Freedom Betrayed, by Herbert Hoover
The Tehran conference was held November 27 to December 1, 1943. The participants were Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin. Hoover describes two commitments made at this conference as “the greatest blows to human freedom in this century.”
The first of these was that the Soviet Union would be allowed to annex seven peoples that had been under Russian rule before the First World War but had been freed as an outcome of that war. These seven included: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bessarabia, Bukovina, part of Finland, and part of Poland.
The second commitment was that the Soviets would be allowed a buffer of “friendly border states,” meaning in practical terms states that would be condemned to communist rule. The states were western Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Albania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Romania.
There was no written agreement. Hoover explains that there also is no direct record of this agreement. Roosevelt did not want the agreement made public, explaining that there was an election upcoming in 1944, and with six million Poles in the United States (as well as millions more of Eastern European descent), he did not want to lose this constituency. However, that these agreements were made are clear by the subsequent actions and comments of the actors present, as well as the actions taken by others on behalf of these actors. Hoover catalogs these actions and comments in great detail.
Hoover is quite troubled by this turn. He refers regularly to the principles formulated in the Atlantic Charter, principles agreed to by Roosevelt and Churchill, and subsequently agreed to and confirmed on more than one occasion by Stalin. Hoover views the crime as one of going back on the principles of the Charter – the key principles in this case including that of no territorial aggrandizement, territorial changes must comport with the freely expressed wishes of the people concerned, and that the people have the right to choose their form of government.
But was the crime in this turn, this sellout? Condemning all of Eastern Europe to direct or indirect Soviet control? Whatever Roosevelt’s motivations for entering the war, and entering on the side of the Soviets, it was clear from the beginning that this would be the fate for countless millions in Eastern Europe. Many people predicted that this would be the outcome, including Hoover himself in June, 1941:
If we go further and join the war and we win, then we have won for Stalin the grip of Communism on Russia and more opportunity for it to extend in the world.
The Russians took much of this territory when they were allies with the Germans, before the Americans entered the war. Further gains were made during the course of the war, as the Russian armies were proceeding westward and capturing territory while they drove the Germans in retreat. It was certain that the Russian army would control even more territory by the conclusion of the fighting.
That Stalin would not give up these gains without a fight was obvious. It was as obvious at the end of 1943 in Tehran as it was before the United States entered the war. Even if Roosevelt ever intended what he said when he agreed to the Charter, was he prepared to take the fight to the Russians, after the hoped-for victories still to come over Germany and Japan? In practical terms, it did not seem likely that this would have been possible, even if one believed Roosevelt was a man of principle.
More to the point, why did Roosevelt and Churchill have to agree to anything at all? Just because Soviet control over these regions was a virtual certainty, did this require validation or concurrence by the Americans and the British? Why attach the good name of the United States, the country supposedly fighting for the freedoms of those same Eastern Europeans, to the deed of condemnation?
Any response I might have to these questions would be speculation. I have speculated before that one possible reason Roosevelt took the actions he did to get into the war on the side of the Soviets was to broaden the sphere of communist influence in the world – this certainly seems to be Hoover’s bent. Another possibility was that Roosevelt was laying the groundwork for the future cold war – the statist’s dream of perpetual war resulting in perpetual health for the state. Perhaps Stalin threatened to stop fighting once he had regained the lands that the Germans took in the previous two years. All speculation on my part.
Hoover views this treacherous move through a distorted lens. He sees the previous wars of the United States through a lens of bringing freedom to oppressed peoples:
The ideal of freedom for other peoples lies deep in American history and the American heart…. It was in response to the cry for liberation and freedom of peoples that we established the Monroe Doctrine, that we fought the Mexican War, the Spanish War, and the first World War.
Suffice it to say, there were countless hundreds of thousands if not millions on the other side of these fights listed by Hoover who felt they too were fighting for freedom and against oppression and tyranny. Hoover seems blind to this, and views this turning at Tehran as the first great immoral act perpetrated by the American government – an act of reneging on a solemn pledge to the weak and impoverished. A sellout.
Hoover is looking in the wrong place, and he does so because he has a wrong view of American history. Hoover is looking to blame events in Tehran, when the end game was certain the day the United States entered the war. Once the United States entered the war on the side of the Russians, sooner or later the two great armies were going to meet somewhere in the middle – smashing Hitler’s armies from both sides. That flowery words said beforehand would somehow control the movement of these lines later was not possible – certainly not for Stalin. This was obvious to many observers at the time.
Later, at Yalta, similar agreements were made with Stalin regarding certain territories in the Far East, these made in exchange for getting Russia to join the fight against the Japanese once the Germans were defeated. Hoover also anguishes over these concessions as he did regarding those made at Tehran.
The words of the Atlantic Charter could be looked at as a promise of something that could not be delivered, in order to place a righteous and therefore religious purpose to entering the war. Nothing more.
Hoover details these annexations by the Soviets in various tables. Following is a brief summary:
European people annexed by Russia: 24 million people, 182 thousand square miles.
European people transformed into communist states: 196 million people, 9 million square miles
Countries in Asia annexed to Russia: 155 million people, 2.1 million square miles
Although Hoover wishes to refer to secret agreements made in Tehran and Yalta the crime against these people, their fate was sealed when the United States entered the war, and entered on the side of the Russians. Hoover himself saw this at the time, and offered an alternative: keep out of the war, allow “those two bastards annihilate themselves,” keep the lamp of liberty lit at home, and therefore clean up the mess from a position of both military and moral supremacy.
Hoover summarizes his conclusion to these agreements as follows:
In 1946, after many of these agreements with Stalin had become public, the London Economist gave a succinct interpretation of this subject:
Having abandoned principle for what they thought was policy, the Western Powers are now left with neither principle nor policy….
…we have no right to denounce the Communists for betrayal of values which have never been theirs….
I think there were at the time many people who would have said that these values have for a very long time not been “ours” either.