The Historical Present: Uses and Abuses of the Past

By Edwin M. Yoder | Go to book overview

Yalta in History and Myth

NO SURVEY OF THE CROSSROADS between past and present can be complete without a glance at the distortion of history for partisan purposes. For Americans of my vintage, the crowning instance was what was made for several decades of the Yalta conference of February 1945. There, at the old czarist winter resort in the Crimea, the "Big Three" of World War II, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, settled outstanding matters for the last phase of their wartime alliance. There were two great issues at Yalta, and they were linked: the political and geographical future of Poland and the defeat of Japan.

Throughout the cold war years, "Yalta"--the word alone-- became a party slogan. On Republican lips, any mention of Yalta--a "sellout," as it was routinely described--was calculated to remind American voters of Polish ancestry that Franklin D. Roosevelt had allegedly abandoned democratic Poland to Stalin's clutches.

As if Nemesis had finally turned the tables, the issue of Poland became a stumbling block for the Republicans in the 1976 presiden-

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