David Kennedy, Andrew Roberts and Stephen Kotkin Discuss the Big Three of the 20th Century

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welcome to uncommon knowledge i'm peter robinson in this episode we taped a live show at the hauck auditorium at the hoover institution dedicating the program to franklin delano roosevelt winston leonard spencer churchill and joseph visarianovic jugashvili better known as joseph stalin the big three the leaders who crushed nazi germany at the beginning of the second world war what did roosevelt churchill and stalin want what national interests was each man pursuing and what do these three men make of each other consider this for example this is churchill writing about franklin roosevelt in 1945 he was the greatest american friend we have ever known and yet just a year earlier one of churchill's assistants wrote that quote in private winston is very bitter about roosevelt and not so sure he really likes fdr to discuss the big three david kennedy stanford professor of history emeritus david is the author of freedom from fear the american people in depression and war a classic work in which the central figure is of course franklin roosevelt andrew roberts a historian at the hoover institution and the author of churchill walking with destiny published just last year to unanimously rave reviews and stephen cotkin a historian at princeton and again at the hoover institution stephen is the author of stalin paradoxes of power and stalin waiting for hitler these are the first two volumes in his projected three-volume work on joseph stalin and his times three of the most accomplished historians of our day talking about three of the most important figures of the 20th century uncommon knowledge now june 21st 1941 in violation of the molotov ribbontrop pact hitler launches operation barbarossa named after medieval german emperor invading the soviet union with some 4 million troops it's in response to this operation barbarossa that the grand alliance the alliance among britain the united states and the soviet union led by the big three emerges britain immediately signs a mutual aid treaty with the soviet union president roosevelt and prime minister churchill meet in canada they issue a declaration of war ames the atlantic charter which stalin still in moscow immediately approves although the united states will not enter the war until the japanese attack pearl harbor and three days later hitler declares war on the united states in december 1941 president roosevelt joins prime minister churchill and premier stalin in an exchange of cables that will continue throughout the war what did they want as they responded to operation barbarosa as the big three became the big three what did each man want what national interests did he intend to pursue andrew roberts writing on churchill the british empire was his creed churchill's interest then andrew was to preserve the empire well first of all of course it was survival just national survival he'd spent 11 months under the threat of invasion from germany from the time of the retreat from dunkirk onwards and so it was just a case of exhalation that hitler had unleashed this massive invasion the largest invasion in the history of mankind um three million men 160 divisions or so across into russia and that let him spot that of course um heckler was on to a two-front war and uh and so britain at least in the short term was going to survive as an independent entity he then in the longer term wanted to make sure that the russians stayed in the in the war as long as possible and bled germany dry and he wanted then to ensure that the americans when they did finally come into the war in december 1941 um were guided towards a mediterranean strategy rather than an over-early cross-channel attack we will come to the mediterranean strategy in a moment david kennedy and franklin roosevelt he may well have reasoned that operation barbara rosa presented him with the opportunity to clinch the tenuous logic of his short of war strategy we will ask you again david in a moment when the united states is at war what fdar's aims are but at the moment operation barbara rose of the united states is not at war what does fdr want well i think i can summarize it most easily with reference to a familiar but often misunderstood phrase that roosevelt would have understood deeply from the pen of woodrow wilson in his war address in april 6 1917 april 2nd 1917 when he said we seek to make the world safe for democracy notably he did not say we seek to make the world democratic but to create an international environment where those societies that had already organically established democratic practices and institutions could survive without becoming heavily militarized and disciplined in the way that a militarized society had to be so i think at the highest level of principle that was roosevelt's aim all right stephen i want to know stalin's war aim and the more ames in a moment but first briefly if you could how is it that stalin has taken napping when hitler double crosses him and invades with almost four million men so stalin was prepared for the war the soviet union actually had the largest military in the world it had the largest tank park it had the largest airplane park it had gigantic uh forces already not including those that it could still call up hitler of course had arrayed this huge force along the frontier with stalin they had a new frontier because of that hitler stalin pact but stalin was led to believe by german disinformation that hitler would not actually attack he was only massing the troops in order to blackmail stalin he wanted to gain from stalin ukraine and other territories concessions without actually having to fight so stalin was sitting in his office waiting for an ultimatum expecting that he would be able to drag out the negotiations expecting that if he could drag out the negotiations past a certain date he could be safe for another year while he was continuing his military buildup instead of the ultimatum which was a ruse planted as i said by german disinformation which fooled most of the intelligence services of the world instead of that he was attacked during the moment of the attack stalin was still waiting for the ultimatum which is one of the reasons he didn't give an order to fight back immediately all right stalin what are stalin's war aims when he recognizes what's happening what are his war aims well yes like it was for the uk the soviet union's main war aim is survival survival no one had seen an invasion force like this before thousands more than three thousand modern tanks motorized infantry right behind the tanks a huge attacking air force combined operations uh on the ground and in the air this was breathtaking what the nazis invaded with and from june 22 1941 until december 1941 it was not clear that the soviet union was going to survive once survival became possible then his war aims changed to aggrandizement he wanted back all the territories that they had lost in the revolution and civil war the baltic states poland part of romania known as bessarabia and of course in the far east those territories lost to japan in earlier wars so survival aggrandizement and then like any good communists projecting their power to every corner of the earth tehran churchill and roosevelt meet on 11 occasions during the war churchill and stalin meet on three but all three of the big three meet only twice the first meeting is the tehran conference which lasts from november 28th to december 1st 1943 as the big three meet in tehran the military situation the americans and the americans are now in the war the americans and the british and their western allies have recaptured north africa liberated sicily and begun the invasion of italy in the east the soviets have become their great counter offensive and they have driven the nazis back to a line that runs roughly from leningrad leningrad is still besieged but the line runs roughly leningrad smolensk and then down the deeper david i said i would give you a second chance