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H-Diplo Roundtable- _From Truman to Roosevelt_- Mark Review http://www.h-net.org/~diplo/roundtables/#miscamble Reviewed Work: Wilson D. Miscamble. _From Roosevelt to Truman: Potsdam, Hiroshima, and the Cold War_. Cambridge, England and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 414 pp. ISBN-13: 9780521862448 | ISBN-10: 0521862442. Roundtable Editor: Thomas Maddux Reviewers: Frank Costigliola, Alonzo Hamby, Robert Jervis, Eduard Mark, David S. Painter, Chester Pach. Your use of this H-Diplo roundtable review indicates your acceptance of the H-Net copyright policies, and terms of condition and use. The following is a plain language summary of these policies: You may redistribute and reprint this work under the following conditions: * Attribution: You must include full and accurate attribution to the author(s), web location, date of publication, H-Diplo, and H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online. * Nonprofit and education purposes only. 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H-Net permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities & Social Sciences Online. For other uses contact the H-Diplo editorial staff at email@example.com. ------------------------------------------- Review by Eduard Mark, Department of the Air Force One of the central questions around which the controversy over the origins of the Cold War has developed is whether President Harry S. Truman and his advisers continued or reversed the policies with which Franklin D. Roosevelt had attempted to preserve the Grand Alliance. That question Wilson Miscamble has made the subject of an interesting new book. Professor Miscamble’s answer, in brief, is that the Truman Administration strove in almost every way to continue Roosevelt’s policies as its leading members understood them, although their efforts were certainly complicated by the failure of the deceased President to explain his plans to his Vice President or, for that matter, to anyone else. In their effort to forge a decent postwar relationship with the USSR, Professor Miscamble maintains, Truman and his advisers persevered sedulously – although not without tactical changes -- until Soviet actions forced them at length to reconsider matters. He finds the point of inflection not in the first days or weeks of Truman’s succession, but in the late summer of 1946 when Soviet pressures on Turkey persuaded the President and most of his advisers that a firmer policy toward the Soviet Union was required. Even then, however, there was no clean break with the policy of attempting to find common ground with the Soviets, which lingered fitfully into 1947, when a disillusioned George C. Marshall returned from the Conference of Foreign Ministers convinced that it was Moscow’s policy to allow Europe to lapse into ruin. Professor Miscamble, whom I am pleased to say I have long known, is a man of gentle disposition. But in the writing of this book he has engaged himself with a passion not often seen in a field of history which, more than many others, lends itself to a certain dryness. “Revisionism” – in this instance, the contention that Truman and his advisers quickly and with a will set themselves to reversing Roosevelt’s policy of engagement with the Soviets – he would consign to condign oblivion in the “historiographical dustbin.” (325) The passion Professor Miscamble brings to this task will impress – or nettle - readers scarcely less than the careful and scrupulous research with which he reconstructs the evolution of Truman’s approach to the Soviet Union during first years in the White House. In my view, the question of whether Professor Miscamble succeeds in his effort to demonstrate a fundamental continuity of intention between the Roosevelt and Truman Administrations admits of no simple answer. I hasten to add that, in my opinion, his demonstration that Truman and his inner circle fully intended to preserve the wartime cooperation with the Soviet Union, such as it was, is virtually conclusive. His conclusion might, however, have been shaded somewhat if he had looked into the activities of the military and the intelligence community. Whereas Truman, as Professor Miscamble’s plausibly argues, continued to view the USSR into 1946 as troublesome ally, the Joint Staff viewed the USSR as a potential enemy by the fall of 1945, when consideration of war with the Soviet Union actively began. A similar view obtained in the War Department’s interim intelligence organization, the Strategic Services Unit, by the first weeks of 1946.1 It is fair to say, too, that diplomats tended to be somewhat less than sanguine when they contemplated future relations with the Soviet Union. But, as I have said, Professor Miscamble’s principal concern is Truman and his closest advisers, and the reservations of soldiers and intelligence officers had little practical effect on policy before the summer