The second chapter of the video documentary series can be viewed here. The series can also be viewed in its entirety on Netflix, or purchased directly at untoldhistory.com. Below is our transcribed text, written by Peter Kuznick, Matt Graham and Oliver Stone.
narrated by Oliver Stone...
In January 1943, just days before the final German surrender at Stalingrad, Roosevelt and Churchill met at Casablanca in French Morocco. Stalin was not in attendance. He'd withdrawn his ambassadors from London and Washington - the alliance was in crisis. The Red Army was moving west against the Germans, the momentum had shifted.
Appreciation of the Soviet sacrifice was finally growing in the U.S.; even fervent anti-communist media baron Henry Luce made Stalin Time magazine's Man of the Year in 1942, praising his industrialization, stating:
"Stalin's methods were tough, but they paid off."
Another Luce magazine, Life, painted the Soviet Union as a "quasi-America", with its citizens:
"One hell of a people who, to a remarkable degree, look like Americans, dress like Americans and think like Americans."
His ruthless secret police was even described as a national police, similar to the FBI.
The policy of 'unconditional surrender' was, in effect, a declaration of war against the German and Japanese people themselves, and resulted in the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Japan.
Roosevelt felt he had to take action, or he risked the breakup of the alliance. Both he and Churchill feared Stalin might indeed make a deal with Hitler to save the Soviet Union further destruction. After all, he'd done it before. But on many issues, Roosevelt, unlike Churchill, saw eye-to-eye with Stalin. Both wanted a weakened, pastoralized post-war Germany without industry - it was Germany's militarism that had been the cause of such unrest in Europe:
"We either have to castrate the German people, or we have to treat them in such a manner that they can't just go on reproducing people who want to continue the way they have in the past." FDR
It was at Casablanca that the president announced a policy of unconditional surrender; he wanted to send a message to Stalin that the U.S. would not rest until Hitler's Germany was destroyed. Unconditional surrender was a declaration of war, not merely on the enemy governments, but on the German and Japanese people themselves which, in its unintended way, would lead to terror bombing of civilian populations, harden the resistance of those populations, and result in the most controversial decision of the war - the dropping of the atomic bomb on Japan.
In hindsight, one might argue that the declaration of unconditional surrender was one of Roosevelt's greatest blunders. To make matters worse, Roosevelt and Churchill confirmed at Casablanca the Allied decision to land in Sicily after North Africa, again postponing the second front and relegating their nations to further irrelevance in determining the outcome of the war. This would lead to the disastrous Italian campaign of 1943 to '45 that achieved little but a fierce blood-letting of Allied troops in Sicily and at slaughter houses like the beachhead at Anzio and the four battles for Monte Cassino which did little damage to the Nazis.
Roosevelt clearly indicated he would allow the Soviets considerable latitude in shaping the future of Eastern Europe.
With the Allies bogged down in Italy, and the Soviets increasingly suspicious of British intentions, Roosevelt and Stalin met ten months after Casablanca for the very first time in Tehran in Iran in November 1943. After trying unsuccessfully to exclude Churchill from the meeting, Roosevelt accepted Stalin's offer to stay in the Soviet embassy. But Roosevelt found Stalin cold and aloof during the first three days of meetings and feared he would not succeed. But on the fourth day, after teasing Churchill in front of Stalin about his Britishness and his cigars, Churchill, according to Roosevelt, grew red and scowled, and the more he did the more Stalin smiled, until finally Stalin broke out into a deep hearty guffaw at the expense of Churchill. And before long Roosevelt was calling him 'Uncle Joe'; the ice had been broken and Roosevelt he and Stalin were now talking like men and brothers.
Roosevelt reiterated to the Soviet leader that he would open the long-delayed second front the following spring. Churchill was forced to commit, but argued still the landing should be made to the east through the Balkins heading off the advancing Soviets.
"The PM is thinking too much of a post-war world, and where England will be. He's scared of letting the Russians get too strong."
Roosevelt clearly indicated he would allow the Soviets considerable latitude in shaping the future of Eastern Europe and the Baltic States, requesting only that Stalin implement changes judiciously, and not offend world opinion. Roosevelt had written Stalin a personal note, promising:
"The United States will never lend its support in any way to any provisional government in Poland that would be inimical to your interests."