at this one now the united states is in the war what is roosevelt thinking what are his war aims now that he's at war well not not giving up the general high principle name of making a world safe for democracy an open world not mercantilist not imperialist and so on keeping that in focus but at a what we might call a tactical level roosevelt's aim is to put american weight into the scales to assure the defeat of germany and japan at the least possible cost to the united states all right we come now to this mediterranean strategy it's going to take me just a moment to set this up but then i will release the three of you the central strategic question in tehran how and when the western allies would open a front in western europe relieving pressure on soviets in the east led by general george marshall the american military planners insist on devoting all resources to an invasion across the english channel churchill had other ideas for months he pressed the americans for an operation in the eastern mediterranean perhaps pushing up through italy perhaps landing near trieste to advance through the balkans to vienna perhaps advancing instead to turkey andrew roberts will now defend these mad schemes [Laughter] well first of all you have to see um see the germany first policy that was adopted right at the beginning in its proper context i think it's um one of the great statesmanlike moments of the 20th century when roosevelt and america come together with uh with the british to go for germany first it's the klaus victim thing to do you take out you're strong the stronger of your opponents so so europe gets 70 percent very roughly of american resources whereas the japanese conflict in the pacific gets about 30 percent then what marshall wanted to do as early as the fall of 1942 was to cross the channel and um and attack germany like that before we'd won the battle of the atlantic in the august of 1943 and also crucially before we'd won the war in the air and that would have been disastrous we'd have wound up with another um another dunkirk evacuation on our hands so what um general brooke uh the chief of the imperial general staff and winston churchill did in many of those meetings that you spoke about was to persuade the americans to adopt the mediterranean strategy that had been largely successful by the time of the fall of rome on the 5th of june 1944 and and the very next day they came across the channel in the successful operation but i also want you to be aware that franklin roosevelt is looking increasingly dubious as you talk absolutely no i i i take i'll take that on um i'd expect nothing less in fact um but um when it comes to going off into to capture um uh vienna and also in his huge opposition to the anvil attack in the south of france that also took place in churchill churchill's opposition that also took place uh in the um august of 1944 what churchill was trying to do by then was to keep as much of eastern europe as possible in the western bloc the western sphere and stop it from falling under the soviet moor but the trouble was that not only of course did the americans quite rightly want the war to end as soon as possible but secondly the actual strategy of it and the tactics of it was not well not impossible you had to go through something called the ljubljana gap which isn't a gap and the germans proved again and again in the italian campaign to be absolutely superb at defence and counter-attack when i was at my first day at university at cambridge my don told me that never i tried to use the word inevitable in history he said you must never use the word inevitable in history except for german counter-attack but you know the uh in churchill's memoir i think it's volume four you're going to know the citation better than i he tells us his state of mind at the moment he heard about the pearl harbor attack and he says something like uh so the united states was in the war into the neck and into the death uh england was saved i went to bed and i slept the sleep of the saved and the thankful now that doesn't especially word for word well done but it's a misleading statement because what he in fact did was not exactly go to bed and sleep the sleep of the savior and thankfully came to washington dc to make sure that the americans were not going to reverse the germany first strategy and go hounding off in a war of revenge against the japanese in the pacific and abandon the europe first or germany for his strategy now he quickly finds out when he arrives that that's not going to happen gentlemen i return you to tehran where franklin roosevelt does something to me astonishing we've got this debate raging between churchill and the british general staff and the american military planners roosevelt remains at one removed from it but now at tehran he turns to joseph stalin and says what do you think he lets joseph stalin in effect cast the deciding vote fdr what were you up to what is roosevelt doing there well there are intelligence will just back up a step sure roosevelt had promised the russians a second front in 1942 that they that we would the west would mount a second front before the end of 42. quite irresponsibly yes i thought it was a stupid thing to say because it was it was impossible to execute and exactly fulfill that promise we had no force in being of a size that would have made any consequential effect whatsoever but stalin is continuously repeatedly begging for the west to open a front in the uh on the western side of europe that would draw off at least 40 german divisions from the eastern front which was a charnel house so roosevelt goes to tehran expecting they have to mollify stalin yet again about the fact that there is no second front yet open as of late 1943 and just before he arrives in tehran there is an intelligence report that originates with john dean the military attache at the moscow embassy who reports that maybe the russians are no longer interested in a western second front because they now have the upper hand on the eastern front and if the west just delays the second front long enough the red army can advance deeply into western europe so roosevelt is afraid at tehran that maybe the russians have lost interest in the western allies and the and the stalin will align himself with churchill and encourage more what the american military planners call periphery pecking that is attacking in the mediterranean basin in north africa and so on but places that had really no strategic consequence when it came to the final defeat of nazi germany and joseph stalin what do you make of this dispute between these two american intelligence wasn't always correct in its appraisals of soviet motivations or even of soviet capabilities so the reason roosevelt promised stalin the second front was because he wouldn't promise him to accept the pre-june 1941 soviet borders which involved soviet annexation of countries that had been independent prior to the war and so in lieu of accepting stalin's territorial aggrandizement roosevelt felt he had a promise something and the second front which some of roosevelt's military advisers supported stalin had won the battle of stalingrad in the winter 1942-43 so when people showed up at tehran november first day of december 1943 the momentum of the german offensive was over however the germans still had a gigantic occupying army on soviet territory and were not giving up stalin still felt at this point that the second front was necessary for him i don't think dean the military attache got this right it was also a matter of promises made promises broke in how much could stalin trust or rely on the allies and how much would they betray him so the second front was an important test of whether the allies were misleading him or he could rely on them he still did the bulk of the fighting stalin when the normandy invasion occurred the landing in june 1944 there were 30 german divisions approximately deployed in the west and there were 220 plus german divisions still deployed on soviet territory and that's june 1944 let alone november 