of 1946. (Those of the diplomats were another matter, but our author is not unaware of them.) The careful tracing of the evolution of the thirty-third president’ stance vis-a-vis the Soviet Union on the whole tends to sustains the basic thesis of this book. Miscamble’s critique, moreover, of various arguments to the effect that there was an abrupt and rather brutal abandonment of Roosevelt’s policies are generally plausible. But I harbor withal reservations. These concern not so much the principal question to which the author has addressed himself as aspects of the interpretation of American and Soviet foreign policies that frame his inquiry. I turn first to the portrayal of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his policy toward the Soviet Union. While Professor Miscamble is at pains to show that Truman conscientiously strove to continue the work of his predecessor, he is plainly of the view that this was not altogether to his credit: “Regrettably, the Truman Administration expended too much energy in 1945 and 1946 negotiating with the Soviets and, in a way, attempting to reassure and place them and to reach amicable settlements with them.” (326) It is not, I think, unfair to say that Miscamble believes with Roosevelt’s approach to the Soviet Union was on the whole foolish and misguided. Roosevelt, he writes, Rather naively . . . relied on his hunches and intuitions and held the hope that he could civilize or domesticate the Soviet ‘beast’ and establish a personal connection with Stalin. Operating on this sad delusion, Roosevelt fashioned a strategy toward the Soviets based on personal connections and significant concessions aimed at reassuring them of his bona fides.2 That these were elements of Roosevelt’s policy is certainly true, but there was more. Whether FDR’s agreement with Churchill that even the fact that the atomic bomb was under development should be withheld from Moscow bore any relation his Soviet policy is to the best of my knowledge uncertain, although I suspect that there was a connection at some level. But it is quite certain that he refused to discuss postwar economic aid to the Soviet Union at Yalta out of political calculation.3 It would have been provocative to tell the Soviets in so many words that aid was conditional upon their behavior, but FDR’s silence on the subject spoke volumes, coming as it did immediately after a Soviet request for an enormous postwar credit. And, as has often been observed, Roosevelt could hardly have been clearer at Yalta about what he expected of the postwar elections in Poland. To couple that reminder with threats would have been highly impolitic when he was still seeking so much of the Soviets, particularly their participation in the war against Japan. Also worthy of note are the constraints under which Roosevelt labored in dealing with the Soviets. Surely the most important of these was the danger that the Soviets would conclude a separate peace with Germany. The Soviets admitted at the Moscow Conference of Foreign Ministers in October 1943 that the Germans had approached them, and even before then Washington knew of contacts between the Soviets and the Germans in Stockholm. In October 1943, when Ambassador William Standley returned to the United States, Roosevelt asked him straightaway, “What do you think, Bill, will he [Stalin] make a separate peace with Hitler?”4 Just days before his death Roosevelt told Senator Arthur Vandenberg that throughout the war he had been under “the awful pressure of a fear that Russia would withdraw from the war and make a separate peace.”5 Even now, none can say that this concern was not justified.6 Also important was the tenor of the military advice that Roosevelt received. Throughout the war the Joint Chiefs of Staff took the position that as the United States, even in alliance with Britain, could not win a war against the Soviets in Europe, and that concessions to Moscow were accordingly in order to obviate the possibility of such a catastrophe. These warnings the State Department placed in the presidential briefing books prepared for both Yalta and Potsdam.7 And, in my judgment, they plainly had an effect on Roosevelt. A case in point was his concern that the United States should act as an “honest broker” between the British and the Soviets (which Professor Miscamble mocks) lest Anglo-Soviet rivalry for influence in Europe dangerously escalate derived from the warnings of his military advisers.8 Professor Miscamble does not much concern himself with such questions of Realpolitik because his perspective is informed by an ethical perspective rather than a concern with power and national interests. His position, if I am not mistaken, is that Stalin’s purposes were at once so obvious and so utterly malign that the concessions to Moscow were simply not in order, even consideration of them being evidence prima facie of delusion. I am of the view that the situation that confronted