George Bush is back from his trip to Riga, Moscow and Tbilisi after turning a celebration of the end of World War II into propaganda for his administration’s militarist policies.
It was once said of reactionaries that they learn nothing and forget nothing from history. They try to do the same thing over and over again, regardless of the disasters produced. Bush’s right-wing stump speeches in Riga and Tbilisi were perfect examples of that.
After World War II, right-wing Republicans and right-wing media contended that Franklin Roosevelt had “betrayed” Eastern Europe at the 1945 Yalta Conference and had handed the region to the Soviets “on a silver platter.” Roosevelt’s own “socialist sympathies” and screwball charges that his administration was filled with Communists and “Soviet agents” were then used to explain his policy.
While Europeans knew that such right-wing redbaiters had been collaborators or allies of the Nazis during the war, Americans had not suffered under occupied and so had not watched big businessmen become fascist officials, or seen local toughs mobilized to terrorize Blacks, Jews, and other minorities, and concentration camps established. Americans did not connect reactionary ideology with real life under fascism.
A series of crude lies filled our mass media and were eventually thrown together in 1950 by the alcoholic, corrupt, and borderline-crazy Republican senator from Wisconsin, Joe McCarthy, to create the lunatic view that Communist agents and Soviet spies working in and through the Roosevelt and Truman administrations were responsible for about nearly a third of the human race “falling under Communist domination.”
No rational person would believe this, and even many Republican leaders at the time didn’t, but right-wing Republicans found McCarthy’s charges of “20 years of treason” politically useful.
These were the “Yalta myths,” as historian Athan Theoharis called them, which George W. Bush brought back this month. A friend from abroad asked me if Bush was saying such things to score political points against the Democrats today. I replied that it was much more likely that he was “revising” history to further his aggressive policies.
First of all, without going into the intricacies of the Yalta Conference, it was about ending the war and preparing for postwar reconstruction. Yalta’s positive aspects, particularly Franklin Roosevelt’s suggestion of $20 billion in reparations to the Soviet Union (which would end up losing 27 million people and 42 percent of its prewar productive capacity), were later abandoned by Harry Truman.
Those most enthusiastic about “forcing the Soviets out of Eastern Europe” at the time were the remnants of the Nazi regime, the minor Axis states of Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary, and the prewar Baltic states — rightist, anti-communist, anti-Soviet states who were returned to the Soviet Union temporarily by Nazi Germany as part of the 1939 Non-Aggression Pact, and then actively allied themselves with the Nazis after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941.
The Soviets had won the war on the ground. The antifascist partisan movements in most places were led by forces of the left, particularly communists, who had gained great influence through their heroism.
If a right-wing Republican like George W. Bush had defeated Franklin Roosevelt in November 1944 and had come to Yalta, what would he have probably done? Sign a separate peace with the remnants of the Nazi regime and try to make the defeated European fascist forces into an army to fight World War III against the Soviets? The peoples of Europe would have generally revolted against that, and the effects of World War II merging into World War III are incalculable. Perhaps a Bush administration might have used the atom bomb against Moscow. There were right-wing “preventive war” elements in the U.S. military in 1945 who dreamed of such a policy. However, THe American people in 1945 would not have supported such a war.
Certainly, had someone like Bush defeated Roosevelt in 1940, his government would never have provided any lend-lease aid to the Soviet Union, probably would have quietly abandoned Britain, and done business with a Nazi-dominated Europe.
The best answer to the recycled McCarthyite “Yalta myths” that Bush brought to Europe in 2005 was given in 1945 by Henry A. Wallace, Roosevelt’s former New Deal vice president, who said that “the people’s revolution” was on the march through the world, the Soviets had not created it, and the only reasonable U.S. policy was to work with it rather than fight it. Wallace also warned that “force without justice will make us into everything that we have hated in the Nazis.”
It was force without justice that George Bush celebrated in Riga and Tbilisi, and it is the past and present lies of his administration that we must fight if we are to avoid a future in which we become everything that all decent people hate in the Nazis.
Norman Markowitz is a history professor at Rutgers University.