Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Book Review: The Deal: Churchill, Truman and Stalin Remake the World by Charles L. Mee, Jr.

An interesting look at the beginnings of the Cold War. Strangely enough, Truman and Churchill come off as archvillains and Stalin as the good guy.

Could it be true?

"Churchill was to say, 'It would be a mistake to suppose that the fate of Japan was settled by the atomic bomb. Her defeat was certain before the first bomb fell....' The United States Strategic Bombing Survey said after the war, 'Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.' 
It was no longer necessary to drop either the bomb-as-weapon or the bomb-as-doomsday-machine on Japan. However, if the weapon were not dropped on Japan, the doomsday machine could have no psychological effect on Russia. 
The bomb was therefore dropped on Japan for the effect it had on Russia—just as Jimmy Byrnes had said. The psychological effect on Stalin was twofold: the Americans had not only used a doomsday machine; they had used it when, as Stalin knew, it was not militarily necessary. It was this last chilling fact that doubtless made the greatest impression on the Russians."

As with everything else in this world, all three leaders came to Potsdam with an agenda.

  • Churchill was the proverbial 98-pound weakling. World War II signified the end of the British Empire as he knew it. He came to Potsdam to get while the getting was good. He wanted to get his share of the spoils before Stalin decided to take everything he wanted. As it turned out, Stalin and Truman pushed him aside and subtracted England from the Big Three - making it the Big Two - the United States and Russia.
  • Stalin was an unknown. During the war, Roosevelt and Churchill continued to throw Russia to the Nazi dogs, by refusing to send promised help. As a result, Russia suffered the most casualties of any country - big or small. What Stalin wanted more than anything else from the Conference were things. He wanted reparations. He wanted gold, steel, ships, and anything else he could get his hands on to help rebuild his war-ravaged country. Through it all, two key things stand out about Stalin. He was a shrewd negotiator, and he had a keen sense of humor.
  • Harry Truman was the original bad ass. He came to Potsdam to buy time. He was waiting for the final test results on the atomic bomb trials. He was doing everything he could to keep the war in the Pacific going long enough so he could use the bomb to end the war, and keep the Russians and the Brits out. Throughout the Conference he bluffed Churchill and Stalin, saying they could delay this, or that issue, until the peace conferences, all the while knowing they would never take place. Like Stalin, he was a shrewd negotiator. Once he received word of the A-Bomb's successful test, Truman was emboldened. He went for the jugular. Everyone present noticed the difference in his demeanor.
If you ever wondered how the world got to be the way it is, why there had to be a Cold War, or who the real good guys or bad guys are, this book is going to be a V-8 moment.

Throughout the Conference, there was much distrust.

"Truman could stomp a foot and threaten; Stalin could stomp a foot and threaten, but neither felt he could change the other."

In the end, Truman and Stalin exchanged a laundry list of concessions they knew neither side would honor. Instead, they sought out odds and ends they could hold against each other, tidbits they could point at, to say the other side was first to break the covenants made there.

Through it all, Churchill talked the most, suffered the most, and eventually, lost everything. During the final week of the Conference, he was voted out of power. It all came as a terrible blow to him, but in the end - Churchill would be the one to give a name to the new era when he described it as a 

"From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in some cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow."

Could the Cold War have been prevented? Should it have been prevented? Or was it a necessary evil in the development of the new world order?

History will be the judge.

Subscribe to our mailing list

Email Format

No comments:

Post a Comment