Seventy years ago, during the week of February 4-11, 1945, the most momentous conference of the Second World War was held at Yalta in the Crimea between Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. Their decisions have affected much of the world ever since.
The Scars of the Second World War
The Second World War left a permanent scar on mankind. The battle lines of war engulfed all of Europe, much of Asia, parts of Africa, and touched the shores of North America. Historians estimate that as many as 50 million people may have died in this devastating firestorm.
This war also marked a descent into the worst nightmare of barbarism in human history. The Nazis slaughtered millions whom they classified as “racial vermin.” Those innocent human beings were to be eradicated from the face of the earth in a deluded pursuit of engineering a “master race.” Never had humanity witnessed such a magnitude of madness.
By the beginning of 1945 it became increasingly clear that both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan would be defeated and the agony of war would finally end. The weary world longed for peace, security, and freedom. The future, everyone understood, was in the hands of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin, the political leaders of the victorious United States, Great Britain, and Soviet Union.
During February 4–11, 1945, the “Big Three” met at Yalta in the Crimea, along the coast of the Soviet Black Sea, to map out the postwar world.
Churchill’s Weakness and Roosevelt’s New Deal Dreams
Churchill was in the weakest position of the three. He had led the British people through more than four years of war, standing alone for a year against the Nazi war machine after the fall of France in June 1940 until the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 brought Stalin into the war on Britain’s side.
By 1945, Britain was financially and militarily exhausted. Thus FDR and Stalin were to determine mankind’s destiny.
Roosevelt, though in poor health, had just been elected for an unprecedented fourth term as president of the United States. His New Deal policies, beginning after his election in 1933, brought about a colossal expansion in Federal power, spending, regulation, and control over virtually every facet of American life.
Despite a setback in 1935, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared most of his economic planning schemes unconstitutional, FDR continued on the path of Big Government through a vast array of interventionist and welfare-state policies. He had transformed the traditional American Republic almost beyond recognition.
When war came, first in Asia between Japan and China in July 1937, and then in Europe following the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, FDR took on a new mantle of authority: New Deal savior of the world.
Violating numerous neutrality acts that the Congress had passed and which he had signed, Roosevelt bent the Constitution to edge America toward war long before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
The Brutal World of Joseph Stalin
Stalin felt stronger then ever. In the eyes of Western leftists the Soviet Union offered the hope of a bright socialist tomorrow, where toiling workers ruled in place of capitalist profit mongers, and want and worry vanished through the miracle of government central planning.
In the early 1930s FDR said that he admired the fact that the Soviet people “all seem really to want to do what is good for their society instead of wanting to do for themselves.” In 1945, when he came back from the Yalta Conference, the President told members of his cabinet that he found in Stalin’s nature “the way in which a Christian gentleman should behave.”
This “Christian gentleman” was in fact Hitler’s competitor in brutality and mass murder in the twentieth century. A bank robber on behalf of the Russian socialist movement before the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, Stalin proved a master of political intrigue. After Lenin’s death in 1924 he succeeded in out-maneuvering and finally destroying all of his rivals and rose to absolute power in the Soviet Communist Party and government.
He let nothing stand in his way. Ordering comprehensive central planning and total collectivization of the land in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Stalin quashed all peasant resistance to the loss of their private farms through forced famines, torture, terror, and exile to the vast wastelands of Siberia and Soviet Central Asia. Between nine and twelve million people perished in the land collectivization process.
In the mid-1930s he turned his ruthless power against imaginary “enemies of the people.” Mass purges and show trials sent millions of new victims to their deaths, after “confessions” had been beaten out of them. Millions more were sent to the concentration camps of the GULAG to work and die as expendable slaves for “building socialism.”
Soviet archives suggest that as many as 68 million innocent men, women and children were killed by the Soviet regime in the name of building the collectivist utopia between 1917 and 1986.
Stalin and Hitler’s Partnership for Power in Europe
After Hitler came to power in 1933, the Nazi and Soviet regimes used their propaganda machines to condemn each other. But in fact, the two dictators learned from and secretly admired each other.
For Stalin, Hitler was viewed as a useful tool to start a Second World War, which Stalin wanted to bring about to trigger “inevitable” revolutions that would bring communism to power throughout Europe.
