Roosevelt Myth - John T. Flynn

The Final Betrayal

On January 20, 1945, Roosevelt was sworn in as President of the United States for a fourth term. Three days later he left Norfolk on the heavy cruiser Quincy for what was to be his last act in the hapless drama of peace.

By this time Hitler's hard-pressed armies had been driven from all the territories they had seized in the east, save Czechoslovakia, Austria and part of Hungary. Practically all their hard-won aggressive prizes were lost. Cordell Hull had resigned and Edward Stettinius was Secretary of State.

Roosevelt had named former Justice James F. Byrnes as Director of Economic Stabilization in May. He took Byrnes along to Yalta as his adviser. The trip to this rendezvous throws a revealing light on the methods which characterized Roosevelt's costly improvisations in foreign affairs. He asked Byrnes to accompany him some time before Christmas. He did not mention the subject again until the night before his departure, when he repeated his insistent invitation that Byrnes go with him. Secretary Stettinius was to join them in Malta. Hopkins, who was ill in London, would also meet the party at Malta. On the journey over Roosevelt was ill. He kept to his room all the way save for lunch and dinner and a moving picture at night. He did not discuss the conference problems with Byrnes before leaving and on the way over his other advisers were not along and he avoided discussion with Byrnes. The Department of State had prepared an elaborate study of all the problems likely to arise, extensively documented. Byrnes did not learn of its existence until he arrived at Malta. It is difficult to believe that a responsible statesman, unattended by his advisers and handicapped by a grave physical disability, could go to so momentous a meeting with two such astute colleagues as Stalin and Churchill without preparation.

The conference was held at the Livadia Palace, a former summer home of the Czars in the Crimea. It opened February 4, 1945. The chief questions were (1) the adoption of the Dumbarton Oaks plan for the United Nations, (2) the conditions of the approaching German surrender, (3) the treatment of Poland and the other liberated countries.

The United Nations plan, which had been agreed to in principle by Russia long before, was no longer an issue. There was the question of voting to be settled and this was done without any difficulty according to the usual prescription, by agreeing in full to Russia's desires, and a conference was announced to be held soon at San Francisco to prepare the charter. The governments of France and China were to be invited to join in sponsoring the invitations to the world for that event.

The Polish question was "settled." The formal proposal to hand over eastern Poland—east of the Curzon line—was made by Roosevelt himself. As to western Poland, Stalin already had a government there named by him and composed of Communists representing no one but Stalin himself. Stalin wanted to be certain to retain that government. He agreed, however, that this provisional government should be "reorganized" to include "democratic leaders from Poles abroad." It was to be called the Polish Provisional Government of National Unity. He agreed to hold an election, which he said "he could do in a month." Did Roosevelt believe Stalin would hold a free election anywhere? He could hardly have been so naive. Actually the election was not held for 23 months and Poland ended with nothing but Communists in the government of a country where they did not represent 10 percent of the people, while the other elements fled Poland for their lives.

Then, to seemingly correct this wrong, they agreed upon another one. To compensate Poland for that half wrung from her by Russia it was agreed to give Poland a part of East Prussia—a totally German land. The terrible lesson learned in Alsace and Lorraine, in the Sudeten lands, in the Polish Corridor settlements made in other wars which sowed the seeds of inevitable new wars, was totally ignored.

The conference also decided upon the partition of Germany into three zones, each to be occupied provisionally by the Russian, British and American armies, and to be separately administered. A reparations commission was set up to study the amounts. Russia wanted the amount to be 20 billion dollars of which she would take half.

It was agreed that labor might be taken as a possible source of reparations. This was just a diplomatic way of authorizing the seizure of human beings to work as slaves after the war ended and is the basis of that dreadful crime perpetrated after hostilities ceased to which the President of the United States agreed. On this he must have agreed with a guilty conscience, for it was kept from Mr. Byrnes who did not learn of it until later.

On the question of the war in the Pacific, Stalin now agreed specifically that he would come in against the Japs three months after Germany's defeat, provided the United States assisted in building the necessary reserve supplies and provided the political aspects of Russia's participation had been clarified. Stalin later gave our military mission a list of what he wanted in the Far East—fuel, food, transport equipment and other supplies for 1,500,000 men, 3000 tanks, 5000 planes. Stalin outlined his plan of attack—"his main effort to be with a highly mobile force that would sweep down from the Lake Baikal area through Outer and Inner Mongolia. The purpose of this wide movement was to separate the Japanese forces in Manchuria from those in China." Of course his purpose was also to turn Manchuria into a Russian puppet state, which was precisely what Chiang Kai-shek so bitterly and properly opposed.

