Reviewing a book that offers a different perspective on WW2.
The goals of the Western Allies in World War II were to defeat Hitler and prevent a hostile power from entrenching itself in Europe and Asia, threatening the freedom and survival of the West. From a narrow perspective, the unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan in 1945 fulfilled this objective: it was a victory for the United States, the United Kingdom, and their allies, and we celebrate V-E Day every May 8 and V-J Day on September 2. But for a large number of nations that fought against Berlin and Tokyo, at enormous sacrifice, 1945 is a dark year that ended one tyranny only to be replaced by another one, the Communist one, which was (and continues to be) no less vicious and in fact was much more lasting and pervasive. Stalin replaced Hitler. Or, to put it in the context of World War II, Stalin was the clear winner of that conflict. It was his war, and he got the most out of it.
This is the argument of a new book, Stalin’s War, by a prolific and excellent historian, Sean McMeekin of Bard College. The author is already well known, having written highly readable and incisive books exploring the role of Russia, the Ottoman Empire, and Germany in the origins of World War I. In his new work, he focuses on Stalin, his objectives, his tactics, his actions, and, above all, his ability to obtain from his Western counterparts everything (and more!) that he wanted. The book presents the story of Stalin’s success that brought an enormous human cost to his own people and to those who came under Communist domination, as well as an enduring geopolitical cost. Through this war, Stalin succeeded in anchoring Soviet power and influence over Eurasia, benefiting from the frailty of European powers. Germany was obviously reduced to rubble by 1945, but even the victorious powers, from France and the UK to the other smaller states across the continent, were mere shadows of their former selves. Stalin gained strategic real estate and the tools, looted from Europe or given to him by the United States, to turn Russia into an industrial superpower. The conditions for the Cold War were in place, and in the immediate aftermath of the war, the possibility that Stalin could become the master of Eurasia was not out of the question. And, for the U.S., victory in 1945 meant not a satisfying and prolonged age of peace, but the beginning of a new and massive investment in preserving its security and the stability threatened by the Soviet Union.
The story presented in such a way is not new, and its broad contours are accepted by most, except those who still see Communist ideology and the USSR as a benign progressive force or those who blame American post-war support of Western Europe for the Cold War. But McMeekin digs deeper and his goal is to change two pervasive myths. One presents Stalin as a paranoid dictator bumbling across the European chessboard, getting caught unprepared for Hitler’s aggressive intents, and then rising to the historic occasion and motivating his people to fight the “Great Patriotic War” to liberate Russia and the adjoining lands from the Nazis. In brief, a dictator to be sure, but a naive one with a great patriotic heart backed by a Russian nation willing to accept great sacrifices.
The other myth is of a strategically wise leadership of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, skillfully making their moves across the world’s map, negotiating with a vast array of strategic partners (including Stalin) and organizing bold military actions that ultimately lead to the 1945 triumph. Neither myth, however, is entirely correct, as McMeekin brilliantly argues backed by abundant facts supplied through impeccable research.
After a look into Stalin’s acquisitive designs on Western Europe, all undone by Hitler’s doomed invasion of the USSR in 1941, we direct our attention still further Westward.
McMeekin then focuses on how the Western allies, Churchill but especially FDR, abetted Stalin’s ambitions. This part of the book is fascinating and depressing at the same time. In a nutshell, Stalin obtained from FDR more than he expected: territory, influence, and materiel. And he did not give anything in exchange for it because FDR and his advisors never asked him for it. For instance, FDR supported the Lend-Lease program, putting his friend Harry Hopkins in charge. Under this program of military aid, the United States supplied a massive amount of weapons, trucks, airplanes, tanks, foodstuff to the Soviet Union in the months of its greatest need, as German troops were driving deep into Russia while the vaunted Soviet armies were melting away. Without such aid, the USSR would have likely been unable to stop the German onslaught and certainly would have been incapable of mustering the resources necessary to push westward. Hence, in this moment there was a good strategic rationale for the American support of Stalin’s defensive efforts against Nazi Germany.
But the problem was that FDR—and Hopkins—went much further than simply buttressing a collapsing Soviet power. The most stunning mistake—a policy willfully pursued by FDR—was that Stalin was never asked for anything in exchange for this material aid. The United States had the upper hand because the Soviets were desperate for any help and would have paid a price for these goods. As McMeekin comments, FDR “could have asked any price: payment in cash, by loan, or in kind; political concessions inside Russia; or promises from Stalin of better behavior abroad, such as abandoning his spying operations in Washington or offering token support for the US-British war against Japan. Instead, the Americans simply gave and demanded nothing in return aside from a vague, nonbinding promise of loan repayment beginning five years after the war was over, at no interest.”
