Saturday, May 07, 2005


The United States has apologized for several of its Second World War actions, most notably the internment of Japanese-Americans. However, George Bush's apology for the 'sellout' at Yalta is bound to rekindle debate over one of the foundational moments of the post-war world. ABC news reports:

Second-guessing Franklin D. Roosevelt, President Bush said Saturday the United States played a role in Europe's painful division after World War II a decision that helped cause "one of the greatest wrongs of history" when the Soviet Union imposed its harsh rule across Central and Eastern Europe. ...  "Certainly it goes further than any president has gone," historian Alan Brinkley said from the U.S. "This has been a very common view of the far right for many years that Yalta was a betrayal of freedom, that Roosevelt betrayed the hopes of generations." Bush said the Yalta agreement, also signed by Britain's Winston Churchill and the Soviet Union's Joseph Stalin, followed in the "unjust tradition" of other infamous war pacts that carved up the continent and left millions in oppression. The Yalta accord gave Stalin control of the whole of Eastern Europe, leading to criticism that Roosevelt had delivered millions of people to communist domination. "Once again, when powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable," the president said. "Yet this attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability left a continent divided and unstable."

Yalta marked the moment from when Winston Churchill first openly called the Soviet Union a menace to the Free World. With Nazi Germany clearly dying, Stalin had replaced Hitler as the principal menace to Britain. Interestingly enough, the United Nations was created at Yalta. It is the only one of the four major conference decisions whose writ history has not yet rescinded or made moot. The four decisions were:

  • divide Germany into four ‘zones’, which Britain, France, the USA and the USSR would occupy after the war.
  • hold elections in the countries of eastern Europe.
  • set up a government in Poland which would contain both Communists and non-Communists.
  • set up the United Nations.

Roosevelt was to die shortly afterward and Churchill would be evicted from office by Britain weary of war. Yet Stalin remained. But from his position as a private person, Churchill had one final word of warning to utter. At a speech in Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, Churchill said:

"From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an "iron curtain" has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow."

When the Yalta conference was held, US forces were still West of the Rhine. Roosevelt was extremely sick. Britain all but exhausted. Yet so was the Soviet Union. And the United States was soon to be the sole possessor of the atomic bomb. Whether it was possible to prevent Stalin from taking over Eastern Europe without devastating it will always be an open question. In one sense, it is always futile to apologize for history. But George Bush's apology is really addressed toward his perception of American historical intent. He seems to be saying 'yes my predecessor intended to carve up the world with Josef Stalin. He had no right to deliver people into bondage and we will never do it again.' It is a moral apology, no less futile than regrets over slavery or the dispossession of the Indian tribes.