That’s why Stalin initiated the diplomacy with Germany that led to the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact of August 1939 that freed Hitler from the fear of a two-front war. The infamous pact contained a secret protocol that divided Poland between the villains in the event of war, and handed the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and parts of Finland and Romania over to Stalin’s “tender care.”
In the autumn of 1940, after France was defeated and England stood alone, Hitler invited Stalin to join the Axis powers (Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and Imperial Japan) to divide up the world. Stalin finally agreed, but his territorial demands for the partnership were more than Hitler was willing to share. So, instead, Hitler made his fatal mistake and decided to invade the Soviet Union in June 1941 to destroy his totalitarian rival.
Stalin and the Spoils of Victory
Now, in February 1945, Stalin sat down with FDR at Yalta to gain the spoils of victory that he had dreamt about since his deal with Hitler in 1939. The job was made much easier for Stalin since, as the Soviet archives have now revealed, FDR’s government was riddled with Soviet agents and fellow travelers who passed along all of Roosevelt’s plans. In addition, the villa where FDR and the American delegation were staying at Yalta was completely bugged by the Soviet secret police.
The cornerstone of Stalin’s agenda was the destruction of Germany as a future political and military adversary, as a way for spreading communism to the rest of Europe. Germany was territorially dismembered with almost one-third of its eastern lands being annexed by Poland and the Soviet Union. (Stalin also kept almost all of the Polish territory he had gained in 1939 from his deal with Hitler.)
What remained of Germany was divided into Soviet, American, British and French zones of occupation, with the Soviet zone reaching far into the center of Europe. Austria, too, was divided into similar occupation zones. In both cases, the capital cities of Berlin and Vienna were isolated islands in Soviet-controlled territory, leaving the American, British, and French zones in these cities at the mercy of surrounding Soviet forces.
At the end of the war Stalin immediately stripped the Soviet zone in Germany of all undestroyed industrial equipment, and began the process of establishing a puppet communist regime in what later became East Germany.
Ever the master manipulator, Stalin promised Roosevelt and Churchill free and open elections in the Eastern European countries “liberated” by the Soviet Army. But Stalin had other plans. Two months after the Yalta Conference, he told a Yugoslavian communist delegation visiting Moscow that, “This war is not as in the past; whoever occupies a territory also imposes on it his own social system. Everyone imposes his own system as far as his army can reach.”
Indeed, over the next three years Stalin’s secret police assisted the Moscow-controlled communist parties in Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, and Czechoslovakia to set up totalitarian “people’s democracies” through the usual means: repression, imprisonment and murder.
While the war against Hitler raged in Europe, the United States and Britain were also pushing back the Japanese in Southeast Asia and across the Pacific at great loss of life. Stalin, on the other hand, remained at peace with Japan, having signed a non-aggression pact with Tokyo in April 1941.
The Soviet archives demonstrate that Stalin had desired a war between the United States and Japan. He believed that the chaos resulting from such a conflict would ripen the conditions for communist revolutions in Asia.
Soviet Booty in East Asia
At Yalta, Stalin offered to enter the war against the Japanese once Germany was defeated – but only at a price. He demanded the Soviet annexation of the Japanese-controlled southern half of Sakhalin Island (with its oil fields) and the strategic Kurile Islands, north of the Japanese home islands.
He also insisted that the Japanese military base at Port Arthur at the southern tip of Manchuria be transferred to Soviet control. (Japan had acquired it in 1905 after the Russian defeat in the Russo-Japanese war.)
Finally, Stalin claimed Soviet jurisdiction over several of the major railway lines running through Manchuria. He insisted on all this booty in Manchuria without the non-communist Chinese government’s prior knowledge or approval.
The Big Three also agreed to divide Korea (which had been under Japanese control for half a century) along the 38th parallel into Soviet and American zones of occupation. When the war ended, Stalin started establishing a communist regime in North Korea that continues to rule in brutal totalitarian fashion today.
The Soviet archives confirm that Stalin also approved and helped plan North Korea’s attack on South Korea in June 1950, which dragged the United States into a three-year war at the cost of 50,000 American lives.
