The Corner

More Yalta

Lots and lots of readers defending FDR put a lot of emphasis on the need to get Russia into the war with Japan. One reader writes: “Our entire general staff, including Marshall, was convinced that without the Russians the casualties on our side would exceed one million men. The main purpose of the Yalta conference was to get Stalin to agree to declare war on Japan once the Germans were defeated. Hence the bargain: Stalin gets Eastern Europe on the condition that he enter the war. This was how the deal actually went down.”

I think this is a perfectly legitimate point. But it does raise a secondary line of argument not directly about Yalta but about the dawn of the Cold War. Schlesinger for example makes a big deal about the fact that Stalin was forced to agree to free elections in Poland and then blithely mentions that Stalin had to break that pledge in order to, well, annex Poland. Well, when it became clear that A) we no longer needed Russia to fight the Japanese — hence the dissolution of the real politick argument B) Russia no longer honored the text nor the “spirit” of Yalta and C) we had a temporary monopoly on the atomic bomb, why didn’t we use it to threaten the Soviets to get the hell out of Eastern Europe?

I know there are a lot of contrafactuals built into this and there were very good reasons why we didn’t, but it seems to me that this might have ended the Cold War before it began. I have heard many good arguments about why we couldn’t do this, but I’ve never heard a convincing argument about why we shouldn’t have.


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