1943. so he needed the relief of the second front and he was happy for the promise but of course the promise was not redeemed yet again the second front was delayed so the central strategic question gets decided against churchill and in favor of the american planners and we have what we now know of as operation well as the normandy invasion takes place in 44 overlord second item if i may at tehran we by which i mean i tend to think of yalta as the place where europe gets divided up the post-war status of europe gets discussed david kennedy corrected me a couple of weeks ago and said no no there was a lot of discussion at tehran and important concessions or at least acknowledgments of reality took place at tehran and in particular roosevelt has already recognized that the soviets are going to be in possession of poland now roosevelt something to which i'd like to ask andrew to respond in a moment the personal dynamics here at tehran roosevelt stays in the soviet embassy he rebuffs churchill's efforts to have one-on-one meetings with between roosevelt and churchill but he has one-on-one meetings with stalin and here is here are the official notes on one of those meetings which takes place between franklin roosevelt and joseph stalin on december 1st the president told marshall stalin that we would have an election in 1944 that there were in the united states from six to seven million americans of polish extraction and as a practical man he did not wish to lose their vote he said he personally agreed with the views of marshall stalin on poland he hoped however that the marshall would understand that for political reasons he could not participate in any decision on poland here at tehran the president went on to say that there were a number of persons of lithuanian latvian and estonian origin in the united states and jokingly added jokingly added this is in the official record not some crazy right winger's memoir jokingly added that when the soviet armies reoccupied these areas he did not intend to go to war with the soviet union on this point close quote stephen cotkin what would that remarkable explanation from franklin roosevelt to joseph stalin how would that have affected joseph stalin's calculations roosevelt was cultivating stalin he was under the illusion that he needed to win over stalin's trust as opposed to stalin's respect he therefore attempted blatantly to make disparaging references to churchill to ingratiate himself with stalin i don't think this affected the larger strategy very much because events on the ground were very decisive but it was a curious moment stalin was sizing them up and like any one trained in marxism leninism he was looking for the contradictions the tensions among the imperialists so he would exploit any differences between churchill and roosevelt he had good secret intelligence already on their positions from his uh agents and he also had intuition which was quite sophisticated he charmed them at the same time as he played them off one against the other i'm not sure however how much that mattered in the end and whether roosevelt's error in trying to win stalin's trust would have been better would have led to a different outcome had he for example not done that david roosevelt is under an illusion it's cotkins word over there and then made an error but it didn't make any difference you didn't quite say this so i may be a little bit off base here but there's a there's a story that's been out there for 70 plus years that roosevelt naively tried to establish a personal rapport with stalin called him uncle joe and did all kinds of things just to be chummy with him thinking that on the basis of his own personal charm he could win stalin over to be a uh good partner in the family of nations i've never believed that story uh i don't think it has much merit and let's go back to the periphery picking british strategy versus the the grand american strategy the code name for which was bolero which was meant to uh have a staged buildup in the british isles and then eventually a cross-channel invasion of the event we know as d-day but d-day happens in june of 1944 it was originally scheduled for july 1 of 1943 and it was among the reasons it was delayed was because of the periphery pecking in the mediterranean so when dwight eisenhower heard about the decision to invade north africa in 1942. he said in his diary this is the blackest day in the history of our nation because we're making a huge strategic mistake to put resources into this theater which really doesn't have any material consequence for the outcome of the world or church yes and and then and then the next thing the next thing eisenhower said in that diary entry he said we we must never lose sight of the fact that the great prize we seek is to keep eight million russians in the war so he he knew where where the real military weight of opposition to the germans was so it wasn't with the british it was with the russians now hold on which is an argument four out of five germans who are killed in the war are killed by the soviets the soviets pay a price of 20 million dead not wounded but 20 million dead during the war 25 million killed during the war and so the argument would be if roosevelt is trying to play stalin he actually played him pretty well he he he caused the soviets to all right so there's that argument but on the other hand here he is cozying up to joseph stalin and saying you understand of course that i have political constraints but would you help me out here just throwing poland under the bus at tehran it happened at least according to the official notes poland was under the bus this pool's already in the world now now to churchill all right unfortunately poland got a raw deal being located between nazi germany and stalin soviet union it would have been better had poland been located for example on the west coast in america what's the title of norman davies book devil's playground andrew has listened to david used the term periphery pecking about a dozen times and he can no longer restrain himself go right firstly the american army was not ready in 1942 or early 1943 to cross the channel and take on what was still the best army in the world true enough and you can see that from wasted resources it didn't waste resources in the slightest it helped capture a quarter of a million axis troops who surrendered in tripoli in may 1943 it then was able to to draw 18 divisions down out of uh out of france for when the big punch was going to come across the channel drawn down into um into italy it was a uh it was nothing like periphery picking it was bloodying the um american army yes but not in such a negative way that you weren't able to cross over on d-day with 156 000 men and deal a knockout blow to the germans this would not have been possible until you had had some defeats like kazareen pass and so on you also had a um a problem of course italy was a terrible place to fight but nonetheless it was knocking out another of the axis powers in september 1943 which was a worthwhile thing to do what would have been wrong would have been to have taken the ljubljana gap route because but that's totally down to strategy politically of course it would have been fantastic but ultimately the generals like marshall and eisenhower were right not to go the churchillian route so the u.s chief of naval operations ernest king he was in a foul anglophobe yes but he said in a discussion in july of 1942 he said winston churchill will invade europe only behind a scottish bagpipe band well of course churchill had commanded a battalion in the royal scots fusiliers in the first world war so he knew how good fighters they were all right boys the problem was the problem with 1942 was the british would have had to do the fighting when the americans decided that they would want a second front invasion through france in 1942 it was the british land army that would have to do the bulk of the fighting at that point in the war that was not going to happen and when we tried out an attack admittedly a small attack but over five