American policymakers in 1944 was rather more complicated than that. While in retrospect Stalin’s dedication to the cause of ultimate socialist revolution in Europe is not open to much doubt, that was not at all clear in 1945.9 To many contemporaries it seemed that the contradictions between socialism, as it was commonly understood, and Soviet practice were so glaring that Stalin simply could not be a Marxist of deep conviction.10 And if he was not a dedicated Marxist, then he might be enough of a conventional Realpolitiker that national interest had a significant place in his calculations. Even upon this reading of Stalin there were dangers. Roosevelt himself publicly warned that “the trend from Marxism to nationalism in Russia” might portend an expansionism “no less disquieting than attempts at world revolution.”11 But there was a basis for the hope that the USSR’s obvious need for a period of recuperation and a need for foreign aid might afford the possibility of a modus vivendi. As John D. Hickerson later recalled, the Russians had suffered so much. Their casualties, the devastation in their country was terrific. We thought there would be a breathing spell when they’d be trying to rebuild their country. That doesn’t mean that I felt or my colleagues felt that the Russians has been converted to Christianity and that we thought they would permanently behave, but we thought it was so clearly in their interest.”12 The question of whether this calculation was wide of the mark is too complicated for discussion here. Suffice it to say, however, that Stalin himself, both privately and publicly, spoke of the preservation of the Grand Alliance as being in the interest of his Soviet Union.13 How could this have been, some readers will wonder at this point, if he also sought a Communist Europe? The contradiction is more apparent than real because the original wartime design was that the Communist parties should seek their way to power through “bourgeois democracy” – that is, by means to which the Western Allies could make no principled objection.14 To that end, there was a careful tailoring of policies, and even to many American observers the chances for success seemed fair or better. Now this policy, the national front strategy as I have termed it elsewhere, did not succeed, nor did it long survive the war in anything like its intended form. The reasons for this are many but some of them bear directly on the thesis that it was from the first Soviet policy to fasten in short order police regimes upon the countries of Eastern Europe. The circumstances surrounding some of the first instances of Soviet “interference” in Eastern Europe are complex and remain little understood.15 Romania, for example, figures prominently in From Truman to Roosevelt, as an example of brutal intrusion. But when the Red Army entered that country, Stalin’s orders to his commanders were explicit: “The entry of Soviet forces into Romania has been dictated exclusively by military necessity and does not pursue other goals other than the goals of overcoming and liquidating the continuing resistance of the enemy’s forces . . . To be preserved without change . . . are all existing Romanian organs of power and the system of economic and political organization existing in Romania. The performance of religious ceremonies is not to be hindered and houses of prayer are not to be touched. Romanian customs are not to be infringed and Soviet customs are not to be introduced.16 As Percy Biddiscombe showed some years ago, the change in Soviet policy so evident in early 1945 had much to do with the discovery of a German-directed conspiracy involving the Romanian Army and the underground organizations of the Romanian Nazi Party and the Iron Guard.17 Recently declassified signals intelligence, moreover, shows that Anglo-American leaders not only knew of this plot but believed that elements of National Peasant Party – much the largest political organization in Romania – were complicit. The danger in Romania was discussed at the highest levels of the British and American governments, and largely explains why there was so little protest when the Soviets imposed a government of their choosing in March 1945.18 There is a third subject about which I must acknowledge that I differ from my distinguished colleague. The subject of spheres of influence is obviously central of the origins of the Cold War. Professor Miscamble largely embraces the thesis for which Marc Tractenberg argued in A Constructed Peace – in essence, that at the instance of Secretary of State James F. Byrnes the United States wrote off Eastern Europe at the Potsdam Conference.19 Now Exhibit A for the argument that an appeasing Byrnes consigned Eastern Europe to outer darkness is the recognition of the Bulgarian and Romanian governments after the Moscow Conference of Foreign Ministers, although both remained unrepresentative. Recognition really represented only a tactical change. From