aggressive states.
They [Great Britain and France] let her have Austria, despite the undertaking to defend her independence; they let her have the Sudeten region; they abandoned Czechoslovakia to her fate.
He accused both countries of pointing up “the weakness of the Russian army,” “the demoralization of the Russian air force.”
Why, he asked, was this happening? It looked like a one-sided war. Were the nonaggressive states weak? “Of course not. Combined, the nonaggressive democratic states are unquestionably stronger…England and France have rejected the policy of collective security and have taken up a position of neutrality.”
The point of the speech of interest to the international community was Stalin’s statement that if England and France took collective action, they were stronger: the war, he was saying to them, could be won. And that made Russia available as an ally.
Five days later, March 15, Hitler seized the rest of Czechoslovakia.
When Stalin touched on the possibility of an alliance with the Allies in his March speech, it amounted to a clear call to Britain and France: It was for Foreign Minister Litvinov to negotiate that alliance.
Litvinov, skilled diplomat, anglicized by many years of living in London as the Soviet ambassador to Great Britain, married to an Englishwoman, was known to be sympathetic to Britain. He was also a friend of America’s. He had negotiated recognition of the Soviet Union by the United States with Franklin Roosevelt. During his time as foreign minister the Soviet government had indicated it was prepared to fight for Czechoslovakia and maintained a wary distance from Germany. Under Litvinov, Russia had joined the League of Nations and followed a policy of collective security in 1934. At that time Litvinov had negotiated the Franco-Soviet Pact of Mutual Assistance: Stalin called it “an obstacle to the enemies of peace.” In 1936, Stalin had predicted how German aggression would break out upon the world: “History shows that when any state intends to make war against another state…it begins to seek frontiers across which it can reach the frontiers of the state it wants to attack…I do not know precisely what frontiers Germany may adapt to her aims, but I think she will find people willing to ‘lend’ her a frontier.”
He had been right on the mark.
Stalin made those statements before Munich. The question before the world in 1939 was, would Britain pull back from the principle of collective security? A week went by after Stalin’s speech with no reaction from Britain. Taking the initiative on March 18 at Stalin’s direction, Litvinov proposed that France, Britain, Poland, Russia, Romania, and Turkey join together at a conference to draw up a treaty to stop Hitler. Chamberlain reacted negatively. As he wrote to a friend, “I must confess to the most profound distrust of Russia. I have no belief whatever in her ability to maintain an effective offensive, even if she wanted to. And I distrust her motives.” Chamberlain had never quite gotten over the notion implanted in his brain as a youth by his father, Joseph, that the world should be run by the Teutonic nations, by which was meant England, Germany, and America. Nevertheless, realizing that he had not achieved “peace in our time” at Munich in September 1938, on March 31, 1939, Chamberlain announced to an approving House of Commons that Britain and France would guarantee Poland in case Hitler attacked it: “would lend the Polish Government all support in their power.”
But that was no help to Russia.
On April 14, Lord Halifax, the powerful, aristocratic British foreign minister and the ex-viceroy of India (Churchill called him the Holy Fox), gave Britain’s answer to Litvinov’s March 18 proposal. He told the Soviet ambassador to Great Britain, Ivan Maisky, that the British government would not extend to his country a guarantee of support if it was invaded, as it had to Poland. This, it was reported, “enraged” Stalin.
Nevertheless, Litvinov, in Moscow, tried for the next six weeks to bring Sir William Seeds, the British ambassador to the Soviet Union, who spoke also for the French ambassador, Paul-Émile Naggiar, to the point of discussing a military and diplomatic alliance. However, the ambassadors offered nothing—no alliance, no guarantees. Britain was telling Russia to go it alone.
On April 16, Stalin took a giant step: he had Litvinov formally propose to Seeds that Russia, France, and Great Britain make a pact that would bind their three countries to declare war on Germany if they or any nation between the Baltic and the Mediterranean was attacked: “to render all manner of assistance including military in case of aggression in Europe against any one of these powers.” The agreement, Litvinov stipulated, should be cast in the form of two pacts: Great Britain and the Soviet Union, and France and the Soviet Union; each should conclude accords for immediate military support in case of aggression, similar to the pact recently concluded between Great Britain and Poland.
THE PROBLEM WAS POLAND. No matter who allied with whom, everyone except the Polish foreign minister, Beck (his faith in Hitler was unshakable), agreed Hitler, who periodically erupted into diatribes about his intentions to control the Polish Corridor and Danzig, would start the war by invading Poland. William L. Shirer, war correspondent and author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, spent the first week in April in Poland. He found Poland a conundrum, observing, “Militarily and politically they were in a disastrous position. Their Air Force was obsolete, their Army cumbersome, their strategic position—surrounded by the Germans on three sides—almost hopeless…[T]he strengthening of Germany’s West Wall made an Anglo-French offensive against Germany in case Poland were attacked extremely difficult. And finally it became obvious that the headstrong Polish ‘colonels’ would never consent to receiving Russian help even if the Germans were at the gates of Warsaw.”
And yet, he saw incredulously, they relied on Germany.
In point of fact, if the German army marched on Poland, there was nothing Britain could do to stop it—no matter what any treaty said. Halifax used as his excuse for putting off serious negotiations with the U.S.S.R. Jósef Beck’s refusal to allow Russian soldiers to enter his country, even to drive back a German army. In fact it was obvious to all, according to Shirer, that Britain could have forced the Poles to agree to Russian action on Polish soil if it had wanted to.
On May 1, Lord Halifax visited the Soviet embassy in London; it was the first time a British foreign secretary had set foot in the embassy since the revolution. But it became apparent that Halifax’s attitude had if anything hardened: he told Ambassador Maisky that his government was not ready to enter into a pact with Russia.

