By Cynthia Chung
“Madman, thou errest. I say, there is no darkness but ignorance”
– William Shakespeare (Twelfth Night)
There is a very real attempt to rewrite history as we speak. A history that is at the root of what organises our world today, for it is understood that who controls the past, will have control over our present and our future.
This attempt to rewrite history is of the most paramount significance because it is what is used today to shape who we regard as a “friend” and who we regard as a “foe.” Thus who controls the “narrative” of history, will also control who we see ourselves “aligned” with.
There is a consequence to this which can only lead to further disunity, to further conflict, to further war. It can only be remedied when the past is finally acknowledged.
There is still time to change this dreadful course.
A Meeting of Minds
The Tehran conference (Nov 28 – Dec 1, 1943) was the first time that Roosevelt and Stalin met in person. It was a historic meeting of the two most important leaders of the Allies that would shape the outcome of WWII.
Roosevelt had been trying to set up a meeting for more than a year, the meeting was of utmost importance because it would allow the two leaders to begin a basis for a solid “trust” to be formed, essential to not only winning the war but for maintaining a stable peace afterwards.
Over four years into WII had passed, and the level of distrust, fear and hatred for the Soviets was still prevalent in the political and military circles within the United States.
This was especially the case within the State Department career officers who were against FDR’s recognition of the Soviet Union in 1933, and thus antagonism to him and his policies were pervasive (1). When Harry Hopkins, FDR’s closest advisor on foreign policy during WWII, was sent to Europe to check in on the foreign service, he had found many U.S. embassies and legations still displaying the portrait of Herbert Hoover on their walls instead of FDR.
George Keenan, best known as the author of the Cold War strategy of “containment,” was among many of similar fibre, who opposed FDR’s recognition of the Soviet Union, stating: “We should have no relationship at all with them…Never- neither then nor at any later date- did I consider the Soviet Union a fit ally or associate, actual or potential, for this country.”
The Foreign Services’ anti-Soviet attitude ran so deep that most were against aid to Russia even after Hitler had invaded, despite the Soviets losing more lives against the Nazis in the first few months than all of Europe combined.
Churchill himself made it no secret that he wanted to make sure Germany would emerge from the war strong enough to counterbalance Russia in Europe (strong… but as he sought to soothingly explain not dangerous).
However, Roosevelt would be the first to recognize that the ever growing barbarism of Hitler was much more dangerous than these foreign intelligence circles were estimating, and that Russia was an imperative ally, in fact the only ally, that could ensure its defeat.
The Tehran conference was a great success in collaborative strategy to win the war, but more importantly, it was a great diplomatic success that would begin one of the most important alliances to have ever occurred in modern history.
The Truth Behind the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
In 1936, Stalin had predicted how German aggression would break out upon the world:
“History shows that when any state intends to make war against another state…it begins to seek frontiers across which it can reach the frontiers of the state it wants to attack…I do not know precisely what frontiers Germany may adapt to her aims, but I think she will find people willing to ‘lend’ her a frontier.”
These statements were made before the Munich Agreement which was just that, a “lending of a frontier.”
On March 18th 1939 at Stalin’s direction Litvinov, Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs, proposed that France, Britain, Poland, Russia, Romania and Turkey join together at a conference to draw up a treaty to stop Hitler. Chamberlain was strongly against the idea, writing to a friend: “I must confess to the most profound distrust of Russia. I have no belief whatever in her ability to maintain an effective offensive, even if she wanted to. And I distrust her motives.” (2)
On April 14th 1939, Lord Halifax, British Foreign Minister said that Britain would not extend an alliance to Russia in case Germany were to attack. Russia was clearly being told to go at it alone.
On April 16th 1939, Stalin had Litvinov propose to Sir William Seeds the British ambassador, that Russia, France and Britain make a pact that would bind their three countries to declare war on Germany if they or any nation between the Baltic and the Mediterranean were attacked.
Great Britain and France refused.