thousand men canadians at the up in august 1942 we lost 3500 killed and wounded yalta second and final meeting of the big three takes place at yalta february 4 to 11 1945 the leaders meet in a rambling villa that nicholas ii had built overlooking the black sea the military situation as they meet in the west the united states the united kingdom and their allies have liberated all of france and belgium and are preparing to cross the rhine into the german heartland they will encounter resistance the battle of the bulge will take place but still they're preparing to cross into the german heartland in the east the red army has already driven the germans out of the soviet union and all the way across poland and as the big three confer the red army is only some 50 miles from berlin among the agreements at yalta roosevelt wins a commitment from stalin to participate in the united nations stalin promises to enter the war against japan within a few months of the defeat of germany and the leaders agreed to divide germany into zones of occupation but perhaps the primary topic of discussion at yalta is that country with the worst luck in the world poland historian christopher andrew quote having already conceded soviet dominance of dominance of poland at tehran roosevelt and churchill make a belated attempt to secure the restoration of polish democracy and a guarantee of free elections andrew roberts described churchill's efforts well they were naive um you had over it of course you had yours to stick up for your money they were naive in the best possible way they as steven has pointed out you know you have over a million red army um soldiers in poland at the time the best that churchill and indeed fdr could possibly do is hope for the best the other things that you mentioned that they wanted like the united nations organization and the declaration of war against japan from russia three months later were both of them considered very important and um and so what the best they could do was to keep their fingers crossed and hope for the best and when stalin made his uh promises about the integrity and independence of poland which he did again and again at yalta um they they just had to in this case naively believe him and of course he was lying through his teeth naive so so david so i'll keep pushing on this david because i'm gonna go back to what stephen said about facts on the ground right not only a marxist phrase it's a it's a matter of realism and to repeat again poland was already well under the bus in fact i'd say behind the rear wheels of the bus by the time all these events are falling out okay so there really is little practically speaking that the western allies brits and the americans could have done by the point of time at yalta and the these agreements are paper agreements verbal agreements not worth the oral agreements not worth the paper they're not written on and admiral leahy roosevelt's chief of staff said as they were leaving yalta he said mr president with the things we've disagreed to here these agreements are so elastic they can be stretched all the way the russians can stretch them all the way from the altar to washington d.c without breaking the agreement and roosevelt said i know bill i know but it's the best i can do for poland at this time all right so what happens is that they press stalin and stalin agrees to reorganize the provision of the lublin government he's established a communist government and over the following weeks after ulta he does indeed expand the membership but retains communist control of poland so they get essentially nothing from churchill and roosevelt get essentially nothing the other aspect of the alta agreement there's a long communique issue that talks about the un and poland and so forth but in the middle of this communique is something called the declaration on liberated europe and let me give you a couple of excerpts the establishment of order in europe and the rebuilding of national economic life must be achieved by processes which will enable the liberated peoples to create democratic institutions of their own choice the restoration including the restoration of sovereign rights and self-government close quote and that statement was signed by all three men in fact in the libya living palace i'm mispronouncing it but in the palace today there is a russian translation with the three signatures they signed it stephen cotkin historian ann applebaum the soviets quote thought from the beginning that it was only a matter of time before they and their ideas were popular so one of the reasons they held elections and there were some free elections in the region this is after the war particularly in hungary and east germany and also in czechoslovakia very early is because they thought they would win the elections close quote is it conceivable that joseph stalin signed the declaration on liberated europe in good faith that he really thought he would hold elections that would be recognizably democratic i got to back up just a second here before i can answer you know every time i ask a question i lose about two years the focus on yalta is understandable but um hitler invaded the soviet union in order for nazi germany to be defeated unconditional surrender which were the terms on offer and the fact that the nazi regime and the vermont did not give up meant that somebody had to get all the way to central europe because of hitler's invasion so stalin didn't do that but he was able to take advantage of it you know chamberlain in 1938 when his critics were saying stop appeasing hitler do the deal with stalin form an alliance and go to war and defeat hitler instead as we know chamberlain appeased hitler came back from munich having given part of czechoslovakia with no compensation a country he didn't know to hitler but chamberlain wrote to one of his sisters and he said you know if i do a deal with stalin and form a military alliance and we go to war and we defeat hitler how do i get the communists out of central europe so chamberlain was not a very effective leader and he made many mistakes but this was the question and so if you were going to go to war against hitler you were going to end up with stalin in a large part of europe so this is 1938 as opposed to february 1945. now let's fast forward to 1945 to answer your question there was a debate in both the american and the british delegation of how to characterize the soviet regime and how to characterize stalin personally many people thought that it wasn't communist anymore it was more nationalist than communist it had evolved this was the argument that riben trump had made to hitler in 1939 to get hitler to sign the hitler stalin pact every time there was some nationalist outburst in the soviet union ribbon trump would run to hitler and say see they're not really judeo-bolsheviks anymore they're actually nationalists hitler didn't buy it but many people in the nazi regime did buy it and many people inside the american and british delegations at yalta wondered about this question too because if he was a nationalist if it was just another czar like the tsars in the past maybe we could do deals with him and maybe the post-war could be managed remember stalin charmed them he's very charming when he wants to be he's a murderous vicious tyrant who will kill you for nothing in cold blood but he can also turn on the charm and so they found him rather interesting person face to face in addition they would ask for three things from stalin and he would concede one of them and they would look at each other and said did stalin just make a concession his reputation is that he murders everybody he disagrees with and here he's making a concession so they were charmed also by the fact that he made occasional concessions which meant that they wouldn't give up on a negotiating process with him and so what alternative did they have it was stalin who was fighting the german land army and it was stalin that they were hoping would be a nationalist more than a communist would make some further concessions and would