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Saturday, December 10. 2011
In World War II, the United States did not have clear postwar goals for Eastern Europe. The brunt of this meant Eastern Europe suffered as Soviet satellites for almost half a century. The illusion of President Roosevelt about Stalin bears substantial responsibility.
The US held a moral stance toward eliminating Germany’s Nazi leadership and German rule over Europe. But, aside from desires, the US placed its eggs in the basket of a better postwar relationship with Stalin, rather than the freedom of Eastern Europe.
During the war, President Roosevelt had to deal with Churchill, who had a closer and clearer appreciation of the impact in Central and Eastern Europe of potential Soviet domination. But Roosevelt largely overrode Churchill. Roosevelt chose to deal with the paranoia of Stalin that (like Stalin had in 1939) the US and England would strike a deal with Germany short of its utter defeat. To the very end of his life, Roosevelt vainly believed, with vanity, that accommodating Stalin would yield trust and improved post-war relations. The fate of other peoples was secondary.
An illustration of Roosevelt’s haphazard policy making occurred at the Casablanca Conference in January 1943.
Amidst little in the way of good news on the European fronts, President Roosevelt announced that the Allied goal was Unconditional Surrender by Germany (and Japan, too). Churchill, the weakened ally, chimed in. Roosevelt predicted that Unconditional Surrender would be “just the thing for the Russians.” Stalin, however, didn’t chime in (at least until Yalta in February 1945). Stalin, knowing the deep fear that Germans had of Russia, tried to put Germans’ minds at ease that Russian forces and war aims wouldn’t be punitive. Germans weren’t buying it. The military aides at Casablanca were not consulted nor did they discuss Unconditional Surrender. Its announcement was a political act, and one of bravado in dire times, but the consequences were hardly considered.
Historian Anne Armstrong’s 1961 book, “Unconditional Surrender: The Impact of the Casablanca Policy upon World War II”, speculatively argues that the Unconditional Surrender policy, held fast by Roosevelt, prolonged the war. After the German debacle at Stalingrad in 1943, or after Normandy in 1944, or after Germany’s last gasp Ardennes Offensive in 1944-5, those in Germany who saw defeat (mostly among the military) may have overthrown Hitler and negotiated an end to the war. Armstrong cites German military figures that Unconditional Surrender increased desperate German resistance to the Allies, and that some on the fence might have come over to plans to negotiate a surrender. Hundreds of thousands of lives, perhaps millions, might have been spared. Roosevelt’s rather casual declaration of Unconditional Surrender at Casablanca is a part of Roosevelt’s lack of forethought during the war.
(Regardless, the German plotters were not in key positions of control, the Gestapo and Hitler loyalists kept a tight rein, and the plotters wanted to retain control of Eastern Europe and continue fighting the Russians. This was not in line with Roosevelt’s post-war aspirations for better relations with Stalin. Nor was it in line with the wartime exigency to retain a united front. Further, Roosevelt did not have good reason to have confidence that the plotters could succeed. Their few failed attempts earlier than the July 20, 1944 failed bomb attempt on Hitler’s life were not encouraging. Lastly, Armstrong presents no evidence that if the July 20 plot had succeeded that the Unconditional Surrender policy would have blocked negotiations. It didn’t stop the acceptance of the Emperor remaining on his throne in Japan. Although Truman was in office by that time, he followed Roosevelt’s policies.)
Underlying Roosevelt’s determination was his belief that, just as he was determined to remake the US during the ‘30s, Europe and especially Germany required remaking. Unlike after WWI, there were to be no arguments by Germans that they were stabbed in the back, nor were remnants of Nazi or aggressive tendencies to be allowed in Germany.
An earlier negotiated surrender in the West would still have left either a belligerent Germany in control of Eastern Europe or more likely, and as it turned out, Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. From the start, Stalin had very clear goals and pursued them relentlessly. There still would have been a Cold War. Indeed, Roosevelt’s illusion made the US position in it weaker and may have made it worse, as weak US resolve granted Stalin an easier path to his goal of dominating Eastern Europe.
So, aside from the speculative argument over Unconditional Surrender, an aside to the main thrust of the war, there is a wider and more real issue that should be addressed. If Roosevelt had less of an idealistic or tolerant view of Stalin, Soviet advances in Eastern Europe may have been lessened. The Cold War would have less appeared, especially in its earlier years, to be going in the Soviet Union and communism’s direction. In other words, a different Washington, D.C., as well as a different Germany, would have been necessary. However, that wasn’t the leadership nor the world of World War II. Alas.