Crucially, Roosevelt made important headway when he got Stalin to agree to enter the war against Japan when the war against Germany was concluded. Exhausted, Roosevelt wrote of the Tehran conference, "we made great progress":
"To use an American, and somewhat ungrammatical colloquialism, I may say that I 'got along fine' with Marshall Stalin, and I believe we are going to get along very well with him and the Russian people, very well indeed."
The Soviet war continued with a bloody campaign in Belorussia, followed by their entry into Poland in January of 1944, Russia's ancient border enemy. The retaking of Poland, and particularly Warsaw, is a tragic and bloody story. Few suffered as much as the Poles in this long war - six million were killed, three million of them Jewish. But the USSR too paid a stiff price to free Poland; six hundred thousand Soviets perished. It was here that the first death camps were actually found in 1944 by Soviet troops, and revealed unquestionably to the world pictures of the true insanity of Hitler's regime.
Poland was a matter of life and death for the Soviet Union, the corridor through which Germany had twice passed into Russia in the 20th century.
The Soviets quickly set up a friendly government in Lublin that cracked down on the opposition, triggering a civil war. They had excluded the fiercely anti-communist representatives of the Polish exile government that had been set up in London. The westerners thought of them as democrats but Stalin said they were terrorists, descendants of the White Russians who had fought against the Revolution in the Russian Civil War of 1919 to 1922. No stranger himself to terrorist tactics, Stalin, in order to prevail against the hated anti-communist Poles in London, committed the dual atrocities of killing thousands of Polish Army officers in the Katyn Forest in 1940, and then in 1944 ordered the Red Army to halt outside the capital while the Germans crushed the native Warsaw uprising. Soviet defenders argued that the Red Army had exhausted itself in a gruelling 45 day, 450 mile advance against tough German troops, over stretching there supply and communication lines - that they needed to stand down. Differences over Poland would become the single greatest source of distrust between the U.S., Britain and the Soviet Union during and after the war.
But to be fair, many Westerners did not understand that anti-semitism had long been common among a significant portion of Polish catholics, or that to Stalin Poland was a matter of life and death for the Soviet Union, because the Polish territories were the corridor through which the hated Germans had twice passed into Russia in the 20th century. For these reasons Stalin demanded and enforced a friendly government on his border. It was no less an issue for him than Canada or Mexico was for the United States.
Through 1944 and '45 the Soviets continued to advance, taking Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and, with the significant help of partisan guerrillas, Yugoslavia. Mile by mile across Eastern and Southeaster Europe the Germans fought to the last man. Cities became fortresses and were reduced to rubble - Warsaw, Budapest, Vienna. An estimated million Soviet troops perished liberating these areas. And as the Soviets fought their way to Berlin from several directions, in the west on June 6, 1944, the long-delayed second front was finally opened, one and a half years after Roosevelt had first promised it to Stalin.
The largest armada the world had ever seen, involving eleven thousand planes and some four thousand ships. Over one hundred thousand Allied troops and thirty thousand vehicles landed on the French beach at Normandy. An estimated three thousand men died in this landing. Allied forces were now approaching Germany from both east and west. Victory was inevitable...
A month later in July of 1944, a key event in the future of the world was taking shape. The Democratic Party Convention opened in Chicago. His health clearly failing, Roosevelt easily secured the nomination for an unprecedented 4th term. Henry Wallace, his Vice President, was probably the 2nd most popular man in America, the peoples' choice to be his running mate. But he had made many enemies over the years. In May 1942 Wallace had given the acclaimed "common man" speech:
"Some have spoken of the American Century. I say that the century on which we are entering, the century which will come out of this war, can be and must be the century of the common man. There must be neither military nor economic imperialism. The march of freedom of the past 150 years has been a great revolution of the people - there were the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Latin-American Revolutions, the Russian Revolution. Each spoke for the common man. Some went to excess, but people groped their way to the light."
He called for a world-wide peoples' revolution and an end to colonialism. His speech was received coldly across the Atlantic. Churchill charged his secret agents in the United States to spy on Wallace. Wallace detested the British Empire:
"I said bluntly that I thought the notion of anglo-saxon superiority inherent in Churchill's approach will be offensive to many. Churchill had had quite a bit of whiskey and said 'why be apologetic about anglo-saxon superiority? That we were superior. That we have the common heritage that had been worked out over the centuries in England, and had been perfected by our Constitution.'"
