Sunday, May 15, 2005


One passage in President Bush's speech in Latvia a week ago has stirred up vigorous debate on both Right and Left. This is the passage:

"For much of Eastern and Central Europe, victory brought the iron rule of another empire. V-E Day marked the end of fascism, but it did not end oppression. The agreement at Yalta followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Once again, when powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable. Yet this attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability left a continent divided and unstable. The captivity of millions in Central and Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the greatest wrongs of history.

I have hesitated to say anything about it so far -- though I have linked to various related statements by others -- because I myself have always had many reservations about Allied actions in BOTH world wars. But it is a huge debate that has been going on for many years now so I will outline my conclusions here without endeavouring to support them other than by suggesting readings that those interested in the subject might look at if they want to follow anything up:

That FDR was either a fool or a rogue in his dealings with Stalin is I think undoubted and I am glad that GWB has come out saying that by implication -- but whether anything FDR could have done would have saved the Baltic States from Stalin is highly dubious. He could however have saved the whole of Germany by unleashing Patton and that could well have saved Poland too.

There has also long been a hangover from wartime propaganda that claims that the war was fought for various worthy objectives -- the defence of democracy etc. I don't think, however, anyone has been much deceived by that. The war was a war of national survival for those threatened by Hitler and for FDR it was a war he was desperate to enter so that he could -- in good Leftist fashion -- exercise power and dominate world politics. He wanted to be at the head of the table at the end of the war. As in World War I however, the American people did not want a bar of intervention in Europe so he had to engineer an attack by the Japanese to get the people onside.

OK. I have probably said too much already. Just to get you thinking, here is an excerpt from a much reproduced comment by Buchanan on the issue:

"If Yalta was a betrayal of small nations as immoral as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, why do we venerate Churchill and FDR? At Yalta, this pair secretly ceded those small nations to Stalin, co-signing a cynical "Declaration on Liberated Europe" that was a monstrous lie. As FDR and Churchill consigned these peoples to a Stalinist hell run by a monster they alternately and affectionately called "Uncle Joe" and "Old Bear," why are they not in the history books alongside Neville Chamberlain, who sold out the Czechs at Munich by handing the Sudetenland over to Germany? At least the Sudeten Germans wanted to be with Germany. No Christian peoples of Europe ever embraced their Soviet captors or Stalinist quislings. Other questions arise. If Britain endured six years of war and hundreds of thousands of dead in a war she declared to defend Polish freedom, and Polish freedom was lost to communism, how can we say Britain won the war? If the West went to war to stop Hitler from dominating Eastern and Central Europe, and Eastern and Central Europe ended up under a tyranny even more odious, as Bush implies, did Western Civilization win the war?"

There are other good comments by Jeff Jacoby and Geoffrey Wheatcroft and V.D. Hanson. There is a good history of the evolving thinking about the war here and in my view the best balanced account of what did happen and what could have happened is here. And I cannot resist putting up the following excerpt from the Wheatcroft article:

"The French suffered a catastrophic defeat in 1940, and the compromises many Frenchmen made with their conquerors thereafter ranged from the pitiful to the wicked. More Frenchmen collaborated than resisted, and during the course of the war more Frenchmen bore arms on the Axis than on the Allied side".


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