Such a naivete could have been the result of FDR’s belief in his personal capacity to persuade people. But, at best, FDR profoundly misunderstood Stalin, despite the evidence of Soviet actions and even of Stalin’s own words and behavior toward the US President. FDR thought that he could build goodwill with Stalin. As he put it, “I think that if I give him everything I can and ask for nothing in return, noblesse oblige, he won’t try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of democracy and peace.” This is the point where naivete became stupidity.
With certain classifications of Western liberal, the distinction between naivete and stupidity is so thin it’s not worth the bother of making. They’re conjoined twins, constantly shifting and bleeding over one into the other, staggering clumsily about like a dancer uncertain of his stage cues. Sooner or later, though, the Libtard can be relied upon to close this pointless ballet with both feet planted squarely on Stupid. In reality, though, is that he started there, and never ventured any meaningful distance from it. Read the rest for further details of Stalin’s willful humiliation of the hapless, grossly-overmatched clown Roosevelt, and what Uncle Joe’s deftly stolen victory ended up costing the entire world, in blood and treasure.
Frankie had an insatiable urge to fellate Joe Stalin. THAT is why he forced the Japs to pull us into the war. And then ignored them as long as possible to send relief to Joe. And when Frankie finally went to a “warmer place” where he belonged, good ol’ Harry was proud to follow in his footsteps. And as far as the Western allies intending to prevent a hostile power from entrenching itself in Europe and Asia, well they sure did not bother to declare war against the Commies when Joe attacked Poland!!!
Stalin and FDR must of been jews, right?
No, they were Greek orthodox and protestant. And they were collectively responsible for much of the worst evil on earth.
I think you meant Russian Orthodox, but otherwise correct.
Truman was Protestant.
No, Greek. Same thing really. Stalins parents wanted him to be a priest. His father was a priest and Stalin was sent to a Greek Orthodox seminary for several years.
Interesting. A Georgian becoming a Greek Orthodox instead of Russian Orthodox.
Doesn’t speak well of “priesthood”…
The book sounds intriguing. I may have to get this one. Especially after having watched The Americans recently.
I think he’s a little harsh on Churchill. Churchill was warning FDR about Stalin from the beginning. But Britain was in no position to actually do anything about it. They were beholden to the US for their very existence. Just like Stalin was early on. Yet the UK was the one to STFU and pay me.
I think it’s quite obvious FDR was not naïve or stupid when it came to Stalin. It seems to me the two of them executed a Plan to split the World between them. Perhaps FDR was naïve and thought the Soviets and Stalin would be content with their half and “coexist”. If that were the case, then that was stupid.
FDR was way too smart, having had to fight politically against savage NY politicians and DC denizens to get to where he was the four term Dictator of America, to think that Stalin would “play nice’ if FDR gave them everything and asked for nothing in return.
I wouldn’t be surprised if one day we find out that Stalin and FDR had a side deal in secret to create coexisting “spheres of influence” post WW II.
If Roosevelt and Truman had been card-carrying Communists, what would they have done differently?
Especially since right at the end of the War Stalin was able to take North Korea from the Japanese, resupply Mao’s forces, and four years later Mao takes over mainland China. The State Department and Truman admins look on helplessly as Chiang Kai Shek has to retreat to Taiwan. Or was that loss on purpose and looking in helplessly just a feint.
Recall also that the Commies would have taken South Korea if not for the daring maneuver by MacArthur to do an amphibious assault on Incheon behind the NorKs lines. MacArthur drives to the Yaloo and is stopped.
Hmmmmm. Sounds sort of like how they kept putting roadblocks in Patton’s way when he wanted to get to Berlin first. Patton right from the beginning of the War was daring in wanting first blitz through North Africa, and drive up through Italy. They told him to stop and let Monty get to Messina first. Patton ignored them and got slapped for it. He showed he was “rehabilitated” by acting as decoy to the Germans in the Normandy Invasion. He is given command again and is soon blitzing through Northern France. He’s told to let the Russians get to Berlin first. Why? Because that was the deal FDR and Stalin had.
One wonders of there was some chicanery involved with The Bulge. It served to bog down the US Forces just enough to ensure that Patton, once they had broken through, had to head to Southern Germany instead. Was he told to do that or face another humiliating relief of command? Conjecture on my part.
So MacArthur is relieved of command because he came too close to actual victory. Rumors always swirled about that Patton was murdered and his “accident” was no accident.
Over the years of study I came to a few conclusions. No, FDR did not know the Japs were going to pull off Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941. That is clear to me. They should have known the Japs were going to war and attacking Pearl was their best chance and therefore likely. And they did. They were told repeatedly. It was criminal not to be prepared. Instead we got lucky. The carriers were out of port that day, the greatest stroke of luck in history.
FDR was a willing dupe to Stalin. FDR at heart was a commie. Nothing about post WW2 is a surprise when this is understood. Truman was right behind him.
Churchill, IMO, was the only one willing to stop the rise of communism, but he was in charge of a shattered and battered nation, not even capable of defending itself further.
We gave the Soviets Eastern Europe. Gave it to them. FDR is responsible for that.