the spring of 1945 Washington had hoped to make the governments of the former German satellites more representative by withholding diplomatic recognition from them. The British argued that this was a futile approach, and the best hope of effecting political change in the satellites would be to conclude as quickly as possible peace treaties that would entail the withdrawal of the Red Army from the satellites. In October 1945 Ambassador W. A. Harriman visited Stalin at Sochi on the Black Sea. During the course of their discussions Stalin convinced Harriman and through him Byrnes and the State Department, that he really did not care whether the United States recognized the interim regimes. Byrnes then changed course and adopted the British view that early peace treaties should be the primary objective. And that decision entailed recognition of the still-unrepresentative governments of Bulgaria and Romania, as otherwise the United States could hardly conclude treaties with them. The diplomatic representatives in those countries, Maynard Barnes and Burton Berry protested, but only until they understood the reason for the change.20 To his credit, Professor Miscamble appears at some level to resist full acceptance of the view that after Potsdam the United States consigned Eastern Europe to a kind of diplomatic Ultima Thule in defiance of every value that the government of the United States professed to represent and every identifiable interest it possessed. Toward the end of From Roosevelt to Truman Miscamble allows himself, with perhaps more insight than he realizes, the statement that “To a great extent, some variation of a ‘Finlandized” Eastern Europe is what American policy makers in 1945 and 1946 had hoped might satisfy Stalin . . .” (327-28) The thought here seems to be that Truman and Byrnes hoped that Stalin would define some sort of self-denying ordinance for himself. Actually, however, they went to considerable lengths to help him “Finlandize” Eastern Europe. At the core of Byrnes’s diplomacy was a major initiative that finds no mention in From Roosevelt to Truman: a treaty of demilitarization for Germany, which Byrnes presented to Stalin at the Moscow Council of Foreign Ministers and for which he continued to press throughout the negotiations of the peace treaties for Germany’s former satellites. This initiative had had two purposes: to induce the Soviets to relent in Eastern Europe by removing their fears of a revanchist Germany -- or else to force them to show by rejection of the instrument that “security” was only a pretext for prolonging the occupation of Eastern Europe.21 But if their concerns were sincere, Byrnes offered them a blueprint for a “Finlandized” Eastern Europe. The states of the region could not threaten the USSR without German support, the very possibility of which the proffered treaty of demilitarization would obviate. Byrnes, moreover, took the initiative in the negotiation of treaties of peace with the former satellites that effectively disarmed them while banning fascist organizations and implicitly recognizing a Soviet right of intervention against a resurgence of forces truly “unfriendly” to Russia. This, in fact, was a model for “Finlandization that went someone further than the actual “Finlandization” we know from a later period.22 But it was also a dispensation under the former satellites would have remained free in their domestic affairs and hence not ready instruments of aggression for the Soviets. Professor Miscamble is correct to stress the effect upon the Truman Administration of the Turkish crisis, which more than any other single event of the year of the Cold War convinced American officials that Soviet policy was at least potentially aggressive in dangerous ways. But the other half of the process of reconsidering the Soviets’ challenge was their seeming indifference to the deal that Byrnes had offered them. Their bluff, as Truman said, had been called.23 The proposition that the United States abandoned Eastern Europe even before the Cold War had begun distorts American diplomacy, rendering incomprehensible not only the constant encouragement of the opposition parties of the region but also equally telling if less familiar initiatives such as radio propaganda to unsettle the communist-dominated interim regime, the leaking to the press of diplomatic reports and intelligence damaging to the Soviet position, and various actions of the secret services such as the extensive contacts in 1946 between the Central Intelligence Group and the partisan formations of the Romanian opposition.24 The thesis also obscures much of the reason for Washington’s reconsideration of Soviet motives in 1946 and, worse, one of the principal reasons why the United States cared about European developments in the first place. A Europe divided in the way that it seemed likely to be at the end of the war was potentially threatening to the United States. While Roosevelt