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Stalin’s role against Japan

LAURENCE REES: To what extent should we see Roosevelt’s concern to get Stalin into the war against Japan in order to help win it, as an important factor in his negotiations with Stalin towards the end of the war?

ROBERT DALLEK: It was huge, it was a very high priority for Roosevelt. At Tehran and at Yalta Roosevelt wants a commitment from Stalin to bring Soviet forces into the war against Japan. Because the assumption is that there is a million man Japanese army in Manchuria and that if the United States has to invade the Japanese home islands, which was the expectation, the fear was the Japanese could transfer most of that million man army from Manchuria to Japan and then, of course, cause terrible casualties for the American invaders. So if the Russians come into the war and tie down the Japanese forces in Manchuria it could make a huge difference to the United States military.

The American military, Roosevelt and the whole political establishment are very eager and intent on getting Stalin to promise that he’ll bring Soviet forces into the war against Japan, and Stalin does promise that within 3 months after the fighting in Europe he will commit to bringing troops in.

LAURENCE REES: Is that one of the reasons why Roosevelt doesn’t seem too concerned about the extent to which Stalin will control much of Eastern Europe after the war?

ROBERT DALLEK: I think there are two things that operate on this question of control in Eastern Europe by Stalin at the end of the war. Roosevelt’s conviction was that you needed to concede things to Stalin, and of course he does in Asia by promising at Yalta some Japanese territory to him. Roosevelt is also giving them a sweetheart deal in China where they’re going to have rights in Port Arthur and control of the Manchurian railways. So he’s paying a price which he understands, or he feels he believes he needs to in order to get Russian co-operation. Because he doesn’t trust them, he doesn’t think they’re great, good guys and that they’re going to do this out of sentiment, he realizes that they want something for their sacrifices. But he’s also a realist, and the realism is, as George Kennan, the great diplomat and later historian said; the price we paid for the Soviets tearing the guts out of the Nazi war machine in World War Two was their domination of East Central Europe. And Roosevelt’s assumption was what choice do we have? We’re going to go to war with Russia over Poland, over the Baltic states?

Roosevelt was pressured by Eleanor Roosevelt about the Baltics. He was pressured by the Poles about what he was doing for Poland. And behind the scenes he’s contemptuous of this. He says at one point: do you expect me to go to war with Stalin over the Baltics? Sure, democracy, freedom, the rhetoric tumbles off their lips; the declaration of liberty for the East, a declaration of freedom for the liberated countries from Nazi control in Eastern Europe; it’s rhetoric. The reality is what dictates, and Roosevelt, before he goes to Yalta, has a famous conversation, well not so famous, with some members of his Senate Foreign Relations Committee to whom he says, “Gentlemen, history is controlled by spheres of importance, by balance of power.” You see, he’s a real politician. Whatever his rhetoric in public, whatever his idealistic lingo, it’s the hard nosed realities that he always tried to think of first.