potentially abide by the deal and so yes it looked like stalin made these promises in good faith let's remember stalin's motivation his country is wrecked because the war took place on his territory he had territorial ambitions that still needed to be legalized in the international order like reacquiring the baltic states and and and territories in the far east like southern sahlin and the koreal islands he wanted reconstruction aid land lease was still ongoing at this point and how long would that continue would it continue into the post-war for example he had tremendous ambitions that required some type of working relationship with the americans especially and with the british and the americans and the british understood this so they felt they had some leverage so andrew go ahead i think it's also worth pointing out um that the two things that as you so rightly say he gave to fdr namely the declaration of war against japan three months after the defeat of germany and the building of the united nations organization were actually going to work in his favor as well um in stalin's favor he would he would wind up being on the winning side against japan as it was of course he only needed to do it a few days but because of the nuclear bomb but nonetheless he did undertake what he promised to and also of course um especially if the united nations organization was going to leave um moscow with a with the veto and the security council that was going to work in in russia's favor as well i want to go back to something that stephen mentioned about unconditional surrender in the context of your question about acting in good faith so let's remember when the unconditional surrender formula was uh promulgated or announced it was at the casablanca conference in january of 1943 the date is important because the decision roosevelt and roosevelt and churchill are there but it was mainly roosevelt and churchill went along with it yes roosevelt as i understand it you can correct me if i'm wrong churchill was a bit caught a bit flat-footed by this yeah that roosevelt announced that more or less unilaterally and churchill of course exceeded but the timing is important january of 1943 there's still no second front and roosevelt has not delivered church last delivered on the second front and they're about to announce that there will not be a second front in all of 1943 because they're going to redeploy the north african force to invade italy which is again not a strategically important venue as far as stalin is concerned and it's in that context in that context that the unconditional surrender formula is announced and one way to read that and understand what was going on is this is consul a consolation prize for no second front we will declare no unconditional surrender as the outcome of this war and then what happens the allies the western allies invade sicily and proceed to negotiate a conditional surrender on the part of the italian government so talk about bad faith there's plenty to go around all right i want to go back to the declaration on liberated europe for a moment and to the question that stephen just put before us which is what is stalin up to is he a nationalist or is he a communist and to return to to franklin roosevelt and winston churchill who are after all leaders of democracies and what they say to their own people matters so after yalta roosevelt goes back home and gives a speech to a joint session of congress in which he portrays that the agreement is taking place in good faith i'm convinced that the agreement on poland under the circumstances he does give himself a little clause there of wiggle room is the most hopeful agreement possible for a free independent and prosperous polish state that's roosevelt i come to you this will take a moment to set up but then i'll just release you on it by the time of the alta conference the polls had suffered an invasion from the red army in 1940 an invasion and occupation from 39 to 41 the forcible deportation of a million and a half poles to camps in the soviet union the catin massacres and the horrifying episode in which the red army halts in its advance on warsaw to permit the nazis to put down the warsaw uprising and raise two-thirds of the city winston churchill reporting on y'all to the house to the house of commons on february 27 1945 are the polls to be free as we in britain and the united states and or france are free or are they to become a mere projection of the soviet state forced to adopt a communist or totalitarian system most solemn declarations have been made by marshall stalin and the soviet union that the sovereign independence of poland is to be maintained the impression i brought back from the crimea is that marshall stalin and the soviet leaders wish to live in honorable friendship and equality with the western democracies i feel that their word is their bond i know of no government which stands to its obligations more solidly than the russian soviet government close quote andrew are you entirely happy with that clearly not as i as i said earlier he was naive and actually you have to he really believed it as he says because and we know that because when he came back to um to london to report to the cabinet when i found in 2016 the verbatim accounts of the war cabinet meetings he was saying exactly the same thing that there was no there was no question of him saying one thing to the cabinets and one thing in part to parliament and the press and the public he actually did believe that but he was also planning something the name of which tells us something important operation unthinkable yeah which was a counterpunch to the russians in central europe yeah it was literally unthinkable all right absolutely last last days of the war spring of 1945 in the west the americans of british are picking up their advance as they move into germany as german resistance begins to collapse in the east the red army finds itself bogged down as the germans at least in part because they're aware of the brutality of the red army the red army has already committed tens of thousands of rapes as it moves through move through poland romania bulgaria yugoslavia hungary the germans fight fiercely the red army bogs down there is movement in the west and at least temporary stalemate in the east and churchill season opening churchill to eisenhower march 31st 1945 why should we not cross the elb and advance as far eastward as possible churchill to roosevelt on april 1st i consider that from a political standpoint we should march as far east into germany as possible and that should berlin be in our grasp we should certainly take it churchill to eisenhower on april 2nd i deem it highly important that we should shake hands with the russians as far to the east as possible now churchill has just told the commons a few months before that the russians stand to their word and now he's saying we must beat them to these targets yes unfortunately they'd already agreed all of these um demarcation lines that the european advisory council long before that in in in 1944 in fact and so in order to um to push the um the borders of the free world as far east was as possible um he knew that that would involve a clash with the soviet union now this had nothing to do with whether the nuclear bomb was going to go off or or not it was just simply an attempt to rip up agreements that had already been signed with the soviets it was never a runner the americans were never going to go for that and um and it was i think i think he was making those uh those statements more with an eye to history than to policy oh really all right i'm going to i want to push one last time this is my last offensive uh i'm going to push this this is my battle of the bulge my last offensive against the three of you here on this question all right so the argument runs poland was already thrown under the bus the red army was where it was there was nothing anybody could do about it and roosevelt may have seemed to be naive he may have been playing a deep game whatever it doesn't matter the facts on the ground