FDR’s Failure Not Forgotten

Earlier this week Vladimir Putin celebrated in Moscow the end of World War II and glorified—yes, glorified—the memory of Josef Stalin, one of the great mass murderers of all time. So much for Putin and what he calls his “managed democracy.” President Bush, on the other hand, celebrated the historic date differently. He had the courage to speak truth to power in a once-captive nation, Latvia, which along with Estonia and Lithuania, had suffered for half a century under a Soviet dictatorship.

Bush told the truth about the closing conference of World War II held at Yalta, a conference that turned Eastern and Central Europe into an annex of the Soviet Gulag. He described the results of Yalta as “one of the greatest wrongs of history.” He could have added that Yalta represents one of the most depressing chapters, one of the lowest points, in the history of American diplomacy.

Bush never mentioned the name of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. But it was FDR who accepted the Soviet-dictated partition of the European continent and thus legitimized the enslavement of the peoples of East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania. In agreeing to Stalin’s Bolshevik imperialism, FDR told William C. Bullitt, a confidante: “I think that if I give him [Stalin] everything I possibly can without demanding anything in return then, noblesse oblige, he will not attempt to annex anything and will work to build a peaceful and democratic world.”

Noblesse oblige, indeed! FDR, by a process of self-corruption, blinded himself to the realities of Stalin’s Great Terror. He ignored written, documented warnings from State Department Soviet experts such as Loy W. Henderson, a longtime career diplomat and one of the principal architects of 20th-Century U.S. diplomacy. He preferred the lying reportage of Walter Duranty, the New York Times correspondent in Moscow, and the scandalous pro-Soviet reports from his ambassador in Moscow, Joseph E. Davies. This is the Davies, a wealthy corporation lawyer, who in 1946 actually preached treason, to wit: “Russia in self-defense has every moral right to seek atomic-bomb secrets through military espionage if excluded from such information by her former fighting allies.” (“Davies Says Soviet Has Right to Spy,” the New York Times, Feb. 19, 1946, Page 2.)

Roosevelt was as determined to recognize the USSR as he was to ignore the openly avowed purposes of the Communist International. As late as 1953, George Kennan wrote that the United States “should never have established de jure relations with the Soviet government.” Yet FDR, with willful ignorance, embarked on a recognition policy without seeking an enforceable quid pro quo. By the time FDR realized he had failed at Yalta, it was too late to do anything about it.

On March 23, 1945, 19 days before he died, Roosevelt confided to Anna Rosenberg: “Averell [Harriman] is right. We can’t do business with Stalin. He has broken every one of the promises he made at Yalta.” In other words, FDR had actually believed that Stalin would keep his promises and treaty engagements.

Watching what was going on during and after the war, Kennan deplored “the inexcusable ignorance about the nature of Russian communism, about the history of its diplomacy.” He wrote in 1960: “I mean by that FDR’s well-known conviction that, although Stalin was a rather difficult character, he was at bottom a man like everyone else; that the only reason why it had been difficult to get on with him in the past was because there was no one with the right personality, with enough imagination and trust to deal with him properly; that the arrogant conservatives in the Western capitals had always bluntly rejected him, and that his ideological prejudices would melt away and Russian cooperation with the West could easily be obtained, if only Stalin was exposed to the charm of a personality of FDR’s caliber.”

Roosevelt’s last year was a tragedy for the country and for the post-war world. He was, as a book title had it, a dying President. Roosevelt failed the American people. The Dying President by Robert H. Ferrell contains sensational revelations about FDR’s health, all hidden from the American people. A dying President came to Yalta and helped condemn millions of Europeans to death or imprisonment at the hands of the Soviet secret police.

“When powerful governments negotiated,” said Bush, “the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable.”

Never again.


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