Freedom Betrayed, by Herbert Hoover
In November and December, 1943, Roosevelt attended conferences in Cairo and Tehran. The Tehran conference was the first meeting of Roosevelt with Stalin. Churchill was also present. These meeting were preceded in August with a meeting including Roosevelt and Churchill in Quebec.
In the Quebec conference, Churchill advocated that the allies open the second front in Europe through the Balkans” – as Churchill described it, the “soft underbelly of Europe.” This would prevent a Soviet rush into that area, avoiding the permanent establish of the authority of the Soviet Union in this region, potentially saving much of Central Europe from Soviet tyranny. General Wedemeyer conveys Roosevelt’s view on this notion:
…The President then added the curious statement that he did not understand the British viewpoint in this connection, for he, Roosevelt, did not believe that the Soviets wanted to take over the Balkan states but wished only to establish “kinship with other Slavic peoples.”
With “kin” like the Soviets, who needs enemies?
In Tehran, Churchill tried every trick in his oratorical bag to get Stalin on board with his proposal. Stalin refused, insisting that the second front should be through the west as had previously been discussed.
General Mark Clark was, at the time, in command of Allied Armies in Italy. He strongly supported the Prime Minister’s viewpoint, as indicated in his book written after the war:
…A campaign that might have changed the whole history of relations between the Western world and Soviet Russia was permitted to fade away….Not alone in my opinion, but in the opinion of a number of experts who were close to the problem, the weakening of the campaign in Italy in order to invade southern France and instead of pushing on in the Balkans was one of the outstanding political mistakes of the war.…Had we been there before the Red Army, not only would the collapse of Germany have come sooner, but the influence of Soviet Russia would have been drastically reduced.
As I have mentioned in the past, it seems inappropriate and perhaps naïve to label such significant decisions such as this one of where to establish a second front and why as simply a “political mistake.”
Upon his return to the U. S. from Cairo and Tehran, Roosevelt delivered a radio address. Regarding Stalin, Roosevelt said:
To use an American and somewhat ungrammatical colloquialism, I may say that “I got along fine” with Marshall Stalin…I believe we are going to get along very well with him and the Russian people – very well indeed….
Let’s examine Roosevelt’s good companion “Uncle Joe,” through two events that preceded the war.
The Great Purge
Stalin, as head of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, consolidated near-absolute power in the 1930s with a Great Purge of the party that was justified as an attempt to expel "opportunists" and "counter-revolutionary infiltrators". Those targeted by the purge were often expelled from the party, however more severe measures ranged from banishment to the Gulag labor camps to execution after trials held by NKVD troikas.
In light of revelations from Soviet archives, historians now estimate that nearly 700,000 people (353,074 in 1937 and 328,612 in 1938) were executed in the course of the terror, with the great mass of victims merely "ordinary" Soviet citizens: workers, peasants, homemakers, teachers, priests, musicians, soldiers, pensioners, ballerinas, beggars. Many of the executed were interred in mass graves, with some of the major killing and burial sites being Bykivnia, Kurapaty and Butovo….Some Western experts believe the evidence released from the Soviet archives is understated, incomplete or unreliable.
Stalin personally signed 357 proscription lists in 1937 and 1938 that condemned to execution some 40,000 people, and about 90% of these are confirmed to have been shot.
The Ukrainian Famine 1932–1933
The death toll from famine in the Soviet Union at this time is estimated at between 5 and 10 million people. The worst crop failure of late tsarist Russia, in 1892, had caused 375,000 to 400,000 deaths. Most modern scholars agree that the famine was caused by the policies of the government of the Soviet Union under Stalin, rather than by natural reasons. According to Alan Bullock, "the total Soviet grain crop was no worse than that of 1931 … it was not a crop failure but the excessive demands of the state, ruthlessly enforced, that cost the lives of as many as five million Ukrainian peasants." Stalin refused to release large grain reserves that could have alleviated the famine, while continuing to export grain; he was convinced that the Ukrainian peasants had hidden grain away and strictly enforced draconian new collective-farm theft laws in response.
Professor Michael Ellman concludes that Ukrainians were victims of genocide in 1932–33 according to a more relaxed definition that is favored by some specialists in the field of genocide studies. He asserts that Soviet policies greatly exacerbated the famine’s death toll. Although 1.8 million tonnes of grain were exported during the height of the starvation – enough to feed 5 million people for one year – the use of torture and execution to extract grain under the Law of Spikelets, the use of force to prevent starving peasants from fleeing the worst-affected areas, and the refusal to import grain or secure international humanitarian aid to alleviate conditions led to incalculable human suffering in the Ukraine.
Current estimates on the total number of casualties within Soviet Ukraine range mostly from 2.2 million to 4 to 5 million.
From “The History Place”:
Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union, set in motion events designed to cause a famine in the Ukraine to destroy the people there seeking independence from his rule. As a result, an estimated 7,000,000 persons perished in this farming area, known as the breadbasket of Europe, with the people deprived of the food they had grown with their own hands.
…beginning in 1929, over 5,000 Ukrainian scholars, scientists, cultural and religious leaders were arrested after being falsely accused of plotting an armed revolt. Those arrested were either shot without a trial or deported to prison camps in remote areas of Russia.
Some researchers estimate that ten million persons were thrown out of their homes, put on railroad box cars and deported to "special settlements" in the wilderness of Siberia during this era, with up to a third of them perishing amid the frigid living conditions. Men and older boys, along with childless women and unmarried girls, also became slave-workers in Soviet-run mines and big industrial projects.
By mid 1932, nearly 75 percent of the farms in the Ukraine had been forcibly collectivized. On Stalin’s orders, mandatory quotas of foodstuffs to be shipped out to the Soviet Union were drastically increased in August, October and again in January 1933, until there was simply no food remaining to feed the people of the Ukraine.
Much of the hugely abundant wheat crop harvested by the Ukrainians that year was dumped on the foreign market to generate cash to aid Stalin’s Five Year Plan for the modernization of the Soviet Union and also to help finance his massive military buildup.
It has been asked by many, including by Hoover: why did Roosevelt formally recognize the Communist Soviet government shortly after taking office, when every President before him refused to do so? Why did the United States decide to take sides in a war between two totalitarian states – the Soviets and the Germans? If for some reason a side had to be chosen, why the Soviets and not the Germans? To these questions I would now add: why Roosevelt’s acquiescence of Stalin regarding opening up the second front in the Balkans? Why not occupy this region first, denying the opportunity to the Soviets, and thus saving the population of this region from the Communist nightmare?
Finally, why the glowing report regarding “Uncle Joe”? In Roosevelt’s words “…we are going to get along very well with him…”
In this book, Hoover is quite pre-occupied with the infiltration of Communist actors in the Roosevelt Administration. He looks at events during the 1930s and 1940s through a lens that is shaded with this viewpoint. Whether or not Hoover is correct in his concerns and assessments in this regard, it seems to me that only two explanations are plausible when considering and answering the questions regarding Roosevelt’s positions and actions regarding the Soviet Union:
1) Roosevelt purposely acted in favor of the Soviets due to his feelings in favor of communism and collectivism (his economic policies made quite clear his leanings in this regard, although fascism would have been closer to Roosevelt’s economic model), or
2) Roosevelt wanted to create and prop up a reasonably (perceived) strong Soviet Union as a natural “enemy” to the west, thus establishing a cold war that would be the health of the state for decades to come.
I cannot say which of the two is correct; certainly I am open to a third possibility. Perhaps Hoover will offer a clue as to his view at some point in this book.
Reprinted with permission from the Bionic Mosquito.