were what mattered and what roosevelt said and what churchill said that seemed to be cozying up to whether they charged the cold question of charm and naivete is beside the point all right maybe but let me try one on you and the one i want to try is czechoslovakia the coup doesn't take place until 1948 and writing 20 years later eugene rossdale a pretty smart analyst says that the american quote failure to deter the communist takeover of czechoslovakia in 1948 was one of the most serious mistakes of our foreign policy since the war close quote now you i think you you know igor lucas in his book on the edge of the cold war on czechoslovakia the argument is that a vigorous diplomacy in czechoslovakia by the united states would have prevented the coup why wasn't there a vigorous diplomacy and the argument might be that because fdr is whitewashing stalin telling the american people that we have this grand alliance and one of the people who actually buys that is harry truman who takes a couple of years to figure out what he's really up against in the soviets so the the argument would be if roosevelt had been more realistic in briefing congress if churchill if that both of these men had kept their feet on the ground at all times and not given way to naivete at least czechoslovakia might have been saved i'm getting nothing from any of the three of you on that one it's worthwhile to remember i think it's worthwhile to remember though three years earlier we we thought we were going to lose greece and largely down to churchill we in his words caught the ember from the burning and save greece during the greek civil war in december 1944 early 1945. um it wasn't all it didn't all go um go the soviet's way david whoever you quoted about vigorous diplomacy might have prevented uh czechoslovakia yeah um i would put the question back to eugene rostow if you were here among us what exactly do you mean by vigorous diplomacy what were the tools the effective tools that the united states or the west in general had to actually prevent that result had roosevelt come back from yalta and given that notable address to the joint session of congress that you mentioned which he gave incidentally seated yes for the first time in his presidency and he made i believe the only public reference to the 10 pounds of steel braces he had on his legs which is why he was seated only public reference to his polio that i know of had he said on that occasion my fellow americans members of congress i'm here to tell you that the strategy we have followed throughout this war which is now coming to a successful conclusion has put us in a position where we now have a second adversary we're going to take on it's called the soviet union they've been our allies they've helped us up till now but we're going to keep our troops in europe and we're going to march another several hundred miles to the eastward and i hope you're all going to support me in this effort he would have been tossed out of office i mean that that was an absolutely implausible thing to say and what what the facts on the ground against even to use your your phrase is that the the american grand strategy which i said earlier was designed to achieve whatever the higher you're going to find to find the victory at the least possible cost to the americans meant that the united states did not have the resources or the political will at that stage of the game to effectively counter russian advance into eastern and central europe just wasn't there no means event neither did britain you'd have to have uh deployed the threat of the nuclear attack which also domestically would not have gone down well all right we didn't the first nuclear test was until july of 1945 that's five months after imagine 1948. okay well another impossible scenario let's once again be realistic about these things so stalin says elections and roosevelt and churchill say elections they don't have the same definition of elections if stalin has elections and he doesn't win he cancels them or he re-does them or he changes the results that are reported a sovereign country well stalin has the idea of a sovereign country that it obeys a dictator from the soviet union the roosevelt and churchill have a different view of what a sovereign country means so stalin signs these agreements which roosevelt and churchill come home and oversell because they're politicians in a democracy where we have real elections and then stalin signs these agreements because he can interpret these terms as he sees fit because he's the one who's got the troops on the ground and by the way when he stands for reelection the outcome is predetermined so it's not czechoslovakia it's not poland those places were tragic in what happened to them although they were also complicit in their own outcome we have to say to a certain extent because poland had communists and czechoslovakia had communists but the the the place it's east asia this is where everything is really really the most important thing and where roosevelt strategy is the bigger failure not europe but east asia and we're living with that today and that's why this is so relevant to us right now stalin makes a lot of concessions he leaves northern iran he could have held northern iran he doesn't support the communists in greece he could have supported the communists in greece and i think they might have won had he supported them truman sends him a telegram and says don't go below the 38th parallel in korea and there's no american troops on the korean peninsula and stalin stops at the line that wrote that truman asked him stalin is prepared to invade japan hokkaido the main islands and maybe get down to honshu that is north of tokyo truman says don't do that and stalin doesn't do it even though he has the forces in place to do it so when they're in with stalin on these various issues it's not one-sided where stalin is taking absolutely everything and so they want this to work out with him because they don't have a lot of choices and some things are working out but the china piece is where they blew it all roosevelt decided on his own that china was a great power and would be one of the great powers following world war ii he called them famously the four policemen in 1942 when he had a one-on-one with molotov who was the soviet foreign minister it would be the uk the us the soviet union and china and he wanted to elevate china the uk churchill wanted to elevate france so we ended up with five members with vetoes on the security council in a bargain but china was inserted into that because of roosevelt now in china chiang kai-shek the nationalist the guoman dong had a government which controlled something like 60 to 80 percent of the territory depending on how you measure control at the end of the war and then there was a communist insurgency in the interior the deal was stalin destroys the chinese communist insurgency in exchange for the stuff he wants in east asia we wouldn't send the troops to china and garrison china with a hundred or two hundred or three hundred thousand troops because american domestic politics wouldn't do this so how about if stalin killed the communists remember he killed more german communists than hitler did so stalin knew how to kill communists if we had asked stalin to take down the communist insurgency in china and therefore to support chiang kai-shek then we might have been able not to suffer the quote loss of china in october 1949 and remember now that's going to affect that u.n veto seat eventually when we get to the nixon carter years right and so we've set things up with roosevelt elevating china to this position but not following through on getting stalin to do the dirty work that we could have bargained for given the pieces that were on offer to stalin that he desperately wanted which was reclamation of southern succulent reclamation of the curiel islands leases or control over ports in northern china reclamation of the railroads there he was asking for the moon and we didn't get much in return in terms of the political equation because we