Wallace's hatred of imperialism was universally known and widely acclaimed. In March 1943 Roosevelt sent him to Latin America on a good-will tour, secretly charging him to recruit nations for the Allied cause. Sixty-five thousand greeted him in Costa Rica, 15 percent of the population. More than 1 million cheered as he moved down the streets of Santiago, Chile. The Vice President returned with a dozen countries declaring war on Germany; it was more than anyone had imagined possible.
"We cannot fight to crush Nazi brutality abroad and condone race riots at home."
Back home in a Gallup poll, Wallace was the choice of 57% of Democratic voters to succeed Roosevelt. But opposition to him from inside the Party was enormous. Jesse Jones (Secretary of Commerce) was allied to a powerful group of Democratic Party bosses, led by Party Treasurer and oil millionaire Edwin Pauley. United by their hatred of Wallace, their champion was known to many as the "assistant president".
James Byrnes and been raised in the hot-house politics of sultry South Carolina, an environment where white superiority and segregation trumped all other issues. He was a driving force behind blocking a Federal anti-lynching bill in 1938. After making his name smashing trade unions in the South, Byrnes became a powerful U.S. Senator - if you wanted something done on Capital Hill, you saw Jimmy Byrnes.
By 1943 the mood in Washington had shifted. It was no longer The New Deal, and Roosevelt removed Wallace from the Bureau of Economic Warfare and put Byrnes in charge of the new Office of War Mobilization. But Wallace still had a powerful supporter, the American working man. Today, few remember that the Second World War saw more strikes by organized labor than at any other time in U.S. history. In 1944 alone, one million workers were on strike at one time or another. The war had rejuvenated American capitalism - corporate profits rose from $6.4 billion in 1940 to $10.8 billion in 1944. Put simply, the war was good business. But in the face of rising corporate profits, workers' wages were frozen. As a result, a wave of strikes rocked the nation.
Detroit was the key city in Roosevelt's arsenal of democracy. Many African-American families migrated north in search of work in the armaments factories. Racial tensions soon escalated - one demonstrator jeered "I'd rather see Hitler and Jiro Hito win, than work beside a nigger on the assembly line." In June, violence exploded, exacerbated by the city's nearly all-white police force. Federal troops arrived to restore order, with live ammunition - 34 were killed in the riots, 25 of them black. Wallace went to Detroit to survey the damage. He was appalled:
"We cannot fight to crush Nazi brutality abroad and condone race riots at home."
Years later this remark would be echoed by civil rights leader Martin Luther King in reference to the Vietnam War.
By 1944, powerful labor leader Sidney Hillman and and scotsman Phil Murray, expressing complete confidence in Wallace, had taken a dislike to the new men like Byrnes taking power in Washington. But the anti-Wallace forces told the President that a Wallace re-nomination as Vice President would split the Party. The President would not answer their ultimatum, he stalled for time. Eleanor Roosevelt reminded him that Wallace had been there with him since the beginning, a fellow visionary.
They settled on Missouri Senator Harry Truman, a man of limited qualifications.
But the President's attitude toward Wallace remained a puzzle. He sent Wallace to evaluate the war's forgotten front - in China. U.S. ally Jiang Jieshi had been fighting Japan since the early 1930s and, with his wife, the powerful American educated Madame Jiang, had strong ties to the U.S. conservatives. Wallace, however, saw the growing power of Mao Tse-tung's communist army, and was unsure of Jiang's future. His final report was considered too controversial, and suppressed. On his return, Wallace was summoned immediately to meet the President. The ticket would be the subject of discussion, the moment Wallace had been dreading:
"His affection for me seemed to be completely undimmed because I can remember him pulling me down so his mouth was next to my ear and saying 'Henry, I hope it will be the same old team.'"
When the convention opened he was waiting for that support. But, increasingly ill, the President staying in San Diego, only sent a note: "Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, if I were a delegate to this convention, I would vote for Henry A. Wallace". Despite these words, it was a cruel blow, the President was not willing to fight for his Vice President. But Wallace remained the favourite. Labor told the President that the strike-breaking Jimmy Byrnes was not acceptable, he was out. Disparate, the Party bosses, led by Edwin Pauley, Robert Hannegan, Ed Flynn, Ed Kelley and others needed an eleventh-hour substitute.
