The Yalta Myth

In the spring of 2005, speaking in Riga, President George W. Bush said that Yalta ranked with the Munich agreement of 1938 and the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 as a betrayal of freedom and of the rights of Eastern Europe. This was an outrageous misstatement. More than sixty years after the fact, it is time to drive a silver stake through the heart of the Yalta Myth.

With the start of the Cold War and the accompanying Red Scare in the United States, in 1946 and 1947, British imperialists, who had gone out of office with Winston Churchill in 1945, claimed that Roosevelt had been duped by Stalin into approving a Soviet takeover of Eastern Europe at Tehran in November 1943, and at Yalta in February, 1945. Mr. Churchill himself was more circumspect, wanly lamenting that these matters unfolded in a vortex that combined with a decline in Roosevelt's health that implicitly made him vulnerable to Stalin's blandishments, and Truman's steep learning curve in required knowledge of Soviet relations--which he needed to overcome to join Churchill in an adequately robust resistance to Stalin's ambitions. (If Churchill had gone to Roosevelt's funeral on April 15, 1945, and he got to the airport before he decided against it, he could have concerted plans with Truman at once. They did not meet for another three months.)

Some of Churchill's entourage were a good deal less restrained. Arthur Bryant, the initial editor of the war diaries of the chief of the imperial General Staff, Lord Alanbrooke, presented Roosevelt as a witless dupe of Stalin, even confecting this unsubstantiated imputation to Roosevelt: "Of one thing I am certain; Stalin is not an imperialist."1 There is not a scrap of evidence that Roosevelt ever said anything of the kind. Bryant--who at the start of the war produced, and then tried to suppress, a volume about Hitler called Unfinished Victory, in which he praised the Führer's "Cromwellian virtues"--is not a natural source for such criticism.

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April 20, 2014