Byline: Seth Mandel, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
By the time Franklin D. Roosevelt died in April 1945, his grand vision of the world was rapidly slipping from his grasp. Once Nazi Germany was defeated, FDR hoped to leave Europe to Britain and the Soviet Union, but he had no answer to the question of just how Britain was supposed to single-handedly defend freedom on the Continent, overmatched as it clearly was. Facing the question honestly might have forced him to contemplate a transformation in American foreign policy, which he deemed unacceptable, wrote the historian Wilson D. Miscamble.
But, of course, that transformation would take place anyway, under Roosevelt's successor, Harry S. Truman. This period of transition, from the end of World War II to the drawing of the battle lines of the Cold War, is one of the most consequential periods of transition in American history. Michael Dobbs, a gifted storyteller and thorough researcher with an eye for detail, has chosen just this period for the final installment of his Cold War trilogy, Six Months in 1945: FDR, Stalin, Churchill, and Truman - From World War to Cold War.
The action begins at Yalta in February 1945, and Mr. Dobbs ably renders the portraits of the Big Three heads of state. Roosevelt is physically weak in the last months of his life, but in relatively good humor and still globe-trotting. He is confident in his powers of persuasion, but self-conscious about his interlocutors' negotiating reputations, which eclipse his own. Winston Churchill is given to grandiloquence and poetic indulgence, but he, too, has nagging concerns: He will stand for election soon after.
Then there is Joseph Stalin, the West's wartime ally of necessity. He is playing the long game and will outlast in office both Roosevelt and Churchill. Stalin is imperious and distrustful. Mr. Dobbs describes the USSR's twisted Darwinian process that produced Stalin: The most ruthless politicians rose naturally to the top, eliminating their rivals.
Stalin's paranoia would rear its head again and again. In March 1945, Stalin would suspect the Allies of striking a separate peace with Germany. He trusted FDR, but Churchill was capable of anything.
This was still the age of empire. At one point during the Yalta conference, Churchill jotted down on a piece of paper the names of several European countries and how the great powers would share control over them. Romania: Russia 90 percent, the others 10 percent. ) Stalin took a look, approved and silently drew a check mark on the paper. The crudeness of it all made Churchill suggest the paper be burned.
We know how it ended. One major legacy of Yalta was Soviet domination …