They settled on Missouri Senator, Harry Truman, a man of limited qualifications, but one with few enemies. A graduate of high school he'd been involved in three failed businesses. He'd served honourably in World War I, his most ambitious business venture, a haberdashery, went belly-up in 1922. Kansas City political boss Tom Pendergast, after having been turned down by his first four choices, picked the then-fifty-year old to run of the Senate. When asked why Pendergast replied:
"I wanted to demonstrate that a well-oiled machine could send an office boy to the Senate."
Shunned by most Senators, who dismissed him as the "Senator from Pendergast", and failing to get Roosevelt's endorsement in his reelection bid, Truman worked hard to achieve respectability in his second Senate term.
But a Gallup poll on the opening day showed 65 percent supporting Wallace as Vice President. Jimmy Byrnes had 3 percent of the vote and Truman came eighth with 2 percent. As Wallace arrived at the convention, labor leaders Hillman and Murray had delivered - Wallace supporters were there by the thousands. Wallace's speech was interrupted constantly by applause - a chant of 'We want Wallace' filled the hall. Someone hijacked the loudspeakers and played Wallace's campaign song. Furious, Ed Pauley threatened to cut the sound to the amplifiers. A victorious vote was almost a foregone conclusion, a Wallace victory was certain.
Florida Senator Claude Pepper realized that if he got Wallace's name in nomination this night Wallace would sweep the convention. He fought his way through the crowd to get to the microphone, but the bosses were now demanding that Session Chair, Samuel Jackson, adjourn. "This chaos is a fire hazard" they screamed. Not knowing what to do Jackson called the vote for adjournment. A few said "aye" but the overwhelming majority boomed "nay". And yet, Jackson had the gall to announce that the vote to adjourn had passed. It was outrageous, confusion filled the hall. Pepper had reached the first step of the stage, only 5 feet, probably nine seconds from the microphone, before the bosses forced adjournment against the will of the delegates. If he could have nominated Wallace in those moments there is no doubt Henry Wallace would have been overwhelmingly returned as Vice President. Pepper wrote in his autobiography that Jackson said:
"I had strict instructions from Hannegan not to let the convention nominate the vice president last night."
Hillman and Murray rallied the same troops to return the next day and see it through to victory, but over that night Edwin Pauley and anti-Wallace forces united behind Harry Truman. Deals were cut, positions offered, and Ambassadorships, Postmaster positions, cash payoffs, bosses called every State Chairman telling them that Roosevelt wanted the Missouri Senator as his running mate. Bob Hannegan managed to put up sixteen favourite son nominees to draw votes away from Wallace, and then channelled those votes to Truman.
Had Henry Wallace been named to the ticket in 1944, it might have changed the course of post-war world history.
Even so, the next day when voting began, things started to swing Wallace's way again. When the first ballot ended it was Wallace, 429, to Truman's 319. Then a second ballot got under way, and now the deals the bosses had made kicked into action. Jackson announced that the second ballot would begin at once, therefor now new convention tickets would be honoured. Mayor Kelly's police barred thousands more of Wallace's supporters from the hall, but those inside began chanting as before, attempting to drown out the proceedings. Wallace started the second ballot firmly in the lead, but gradually he lost ground to Truman, as the nominees put up by Hannegan signed over their votes to Truman, one by one. Truman prevailed. It was over.
Henry Wallace, accepting his defeat, pledged his loyalty the Roosevelt/Truman ticket, and agreed to remain in the cabinet. Today, buried by the traditional tale of the Second World War, the events of the 1944 Democratic Convention have been largely forgotten. They would, however, change the course of history. The man who might have been president could now only watch from the sidelines as events unfolded.
There were other deals going on behind the scenes in this critical year. Mistrusting Roosevelt's optimism in Europe, Churchill flew to Moscow in October 1944 to meet alone with Stalin. Based on the previous experience of U.S. isolationism after the first World War, neither leader seriously believed American troops would remain in Europe after the war. Therefore it was vital to Churchill that he shore up the British position as strongly as possible. On the back of a scrap of paper, Churchill proposed the share of influence each nation would exert in post-war Europe.
The USSR would get 90 percent in Romania, 75 percent in Hungary and Bulgaria; Yugoslavia would be split 50/50, but Britain would get 90 percent in Greece. Greece was vital to the British position in the Mediterranean, close to Egypt and the strategic Suez Canal, through which came the trade which kept the Empire alive, from Eastern Africa, through the Middle East, the Near East, and at the heart of this Empire, India, the crown jewel, and beyond it the Far East where Singapore was now British again. Although Churchill wanted a non-communist Poland, the truth was that Poland was simply off the agenda, and Churchill was more concerned with safeguarding British power. Stalin took the paper and made a large check with a blue pencil before handing it back. Churchill remarked:
"Might it not be thought rather cynical if it seemed we had disposed these issues so fateful to millions of people in such an off-hand manner. Let us burn the paper."
