GWB seems to have riled lots of folks up over his reference in a recent speech to Yalta. If you have read any of the comentary from the left, you might be imagining he said all kinds of wild things. I read much of the commentary before I ever read Bush's words, so I was prepared for a real gaffe. After reading his speech, I was left wondering if those attacking Bush heard the same speech. Here is the key paragraph:
As we mark a victory of six days ago -- six decades ago, we are
mindful of a paradox. For much of Germany, defeat led to freedom. For
much of Eastern and Central Europe, victory brought the iron rule of
another empire. V-E Day marked the end of fascism, but it did not end
oppression. The agreement at Yalta followed in the unjust tradition of
Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Once again, when powerful
governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow
expendable. Yet this attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of
stability left a continent divided and unstable. The captivity of
millions in Central and Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the
greatest wrongs of history.
I am not sure how you can disagree with this. I think the US owes Eastern Europe a big appology for selling them out at Yalta. Now, one can argue that we had some reasons for our actions at Yalta. First and foremost, we were exhausted from the worst war in history, and no one had the energy to gear up for a new confrontation. Also, one can argue that it may be 20/20 hindisght that causes us to be more aware of Soviet hegemonic intentions than the actors at the time might have been (though certainly Churchill was fully cognizant of the dangers). But, no matter how you cut it, small countries like Latvia were wiped out of existance and handed over to the Soviet Union by the Yalta agreement, and Bush's audience was made up of people still stung by this. I think the comparison to Munich is very apt - the US post-WWII was exhausted and was more than ready to suspend disbelief and hope that appeasing Soviet territorial ambitions would head off a fresh confrontation no one had the will to fight. Reason's hit and run has a nice roundup and further analysis.
The only explanation I can come upfor the uproar is that FDR, like Reagan and Kennedy, has an incredibly powerful though informal legacy protection society that leaps into action at even the smallest attempt to besmirch his historical halo. In this case, Bush rightly does not even mention FDR; however, since FDR was the main advocate for pandering to Stalin at Yalta (against Churchill's vociforous but ultimately ignored objections), his defense forces feel the need to jump into action. I would have hoped that with 3 generations separating us from FDR, we could finally look at him objectively. He fought a fabulous war, in some sense carrying the whole free world on his shoulders for four years. But he fumbled the peace, though, and screwed up at Yalta.
UPDATE: Professor Bainbridge has this nice quote from Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga a few days before Bush's speech:
In Latvia ... the
totalitarian occupation ... of Nazi Germany was immediately replaced by
another "“ that of Stalinist totalitarian communist Soviet Union and was
one that lasted a very long time. The day we shall be commemorating
does have double significance and by coming to the Baltic States
President Bush is, I believe, underscoring this double meaning of these
historic events. 60 years ago when the war ended it meant liberation
for many, it meant victory for many who could truly rejoiced in it.
But for others it meant slavery, it meant occupation, it meant
subjugation, and it meant Stalinist terror. For Latvia the true day of
liberation came only with the collapse of the Soviet Union as it did
for our neighbours Lithuania and Estonia.
Sounds a lot like what Bush said. Seems like Bush is in pretty good touch with the sentiments of the Latvian people he is speaking to.