from May 15, 2001-2009
One of the perks of being a blogger is that one can hold forth on any topic one chooses. At least if your editor has been cremated and fitted with a state-of-the-art robot. This month I choose to forego the pleasure of trashing a book that has come across my desk. Instead, I venture into the trivial business of offering a political opinion.
Recently—this is for the benefit of readers whose memories do not extend beyond the one-week news cycle—our President admitted to the Latvians that Yalta was a mistake. For readers whose historical memories do not extend beyond the last blockbuster movie, Yalta was the place where, near the end of World War II (1939-1945), Franklin D. Roosevelt (President of the United States), Winston Churchill (Prime Minister of Great Britain), and Josef Stalin (Dictator of the Soviet Union), carved up much of Europe, giving the grandfatherly Stalin control of the Central and Eastern nations to do with as he, and the comrades he had not yet gotten around to assassinating, pleased. For readers who have not recently consulted a map of Europe, Latvia was one of those nations.
What Stalin pleased was to establish Communism throughout his allotted territory. For readers who were mere children when this political system collapsed in 1989, Communism was an “experiment” that allowed a nation’s subjects the choice of shutting up and doing what they were told, being murdered, or being sent to the perpetual winter that is Siberia, a place that afforded good job security to the end of one’s days, which were radically numbered. As for the cause of the collapse, credit has been given to Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, peace lovers, God’s hand, Isaac Newton’s law of gravity, or a mix of the above.
Regardless. There it was, on May 7, the news that our President had “second-guessed” Franklin Roosevelt, universally regarded as the greatest U.S. president in the 20th century, by finally “admitting” that Yalta was “one of the greatest wrongs of history.”
Asked for his comment, the celebrated historian Alan Brinkley (c. 1953- ) said: “Certainly [this charge that the Yalta agreement was a betrayal of freedom] goes further than any president has gone. This has been a very common view of the far right for many years.”
Rightly or wrongly, I have never thought of myself as being a card-carrying member of “the far right,” a phrase I could never understand, even before my death in 1958. I have thought of myself as a person who, as a young man, escaped Russia in 1906 and came to America, which I came to regard as the greatest nation on earth. I have thought of myself as a person who, after the Russian Revolution of 1917, learned that the parents and siblings I left back home had either been slaughtered, starved, or sent on a vacation to the winter wonderland of Siberia.
I must admit, however, that I have always believed that Yalta was “one of the great wrongs of history.” I will even go so far as to confess that I was dim-witted enough to think that any decent human being with his neurons in shipshape order shared my opinion.