The Lesson of Yalta:
The Cost of By-Passing Democratic Process
Only nine years have passed since the Yalta conference, but already it seems an enormously long time ago. The photographs of the Big Three seated together appear today to belong to as remote a past as representations of Pharaohs on the walls of Egyptian temples or figures in the Bayeux Tapestry. It is difficult indeed now to recapture to the atmosphere of those far-off days when, as Robert Sherwood tells us in The White House Payers of Harry L. Hopkins:
The mood of the American delegates, including Roosevelt and Hopkins, could be described as one of supreme exultation as they left Yalta. They were confident that their British colleagues agreed with them that this had been the most encouraging conference of all, and the immediate response of the principal spokesmen for British and American public opinion added immeasurably to their sense of satisfaction with the job that had been done.
If in 1954 there are few people who can see cause for satisfaction, and still less for exultation, in what was done at Yalta, it has to be remembered that we have the advantage of hindsight and there is always force in the proverb that it is easy to be wise after the event. Certainly there are some politicians who today most loudly condemn the Yalta decisions, but were hardly conspicuous in protest at the time. On the other hand, account must also be taken of the fact that the American and British governments had at their disposal information which was not then available to the general public or even to Congressmen and Members of Parliament—information which pointed very definitely to the long-term aims of Soviet policy. The historian who would arrive at a fair estimate of the Yalta record must try to avoid being prejudiced by the experience of the years since February 1945, but he must at the same time ask how far the hopes set on Yalta were reasonable in the light of the evidence the Western statesmen then already had before their eyes.
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