As the conference ended, Roosevelt remained an extra day because Stalin wanted to talk with him. He did so alone. What he wanted settled was "the political aspects of Russia's participation" in the Pacific. This he was able to do very quickly and to his complete satisfaction. In return for Russian participation in the Pacific, Roosevelt agreed that the Kuriles Islands would be handed to Russia, who would also get Sakhalin Island, internationalization of the Port of Dairen, the lease of Port Arthur as a naval base and joint operation with China of the Eastern and Southern Manchurian railroads. And Roosevelt promised to use his influence with Chiang to force him to agree. This secret agreement, like the one supporting the use of slave labor, was not made public and was concealed even from Byrnes who was Roosevelt's adviser at Yalta. He did not hear of it until after Mr. Roosevelt's death. Then he saw a reference to it in a Russian dispatch. By that time he was Secretary of State. He asked President Truman to have the White House records searched for this and any other secret outstanding I.O.U.'s.

Russia had another demand. Stalin wanted Russia to have four votes in the assembly of the United Nations against the United States' one. He wanted three Soviet states, Byelorussia, the Ukraine and Lithuania—the latter of which he had just stolen and put under a puppet government—to have votes along with Russia. Roosevelt made a feeble protest against this, but it was put over later without a protest after Stettinius had agreed to give Stalin three votes. Roosevelt, before he went to Yalta, had boasted that if Stalin tried to get more than one vote he would demand a vote for each of the 48 states. Of course he did nothing of the kind. He did suggest that to avoid criticism at home the United States be given three votes too. And Stalin agreed. When Byrnes got back to the United States he found a note from Roosevelt instructing him not to discuss this agreement even in private. Later Roosevelt decided not to ask for the three votes for the United States. Byrnes says he never discovered the reason.

When this conference ended, Roosevelt went to Egypt where he boarded the Quincy again and sailed into the Mediterranean. He was a very weary man, worn and spent with disease. He was trying now to get a little rest and quiet in this soft, sunshiny sea. But he received aboard the Quincy three kings—Farouk of Egypt, Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia. King Ibn Saud, one of the most powerful personalities in the Near East and a man of the most direct methods, had one great problem on his mind Palestine. At this visit, according to Roosevelt himself, the President assured him that "no decision would be taken with regard to the basic situation in that country (Palestine) without full consultation with both Arabs and Jews." He assured Ibn Saud that "I would take no action in my capacity as Chief of the Executive branch of the government, which might prove hostile to the Arab people." This did not become known until October, 1945, after Roosevelt's death. To seal and cement these assurances of friendship Roosevelt presented Ibn Saud with his own wheel chair, which the King had admired, and an airplane belonging to the American Navy.

Roosevelt took a leisurely trip home, to Alexandria, to Algiers, Gibraltar and then to the open sea. Sam Rosenman joined him to prepare the speech he would deliver to Congress on his return, for he considered this the great crowning incident of policy for binding up the wounds of the war-torn world. On the way home General Watson, his military secretary, died suddenly of heart disease.

Roosevelt reached Washington the end of February. On March 1 he appeared before a joint session of Congress. He told the Congress that "more than ever before the major allies are closely united," that "the ideal of lasting peace will become a reality." There was no hint that the surrender which was now formally announced with respect to eastern Poland was in fact a major defeat. The disappearance of the Baltic states and practically all the Balkans behind Stalin's iron curtain was not announced in any other terms than as a great forward step in the liberation of Europe. As for western Poland, there were heavy overtones of guilt and frustration unintentionally evident. After all, there was no such nation as Poland before the First World War, said the President; after all most of the inhabitants of eastern Poland were not really Poles; after all the Poles were getting a big chunk of East Prussia as compensation; after all "the political and economic policy of the liberated areas will be the joint responsibility of all three governments." He told Congress:

"Our objective was to create a strong, independent and prosperous nation (in Poland). That's the thing always to remember, those words, agreed to by Russia, by Britain and by me, the objective of making Poland a strong, independent and prosperous nation with a government ultimately to be selected by the Polish people themselves."

He ended by assuring Congress that the Crimean conference:

"Marked the end of the system of unilateral action and exclusive alliances and spheres of influence and balances of power and all the other expedients that have been tried for centuries and have always failed."

In two months Roosevelt was dead. Truman became President. Shortly after, in May, the German army surrendered. The fighting war in the West was over.

It is worth observing how statesmen can control their emotions to suit their policies. Poland had been thrown to the wolves in the new era of appeasement. When the Polish Premier Mikolajczyk, alarmed at the rumors rife about the undisclosed agreements at Teheran, asked Churchill pointedly what guarantee there was that what remained of Poland would be respected, Churchill grew angry. He told Mikolajczyk he was crazy. And he declared bluntly that he was not going to wreck the peace of Europe because of a quarrel between Poles.

Of course it was not a quarrel between Poles, but between Poles and the tyrant who had succeeded Hitler in the role of aggressor. It was only a few years before that Churchill had heaped his scorn upon Neville Chamberlain who appeased Hitler at Munich. In his best House of Commons manner he intoned the requiem of Czechoslovakia. "All is over," he said. "Silent, mournful, broken Czechoslovakia recedes into the darkness, She has suffered in every respect by her association with the Western democracies." Chamberlain appeased Hitler and averted war. Churchill got for England both a war and appeasement.

