Seventy one years ago, FDR bequeathed to presidency-hungry Republicans a campaign issue, courtesy of the Yalta conference. The conservative argument about this wartime meeting ranged from FDR being sick and taken advantage of by a robust, manipulative Stalin; or that FDR’s secession of Eastern Europe to the Soviet dictator was further proof of the president’s pro-communist sympathies.
Liberals in the bourgeoning Cold War countered that there was little the Americans could do about Eastern Europe short of a war with the largest land army on earth. They also stated that it was the Russians who did not live up to their agreement to hold democratic elections.
A new book by conservative author M. Stanton Evans and former counterintelligence expert Herbert Romerstein adopts the “Roosevelt was sick” argument while at the same time highlighting the pro-communist sympathies of those New Deal officials hovering around him. In their view, it was not only Stalin that took advantage of Roosevelt’s declining mental capacities, but Americans.
First there is Treasury Official Henry Morgenthau, flanked by Soviet spy Harry Dexter White, who was instrumental in handing over anticommunist East Europeans to Stalin, whereupon they were promptly shot.
Then worst of all was Soviet spy Alger Hiss. Conservatives would make hay of photographs of Hiss sitting behind FDR at Yalta as proof of his influence. New Deal officials would counter by stating that Hiss had little or no influence on policy. But Rommerstein and Evans show otherwise. Combing the papers of then Secretary of State Henry Stimson, they find that the Hiss was a major policy player, who spoke with foreign ministers on post-war German policy, and pushed forward a China policy that sought to give equal footing to Mao Tse Tung.
Arthur Schlesinger Jr., writing during the early Cold War when FDR was pillored for his Yalta performance, conceded that FDR was perhaps naive about Stalin, but argued that there were more pressing issues that he was focusing on, namely the defeat of Nazi Germany. But naivete only goes so far. Roosevelt, despite having officials tell him that Hiss was a Soviet spy, nevertheless urged Stettinius to bring Hiss to the conference. A simliar request would be made of Stettinius, but this time from Hiss’ Soviet handlers, to bring Hiss to the first UN meeting in 1945.
Despite the desperate defenses of liberals then but not so much now, Yalta has become a synonym for naivete at best, appeasement at worst. Thanks to Evans and Romerstein we now know that the American side didn’t stand a chance thanks to the influential presence of Americans spying for the Soviet Union.