The Munich Betrayal had already been signed Sept 30th 1938, where Britain had “allowed” Hitler’s annexation of the German speaking territory of Czechoslovakia, as if it were a British colony that it could do with as it wished.
In addition, the Bank of England and the Bank of International Settlements, through BoE Governor Montague Norman, allowed for the direct transfer of 5.6 million pounds worth of gold to Hitler that was owned by the Bank of Czechoslovakia.
And lastly, that Prescott Bush on behalf of Union Banking was caught funding Hitler before and during WWII and on Oct 20th, 1942 had its bank assets seized under the “U.S. Trading with the Enemy Act.”
Despite all of this, it is the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that has been selected by “historians” to go down in history as a deep stain on the moral character and true “face” of the Soviet Union. Confirmation that the Russians should never be trusted, for they would side with whoever wielded the greatest power, no matter the ideologies held.
This could not be further from the truth, and is in fact a gross disregard of the responsibility that Great Britain and France held in creating such a desperate situation for the Soviet Union. They had left her destitute because they wanted to see her destroyed.
Stalin was under no illusion. He knew that it was an impossibility for the USSR to coexist with a Nazi Germany, specifically because the existence of the Slavic people was considered unacceptable to the latter. Hitler, who described this belief in detail in his Mein Kampf, made no secret that he thought the Slavic people an inferior race and that after his conquest he planned to turn Russia and Poland into slave nations. Hitler would boast “The conflict [in the east] will be different from the conflict in the west.” The people of the west were to be subdued, the people of the east were to be annihilated.
Poland’s foreign minister Josef Beck who controlled foreign policy was strongly pro-German, and was adamant that Germany would never invade Poland. Some say Beck was a Nazi agent. It is curious that his son Anthony would in fact find after his father’s death, among his possessions an entire album filled with photos of Beck posing with Nazi generals and various officials of the Nazi government elite. (3)
Poland’s refusal to strategise a defense put the Soviet Union in an understandably difficult situation, since Poland shared a border with them. If Poland were to be invaded it would be used as a launching pad to attack the USSR, which had happened numerous times in the recent past, including during WWI.
Despite the fact that Poland would have absolutely no ability to defend itself in the case of a German invasion, Lord Halifax used as his excuse for putting off serious negotiations with the USSR that it was due to Josef Beck’s refusal to allow Russian soldiers to enter Poland, even if it were to drive back a Nazi army…who wanted to exterminate the Polish race as Hitler explicitly stated repeatedly.
Lord Halifax is on record after a meeting with Hitler having said of the führer “By destroying communism in his [Hitler’s] country, he had barred its road to Western Europe…Germany therefore could rightly be regarded as a bulwark of the West against communism.” (4)
Nine days after the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was signed on Sept 1, 1939 the Wehrmacht invaded Poland. After 18 days of fighting not a single Polish division was left. On Sept 17th, the Red Army entered eastern Poland and Poland ceased to exist.
This situation could have been avoided. Poland did not have to suffer the fate it did during WWII, which had the only concentration camp outside of Germany, near their shared border with the Soviet Union, meant to extinguish their race (and everyone knew that the Russians were next on the list).
Poland suffered this fate because Great Britain and France had decided that they were “expendable” for the destruction of the Russian people. Hitler would have to consume Poland before consuming the Soviet Union. By failing to organise an alliance as Stalin requested months beforehand, Germany was allowed to wreak havoc on numerous countries, each country left to attempt meekly to defend itself, and one by one they fell.
What was it all for?
Stalin was aware that Hitler would never leave Russia alone, and the pact was a desperate manoeuvre to attempt to buy time, it was his hope that Hitler would attack France and Great Britain and only then turn his attention towards Russia. We cannot judge this harshly, since it had already been decided by Britain and France to play those very cards. Since alliance was off the table, it was left to a matter of avoiding being first on the chopping block.
Churchill was convinced throughout the war and afterwards, that Stalin was no different from Hitler, and that no alliance could be trusted. Churchill feared that Stalin’s greatest wish was to conquer and subdue western Europe. This fear and delay in forming a second front, by rejecting Eisenhower’s Operation Sledgehammer and delaying Operation OVERLORD for months would cost many millions of innocent lives.
