February 4-12, 1945
It was late 1946, and the first United States Congressional elections held after the end of World War II swept into office a trio of future Presidents in the House of Representatives: John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts, Richard M. Nixon of California, and Gerald R. Ford of Michigan.
At the White House, there was a politically weak, lame duck President named Harry S. Truman who had not yet been elected in his own right---and might never be, many people then felt.
The Republican Party had made major political capital in the fall election campaigns of the final wartime "Big Three" meeting of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the Soviet Generalissimo, Marshal Josef Stalin. The latter, the GOP cant went, had thoroughly hoodwinked an ill and dying FDR (who, they asserted, thus had no business being there in the first place), and had taken US officials (like Marylander Alger Hiss) for a ride.
The conference had been held---at Stalin's demand, no less---at Yalta, a Soviet Black Sea resort in the Crimea, in the Livadia Palace, one of the murdered Russian Tsar Nicholas II's summer homes. Since then, the image of the cynical Stalin outwitting an ailing and well-intentioned FDR has solidified itself in the hagiography of the Second World War.
What really happened?
Prior to the Yalta meeting, Churchill and FDR held their own private conference on the Island of Malta to prepare them to meet later with Marshal Stalin, the latter meeting codenamed Argonaut. Yalta was the second, last, and most controversial meeting of the original Big Three, the first having been held at Tehran in Iran in November 1943.
The most important order of business was the coming division of the soon-to-be-conquered Nazi Third Reich into four Zones of Occupation, one each for Great Britain, America, France and the Soviet Union.
Stalin thought that the French had not carried their weight in the war, and shouldn't be included with a zone, but relented nonetheless, as long as their zone came out of the territory allotted to the Western Allies en toto; this was done.
In 1949---with the postwar Cold War in full swing---the Russian Zone was renamed the German Democratic Republic, while the trio of Western Zones was combined to form the new Federal Republic of Germany. Forty years later---in 1989, with the fall of European Communism---the two Germanies were reunited after a hiatus of division of 44 years, the second German unification since 1871.
The next most pressing item on the Yalta Conference agenda was the compromise arrived at concerning future United Nations membership and voting. Stalin withdrew his request for membership for all 16 separate republics within the overall Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to separate membership for Russia proper, Belorussia (White Russia), and Ukraine (now all independent states.)
Third, veto powers for permanent members of the UN Security Council were agreed. There were sharp differences on the fate of Poland, over which the Second World War had been started in September 1939, and these were left largely unresolved for a future conference. There were also inconclusive talks about the fate of the rest of devastated Europe.
In practice, this issue was resolved by the simple expedient of whichever country's army occupied a given territory. Thus, since Western arms had conquered France, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg and, later, West Germany, these lands either remained or became democratic in their forms of government.
The same was true of Communist regimes being established in Rumania, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Albania, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and East Germany, all overrun by the Red Army, local Red partisans, or both. Italy and Greece had been conquered by both Western Allied armies and local, indigenous Red forces, but remained nevertheless in the West's sphere of influence.
In 1989, whatever Stalin gained at Yalta was obviated by the overthrow of Communism in the Eastern European countries, while the West retained its victories intact. Ironically, Stalin had aided Hitler's aggression against Poland in 1939, occupying the Eastern half of the country after the Germans had defeated the Western half.
Thus, when the Nazis on trial before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg during 1945-46 argued that the Soviets belonged in the dock of the accused with them, and not on the side of the prosecutors, they were basically correct.
Finally, in a secret protocol published in 1946, Stalin agreed to enter the Asian land war against Imperial Japan "two or three months after" the defeat of Nazi Germany. Critics would later charge that the two exploded US atomic bombs had made this unnecessary, allowing the Red Army to conquer both Chinese Manchuria and Korea, as well as aid to Mao Zedong's Communist Red Chinese forces against Nationalist Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, America's ally on the Mainland.
The reality in early 1945, however, was that the Japanese Kwantung Army on the Chinese Mainland numbered a million well-trained, battle-hardened troops. The last thing that the Western Allies wanted to do was conduct a land war on the Asian Continent.
Did FDR give away the store at Yalta? You be the judge.
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