On October 15 and 16, 1944, meetings were held at the Kremlin at which the U.S. military, the Russian military, and the British discussed the first moves against Japan. Present was the young, able general Aleksei Antonov, chief of Soviet operations; General Shevchenko, chief of staff of Soviet Far Eastern forces; General Deane, head of the U.S. military mission in Moscow; Harriman; and the British generals Brooke and Ismay, who were there for information and support. (Churchill was also in Moscow, there to bring Stalin up to date on Allied decisions. It was at this time that he and Stalin concurred on their percentages deal in Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece.)

ROOSEVELT WAS UNDER no delusions about either leader. With these two men he was going to create what he hoped was going to be a brave new world, at the center of which would be a powerful peace organization: the United Nations. He knew—it was common knowledge even then—that Stalin was guilty of “the indiscriminate killings of thousands of innocent victims.” He had said as much to the American Youth Conference at the White House in February 1940. And in the midst of the war, possible evidence surfaced about his murder of a group of Polish officers when they had been Russian prisoners of war and the subsequent efforts to cover up the crime. FDR paid the story no attention. He knew Churchill was seriously flawed as well. History has dealt harshly with Stalin but has been kind to Churchill: one reason is that the prime minister was a brilliant writer, and it is his version of history that has come down to us and blinded us to his amoral actions. He was almost as much of a trial to FDR as Stalin. Four months earlier, the previous October, Churchill, meeting with Stalin in the Kremlin, had cynically proposed that he and Stalin specify to each other which Balkan country they wanted to control. Churchill had written his percentages on a piece of paper, ceding Stalin 90 percent control in Romania, Britain 90 percent in Greece, and splitting Yugoslavia. Stalin had shoved the paper back to Churchill without comment, suggesting Churchill keep it. Such a bargain was anathema to the president, intent on the creation of a peace organization obviating such deals.
Roosevelt was strongly against colonialism and the consequences of powerful nations’ controlling weaker nations; he also knew that Churchill was a racist and believed in colonial empires. FDR was dedicated to the philosophy that one nation should not control another. In the first year of his presidency he had repudiated America’s right to intervene in the affairs of South American countries and within a short time recommended self-government for Puerto Rico, pushed Congress to pass an act giving independence to the Philippines after a ten-year period of transition, relinquished the right of the United States to control Panamanian territory and unilaterally the canal, relinquished the right of the United States to intervene in Cuban affairs, and ordered the last U.S. marines to leave Haiti.

Then the bomb was detonated: the explosion, at Alamogordo, New Mexico—the mushroom cloud that rose, “a cosmic phenomenon like an eclipse”—changed the world forever. Seven days after Alamogordo, Truman met Stalin at Potsdam and told him that America had the bomb. But instead of the statesmanlike approach he and Stimson, based on the advice of the scientists and executives, had discussed so carefully, Truman merely bragged. No mention of collaboration, of making the world peaceful and safe, no mention of offering to share information in return for the settlement of the Polish, Romanian, Yugoslavian, and Manchurian problems.

peromaneste:  Aceasta carte va starni multe comentarii, deja pot anticipa pe cele ale neo-imperialistilor/conservatorilor anglo-saxoni care-si vad idolul lor (W.C.) pus mai aproape de locul sau in istorie decat au facut-o cartile de istorie pana acum.  Am cautat si republicat referintele la Romania din aceasta carte pentru a da o idee despre complexitatea politicii externe, dintotdeauna.  Mai mult, am dorit sa contrastez aceasta complexitate cu stridenta schelaiturilor de chiuaua turbat ce se aud dela Bucuresti ca politica externa din ultimul deceniu.  Cand cei mari se inteleg pe deaspura capetelor celor mici, astia din urma raman si ragusiti si cu lantul intact.

01 Oct 2005, Maastricht, Netherlands,  Jevgeni Dzjoegasjvili, Curtis Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, the grandsons of World War II leaders Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill meet in Maastricht, Netherlands, for a conference to commemorate the Yalta agreement signed by their grandfathers 60 years ago as a foundation mark for modern Europe. --- Image by © Olaf Kraak/epa/Corbis

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