The United States chose to see the situation differently, as Cordell Hull, U.S. Secretary of State from 1933-1944, wrote in his Memoirs that the signing of the pact was Stalin’s way “to keep Hitler’s legions from approaching too close to Russia…We [FDR and Hull] did not wish to place her on the same belligerent footing as Germany…Hitler had not abandoned his ambition with regard to Russia.” And thus, it was regarded as a defensive manoeuvre.
It is interesting to note that Stalin received messages that summer of 1939 from both Hitler and Roosevelt but he received no messages from either Chamberlain or Daladier.
On Oct 31, 1939 Hans Frank, the German governor-general of occupied Poland announced:
“The Poles do not need universities or secondary schools; the Polish lands are to be turned into an intellectual desert…The only educational opportunities that are to be made available are those that demonstrate to them their hopelessness or their ethnic fate.”
And indeed, that is exactly what happened.
When the Red Army liberated Poland, it found no buildings usable as schools, no school equipment, no scientific material, no laboratories. What the Germans did not destroy they shipped back to the fatherland.
The Fight for a U.S.-Russia Alliance
On June 22, 1941 Operation Barbarossa was launched. Within a week the Germans had captured 400,000 soldiers, damaged more than 4,000 planes beyond repair and penetrated 300 miles into Russia, capturing Minsk. Another 200,000 soldiers were captured the second week.
Stalin, recollecting himself from the shock of such levels of destruction, gave a speech July 3, 1941 stirring the spirit of Russia and reassuring its people that victory was possible against such a formidable foe, that the Russian struggle “will merge with the struggle of the peoples of Europe and America for their independence, for democratic liberties. It will be a united front of the peoples who stand for freedom and against enslavement.”
However, the Soviet Union was still going to need support if they were to win against Hitler’s armies. There was strong opposition in America to aiding Russia for various reasons, but the most disruptive one was the thought that the Russians did not deserve American support, that they were no different from the Nazis.
Senate opposition to the very idea of aid to Russia was especially forceful. The Missouri senators were the worst. “It’s a case of dog eat dog,” barked Senator Bennett Clark from Missouri. Senator Harry Truman, yapped in accord: “If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany and that way let them kill as many as possible.”
Bone chilling words to come from a future American President, words that no Russian would ever forget.
It was thought by many that the Soviets would not last long in a war with Hitler. British intelligence estimated that the Wehrmacht would reach Moscow “in three weeks or less.”
Roosevelt felt differently. He would set up a Lend-Lease in March 1941 which allowed the U.S. to supply anti-Hitler collation allies with material. Despite this aid being delayed for months in the case of the Soviet Union, it nevertheless did come, and not a minute too soon.
On Sept 8, 1941 the siege of Leningrad began and would only end in Jan 1944. Hitler intended to starve the 2.2 million Russian inhabitants declaring “Requests to be allowed to surrender will be rejected…We have no interest in preserving any part of the population of that large city.”
General Zhukov was sent to the city’s defense and saved Leningrad from such a fate. Later Eisenhower would say of Zhukov “In Europe the war has been won and to no man do the United Nations owe a greater debt than to Marshal Zhukov.”
Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease program was a major factor in Russia’s salvation. The list of goods that Roosevelt committed to send to the Soviet Union was astounding. It included shipments every month of 400 planes, 500 tanks, 5,000 cars, 10,000 trucks and huge quantities of anti-tank guns, anti-aircraft guns, diesel generators, field telephones, radios, motorcycles, wheat, flour, sugar, 200,000 pairs of boots, 500,000 pairs of surgical gloves and 15,000 amputation saws. By the end of October 1941, ships were carrying 100 bombers, 100 fighter planes, 166 tanks all with spare parts and ammunition, plus 5,500 trucks. (5)
The siege of Moscow lasted from Oct 1941 to Jan 1942, it would claim 926,000 Soviet lives before it ended.
