The Corner

Yalta, Wwii, Rick, Etc

Just read VDH’s excellent piece on WWII revisionism. Also finally talked to my Dad about the Yalta stuff (Yalta came up a lot in the Goldberg household when I was a kid. Me: “Can I have five dollars for the movies?” Dad: “Okay, but if it weren’t for Yalta, you could have ten.”).

Anyway, Pops is not a huge believer in the invincible Red Army view being bandied around these days. And without getting into all of those bells and whistles, I did have one question. Has anyone ever come with a hard number for how many Red Army soldiers died at the hands of the Communist Party? It’s a well established fact that on the Eastern front (which I guess was the Russian Western front), the Russians shot their own soldiers at alarming rates when they wouldn’t fight, particularly at Stalingrad). Indeed, if they even strategically retreated they could be sure they’d be executed.

I bring it up for a couple reasons. First, it runs a bit counter to the purist Russian sacrifice version of history. Many died miserably at the hands of their officers or the Commissars. Second, this undermines the notion that the Red Army was as formidible as everyone suggests in their determination to defend FDR. VDH notes that the Russians were not nearly as impressive militarily as the Anglo-Americans, who: “waged a global war well beyond the capability of the Soviet Union. They invaded North Africa, took Sicily, and landed in Italy, in addition to fighting a massive land war in central Europe. We had fewer casualties than did the Russians because we fought more wisely, were better equipped, and were not surprised to the same degree by a treacherous former ally that we had supplied.”

I completely understand Rick’s point about the desire of conservatives — including myself — to Monday-morning-quarterback the decisions made at Yalta. But, my chief objection is the one I inherited from my Dad and it remains intact. For fifty years we were told that not only was Yalta necessary, but it was good and to question it was nothing but mildly anti-American fever-swamp stuff. We’ve seen this propagandistic mindset crop up for the last week. Josh Marshall, who once criticized Yalta, now insists it’s outrageous to do so. Jacob Heilbrunn is utterly contemptuous of second-guessing Yalta.

I think the argument that the players at the time perceived Yalta as necessary is defensible (though forcibly sending all of those people home to be slaughtered is not). But I think the insistence that we must translate that sense of necessity into moral celebration is repugnant. Since when do liberals consider realism morally superior?

Here’s an example of what I’m getting at. The senior George Bush sold out the Iraqi Shia and Kurds after the first Gulf War. I am sure he and his administration thought it was necessary. That has never stopped me — or any of these now self-righteous liberals — from saying that was morally outrageous and counterproductive in the long run. Why we can’t have the same sort of discussion about Yalta is beyond me. Unless, of course, some people think consigning Eastern Europe to slavery for nearly half a century wasn’t counterproductive or morally distasteful. If you want to say we had to sign Yalta, fine. But why do we have to like it?

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