anticipated an Anglo-Soviet condominium over Europe, he and other policymakers, as we have seen, feared the consequences of unbridled Anglo-Soviet rivalry, for therein, seemingly, lay the only obvious cause of a new war. The danger of an Anglo-Soviet war for the United States was that the British would surely lose it, leaving the Soviets masters of Europe. This was precisely why in 1946 the JCS urged resistance to the Soviet demands on Turkey. The issue, as the Chiefs saw matters, was not Turkey but the Anglo-Soviet war likely to result from Soviet intrusion into the Mediterranean, a conflict that would leave the Soviets in control of Europe and the United States without a militarily significant ally in Eurasia.25 But a “Finlandized” Eastern Europe might buffer the Anglo-Soviet conflict, sparing the United States the nightmare of a consolidated Eurasia. A closely related fear was that Anglo-Soviet conflict might allow Germany to rise from defeat by playing the victors off against each other. These ideas were the received wisdom of the day, being featured in influential works like William T. R. Fox’s The Super-Powers and a remarkable manifesto prepared for the Joint Staff by virtually all the leading figures in the infant discipline of international relations.26 The concern with the dangers of Anglo-Soviet rivalry presciently predicted the Cold War, save in one respect: there was little appreciation of just how weak Britain would be after the war and even less that it would be the fate of the United States to replace Britain as guarantor of the European balance of power, with the dangers that entailed. There were many reasons why America stepped in the breach in Britain’s stead. But, as Melvyn Leffler has shown, none was so compelling as the prospect of a Europe united against the United States, a dispensation that would have united Germany’s science with Russia’s manpower and pivotal geopolitical position. That would have been the “empire of the world” about which Mackinder warned at the beginning of the twentieth century. As Roosevelt put it in a radio address of 1941, For if the world outside the Americas fall under Axis domination, the shipbuilding facilities which the Axis powers would then possess in all of Europe, in the British Isles and in Far East would be much greater than all the shipbuilding facilities and potentialities of all the Americas – not only greater but two or three times greater – enough to win. Even if the United States threw all its resources into such a situation seeking to double or even redouble the size of our Navy, the Axis powers, in control of the rest of the world, would have the man power and the physical resources to outbuild several times over.27 This danger did not disappear with the defeat of the Axis. Far from it. Historians have often observed that the United States emerged from the Second World War the most powerful nation of the world. This is a reasonably accurate description of the existing situation in 1945. Yet the potential dangers confronting the country were also considerable, although they are much less familiar. After World War II the Soviet Union stood closer to attaining “the empire of the world” than any nation before it. The ironic outcome of the United States’ victory in that struggle was that its strategic position was in fundamental ways potentially weaker than it had been in 1940, its wealth and technological supremacy notwithstanding. A victory of the Axis had threatened the domination of Eurasia by an alliance of three dissimilar and potentially rivalrous powers, not a single hegemon. Even if the Axis had triumphed, moreover, immense labors faced its strongest members, Germany and Japan. Hitler had entertained no expectation of conquering the entire Soviet Union. He had rather planned to drive the Russians beyond the Urals where, he thought, a struggle would rage essentially forever. Japan’s great project, the subjugation of China, if possible at all, would have been the work of generations. In 1946 the USSR’s prospects were more propitious than those of the Axis had ever been, and the dangers to the United States correspondingly greater. The relentless progress of the Communists in China threatened the voluntary adherence to the Socialist bloc of the world’s most populous state. Half of Europe the Soviets occupied, and throughout the remainder Communist parties flourished with plausible programs for electoral success. The “empire of the world,” or something very like it, stood but a nearly decided civil war and a few elections away from reality. The reservations I have outlined about From Roosevelt to Truman are not insubstantial. But I hasten to remind readers that the heart of the book is a narrowly framed mise-en-scène at the center of which stands a well-intentioned but limited president condemned to deal with the uncertain legacy of his predecessor in the face of enormous difficulties. And as that I recommend the work.