asked for the military stuff from him so that was the blunder and that blunder is on roosevelt as well as truman can i add a word to that yes yes i think i think i have to uh the just to dwell on east asia for a moment longer um one of the four big agenda items at yalta of course was these uh terms and timing of the soviet entry into the war against japan japan and soviet union were not at war until the very end of the day uh in the summer of 1945. and on the american side it was thought that the the weight and the impact of a soviet declaration of war against japan would make it conclusively clear that japan was wholly isolated and now had yet another adversary a historic adversary that was mobilizing in east asia against it so the the ostensibly greatest logic of getting the soviets into the the pacific or asian war was to accelerate the end of that war against the japanese remind you even at yalta there's still no certain knowledge that the atomic device is going to work and so the soviet declaration of war was thought to be one of the big chips that we had to play to move japan toward surrender it's number one but number two let's go back to europe because there's a european logic to getting the soviets into the east asian war and this goes to what tools were available to slow down the soviet penetration of eastern and central europe was to hold them to the commitment to deploy substantial resources in asia which were then not available in europe so it was a way to diminish in some degree not a large degree to be sure but to diminish to some extent the the weight of of soviet uh military force in europe itself so it given the tools available that was one that was used to slow down the soviet penetration of eastern europe moving moving to a few final questions now who won this is the last question that'll cause me to huff and puff just to set it up who won a couple ways of looking at it churchill wanted to defend the british empire the british empire begins to unravel almost immediately a british withdrawal from the eastern mediterranean in 47 india achieves its independence of 48 so on that argument churchill failed roosevelt wanted to establish a new international order based on the united nations the united nations becomes a platform for four decades for tin pot dictators our colleague here at the hoover institution neil ferguson quote the principal beneficiary of the second world war was stalin's soviet union the wartime allure alliance with stalin for all its inevitability and strategic rationality was nevertheless an authentically faustian pact your man roosevelt and your man churchill really did make a pact with the devil and it was expensive here's the other way of looking at it as best i can tell and andrew roberts is going to get the first crack at correcting me or or describing the correct way to look at it we began this conversation in june 1941 with the germans pouring into the soviet union on three fronts britain's in peril the germans besieged leningrad they come within sight of moscow itself we end with hitler dead britain and all of western europe free the united states in a position to long lead a long and peaceful struggle stalin occupies eastern europe but he's lost 20 million or closer to 25 billion on david kennedy's figures the united states suffers fewer than 500 000 dead and in the end the cold war would go the west's way not the soviet union's way churchill and fdr may have proven naive here and there they may have made mistakes but they won andrew well certainly churchill didn't uh personally in any way win because of course he was thrown out of office on the 26th of july 1945. um when his wife clementine said that it might prove a blessing in disguise churchill replied well from where i'm sitting it seems quite remarkably well disguised as far as the um as britain was concerned we were totally exhausted having been the only nation that fought throughout the war along obviously with the the rest of the empire countries from the first day to the last we had spent one-third of our net assets um on that uh on that struggle they couldn't by the way in my view have been spent in a more honorable way than extirpating the most evil regime that the world's ever seen um it was um if you're going to lose an empire that's the honorable way to do it but we did and um so it can't be britain america on the other hand as as you point out it it was it was already started to become the american century but certainly the next 50 70 years continued to be the american century so i think by any uh any long-term um yard mark you will um you've got to see that maybe if if you make the mistake of ceding your primacy to china in the rest of this century then then that might be the end of the american century but boy did the second world war start you off well fdr is the architect of the american century david look peter with all respect to our colleague and my friend neil ferguson um you've got a heavy burden of proof to carry if you want to argue that stalin was the principal victor of world war ii uh losing 25 million soviet people is not an acceptable price to pay for whatever outcome he achieved he did achieve it to use your term against even uh one big game which was the aggrandizement of the soviet-dominated sphere especially in eastern europe uh and central europe to an extent so i guess in that qualified way you could say he was victorious but i'm reminded of something that stalin said directly to franklin roosevelt he said it seems in the midst of the war he sees it seems that you americans have decided to fight this war with american money and american machines and russian men and that was a cynical but absolutely accurate summary of the one of the big dimensions of american grand strategy was to delay the second front in the cross-channel invasion by a year after the original intent to scale down the anticipated mobilized force from 215 divisions to 90 divisions to fight principally from the air and not had to have a occupation scale force on the ground in europe at war's conclusion these were all part of the the the grand strategic geometry of the american war effort yes yes to be sure the americans could have put more resources into the scale churchill was reduced to yes but us too yeah well actually he made the joke in um in tehran of course of uh how he was sitting in between the uh the uh russian bear and the american buffalo and he was the mere english donkey but he was the one who knew the way home but you know again to return to your question who won the war in my undergraduate classrooms especially i like beginning the discussion of the war with that question of course the automatic answer is well we did well yes that's an acceptable answer but if by the question who won the war we mean what society paid the greatest price in blood and treasure for the ultimate outcome it was not the united states it was the soviet union without the shadow of a doubt but if by the question we mean what society that what belligerent emerged at the end of the conflict in the best position and particularly in a better position than at the war's outset that's the united states the war lifts the united states out of depression it has the only intact large-scale industrial economy left on the planet and it is in a position to exert hegemonic dominion over the international system and indeed to reshape the international system with new institutions like the imf the world bank and so on so forth for the next the rest of the century and perhaps beyond so in the sense of long-term consequence for your society and its position in the world the united states is unambiguously the winner but it did not pay the greatest price and i think there's a relationship between those two observations we husbanded resources we kept 115 divisions of manpower at home that was originally intended to be mobilized and we ginned up the production lines and we were humming in 1945. steven stalin dominates the negotiations at tehran and it's still more at yalta but you know what franklin roosevelt