“…to turn Russia into an industrial superpower.” In every book there is a good laugh somewhere.
Churchill was half American by they way….
For those that didn’t know, Churchill’s mother was American.
She was from NYC and her father was the wealthy financier Leonard Jerome. He was an avid horse racing fan and he and August Belmont built a racetrack in what is now known as the Bronx. It was Jerome Park and together the two of them held the first Belmont Stakes there.
He sailed with Vanderbilt and roamed the Wild West with Buffalo Bill Cody as a guide.
A colorful man akin to Teddy Roosevelt and some of the other “Robber Barons” of the time.
I think she, Churchill’s mom, was pretty wild herself, IIRC.
She was a Socialite and a bon vivant of Paris and London High Society.
The author is himself as naive as he claims FDR was.
First, these are not big asks. Political concessions inside Russia? What sort of piffle is he smoking? Better behavior abroad? Could that be any more vague?
Second, Stalin would have repudiated them immediately after the war was won.
The best route would have been to let Hitler destroy the USSR, and then beaten him by ourselves. We would have eventually.
Keeping the Germans and the USSR bogged down in a war neither could win would have been ideal. Give The Soviets just enough Not To Lose but not enough To Win.
One would have to believe that FDR didn’t know he was in a position of relative strength re the Soviets. If Stalin were asking for more and FDR refused, it was an existential blow to the Soviets as they were fighting on Russian Soil. Stalin had to take what he could get.
That he asked for and was given MORE says to me that FDR did it willingly to allow the Soviets to advance into Germany, rather than merely keep the Germans occupied on the “Eastern Front”.
“The best route would have been to let Hitler destroy the USSR, and then beaten him by ourselves. We would have eventually.”
It was not clear that allowing Hitler free reign in Russia would be a good thing. One was as bad as the other, but Hitler had a juggernaut the Russians did not possess. The outcome of that is not only unknowable, it is subject to how much damage the Russians would have done to the German forces in a loss.
That “eventuality” is not so clear.
Consistently displaying weakness & expecting friends, enemies, & predators alike to view it as anything other than opportunity… The folly continues to this day.
Display weakness; negotiate from a position of weakness; prostrate yourself in any way before an enemy or competitor & you can expect they will move, with haste, to take advantage of a clear & obvious weakness. That is what predators do. Expecting a predator to be kind to you because they see what a good, nice, & helpful person you are is unwise, or to be more blunt, retarded in the extreme. The fact that these attitudes & world views exist, persist, & continue to spread throughout our society says much about the state of our civilization. Never has the need been greater for leaders who don’t suffer from this mental weakness, this fairy tale belief in a world that very clearly does not exist. The reality of predators is swift, unflinching, & merciless violence at even the slightest hint of weakness. Leaders who do not understand that & act accordingly are unfit for leadership. Truth be told, even citizens who do not understand this are unfit for our society. They put us all at risk by allowing, tolerating, or being blind to predatory behavior; essentially encouraging it & giving it fertile ground on which to flourish, thus inevitably ensuring its continuation & unyielding growth.
The time for fairy tales is over. We are not children. Either we deal with predators as one must, or we become the prey. There are no other options. Our long history of weak or traitorous leaders, that albatross which hangs around our necks as a nation, as a people, & as a culture, must be put to an end, with extreme prejudice.
The true reason behind the weakness we constantly & consistently see displayed by our so-called leaders at all levels is ultimately immaterial. The source, be it naiveté, stupidity, incompetence, greed or betrayal matters only in so far as it assists us in determining the appropriate severity of punishment, should that be warranted.
More importantly, our acceptance or tolerance for those not understanding reality, especially the reality of the predatory world in which we live, must be zero. No exceptions. Understanding & acknowledging the harsh realities of our predatory world is the bare minimum prerequisite required to even be considered potentially eligible for positions of leadership, responsibility, or power; the bare minimum for even having an opinion worth listening to without being ridiculed or pelted with whatever rotten fruit or spare change is easily at hand. Weakness is death in a world full of predators. We cannot tolerate weakness & expect to survive.
The enemy is at the gate. The hordes are gathering. The voracious animal has bared its teeth.
Story time is over. Nap time has ended.
It’s time to face the predators.
It’s not even complicated. There’s a simple test.
Denying others self-determination, or even attempting to, is predatory.
great essay, mind if I republish it on my Substack page? https://streamfortyseven.substack.com/
Thank you kind sir! You are most welcome to republish any of my ramblings.
Drawing and quartering via tractor pull on Pay per View.
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Showing such understanding should be the bare minimum to even be considered a functioning adult. Refusing to see the world as it truly exists is the sign of a child, whatever the physical age of the person. Sadly, our society has legions of these children in grown up bodies. Their immaturity is the source of a great many of our problems: socially, economically, and politically.
Truer words, truer words…
Perhaps these dark times are an opportunity in disguise.