But Stalin urged Churchill to hold on to the historic scrap of paper, which Churchill called a "naughty document".
This was exactly the kind of secret deal that Roosevelt had set out to prevent. At a press conference in 1944 he'd said of British Gambia in West Africa, which he had visited the previous year:
"Its the most horrible thing I've ever seen in my life. The natives are five thousand years back of us. The British have been there for 200 years; for every dollar the British have put into Gambia, they have taken out ten. Its just plain exploitation."
Roosevelt spoke repeatedly about a post-war trusteeship system that would prepare the colonies for independence.
One of these would be Indochina, which he insisted not be given back to the French after the war, as Churchill and the French exiled leader Charles de Gaulle had demanded. Roosevelt told Cordell Hull, his Secretary of State, in 1944 "France has had the country, 30 million inhabitants, for nearly 100 years and the people are worse off than they were at the beginning." Churchill told his number two, Anthony Eden, in late '44:
"There must be no question about being hustled or seduced into declarations affecting British sovereignty in any of the dominions or colonies. Hands off the British Empire is our maxim, and it must not be weakened or smirched to please sub stuff merchants at home or foreigners of any hue."
Churchill sent British troops into Athens to repress the left wing and communist partisans who had led the underground resistance to the Nazis, and who were now battling for power against reactionary forces who wanted to restore the king. But the Greek people did not want to exchange the Nazis for the old monarch. Street fighting raged through the Greek capital. Churchill ordered his men to treat Athens as a conquered city. The British General, Scobie, called in dive-bombers. Stalin, however, refused to back the partisans, delivering on his bargain to Churchill. Roosevelt is reported to have said:
"How the British can bear such a thing. The lengths they will go to hang on to the past."
With the dawn of victory in Europe, Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill met for the second and last time at Yalta on the Black Sea in early February 1945. The Soviet Union was preoccupied with its security, Britain was preserving its empire. The U.S. wanted Soviet assistance in ending the Pacific War, and support for a world economy open to U.S. trade and investment, and for establishing a United Nations to preserve the new peace.
Roosevelt's doctors had begged him not to go to Yalta; the President was weakening daily, but his vast spirit kept him going. There was little time to waste and, though they didn't see eye-to-eye on Germany, the Big Three did agree to a complete disarmament, demilitarization and dismemberment of Germany. They would divide the conquered nation into four military zones, with one controlled by France. The U.S. still had one major card to play, post-war economic assistance to help the Soviets rebuild their shattered nation. A reparations commission was established based on an estimated figure of $20 billion, with half going to the Soviet Union. This was the carrot.
It was these conflicts, primarily over Poland, that would eventually tear the alliance apart.
Poland was the focus of seven of Yalta's eight sessions. Ultimately the three leaders compromised on a Polish provisional government of national unity, which was admittedly vague, intended to include democratic leaders from outside Poland. Naval Chief of Staff William Leahy, a veteran of the Spanish-American and First World Wars warned Roosevelt:
"This is so elastic that the Russians can stretch it all the way from Yalta to Washington without technically breaking it."
Roosevelt agreed, but said it was the best he could do for Poland at this time. In truth, the United States and Britain had lost their leverage by failing to open up the second front until very late in the war, so at the end of the day FDR didn't give anything at Yalta that Stalin didn't already have.
On the other hand, Stalin was in no rush to institute revolutionary change, if at all. As in Greece, he recognized that the communists, although they had often played a leading role in anti-Nazi resistance movements, were a minority element in most of these liberated nations. Never having shared Trotsky's zeal for international communism, he had once remarked that "communism fit Poland like a saddle fit a cow". It was these conflicts, primarily over Poland, that would eventually tear the alliance apart.
But most importantly to Roosevelt, Stalin definitely committed the USSR to join the war against Japan three months after the close of the European war. There were still close to two million Japanese soldiers in China, and without Soviet aid the war could drag on indefinitely. In return, Roosevelt and Churchill promised territorial and economic inducements that would essentially restore what the Russians had lost to Japan in their 1904-5 war. Additionally, the Big Three reached some agreements on the United Nations, which was set to convene in April of '45, and a system of trusteeships to deal with the liberated colonial territories, although there many vagaries when it came to the British and French empires in Indochina, Africa and Aisa.