took him uh franklin roosevelt died at two months two months after yalta uh god bless him so um we have to understand how the soviet union won the war on the ground in europe not by itself but predominantly and it did that because stalin didn't care about the lives it's 27 million that he lost some estimates are 33 but i hold to 27. he didn't care so if he sent a million of his enslaved collective farmers into battle and they were encircled and killed he would send another million of his enslaved collective farmers into battle or dip into his gulag labor camps for a couple hundred thousand in order to send them to the front so that's how totally totalitarian regimes can fight democracies can't fight like that they can't just say oh you know what let's send a few hundred thousand of our boys to their death in order to take prague before stalin takes prague democracies don't fight that way for a reason because we're better and the soviet union fought that way and we had to live with the consequences the two long-term winners of the war are the anglo-americans on one side and china on the other china is a belligerent the war starts there first not in europe and china emerges on the winning side and as we're living with it today they are clearly one of the big winners stalin wins the war and loses the peace china and the u.s win the war and they win the peace the problem however arises because we have the same difficulty understanding that today's chinese regime is communist they're communists they're not nationalists they're not charming they're not going to be our friends and we're not going to win their trust the same problem we had in the tehran and the yalta and the potsdam and afterwards of wanting to look at communism in the face and make it go away and become something else evolving in a direction where we could work with it a traditional nationalism we just lived through 20 years of this with the regime in beijing and now we've woken up and we've discovered you know maybe this whole time that's been a communist regime and maybe their values are different from our values and maybe they treat their people differently from how we treat our people so they won the war too but it's not clear that they're going to win the long-term peace that's within our power to effect two last questions both brief seventy years later something going on eighty years later you all here we sit in the middle of a major university the students here the students who just graduated this past june had no memory of the second world war they had no memory of the cold war why does it matter what can you say to a 20 22 year old who has all of tech before them what can you how can you say how can you make them understand why this matters stephen briefly well you want to work for stalin or you want to go to work for the evil empire google those are your choices david would you redeem this question please well i think there are enduring lessons of this whole sorry episode one is i mean just to say the obvious it is the most formative cataclysmic colossal event of the 20th century and it left a legacy for states and peoples that comes right down to the present day as stephen has just very elegantly pointed out present-day china in a sense is you could we can trace the genealogical line from the outcome of the war to china's position in the world today but there's another larger set of lessons in here i think about what happens when an international system that is supposed to keep the peace amongst nations breaks down and how god awful cataclysmic the consequences of that can be in particular when a potential player with the weight and influence and moral values to try to maintain at least a semblance of international peace withdraws from the system uh in many ways that was the lesson of the interwar period when the united states was essentially absent from the international system and though the consequently the the causes of world war ii were highly complicated to be sure uh america's being m.i.a you might say was certainly one of them for example it cited a document that historians of this period know well the so-called hosp memorandum where hitler in 1937 i believe it was outlined the geostrategic future to his senior political military leaders and he goes through country by country predicting what will happen when he takes this initiative what the response will be and then how he'll counter and so on so forth he goes to this long recital and it's a work of dark genius trying to predict the future but he never mentions the united states the united states doesn't even figure in his thinking about what the geopolitical future might be that was an it was an important lesson for this society to learn that we if we want to live in a world that is beset by those kinds of monsters and tyrants we need if we don't want to live in such a world we need to be engaged andrew why does it matter well you're quite right about about students not knowing about it there was a very large survey of british teenagers a few years back um 20 of whom thought that winston churchill was a fictional character even even though 47 of them thought that sherlock holmes was a real person and uh 53 percent of them thought that eleanor rigby was a real person so we we do have a problem here the um i'd like to uh you you'll remind you'll be reminded by about what stephen said about how stannin didn't take much notice of elections um it reminded me slightly of the attitude that brussels has taken to a certain british referendum um in which they took no notice of the uh of the votes of the majority but under underlying really the importance of the second world war is um several lessons the 15 million people who died in china in the in china in the course of this war which is uh half of what russia lost but far far more than um the nine million that germany lost for example is going it has a psychological effect on them not least in their hatred of japan and that's something that of course is it is a day-to-day thing i think what you said about american isolationism and the dangers of it is obviously very very true um and perhaps also we've got something to continue to learn about the and the the setups from bretton woods to the united nations you know many of those are still there tottering but they're still still with us um but but but really the underlying point i think is that western democracies and this is something you learn from the 30s as well as the forces obviously western democracies your country my country the rest of western civilization as it were must recognize that they cannot stop being strong and they cannot stop spending money on defense because the world out there is a profoundly unpleasant place and what is national socialism in nazi germany and essentially national communism in in china and god knows what you'd call it in russia they genuinely are out to get you last question claire booth loose used to say that history would accord even the greatest figure only one sentence abraham lincoln freed the slaves gentlemen one sentence this will test your powers of concision david kennedy franklin roosevelt what what one sentence will history accord him should history accord him he positioned the united states to transform and lead the international system for the better part of a century after his death well done stephen one sentence for joseph stalin he created a superpower with feet of clay and lack of morals andrew churchill never gave [Applause] in on the three largest figures of the last century three of the most distinguished historians of our day i don't know if you feel the way i do but i am in awe of their mastery of the material and the moral sensibility that they bring to it all join me in thanking david kennedy stephen cotkin and andrew roberts [Music] you
Channel: Hoover Institution
Views: 155,570
Rating: 4.838727 out of 5
Keywords: WWII, Cold War
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Length: 74min 12sec (4452 seconds)
Published: Wed Aug 07 2019
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