Soviet forces attacked the Japanese in Manchuria immediately after America dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in August 1945. At virtually no cost, Stalin gained control over a vast area of northeast Asia. Shortly after the Soviet Army overran Manchuria, Stalin had the industrial facilities of this part of China stripped and shipped to Siberia.
After the Japanese surrender in September 1945, Stalin allowed Mao Zedong’s communist forces to enter Manchuria. The Soviet Army turned over vast quantities of captured Japanese military equipment to the Chinese communists, which helped to assure Mao’s eventual triumph on the Chinese mainland in 1949 after a bloody four-year civil war.
When Roosevelt returned from the Yalta Conference, he addressed a joint session of Congress and assured the American people: “I come from the Crimean Conference, my fellow Americans, with a firm belief that we have made a good start on the road to a world of peace.”
For far too long, he also stated, Americans had been afraid of the word “planning.” FDR insisted that “many benefits to the human race have been accomplished as a result of adequate, intelligent [government] planning.” He was confident that the Yalta Conference had laid the “groundwork of a plan” for a new world order.
FDR: The Global Planner
That “plan” was for the creation of the United Nations. For the establishment of the UN, Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave Joseph Stalin virtually everything the tyrant wanted. As FDR explained it to a former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1943, “I think that if I give him [Stalin] everything I possibly can and ask nothing from him in return, noblesse oblige – he won’t try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of democracy and peace.”
(FDR also liked dealing with the Soviet dictator for another reason. As Roosevelt told one of his assistants, “What helps a lot is that Stalin is the only man I have to convince. Joe doesn’t worry about a Congress or a Parliament. He is the whole works.”)
Stalin on the other hand, in his suspicious conspiratorial mind, only took FDR’s giveaways as a ploy to pull one over and take advantage of him on the chessboard of postwar global politics. Or as Stalin explained it to a delegation of Yugoslavian communists visiting Moscow during the war, “Churchill is the kind who, if you don’t watch him, will slip a kopeck out of your pocket. Yes, a kopeck out of our pocket . . . And Roosevelt? Roosevelt is not like that. He dips in his hand for only bigger coins.”
(Stalin’s paranoid suspiciousness ran deep. If we are to believe the later Soviet dictator, Nikita Khrushchev, Stalin once said to him, “I trust no one, not even myself.”)
Roosevelt’s dream of the United Nations, controlled by the United States and the Soviet Union, along with Great Britain, France and China, was to become the policeman of the world.
FDR envisioned America’s participation in a project of global social engineering, which would set the world right through economic sanctions and military force. What being a global policeman might cost in American lives and material fortune never seemed to enter Roosevelt’s mind.
Nor did he appear to have second thoughts that giving the world a New Deal might result in further losses of liberty at home. No, FDR did not worry about these “minor” matters. After all he had Stalin, that “Christian gentleman,” as his imagined partner for managing the world.
The Legacy of the Yalta Conference
Seventy years have now passed since the fateful meeting at Yalta. FDR danced with the devil, and the world suffered the consequences. Stalin, who helped Hitler start the Second World War, reaped his reward at the end of it: Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, at the cost of terror and tyranny for all the people who were forced to live in the “socialist paradise” for nearly half a century after 1945, and who are still recovering from their decades as “captive nations” behind the Iron Curtain.
The people of North Korea, also swept up in the communist net, still live under the legacy of Stalin’s victory. The triumph of communism in China was also helped along, with hundreds of millions placed under the yoke of Mao’s murderous regime, which is estimated to have killed as many as 80 million to 100 million innocent people in the name of building the bright Chinese version of the socialist future between 1949 and 1976 when Mao died. That Chinese communist government still rules the lives of over one billion people.
Stalin died in March 1953. Only almost four decades later, in December 1991, did the Soviet Empire finally disappear from the map of the world. Yet the legacy of the Yalta Conference still haunts us. Many of the conflicts around the globe today are outgrowths of the political, economic, and moral destruction that Soviet communism left in its wake.
It also fostered a belief that governments can plan the peace and happiness of mankind, if only the political leaders of those governments have the power to direct our lives.
Our task in the remainder of the twenty-first century is to finally free ourselves from this legacy.