News of Yalta ignited a kind of optimism that hadn't been seen for decades. Former president Hoover called the conference "a great hope to the world". CBS war correspondent William Shier, who later authored the best seller The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, declared it a landmark in human history. Roosevelt returned in triumph. Addressing Congress for the first time without standing on his braces he called for acceptance of the results. For Franklin Delano Roosevelt it was an amazing conclusion to an amazing life.
The Yalta agreement would forever be controversial, and Roosevelt would be unfairly attacked for capitulating to Stalin. And in the weeks to follow, disagreements with the Soviets surfaced over Poland and other issues, but Roosevelt never lost hope, and in his last cable to Churchill wrote:
"I would minimize the Soviet problem as much as possible, because these problems in one form or another seem to arise every day, and most of them straighten out."
Roosevelt truly thought he would live to enforce the peace. But less than two months later, after twelve years in office, his great heart finally gave out when he died of a massive stroke.
No one had ever bothered to inform the lightly regarded vice president that the United States was building the most powerful weapon in history.
The longest serving president in American history, Franklin Roosevelt had seen the country through its hardest times - the Great Depression and Great War. Without him, the post-war peace that was achieved at Yalta, between the British and American empires and Soviet communism could not be maintained. In between these giants, America's new president was a shadow of his predecessor and he openly admitted it. Truman had only been Vice President for eighty-two days and had only spoken to Roosevelt twice. But neither Roosevelt or anyone else had ever bothered to inform the lightly regarded vice president that the United States was building the most powerful weapon in history.
On April 15th Truman and Wallace, who had remained in the cabinet as Secretary of Commerce, met the funeral train at Washington's Union Station. There was another man with them, Jimmy Byrnes, Truman's old mentor from his Senate days who had befriended the Missourian at the time when most senators avoided him as a Pendergast political hack. Impressed with the fact that Byrnes had accompanied Roosevelt to Yalta, although he found out later that he'd left the conference early and was not in on the important discussions, Truman came to rely on Byrnes above all others for advice. Byrnes gave Truman his first real briefing about the atomic bomb, which he described as "an explosive great enough to destroy the whole world that might well put us in a position to dictate our own terms at the end of the war" - he did not specify to whom the U.S. would be dictating those terms.
This turns out to be a crucial moment in the history of the world, and much of it has been forgotten, but it is well worth revisiting. The first to see Truman after Roosevelt's death on April 13th was Secretary of State Edward Stettinius. The former US Steel Chairman of the Board had had very little influence with Roosevelt, but for Truman, Stettinius painted a picture of Soviet deception and perfidy, saying that Britain's Churchill felt even more strongly, and Churchill wasted little time in confirming that view, both in cables and a hurried visit to Washington by his Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden. The British Ambassador to the U.S., Lord Halifax sized Truman up, saying the new president was "an honest and diligent mediocrity, a bungling, if well-meaning amateur, surrounded by Missouri-calibre courthouse friends".
The most vociferous critics of the Soviet Union shared a similar background and a deep hatred of anything that smacked of socialism.
That afternoon Truman met with Jimmy Byrnes. Admitting his abject ignorance, he implored Byrnes to tell him about everything from Tehran to Yalta, and everything else under the sun. Byrnes gladly accommodated, and in a series of meetings Byrnes reinforced Stettinius' message that the Soviets were breaking their Yalta agreements and implored Truman to be, above all, uncompromising with them. Truman made clear his intention to make Byrnes Secretary of State as soon as Stettinius had gotten the United Nations off the ground.
In this atmosphere, Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Avril Harriman, having rushed back from Moscow, warned that the U.S. was facing a "barbarian invasion of Europe" and urged Truman to stand firm and tell Foreign Minister Molotov that we would not stand for any pushing around on the Polish question. As soon as the Russians have control of a country, Harriman said, the secret police moved in and wiped out free speech. But he clarified that the Soviets would not risk a break with the U.S. because they disparately sought the post-war reconstruction aid that Roosevelt had promised them. Truman masked his limited understanding of the issues with bluster and bravado, telling Harriman that he didn't expect to get 100 percent of what he wanted from the Russians, but he did expect to get 85 percent.
