Politically aware Americans, especially self-proclaimed “tough” neo-liberals and neo-conservatives have had a hate obsession with the Crimea for 73 years since proclaiming the myth of an “evil” sell-out of Eastern Europe that supposedly took place at the Yalta summit conference in February 1945 between Josef Stalin, Winston Churchill and a dying US President Franklin Roosevelt.
Instead, as is often the case in the age of George Orwell’s “big lie” in modern America and Britain, the opposite was the case. The Yalta conference was a triumph of realpolitik that kept the global peace between the superpowers almost three quarters of a century so far.
It is, therefore enormously ironic that the peace of the world should now be threatened over US and UK outrage in particular over Russia asserting its legal and sovereign rights after a blatant breach of agreements and sovereignty by the Ukrainian vessels in Kerch Strait separating Crimea from mainland Russia.
The kneejerk US and UK reactions, based on mindlessly swallowing generations of dangerous mythmaking by both Republicans and Democrats in the United States and by the revered demigod Winston Churchill in Britain is that at Yalta Roosevelt cynically – and possibly in full senility – “sold out” all the countries of Eastern Europe to Stalin and thereby threatened the survival of the West.
This myth was created by Churchill in Volume 6 of his enormous war memoirs, “The Second World War”. (Most of it was in fact written for him by an enormous team of British historians and bureaucratic researchers. This did not stop Churchill from happily accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature on the entirely false grounds that he had written all of it.)
Churchill blamed Roosevelt for selling out Eastern Europe at Yalta in his discussions with Stalin. By then FDR was long since dead and so were Harry Hopkins, his de facto national security adviser at Yalta and Major General Edwin “Pa” Watson, his closest personal aide.
The next US president, Harry Truman made no secret in later years of his deep, abiding jealousy for President Roosevelt and was happy to scapegoat his dead predecessor for the outcome of Yalta..
Truman’s successor, President Dwight Eisenhower as Supreme Allied Commander actually worked sympathetically and closely with the Soviet Union to prevent any clash between the Western and Soviet armies knowing that only the Nazis could benefit from such a disaster.
But by 1952, running for president himself, Eisenhower did not dare to acknowledge his own key role in accepting Soviet control of half of Europe, so it made perfect sense for him to slander the late FDR as well.
In fact, Yalta was a triumph for FDR in everything that really mattered: The division of Europe agreed to there by the “Big Three” was based on realities of power and could therefore be upheld and maintained for many decades and it was. By contrast, the hyped, gargantuan Versailles Peace Conference in 1919 led to the rise of Adolf Hitler within 14 years and another, even worse world war only 20 years later.
Versailles was a catastrophe. Yalta, where it really mattered, was a lasting triumph.
Because of the great Soviet victory in June 1944 in the Battle of Belorussia, it was inevitable that all of Central Europe from Stettin in the Baltic to the borders of Greece would fall under Soviet control before the Anglo-American armies driving in on the Third Reich from the West could get there. That was why the American Republican criticisms of the dying Franklin Roosevelt for “selling out” Central Europe at the 1945 Yalta conference were so unfair. There was nothing in practical terms FDR could have done otherwise.
And in any case, FDR did not make the key concessions to Stalin on Central Europe at all. It was Churchill, the British statesman who has become the icon-hero of American internationalist conservatives, who made them.
Churchill, at his meeting in Moscow with Stalin in October 1944 initialed the famous agreement on the back of a napkin that acknowledged the Soviet dominant role in all of the Balkans, except for Greece. Roosevelt was outraged when he learned about it. By then, Churchill knew that Poland, Hungary and most of the rest of Central Europe would fall to the Soviet armies too. The Battle of Belorussia had ensured that.
As US senators and pundits vie with each other now to push US President Donald Trump towards a potentially enormously dangerous confrontation with Russia over the Kerch Straits clash, it is more important than ever to recover and teach the true lessons of Yalta.
In February 1945 a dying but clear-headed Franklin Roosevelt opted for continued respect and dialogue with the Soviet Union to prevent world wars and preserve the peace of the world. His wisdom lasted almost 70 years.
Yalta was never a naïve sellout and Roosevelt gave away nothing. After he died Winston Churchill and the US Republicans successfully slandered his good name for their own glory and lying gain.
To restore US-Russian trust, dialogue and respect, it is vital Americans are educated at last to the true story.