The Unconditional Surrender policy may have prolonged the war, but probably not in reality. Illusions about postwar cooperation with Stalin certainly came more into play to prolong the war, and increased the dangers and intensity of the postwar Cold War. The lack of clear and resolute postwar US goals for democracy in Eastern Europe and the failure to exert the forces we had in the last months of the war, not advancing to Prague and Berlin, doomed millions to death and tens of millions to 45-years of Soviet oppression.
Fast forward: A President with illusions costs lives, undercuts allies, and imperils freedom.
Tracked: Dec 10, 13:43
Tracked: Dec 11, 06:56
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The presence of communist sympathizers in the State Dept and perhaps even in FDR's personal staff may have influenced his strong unconditional surrender policy. For instance the agent Chamber's outed had been in charge of setting up the Yalta conference.
It's entirely possible that a negotiated end to the war, with a still-strong Germany dominating Eastern Europe would have led to yet another war, featuring all the newest nuclear weapons in the decade or so following the war. Before we had come the awful realizations embedded in the MAD doctrine, I can envision a race to use nukes between a weakened Germany in possession of advanced weaponry and a vengeful USSR remembering Staligrad.
Instead, we all snarled at each other for the better part of 50 years, got into a couple of intense but limited-in-scope squabbles with the Russians, and outlasted their designed-to-fail system.
I submit that we may have gotten the best of all possible bad outcomes...
"All is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds."
Next week: How the Norman Conquest improved Saxon table manners.
off topic but thought the dylan fans would enjoy this
"Historian Anne Armstrong’s 1961 book, “Unconditional Surrender: The Impact of the Casablanca Policy upon World War II”, speculatively argues that the Unconditional Surrender policy, held fast by Roosevelt, prolonged the war."
I wonder what conditions the appeasers of 'conditional surrender' would have accept? Which compromise with Nazis would they have accepted? "Yes, you can keep France, Poland, and Czechoslovakia, but you must return the Italian Jews?" At least if FDR had accepted 'conditional surrender' then Democrats could have been accurately tarred with the brush of nazi sympathizer for the next century.
So which is right -- this article hitting FDR with both boots, or an earlier link to myths of World War II, in which the author claimed Churchill wanted to deal with Stalin, but managed in his memoirs to put the blame elsewhere, since FDR was dead?
And, the Soviet army occupied Poland. No amount of diplomatic jawing would have moved the government from London to Warsaw. The "losing" of Central Europe and Eastern Europe is an empty argument.
Sgt. Bob is right. Roosevelt's Eastern European goals or fantasies were irrelevant. Stalin was determined to capture Eastern Europe and Germany. Also irrelevant is any consideration of a negotiated settlement. That might have ended the war in the west, but Stalin was still going to conquer Germany.
The conquests would have happened even if the US never entered the war against Germany. Only, in that case, the Soviet conquests would have extended all the way to the Atlantic, and likely the UK as well.
JimGL in #1 is talking about Alger Hiss, the young golden-boy at FDR's ear and elbow during dealings with USSR, he not only arranged the conferences but also designed and was USA's first ambassador to the United Nations. Photogenically chiseled and elegantly suave, he continued to be a national-media darling even after the doughy slack-jawed slob Whitaker Chambers, a fellow Communist but recanted, had outed him as being, as well as having been since before his presidential-staff assignment, a paid agent of Josef Stalin.
Re bob sykes @ #7, on hears this often, but it sure doesn't stand up to the numbers and stats. For starters, the million Detroit deuce-and-a-halfs that mobilized Red Army's counteroffensive were the only thing that allowed the numbers of T-34s that even so barely tipped the winner-take-all at Kursk.
And that's just for starters. The air offensive too could've gone to the Luftwaffe defenders, and very nearly did anyway, had not the 8th AAF entered alongside RAF (which itself continued to exist because Britain & USA combined had won the naval Battle of the Atlantic and against great early losses still got enough-to-survive of the convoys through against the U-Boats) and so to split the defense and confront it with 24-hour ops.
I've not studied the numbers, but have read many learned opinions of those who have, and it seems that realistic (as opposed to political-cum-propagandized) alt. history cannot find the conditions of victory for a Red Army that very nearly lost anyway, had not the Anglo-American sea and air war both destroyed enormous German industrial output as well as pulled a very large fraction of German combat power in men and material away from the eastern front.