It is important to note that many of the most vociferous critics of the Soviet Union shared a similar class background and a deep hatred of anything that smacked of socialism. Harriman was the son of a railway tycoon who had founded Brown Brothers Harriman; James Forestall had made a fortune on Wall Street; Stettinius had been the Chairman of the Board of the nation's largest corporation; they were joined by enormously wealthy international bankers, Wall Street and Washington lawyers, and corporate executives who had mostly inherited or made their fortunes during the inter-war years. These men would come to shape post-war U.S. policy and included Dean Acheson, Robert Lovett, John McCloy, John Foster & Allen Dulles, Nelson Rockefeller, Paul Nitze, and General Motors President Charles Wilson, who as head of the War Production Board had said that the United States needed a permanent war economy. Although they had served Roosevelt, they had in fact little influence on him.
Opposed to this antagonistic point of view toward the Soviets were the veterans, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, Army Chief of Staff George Marshall and former Vice President Henry Wallace. Admiral Willam Leahy again noted the elasticity of the Yalta agreement and the difficulty of alleging bad faith on that basis. In fact, he said, after Yalta, he would have been surprised had the Soviets behaved differently than they had. Marshall, who Time magazine had named Man of the Year for 1943, contended that a break with the Soviets would have been disastrous, given U.S. dependance on them to help defeat the Japanese. The conservative Secretary of War Henry Stimson, who had fought the Yute Indians in the 19th century, and still like to be called 'The Colonel', was long practiced in the ways of the world. When confronted by the issues of acquisition by force, he explained that the USSR had been a trustworthy ally, often delivering even more than had been promised, especially in military matters. He reminded the President of Poland's importance to Russia, and said:
"The Russians are probably being more realistic about their own security than we are." He had also noted that Russia prior to 1919 "had owned the whole of Poland, including Warsaw, as far as Germany, and she was not asking for restitution for that."
He added that, outside of the U.S. and Britain, very few countries shared the Western understanding of free elections.
Nonetheless, in his first meeting with Foreign Minister Molotov on April 23rd, eleven days after Roosevelt's death, Truman wasted little time accusing the Soviets of having broken their Yalta agreement, particularly in Poland. When Molotov tried to explain the Yalta Polish agreement through Stalin's eyes, Truman dismissed his clarifications. When Molotov raised other issues, Truman snapped:
"That will be all, Mr. Molotov. I would appreciate it if you would transmit my views to Marshall Stalin."
Molotov stormed out of the room.
His bullying of the Soviet Foreign Minister probably conjured up images of 5'4" John "Peanut" Truman, the 5'8" President's father who, back in Missouri would pick fights with men a foot taller to show how tough he was. He wanted that same toughness in his sons, and found it in Harry's younger brother Vivian. Harry, however, was diagnosed with flat eyeballs and forced to wear coke-bottle-thick glasses. He could not play sports and was bullied by the other boys who called him 'four-eyes' and 'sissy', and chased him home after school. When he arrived home his mother would comfort him, telling him not to worry, because he was meant to be a girl anyway. Gender issues plagued him for years, and he would often refers to his feminine features and attributes. No sissy anymore, he now proved he could stand up to leaders of the second most powerful nation in the world. His father, whose approval he had unsuccessfully struggled to win when he was alive, would have been proud of him now.
Stalin, feeling betrayed, wasted no time cabling Truman the following day, insisting that Roosevelt had agreed that the pro-Soviet Polish government would form the kernel of the new government. He added he didn't know if the governments of Belgium or Greece were really democratic, but he wouldn't make a stink because they were vital to British interests. These were strong words, and where the opening of the United Nations in San Fransisco two days later on April the 25th, it should have been an occasion to celebrate a new era of international peace. It was, instead, ruined by tension between the allies. The Russian request to have the pro-Soviet government seated to represent Poland was rejected. After that, relations continued to deteriorate rapidly.
Realizing that his get tough tactics had not produced the desired results, Truman met twice with Joseph Davies, the former ambassador the Soviet Union. A conservative corporate attorney, he'd surprise liberal critics by sympathizing with the Soviet experiment. Davies counselled Truman that the Soviets and always been sticklers for reciprocity between allies, so they accepted British-imposed governments in Africa, Italy and Greece even though they did not represent the anti-fascist forces in those countries, because they understood these were vital interests to America and Britain. And they expected similar consideration for their vital security interests in Poland. Davies noted how fundamentally the relationship with the British acting as instigators, and warned that if the Russians decide that the U.S. and Britain are ganging up on them, they'll respond by out-toughing the West, just as they in concluding the 1939 pact with Hitler when it became clear the West would not help them stop the Nazis. But, he assured Truman, when approached with generosity and friendliness, the Soviets respond with even greater generosity. Davies agreed to set up a meeting between Truman and Stalin.
