STALIN'S WARS: From World War to Cold War, 1939-1953, Geoffrey Roberts, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2006, 468 pages.
FROM ROOSEVELT TO TRUMAN: Potsdam, Hiroshima, and the Cold War, Wilson D. Miscamble, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007, 393 pages, $27.99.
MY DEAR MR. STALIN: The Complete Correspondence Of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph V. Stalin, Susan Butler, ed., foreword by Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2005, 361 pages $25.00.
Few 20th-century figures have inspired more scholarly commentary than Joseph Stalin, particularly concerning his wartime and postwar relationships with Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Over a decade ago, the broadening of access to Russian archives (if only temporary) crowned the end of the academic version of the Cold War and generated a series of new offerings on Stalin and his legacy. Still, Stalin remains a more challenging subject than most wartime leaders by virtue of the secretive nature of the Soviet system, the enormity of events in which he participated, and his own distinctly cryptic behavior. At me same time, Stalin's American counterparts have been the objects of scholarly dispute, in part because of the extraordinary richness of the public record. Indeed, a study of the policies and personalities of FDR and Truman, and above all their readings of Stalin's intentions, continue to define our understanding of the Cold War's origins.
Geoffrey Roberts's latest work, Stalin's Wars: From World War to Cold War, 1939-1953, is a well written and carefully researched volume that focuses on Stalin as wartime leader and strategist. Roberts pointedly strives to offer an appraisal independent of his subject's record of crimes against humanity; in fact, he advises the reader that the latter are not his subject. Some compartmentalization of topics is reasonable in this instance. But we cannot evaluate Stalin as a strategic decision-maker and diplomat without considering the intellectual processes and predispositions that marked the systematic brutality of his rule. The man who won the war, after all, was also the same man who grievously weakened his country in the preceding years through catastrophic purges, unproven economic schemes, and establishment of an atmosphere of paranoia.
Roberts, however, flatly asserts that ideology, more than personality, offers the key to reading Stalin's intentions. Projecting from this conclusion, he draws extensively from Stalin's own published remarks as well as records of meetings and conversations. This approach, though necessary and indisputably valuable, leans heavily on its implicit assumption that Stalin's words speak louder loudly than his actions.
Stalin seldom lost sight of political context or his overarching aims. He was far more likely to say what needed to be said to facilitate a particular objective than to bare his soul. Thus it seems that the author's attribution of great credence to Stalin's conversations with men such as Georgi Dimitrov, leader of me Comintern, is fraught with risk. Roberts describes Dimitrov's diary as "the most important source on Stalin's private thinking during the war years"; however, the extent to which Stalin confided in Dimitrov -or anyone else for that matter-is subject to doubt. In all probability, Stalin left posterity to assemble a puzzle from among a pile of intertwined facts and lies.
Like many larger-man-life leaders and politicians, Stalin saw himself as a man playing a role on the stage of history. If he enjoyed adulation, he did not, as Roberts aptly points out, take it too much to heart. Indeed, Stalin was perhaps the least likely of men to accept expressions of devotion at face value. Almost incapable of sincerity himself, he hardly expected it from others. Thus, even his most loyal sycophants lived in fear for their lives.
Roberts's appraisal of Stalin as a leader and strategist is a favorable one with which even many of Stalin's severest critics would probably concur. …