The Soviet Union was receiving supplies from the U.S., but it was taking the full brunt of the Wehrmacht army on their own.
According to WWII historian and authority on Nazi Germany Gerhard Weinberg, the German military’s own figures show that ten thousand Russian prisoners of war were shot or killed by hunger and disease EVERY SINGLE DAY for the first seven months of the war. This amounts to two million, adding one million Soviet citizens who died during this period, 3 million Russians died in the first seven months of the war.
Eisenhower had drafted a plan code name Sledgehammer to organise a second front to support Russia, but it would rely on the complete backing of Great Britain from where the operation would be launched, for housing and aircraft support.
Major General Ismay head of the British Office of the Minister of Defense was among those who thought it a great mistake to have misled General George Marshall and Hopkins on British support for the operation, stating:
“Our American friends went happily under the mistaken impression that we had committed ourselves to both Roundup and Sledgehammer…When he had to tell them, after the most thorough study of Sledgehammer, that we were absolutely opposed to it, they felt that we had broken faith with them…I think we should have come clean, much cleaner than we did, and said, “We are frankly horrified because of what we have been through in our lifetime.’ “(6)
The second front was postponed yet again, the invasion of French North Africa by a joint U.S.-British operation occurred instead.
It is interesting to note that Churchill is on record for his frustration at the Soviets destroying German weapons upon capturing German soldiers, he was furious because he wanted these weapons kept in case they would be needed against the Russians in a future war…
FDR’s Vision for a Postwar World
The Atlantic Charter was to be the death knell for colonial empires. Western Europe and America thought of it in terms of safety within borders, but the Third World heard the true spirit; national sovereignty. It would take years to make its way around the globe but the fiery spirit had been lit among colonial peoples. Churchill only went along with it because he had to. The continued existence of the British Empire was at stake and only America could save it.
As recounted in, Elliot Roosevelt’s As He Saw It, FDR made his thoughts clear on the matter: “I think I speak as America’s president when I say that America won’t help England in the war simply so that she will be able to continue to ride roughshod over colonial peoples.”
Churchill never understood FDR’s idea that independence, not dependence, was the best economic solution to the world’s problems, nor did he understand that FDR believed the pursuit and maintenance of colonial empires was a root cause of WWII (as did Stalin), and that before independence of these countries could be accomplished it would need in the meantime a strong and balanced leadership of the four powers; U.S., Russia, China and Great Britain to defend nations’ right to sovereignty.
On February 23 1944, FDR stated at a press conference his thoughts on the United Nations:
Q: Do you conscientiously believe that the Conference can be the foundation of world peace for more than the generation of the men who are building that peace?
FDR: I can answer that question if you can tell me who your descendants will be in the year 2057.
Q: Can we look forward?
FDR: We can look as far ahead as humanity believes in this sort of thing. The United Nations will evolve into the best method ever devised for stopping war, and it will also be the beginning of something else to go with it.
On March 1st, 1944 FDR spoke to a packed joint session of Congress stating:
“The Crimea [Yalta] Conference was a successful effort by the three [U.S., USSR and Britain] leading Nations to find a common ground for peace. It ought to spell the end of the system of unilateral action, the exclusive alliances, the spheres of influence, the balance of power, and all the other expedients that have been tried for centuries – and have always failed. We propose to substitute for all these, a universal organization in which all peace-loving Nations will finally have a chance to join.”
Let us not allow so many millions to have died for this vision, be for naught.
An upcoming paper will focus on the relations between Truman and Stalin, the dropping of the Atomic Bomb and Churchill’s announcement of the Iron Curtain.
(1) On November 16, 1933, President Roosevelt had ended almost 16 years of American non-recognition of the Soviet Union following a series of negotiations in Washington, D.C. with the Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Maxim Litvinov.
(2) P 162, Susan Butler’s “Roosevelt and Stalin: Portrait of a Partnership”
(3) P 160, Ibid
(4) P 165, Ibid
(6) P 247, Ibid
This article was originally published on Strategic Culture.