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.