Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Getting political for a moment...

One of my pet peeves is the butchering of history. Our President did just that in Latvia this weekend by criticizing the Yalta Conference of February 1945 as a betrayal of Eastern Europe. (See the article linked in this post's title.)

Yalta, for those of you who had better things to do that read history books at age 10, i.e. those of you with friends, was a conference between Stalin, FDR, and Churchill in which the Allies agreed to Soviet control over Eastern Europe with the caveat that the Soviets would permit elections there. Stalin never adhered to that promise, as FDR and Churchill suspected he wouldn't, and the episode led to some Republicans alleging that FDR had sold Eastern Europe out with a secret agreement.

In ideal world, Eastern Europe wouldn't have been oppressed by the Soviet Union for the duration of the Cold War. However, the reality of the situation made that an inevitability. For one thing, the Soviets had already lost over 20 million soldiers and civilians in their conflict with the Germans. Given our strong response to losing 3,000 in the 9/11 Attacks, we can't say that we wouldn't have acted any differently than the Soviets did when they usurped Eastern Europe to ensure that they wouldn't be slaughtered in their own country again.

Additionally, the Soviets were already occupying almost all of Eastern Europe by the time of Yalta, so the only alternative would have been to root them out of Eastern Europe by turning the war against the Nazis into a war against the Russians. Maybe Bush, with his limited view of the world outside of the 50 states, doesn't know this, but in early 1945, the Soviets had more troops, more (and better) tanks, a greater willingness to take casualties, better tactics (as a result of having to face the best pieces of the Wehrmacht,) and better military leadership. In short, it's not at all clear that Eisenhower's forces could have beaten the Soviets in Eastern Europe if they wanted to, let alone the fact that victory would have required an enormous number of casualties that the English didn't have the resources or will to take.

(The irony is that Bush had to justify attacking Iraq and not Iran and North Korea, both of which are more evil and threatening to U.S. interests, on the grounds that we should do good where possible, but we can't take on every injustice in the world, especially when doing so would entail huge costs. The same rationale justifies Yalta.)

Oh, and as of February, we still had Japan as an unconquered enemy and were expecting to take six-figure casualties occupying Japan. I suppose Bush could agree with the lower estimates of casualties for the invasion of Japan advanced by liberal historians when they argue that Truman erred in dropping the Atomic bombs, but somehow, I doubt that.

In short, Bush took a gratuitous shot at FDR (and by extension, Churchill and Eisenhower,) probably to appeal to the part of his base who care enough about history to believe a distorted version of it. I hated the media's misuse of terms like "Stalingrad" and "Gulag" during the Iraq conflict, so I don't feel too partisan in ripping on Bush for the same.

1 comment:

jacob said...

Wow I wrote one of my IB history essay on a topic related to this, well since you are interested in this, my IB exam consisted of

1. DBQ on the 1968 warsaw pact invastion of czech.

2. two essays, one on war (the one I chose was talking about the results of WWII) and an essay on the Cold war (How did ideological differences contribute to the start of the Cold War)

3. 3 essays on american history ( the ones I chose were on the failures of the articles of confederation, the pro/con slavery arguements, and the effect of WWII on the US economy)

just thought you might be interested and I did talk about Yalta in the cold war essay