In February, 1945 (from the 4th through the 11th), Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt met to discuss what would happen after the Second World War – each with their advisors. The conference was held in Yalta on the north coast of the Black Sea in the Crimean peninsula.
On February 11, the final day of the conference, it summoned the San Francisco Conference.
“We are resolved,” the three leaders declared, “upon the earliest possible establishment with our Allies of a general international organization to maintain peace and security… “We have agreed that a Conference of United Nations should be called to meet at San Francisco in the United States on the 25th April, 1945, to prepare the charter of such an organization, along the lines proposed in the formal conversations of Dumbarton Oaks.”
According to U.S. delegation member and future Secretary of State James F. Byrnes, “it was not a question of what we would let the Russians do, but what we could get the Russians to do.” Moreover, Roosevelt hoped for a commitment from Stalin to participate in the United Nations.
Late in 2012 two notable books were published that deal with the outcome of World War II and the Cold War. Each was written by a pair of authors. One is long; the other is relatively short. If you only read the long one, and prior to having read it you knew little more about the subject than the average, college-educated American, you might find it persuasive. If you also read the short one, though, you will realize that virtually everything that the long one has to say about the fruits of World War II and the Cold War is wrong.
The two books we are talking about are Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick’s massive Untold History of the United States and the very effective antidote to it, Stalin’s Secret Agents: The Subversion of Roosevelt’s Government by M. Stanton Evans and Herbert Romerstein. The impression we would get from Untold History is that the Soviet Union, whose non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany allowed the two countries to fire the opening shots of World War II by attacking and carving up Poland, was a passive victim of the war and of the Cold War aftermath. Having suffered far more than their Western allies in the war, Stalin and the Soviet Union he controlled with an iron fist, according to Stone and Kuznick, wanted nothing more than to rebuild and to defend themselves from renewed threats from the West.
We should remind ourselves, though, that wars are not natural phenomena like hurricanes and earthquakes. They are political events, fought for political objectives. And Joseph Stalin was not just the ruler of the Soviet Union. He was the leader of the extremely virulent and aggressive worldwide Communist movement. By any objective measure, the big winners in World War II were the Soviet Union and the Communist movement. The Soviet Union became larger, swallowing up the Baltic countries and taking part of the territory of Poland. Not just Poland, the preservation of whose independence was the supposed casus belli of WW II for the West, but a number of previously independent Eastern European countries, including half of Germany, fell under the boot of Soviet-controlled Communist tyranny. Furthermore, the stage was set by the war for the Communist takeover of China and the northern part of Korea.
What we learn from Evans and Romerstein is that the Soviet war and post-war gains at the West’s expense were hardly an accident. They had ample assistance from a Roosevelt administration that was thoroughly laced with Stalin’s agents. The agents were sufficiently numerous and highly placed that almost any theft of secrets they might have accomplished was small potatoes compared to their influence upon policy. A central message of the book – never explicitly stated – is that there was an international conspiracy to, in effect, overthrow Western civilization. (The authors would never point it out, but readers of the book will notice that a high percentage of the people involved were Jewish. Readers of this review will notice, as well, that some of the key brave people sounding the alarm over this subversion were also Jewish.) Not only was the U.S. government penetrated at the highest level, but this organized Communist network also apparently controlled key positions in the U.S. opinion-molding business.
Nowhere was the subversive influence more important than at the pivotal Yalta Conference. It was there that Roosevelt made the major concessions that put the Red imprint on post-war Europe and opened the door for them in East Asia. One of the reasons we were so conciliatory to Stalin was supposedly that we needed the Soviet quid pro quo of their entry into the war against Japan 90 days after the defeat of Germany. But, according to Evans and Romerstein, Soviet agents of influence within the Roosevelt government played a key role in keeping intelligence estimates away from FDR that the Japanese were already so badly beaten that the Soviet assistance would not be needed. Perhaps no agent was more important than the notorious Alger Hiss. Here we pick up the Evans-Romerstein narrative early in Chapter 3 entitled “See Alger Hiss about this.” Bear in mind that FDR’s new secretary of state, Edward Stettinius Jr., was newly appointed and had very little experience in foreign affairs. He was, in short, in over his head:
At a White House briefing a month before the conference opened, Stettinius wrote, FDR said he wasn’t overly concerned about having any particular staffers with him at Yalta, but qualified this with two exceptions. “The President,” said Stettinius, “did not want to have anyone accompany him in an advisory capacity, but he felt that Messrs. Bowman and Alger Hiss ought to go (Authors’ footnote: Dr. Isaiah Bowman of Johns Hopkins University, who had been involved in the Versailles conference after World War I and was a Stettinius adviser. He did not go to Yalta, though Alger Hiss would do so.) No clue was provided by Stettinius or apparently by FDR himself, as to the reason for these choices.