It must be said in fairness that Churchill's problem was profoundly complicated in the end. He at least was thinking in terms of the interests of the country he had sworn to represent. Roosevelt seemed quite indifferent to the position in which his country would stand at the end of the war, fixing his gaze instead upon a goal which, however noble in purpose, was, in the circumstances, utterly futile because of the man he was dealing with. Also, in Churchill's case, he was confronted with the double difficulty of protecting his own country at the same time from the wiles of Stalin and the gullibility of Roosevelt.

While the next meeting—the Potsdam conference—was not held until after Roosevelt's death and Truman had become President, it is necessary, to complete this story of our foreign affairs, to include a brief account of it.

The end of the war against Germany came in May. On July 3, James F. Byrnes was named Secretary of State. And on July 15 he and President Truman, with Stalin and Churchill, began the Potsdam conference at Berlin.

Potsdam became a term of odium among the critics of the allied post-war agreements. At Potsdam the agreement reached covered most of the subjects that had been included in the earlier conferences. The humiliating failure of our whole post-war policy has been described as the fruit of Potsdam. Writing of this, William Henry Chamberlain sums up the verdict as follows:

"Were the terms of the Potsdam agreement to be carried over any long term of years, they would lead to one of the greatest crimes or greatest follies in human history. Should they be rigorously enforced without giving Germany relief, a gigantic Buchanwald or Belsen would be created in the heart of Europe. Millions, perhaps tens of millions, of Germans would perish of malnutrition and associated diseases. It would literally be more human to select a quarter or a third of the German population and extinguish their lives quickly by means of firing squads or gas chamber."

He quotes Sir William Beveridge as saying it was done "in a black moment of anger and confusion." And he adds that if common humanity should rebel at the spectacle our alternative would be to pour in hundreds of millions of dollars a year to escape the consequences of our own vengeance.

All this is true. But it is, I think, a complete mistake to lay these crimes at the door of the men who went to Potsdam for us. All the major decisions which make up the incredible record of surrender, blunder and savagery had already been made long before President Truman and Secretary Byrnes went to Potsdam. What Truman and Byrnes could have done at Potsdam other than they did is difficult to discover. The war was over. Europe lay in ruins. Roosevelt had conceded everything to Stalin. The only things he got on his own demand were the United Nations, which he got as Stalin wished it, and the Morgenthau plan. It would be well for us if we could lay the latter, too, at the door of Stalin, with whose ruthless philosophy it is as perfectly in accord as it is repugnant to ours.

It is the simple truth to say that Stalin had out-generaled Roosevelt at every point. Or perhaps it would be nearer the truth to say that Roosevelt had out-generaled himself. Stalin had merely to sit tight, to make known his wishes and Roosevelt laid them in his lap with eager compliance in the notion that he could thus soften Stalin. It is all the more incredible when we remember that the things he was laying in Stalin's lap were the existence of little nations and the rights of little peoples we had sworn to defend. And when Truman and Byrnes went to Potsdam what confronted them was an appalling mess.

On the other hand, they must bear their share of responsibility for the power that was put into Roosevelt's hands. But here again it is but just to say that Messrs. Truman and Byrnes knew little of what had happened at the preceding conferences. Roosevelt not only made agreements secret from the people but secret from his closest advisers in the government. He made agreements with Stalin hostile to the objectives of Churchill and kept secret from Churchill. He made secret agreements with Chiang Kai-shek, secret from both Churchill and Stalin, and secret agreements in derogation of Chiang Kai-shek's interests without his knowledge. And he made many secret agreements which no one in our State Department knew about until his death and then learned about them the hard way, by having them flung in their faces at embarrassing moments by Molotov.

The actual agreements at Potsdam may be summed up as follows: A blueprint for the control of Germany was made, based on the Morgenthau plan, which had already been agreed to, but relieved in some small degree of its original horrible severity. A council of foreign ministers was formed, including France, China, Russia, Britain and the United States, to draw up peace treaties. And the carrying out of all the agreements was to be supervised by the Council of Foreign Ministers.

The net result of all these various conferences and agreements was that our government put into Stalin's hands the means of seizing a great slab of the continent of Europe, then stood aside while he took it and finally acquiesced in his conquests. We gave him the planes, tanks, motor transport, guns, oil and other supplies to the extent of over 11 billion dollars without which he would have been helpless. We withheld our attack on Fortress Europe against the advice of all our military leaders until the prize was almost in Stalin's grasp. Then in a series of conferences with him we yielded it all in return for his promise to come into the United Nations on terms which enabled him to wreck that as an instrument of settling any serious international dispute.

It will not do to say that all we yielded was eastern Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and parts of Rumania; that as to Yugoslavia, Rumania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, Stalin took these over by violating the agreement he made with us to hold free elections. Did Roosevelt really think Stalin would hold free elections when he agreed to let the Russian dictator conduct the elections. Stalin who had been exhibiting for years his idea of "free elections" in Russia.

At the end of all this, Russia held in her hands a vast belt of land running from the Baltic sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south, comprising eleven nations with a population of 100 million people. These she held, not as parts of the Soviet Union, but as puppet states, presided over by Red Quislings of Stalin's own selection who represented him and not the people they governed, any more than Quisling represented the people of Norway.