We are determined that nothing shall stop us from sharing with you all that we have … Generations unborn will owe a great measure of freedom to the unconquerable power of the Soviet people. Harry Hopkins, Madison Square Garden Speech (Quoted from, Tim Tzouliadis, The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin’s Russia, Penguin, 2008, 284)
Stalin gives the impression of a strong mind which is composed and wise. His grown eyes are exceedingly kind and gentle. A child would like to sit on his lap and a dog would sidle up to him. … A wonderful and stimulating experiment is taking place in the Soviet Union… The Soviet Union is doing wonderful things… Joseph Davies (Quoted from The Forsaken, 120, 142)
Henry Wallace is a pacifist, a dreamer who wants to disband our armed forces, give Russia our atomic secrets, and trust a bunch of adventurers in the Kremlin Politburo.
Harry Truman on Henry Wallace (Quoted from The Forsaken, 279)
Franklin Delano Roosevelt died seventy-two years ago two months after returning from his grueling journey to Yalta. With considerable unease one contemplates the famous photographs of a grey and gaunt FDR sitting between Churchill and Stalin, staring back at the camera with ghostly eyes sunken and lost, a dark cloak wrapped around his frail body. Captured on film is a spent man leaning on death’s door doing exactly what? – negotiating the fate of millions of people with one of the 20th century’s most cunning, deceitful and brutal personalities. Off to the side and out of camera range, providing counsel and support was ... Alger Hiss.
FDR is the closest thing Americans have to a modern, secular saint, the man who guided America through the Great Depression and saved the world from Adolf Hitler. His reputation is guarded by an impenetrable protective halo, the greatness and heroism of his Presidency forever guaranteed. To speak disparagingly of FDR puts one on the fringe.
FDR’s halo shines particularly bright for Democrats for whom there is no higher praise in the political arena than to be likened in any way to the 32nd President of the United States. Shortly after the 2008 election, Time magazine’s cover featured an eye-popping photo-shopped picture of President-elect Barack Obama accoutered in a signature FDR pose, teeth clenching the cigarette holder at a jaunty angle punctuating a broad, confident grin, head topped with the well-recognized fedora, perched casually behind the wheel of an open 1930s convertible ready, so to speak, to steer America out of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Under the picture was the caption, “The New New Deal.”
Eight years later with the vapors of Obama-mania long dissipated, a stagnant economy unemployment rate the new norm, and “Hope & Change” a forgotten campaign inanity, no one should confuse the President with the 32nd, at least as secular saint. Obama’s descent from the state of his 2008 divinity (“He is sort of a God….” Evan Thomas, Newsweek) to fallible flesh is easily explained and sadly understood. But the continued awe and reverence for Franklin Roosevelt, entrenched and undeniable as it is, is somewhat harder to comprehend.
Whether FDR’s policies prolonged the Great Depression remains an extremely involved and complicated historical-political debate and his legacy and reputation in some relative sense rise and fall with the movement of that controversy. However, with the availability of primary source material in the form of declassified official U.S. documents and material from the former Soviet Union archives, FDR’s formulation and conduct of American foreign policy up to and including World War II must be judged as nothing less than a monumental disaster. His terrible judgment and decisions with in dealing with Stalin and the Soviet Union condemned tens of millions of people to decades of servitude and tyranny.
The premises for making this case can be stated in two simple sentences, their truth, well documented and indisputable.
Joseph Stalin is one of history’s most brutal, lethal dictators.
FDR trusted Stalin as a decent, honorable man.
Once the God of the Communist world was finally and safely dead in March 1953 even his own protégés after a respectable time denounced him and evicted him from the mausoleum on Red Square. Thanks to the great pioneering work of historians like Robert Conquest, later confirmed by opening of Soviet archives, we all know that Stalin was one of the most prolific mass-murderers in history, surpassing in sheer numbers his partner in the rape of Poland from 1939-1941, Adolf Hitler. Moreover, while Hitler’s homicidal designs were focused primarily on Jews, Stalin’s terror-command state cut a much wider swath, was of a longer duration and spawned prolifically lethal emulators like Mao, Kim Il Sung and Pol Pot.
It was FDR’s government, considerably influenced by the scurrilous, lying New York Times journalist Walter Duranty, which gave diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union in 1933. This was just the time when Stalin’s cadres were en masse forcibly extracting grain from the farmers in Ukraine. Stalin needed hard currency in order to capitalize Soviet industries through grain sales on the international markets. The result was mass-starvation, a terror-famine, as Conquest called it, which killed millions of Ukrainians including women and children. Driven to insanity by their savage hunger the Ukrainians began eating grass, bark, dirt and finally each other. Country roadsides were littered with wasted corpses while the communist-guarded granaries were filled and readied for export.** At that time there were from the outside a few witnesses to Holodomor, the Ukrainian word for the Stalin-made holocaust. Truth-tellers like Gareth Jones and Malcolm Muggeridge observed the starvation first hand and tried to tell the world, but the “blind-eye” was FDR’s preferred modus vivendi for the Soviet Union with the assist of organs like the New York Times and, even worse, with close personal advisors who assiduously enabled FDR’s view of Stalin as a tough but trustworthy sort of guy who only wanted the best for his own people.
