FDR, Stalin and the Yalta Conference

Some time ago I read a book called Patriots and I ran into a glaring historical inaccuracy which I’ve since come across in other places: That FDR somehow “gave away” a huge chunk of Europe to Stalin (thus planting the seeds for the cold war).

According to the book:

…Roosevelt, who was quite ill at the time, and Stalin sat down…they decided right then and there how they would carve up Europe after the war…I don’t know why historians have glossed over the Yalta conference.  I think if more people paid attention to it, Roosevelt wouldn’t have such a positive reputation.  The bastard gave away half of Europe to Stalin.” p. 296

But historians have not glossed over the Yalta conference; the narrative here is simply misleading (if not inaccurate).  Here are some facts about the Yalta conference:

  • Germany had not yet surrendered (and Soviet Russia was an important ally)
  • The Russians were already within striking range of Berlin (and already occupied Eastern Europe).
  • FDR did not give away any territory occupied by the US
  • This was in February of 1945, almost half a year before the US’s successful testing of the A-Bomb (prior to the acquisition of the Atomic Bomb, it could be argued that the Russians held a military advantage over the US)

The misleading portion goes a bit further.  We (in the US) tend to think of WW2 as a romantic war where the US single-handedly saved the world from a fascist dictator (the idea that Hitler was democratically elected and held popularity is difficult to fathom, but nevertheless true).  Here are a few important facts to consider:

  • The bulk of damage to Germany was inflicted upon them by the Russians
  • Russia suffered more losses than any other Allied Power (about 25-29
  • US military personnel involved in the war as a percentage of the US population  was the lowest among the Allied powers and accounted for 1/4 of the overall allied forces (economically however, it produced the over half of the Allied materials used).
  • British personnel took part in every victory claimed by US forces (and took and held 3 of the 5 beaches in Normandy).

The above statements should not be taken to imply that the US did not play a decisive role in the war, but rather to shed light on some of the facts pertaining to the time; facts which have largely been forgotten and buried under our cold war-driven national consciousness.