Alger Hiss, it will be recalled, was a secret Communist serving in the wartime State Department, identified as a Soviet agent by ex-Communist Whittaker Chambers, a former espionage courier for Moscow’s intelligence bosses. This identification led to a bitter quarrel that divided the nation into conflicting factions and would do so for years to follow. The dispute resulted in the 1950 conviction of Hiss for perjury when he denied the Chambers charges under oath, denials that ran contrary to the evidence then and to an ever-increasing mass of data later.
Though Hiss is now well-known to history, in January 1945 he was merely one State Department staffer among many, and of fairly junior status – a mid-level employee who wasn’t even head of a division (third ranking in the branch where he was working). It thus seems odd that Roosevelt would single him out as someone who should go to Yalta – the more curious as it’s reasonably clear that FDR had never dealt with Hiss directly (a point confirmed by Hiss in his own memoirs).
At all events, Hiss did go to Yalta, one of a small group of State Department staffers there, and would play a major role in the proceedings. Such a role would have been in keeping with the President’s expressed desire to have him at the conference. It’s not, however, in keeping with numerous books and essays that deal with Yalta or Cold War studies discussing Hiss and his duel with Chambers.
In standard treatments of the era, the role of Hiss at Yalta tends to get downplayed, if not ignored entirely. Usually, when his presence is mentioned, he’s depicted as a modest clerk/technician working in the background, whose only substantive interest was in the founding of the United Nations (which occurred some three months later). Otherwise, his activity at the summit is glossed over as being of no great importance.
This writer can vouch for the standard treatment of Hiss at Yalta from his reading on the subject. The name “Alger Hiss” does not even appear on the “Yalta Conference” Wikipedia page, a lacuna that some reader of this essay and hopefully of Stalin’s Secret Agents, at least of Chapter 3, will be able to correct. At the very least, Hiss, as a Soviet agent, was in place to pass along to the opposition what the U.S. negotiating position would be. Furthermore, with our foreign policy first team not even present at Yalta, in express accordance with Roosevelt’s wishes, the way was clear for the influence that Hiss wielded, which the authors go on to describe in their chapter.
The Yalta story was played out over and over in the late Roosevelt and early Truman years. Yugoslavia was betrayed by agents who furnished misinformation about the nature of the anti-Communist resistance to the Nazis. Chiang Kai-shek was betrayed in China in a similar manner. Similar misinformation was given about the Katyn Forest massacre of virtually the entire Polish officer corps by Stalin’s forces, all to the post-war benefit of the Communists. Perhaps the most disgraceful episode of the post-war period, Operation Keelhaul, the return of millions of former residents of the Soviet Union to face almost certain death, was another of the fruits of this betrayal. An even greater potential atrocity, the Morgenthau Plan for the destruction of the German economy, was only narrowly averted by the resistance raised by Truman’s anti-Communist cabinet members like Secretary of State James Byrnes, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, and others. It was the brain child of Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau’s (an FDR crony) top assistant, Harry Dexter White. White, like Hiss, had been identified as a Communist agent to FDR aide Adolf Berle in 1939. Henry Wallace, FDR’s vice-president before Truman, who ran for president on the Progressive Party ticket in 1948 and darling of Stone and Kuznick, promised in the campaign that White would be his treasury secretary if he were elected president.
Also named by Chambers as a Soviet agent along with White and Hiss, was White House aide, Lauchlin Currie, the patron of Owen Lattimore, who would play a key role in the loss of China to the Communists. Not named by Chambers was the most powerful of FDR’s aides promoting Soviet interests in the Roosevelt administration, his “assistant president,” Harry Hopkins. Hopkins’ name, however, would turn up later among the Venona intercepts as a likely Soviet agent, as would the name of his powerful protg on the staffs of both Roosevelt and Truman, David Niles.
Among the key sources for the revelations of Evans and Romerstein are the aforementioned early revelations of Chambers as recounted in his 1952 book, Witness, Chambers’ Congressional testimony in 1948, the testimony of another Communist defector, Elizabeth Bentley, in the same year, and the files of the FBI and KGB files made accessible since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Russia declassified a raft of archive documents pertaining to the preparations for and the holding of the Yalta Conference on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the event. USA & UK Opposed Poland Getting Eastern Germany. See the video below: