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Covering the Map of the World — The Half-Century Legacy of the Yalta Conference, Part 8

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On March 1, 1945, after returning to Washington from his meeting with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin at Yalta, President Franklin Roosevelt delivered an address before a joint session of Congress on the results of the conference. “I come from the Crimean Conference, my fellow Americans, with a firm belief that we have made a good start on the road to a world of peace,” Roosevelt said.

FDR explained that the Yalta meeting had had two purposes. The first was to assure the defeat of Nazi Germany in the shortest period of time, with the least loss of life to the Allied side. The second purpose was “to continue to build the foundation for an international accord which would bring order and security after the chaos of the war, and would give some assurance of lasting peace among the nations of the world. Toward that goal,” Roosevelt stated, “a tremendous stride has been made.”

Germany would be under the “temporary control” of the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union, with each of these nations having a zone of occupation. The Nazi system would be destroyed, along with all “militaristic influence in the public, private and cultural life in Germany.” Germany would be disarmed and dismembered, and reparations would be imposed on the defeated nation.

The Big Three — FDR, Churchill and Stalin — had agreed that in the countries liberated from Nazi occupation, “democratic processes” would be established for these countries to solve their own problems, with “free elections [being] held as soon as possible.” As a result, Roosevelt declared: “I am sure that — under the agreements reached at Yalta — there will be a more stable political Europe then ever before.”

FDR used Poland as “one outstanding example of joint action by the three major Allies in the liberated areas.” The Big Three had concurred that Poland would be “a strong, independent and prosperous nation.” This had been “agreed to by Russia, by Britain and by me [Emphasis added.]”

Among other things, the Big Three had decided the territorial changes concerning Poland, with the Soviet Union annexing eastern Poland and the northern half of German East Prussia, and Poland annexing the southern half of East Prussia and all German lands east of the Oder-Neisse Rivers. FDR admitted that in making these territorial adjustments, “ I didn’t agree with all of it by any means” and Churchill and Stalin did not “go as far as I wanted in certain areas. [Emphasis added.]”

The Big Three had also agreed on the establishment of a new international peace organization — the United Nations. FDR admitted: “I am well aware of the constitutional fact — as are all the United Nations — that [the U.N.] charter must be approved by two-thirds of the Senate of the United States.” But “world peace is not a party question — I think that Republicans want peace just as much as Democrats — any more than is military victory.” The country had united for the cause of winning the war. “The same consecration to the cause of peace will be expected by every patriotic American and by every human soul overseas.”

Franklin Roosevelt told the American people that “the conference in the Crimea was a turning point in American history.” In establishing the United Nations and America’s new role as an active and permanent participant in political and military affairs around the world, “we shall have to take the responsibility for world collaboration, or we shall have to bear the responsibility for another world conflict.”

Finally, FDR said:

I know that the word “planning” is not looked upon with favor in some quarters. In domestic affairs, tragic mistakes have been made by reason of lack of planning; and on the other hand, many great improvements in living, and many benefits to the human race, have been accomplished as a result of adequate, intelligent planning — reclamations of desert areas, developments of whole river valleys, provision of adequate housing.

The same will be true in relations between nations. . . . To meet that objective, the nations of the world will either have a plan or they will not. The groundwork of a plan has now been furnished, and has been submitted to humanity for discussion and decision.

The Crimean Conference was a successful effort by the three leading nations to find a common ground for peace. . . . We propose . . . a universal organization in which all peace-loving nations will finally have a chance to join.

And I am confident that the Congress and the American people will accept the results of this Conference as the beginnings of a permanent structure of peace upon which we can begin to build, under God, that better world in which our children and grandchildren — yours and mine, the children and grandchildren of the whole world — must live.

Fifty years have passed since Franklin Roosevelt signed the Yalta Agreements and delivered his address to the American people concerning its content and its meaning for the future of the United States. The truest statement in FDR’s address was: “The conference in the Crimea was a turning point in American history.” United States government policy has never been the same again. It not only formalized America’s new role as a political and military interventionist in global events, it also radically changed the implicit powers of the presidency in diplomatic and foreign affairs.

When Roosevelt reported back to the Congress and the American people, he was not asking for their formal approval or constitutional consent for any of the agreements he had made with Churchill and Stalin — other than the Senate’s approval for U.S. membership in the United Nations. The “Protocol of Proceedings” had been signed by FDR on the basis of executive power; through his signature, he committed the United States to policies concerning Europe and Asia that affected the lives and liberties of tens of millions of people.

Roosevelt envied the fact that Stalin was a power unto himself. “What helps a lot,” FDR said, “is that Stalin is the only man I have to convince. Joe doesn’t worry about a Congress or a Parliament. He is the whole works.” At Yalta, FDR acted with the same dictatorial style. The future of Poland had been “agreed to by Russia, by Britain and by me ,” even though in his negotiations with Russia and Britain, “ I didn’t agree with all of it,” nor did the agreements “go as far as I wanted in certain areas. [Emphasis added.]” The personal pronouns “me” and “I” had become synonymous with the United States in Roosevelt’s mind. One is reminded of the 18th-century French monarch who boastfully declared: “I am the State.” This is what “personal diplomacy” meant, not only to the Red Czar in the Kremlin, but to the American Global New Dealer, as well.

