- My Dear Mr. Stalin: The Complete Correspondence of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph V. Stalin
Notwithstanding the valuable commentary added by the editor, Susan Butler, to the correspondence between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph V. Stalin, a reader of this book might be forgiven, were he unable to reconcile the letters and commentary with the "Foreword" written by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
Read in a vacuum, these letters would persuade most readers that few obstacles or intrigues could withstand the mutual good will and interest of America's powerful wartime president and the Soviet Union's ruthless dictator. Not even the most serious obstacles to Soviet-American postwar cooperation. Judging by the correspondence, they concerned: (1) disagreements about the composition of Poland's postwar government and (2) Stalin's obvious anger about the Soviet Union's exclusion from British/American meetings with German SS Gen. Karl Wolff, to discuss the surrender of German forces in northern Italy.
Demonstrating good will, Roosevelt assured Stalin that "the United States will never lend support in any way to any provisional government in Poland that would be inimical to your interests" (p. 292). Moreover, FDR was determined to treat the German surrender issue as "a minor incident" (p. 322). Thus, nothing in the Roosevelt-Stalin letters would suggest that a Cold War was on the horizon.
Consequently, the reader of Butler's concluding commentary is jolted, not only by FDR's sudden death on 12 April 1945, but also by the precipitous deterioration in American-Soviet relations ostensibly caused by President Harry Truman.
Butler notes that, as a personal tribute to the deceased president, Stalin reversed his earlier decision to prevent Vyacheslav Molotov from participating in the San Francisco Conference devoted to founding the United Nations. (The initial decision to withdraw Molotov's participation was widely viewed as Soviet retaliation for its exclusion from the German surrender discussions.)
Yet, soon thereafter, in Washington, Truman upbraided Molotov, asserting that the agreements signed at Yalta were "not a one-way street" (p. 323). After Truman attempted to summarily dismiss him, Molotov responded: "I [End Page 543] have never been talked to like that in my life." Truman's response? "Carry out your agreements, and you won't get talked to like that" (p. 324).
Butler then adds, "Among the things the Soviets knew about Truman was that two days after Germany invaded Russia he decided, according to the New York Times, that "if we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany and that way let them kill off as many as possible although I don't want to see Hitler victorious under any circumstance" (p. 324).
Thus, little evidence can be found in the Roosevelt-Stalin correspondence and Susan Butler's commentary to support Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., when he blames "the hard rock of Stalinist ideology" (p. xv) for the Soviet decision "against postwar collaboration" (p. xiv). Yet, this observation is less a criticism of Mr. Schlesinger's conclusions than it is an acknowledgement that such correspondence and commentary, although significant, is incapable of adequately capturing the full scope of Soviet-American relations during World War II.