In 1943 William Bullitt, the first U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union (1933-1936), a man who had had extensive first-hand experience with Soviet diplomacy and all of its duplicity and treachery tried to disabuse FDR of his benign view of Stalin. According to Bullitt’s memoirs FDR’s response was:
Bill, I don’t dispute the logic of your reasoning. I have a hunch that Stalin is not that kind of a man. Harry says he’s not and that he doesn’t want anything in the world but security for his country, and I think if I give him everything I possibly can and ask nothing from him in return, noblesse oblige, he won’t try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of democracy and peace.***
One could not imagine a more stunning and jaw-dropping revelation of an utterly willful, delusional mind. A “hunch” no less that trumped more than a decade of evidence of systematic tyranny and perfidy on an unprecedented scale. The “Harry” in this retort was, of course, Harry Hopkins, who was FDR’s “White House live-in” chief foreign policy advisor during WWII. It is difficult to know with complete certainty if Hopkins was a Soviet agent or merely a dupe. In her book, American Betrayal, Diana West makes a strong and compelling case for the former. In any case, Hopkins’s approach to Stalin, which also became FDR’s, was open-ended, obliging, obsequious, admiring even. Hopkins encouraged FDR to open wide the spigots of Lend Lease, and … to ask in return? Not much. At least this is what the President seemed to think. In return, so the “reasoning” went, Stalin would like him. Whether or not Stalin liked anyone, we know for a fact that close proximity to him was frequently lethal, as his second wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva, Nikolai Bukharin, and many of his old Bolshevik colleagues discovered. The Studebaker trucks, heavy machinery and materials that FDR was sending to the Soviets to help them fight the Germans were also deployed in the Stalin’s Gulag to transport and maintain the slaves.
The ambassador who replaced William Bullitt in Moscow was none other than Joseph Davies who, shortly after his arrival observed the first of three major Stalin-choreographed show trials and to the amazement of his own staff, including George Kennan, put his imprimatur on the farce.* Much was made in the international press coverage of the high U.S. diplomatic presence at the trial, a legitimizing touch greatly appreciated by Stalin.* Davies spent the three years of his ambassadorial assignment fawning over and patronizing Stalin who was at the very time conducting a reign of terror that decimated the leadership of his own party and killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people. His own wife, Marjorie Merriweather Post, years after her return to the U.S., reported hearing from the windows of her Moscow apartment the screams of the victims being carried off late at night by the NKVD.*
At this same time a heartbeat away from the Presidency was another Stalin-o-phile, Vice President Henry Wallace. Wallace’s contribution to U.S. Soviet foreign policy and to FDR’s fantasy view of Stalin was to treck through the Gulag and render high praise for healthy, hardy “pioneers’ mining the gold and cutting the timber in Siberia. “There are no more similar countries in the world than the Soviet Union and the United States of America,” enthused Wallace. “Free people, born on free expanses, can never live in slavery.”* After his NKVD-managed 25 day tour of the vast Gulag slave colony, Wallace sent an open letter addressed to Comrade J.V. Stalin to convey his “deep gratitude for the splendid cordial hospitality shown to me.”* Stalin was nothing if not cordial and hospitable, especially to gullible, hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, American politicians who would wildly rave about their Potemkin excursions and tell everyone back home how just how swell things were for the lunch pail gang in the Socialist Workers' Paradise.
We now remember Stalin for his masterminding and executing of three monumental works of mass murder and slavery: the terror-famine, a holocaust claiming millions of victims; the terror-purge of 1936-38 that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people; and the Gulag, Stalin’s slave-empire, a hellish, murderous prison system, purposely designed and operated so as to subject his own people by the millions to maximum suffering and degradation and to forcibly extract as much labor from them as possible while simultaneously turning them into corpses.
But we should also remember that in these efforts, Stalin had the support and assistance of a triumvirate of stooges, Hopkins, Davies and Wallace, men who looked the other way, men who worked to provide American aide and assistance to Stalin far beyond what he needed to fight off his former partner in depredation, Hitler. Wallace journeyed though the Gulag and managed to remain tenaciously oblivious to its reality. Davies sat in a front row seat in the Hall of Mirrors observing the Show Trials, yet somehow, like Wallace trooping through Kolyma missed its obvious features and purpose. Hopkins shuttled back and forth between Stalin and FDR, working tirelessly to give Stalin everything he wanted, eyes tightly closed to the many scenes and ample evidence of some of the worst atrocities in modern times.
For FDR it is time to take him down from the pedestal and drop the reverence, time to look long and hard at the fools and Quislings he installed in high places and trusted. It is also time to write history that speaks forthrightly to his determined, invincible ignorance with regard to all things Russian. In the face of overwhelming evidence of Soviet finger prints on the 1940 Katyn massacre of 22,000 Polish officers in Smolensk, FDR preferred to echo Stalin’s version. “[T]his is entirely German propaganda and a German plot. I am absolutely convinced that the Russians did not do this.” *** He seemed to be “absolutely convinced” of many things that turned out to be the opposite of the way they actually were which means that his judgment was deeply flawed and that his decisions were tragic. One does wonder if FDR had lived to see the fate of the Poles, the Baltic people, and the rest of the European countries that fell into the Soviet maw: would his ignorance and arrogance turned to regret?
*See, Tim Tzouliadis, The Forsaken: an American Tragedy in Stalin’s Russia, Penguin, 2008
**See, Robert Conquest, Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine, Oxford, 1986.
***Quoted from Diana West, American Betrayal, the Secret Assault on our Nation’s Character, St. Martins, 2013, 199, 212
Kudos to Tim Tzouliadis and Diana West for their significant work on FDR's stooges.
Kudos to Tim Tzouliadis and Diana West for their significant work on FDR's stooges.