The Magazine

The Big Two

Stalin's lies, Roosevelt's anger, and an awkward alliance.

Oct 2, 2006, Vol. 12, No. 03 • By ANDREW ROBERTS
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By the time of the Yalta conference in 1945, it is Roosevelt who was attempting to keep the alliance together, trying to entice the Soviet Union into a meaningful United Nations organization after the war. With millions of Red Army troops swarming over Poland, and Soviet divisions only 44 miles from Berlin by the end of the conference, there was nothing that either FDR or Winston Churchill could have done to safeguard political freedom in Eastern Europe--and both knew it. Roosevelt certainly tried everything, including straightforward flattery, to try to bring Stalin around to a reasonable stance on any number of issues after the war was won. But he overestimated what his undoubted aristocratic charm could achieve with the homicidal son of a drunken cobbler.

It is not, however, true to say--as anti-Roosevelt historians regularly do--that FDR went too far in his attempt to win the recalcitrant marshal over to the cause of decency. No vital American interests were compromised. He could also be sharp with the unrepentant killer. On April 4, 1945, Roosevelt wrote to Stalin, "I have received with astonishment your message of April 3 containing an allegation that arrangements which were made between Field Marshals [Harold] Alexander and [Albert] Kesselring at Berne." Pointing out that no negotiations had taken place, Roosevelt concluded, "Frankly I cannot avoid a feeling of bitter resentment towards your informers, whoever they are, for such vile misrepresentations of my actions and those of my trusted subordinates."

This book proves, yet again, that although Roosevelt strove for good relations with Stalin, he was no dupe, and that the Cold War was entirely the fault of the Russian dictator.

Andrew Roberts is the author of the forthcoming A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900.