In that same crucial month, a few days after Roosevelt's death, the Soviets had amassed three armies of of two and a half million men to take Berlin and end forever Hitler's one thousand year Reich. But incredibly, the Germans were still able with all their losses, to muster an enormous defence with one million men, fortified bunkers, air, artillery, their most fanatical recruits in this most terrible Gotterdammerung - child soldiers. It was the Third Reich's last stand. The battle was bloody. Eighty thousand Russian troops were killed, at least three hundred thousand casualties, fighting street to street. Berlin fell in four days. Hitler and his long-term mistress, Ava Braun, married and the next day committed suicide.
Seeking revenge for the German rape of the USSR, and further fuelled by what they had witnessed in liberating the concentration camps enroute to Berlin, the Soviet soldiers behaved brutally towards the vanquished Germans. Stalin did nothing to stop it, but when reports began to fill the world's airwaves of vast hordes of Soviet soldiers raping their way through Germany, orders came from above to stop.
As part of the intended Roosevelt-Stalin plan for the pastoralization of Germany, Soviet officials in the first few months shipped one hundred thousand rail cars of building materials and personal goods back to Russia - some to help build the shattered economy, and some, like furs, paintings, gold and jewels, for purely monetary purposes. But as a result the world-wide perception of the Soviet Union endured that it was a barbaric and brutal semi-Asian nation, invading what had once been civilized Europe.
Stalin desperately wanted friendly relations with the U.S. to continue but, as the Cold War descended, the laurels of the USSR's victory over Germany were stolen or, rather, forgotten.
The dictionary definition of "empathy" is "The imaginative projection or capacity for participating in another feelings or ideas." But Truman did not seem capable of comprehending the pain and suffering of the Soviet people, or their motives. Roosevelt, a man who had suffered from polio in his life, had understood that the war had been won by Soviet sacrifice and the peace now depended on mutual respect. Even Churchill had admitted the Soviet army tore the guts out of the German military machine.
Stalin was a tyrant, absolutely, a ruthless paranoid dictator who disdained the U.S. concept of democracy, but he was also in the tradition of the cruelest Tzars. He had clearly gotten along with Roosevelt and, according to several high-level witnesses, kept his word to Roosevelt. He desperately wanted friendly relations with the U.S. to continue but, as the Cold War descended, the laurels of the USSR's victory over Nazi Germany were stolen or, rather, forgotten. It would take another twenty years for another U.S. President and veteran, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, who had lived his entire life in some degree of pain and with the prospect of death, to pay homage to the Soviet contribution in World War II:
"No nation in the history of battle ever suffered more than the Soviet Union in the Second World War. At least 20 million lost their lives; countless millions of homes and families were burned or sacked; a third of the nation's territory, including two-thirds of its industrial base was turned into a wasteland, a loss equivalent to this country east of Chicago."
Germany officially surrendered May 7. As VE day was celebrated around the world, it also meant that the Soviets, as agreed at Yalta, would enter the Pacific war around August 8th, almost three months before the November 1 start date for the planned Allied invasion of mainland Japan. When Truman and Byrnes, now appointed Secretary of State, met with Stalin and Churchill in the most important conference of World War II at Potsdam, they were waiting for news of the secret atomic tests in the desert of Alamogordo.
Some of the scientists feared they had indeed set the atmosphere on fire.
Truman had pushed the start of the summit back two weeks to mid July in hope the bomb would be tested before negotiations with Stalin began. In the desert Robert Oppenheimer said "we were under incredible pressure to get it done before the Potsdam meeting". It turned out, from Truman's perspective, to be worth the wait. On July 16th, while Truman was touring bombed-out Berlin and preparing for next day's meeting with Stalin, scientists exploded the first atomic bomb.
It exceeded all expectations. Some scientists feared they had indeed set the atmosphere on fire. Groves cabled the preliminary results to Stimson, who rushed to brief Truman and Byrnes.
They were elated. They knew they had a date with destiny.