Roosevelt could trade away the freedom of the Baltic peoples of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania and joke with Stalin that he certainly had no intention of going to war with Soviet Russia over them. And besides, FDR was “personally confident” that if these people, and those living in eastern Poland, were given the chance to vote, they would freely opt for incorporation in the Soviet Union. Since FDR already knew in his own mind how these people would vote if they could, it was not necessary to make an issue of it and upset “Uncle Joe.”

After all, FDR had his “hunch” that “if I give [Stalin] everything I possibly can and ask nothing from him in return, noblesse oblige — he won’t try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of democracy and peace.” In his own peculiar fantasy, Russian communists had an “almost mystical devotion to this idea” of really wanting “to do what is good for their society instead of wanting to do for themselves.” After his meetings with Stalin at Teheran and Yalta, FDR had been convinced “that something entered into [Stalin’s] nature of the way in which a Christian gentleman should behave.”

Alas, as we have seen, Roosevelt’s magnanimous generosity only convinced Stalin’s suspicious, paranoid mind that FDR must have been laying a trap for him. “And Roosevelt? He dips in his hand only for bigger coins,” Stalin had said. Years after the war, former Soviet Foreign Minister Vychaslav Molotov reflected back on his and Stalin’s view of FDR during the years of the wartime alliance and said: “Roosevelt was an imperialist who would grab anyone by the throat. . . . Roosevelt believed only in dollars. . . . Roosevelt thought [we] would come groveling to [him].” Lost in the clouds of his self-made Olympian heights, FDR did not imagine that Stalin — the “Christian gentleman” — might see the world differently than himself. (Some people had understood Stalin’s mind-set. General John R. Deane, head of the American military mission in Moscow during the war, wrote General George Marshall in December 1944: “We never make a request or a proposal to the Soviets that is not viewed with suspicion. They simply cannot understand giving without taking, and as a result even our giving is viewed with suspicion.”)

In his address before Congress, FDR lied to the American people. He said, towards the end of his speech, that the agreement made at the Yalta Conference “spells the end of the system of unilateral action and exclusive alliances and spheres of influence and balances of power and all the other expedients which have been tried for centuries — and have failed.”

At both the Teheran and Yalta meetings, Franklin Roosevelt practiced those very “expedients which have been tried for centuries.” He gave his consent — as the president of the United States — for Stalin to view the countries and peoples of Eastern Europe as his own, to do with as he chose. He told Averell Harriman that “he didn’t care whether the countries bordering on Russia became communized.” He made his deals with Stalin for geographical spheres of influence — Roosevelt only asked that Stalin keep it a secret because FDR did not want to risk losing Polish votes in an election if the truth was made public.

When Harriman objected to FDR’s secret protocol handing over Chinese territory to the Soviet Union, Roosevelt said that “he was not going to quarrel with Stalin” because the phrases used in the protocol were, after all, “just language.” And words were meant for manipulation in the mind of the great “fireside-chat” communicator.

All of the lies, deceptions, and secret deals were justified in Roosevelt’s mind because they were all for a good cause — a new world peace organization — the United Nations. Here, at least, Roosevelt was more honest in his address to the American people. He told them that what he wanted was a system of central planning for global peace. How wonderful planning had been at home! It had reclaimed the desert for cultivation; it had developed the Tennessee Valley; it had constructed public housing! Roosevelt still had a nostalgia for those early, happy New Deal days when industry was regulated through government-mandated cartels, when agriculture was managed through government price and production controls, and when Americans — from common laborers to artists and writers — were set to work making a new America — all according to Washington’s central plans.

The entire world would be given its own New Deal. But central planning implies the existence of central planners. The global peace planners and enforcers were to be Big Three, with the assistance of “lesser” powers chosen by the Three Great Powers. America, Britain, and Soviet Russia had fought and won the war for the world; therefore, might as well as self-appointed “right” made it obvious who should plan and police the world’s future. Each nation would have its voice in the U.N. General Assembly, but power and control would reside in the Security Council, where authority for the use of force against nations labeled “aggressors” would be in the monopolistic hands of Britain, France, China, Soviet Russia, and the United States.

In Roosevelt’s mind, the issues of peace and war, global stability and world security would be in the hands and control of these five central-planning Great Powers. They would have the final say as to who were the guilty parties in an international dispute; they would determine the form and severity of the punishment to be borne by the country they tagged as the aggressor; they would have the power to blockade, bomb, or invade the guilty country.

True, under the U.N. Security Council rules, the decisions would have to be unanimous among the Big Five, since each one of them was given the power to veto Security Council resolutions. But this also meant that if The Five agreed, the country labeled the aggressor — regardless of the strength of its own argument — was faced with the potentially combined military force of the most powerful nations in the world. It also meant that if one of the Big Five were to be an aggressor, the other four would be left powerless to act within the rules of the Security Council, since the aggressor among the global central planners would surely veto any decisions deleterious to its own interests.

This was the New World Order, according to Franklin Roosevelt — his and the Yalta Conference’s legacy to the postwar world. His vision and style of executive rule have been the precedents that every American president since him has followed.

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    Richard M. Ebeling is a professor of economics at Northwood University. He was formerly president of The Foundation for Economic Education (2003–2008), was the Ludwig von Mises Professor of Economics at Hillsdale College (1988–2003) in Hillsdale, Michigan, and served as vice president of academic affairs for The Future of Freedom Foundation (1989–2003).