Jackson, Old burdens not to be passed on

back then
The Yalta Conference, from an era that should be bygone.

Dead historical figures and living history

by Eric Jackson

Nearly 79 years ago Josef Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt, with their respective delegations, met in smoke-filled rooms in the Crimean resort town of Yalta to divide the collapsing German and Japanese empires and haggle about spheres of influence in the wake of that. Two other major empires of past or present at the time, France and China, were just recovering from their own occupations, immersed in internal conflicts and not in any condition to participate.

Today’s Yalta is internationally recognized as part of Ukraine but it’s occupied by Russia, which claims it as its own.

Many of the “sphere of influence” understandings among Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill were quickly abrogated. Not only Stalin’s undertakings for democratic elections in countries that the Red Army seized from the Germans, but also British and American assurances to cleanse places like Greece of Nazi collaborators. As to Spain, where Franco came to power with Hitler’s and Mussolini’s intervention, and Portugal and its empire which had a fascist government but remained friendly to the British, Stalin got no reciprocal undertakings for democratization for his Western allies to break.

Left as unstated were that the Russian-centered Soviet empire, the far-flung British Empire and the United States and its possessions would continue in more or less the same fashion.

Roosevelt died a couple of months later, even before Berlin fell. Churchill was voted out of office in the next election some four months later, and his successor Clement Attlee was left to pick up the pieces of a financially collapsed United Kingdom and forced withdrawal from British India and the Palestine Mandate, the latter two processes still major threats to world peace. Stalin clung to life for another eight years or so – whether felled by a natural stroke or by one prompted by his security chief Lavrentiy Beria slipping some warfarin into what he had been drinking or eating is still a matter of speculation among historians. Beria was arrested at a Soviet Presidium meeting shortly after that and rather summarily convicted of treason and shot. Churchill had his political comeback but some 59 years ago he died.

France recovered as a republic but eventually lost most of its former empire. China’s civil war was mostly resolved in 1950, it rejoined the ranks of great powers but is still driven by an urge to redeem lost possessions and influences. The British Empire was largely dismantled. Yet the USA, whose industrial heartland was never bombarded in World War II, remains intact and still in control of most of its possessions from way back when. (The old Canal Zone is an exception.) A little more than 33 years ago the Soviet Union and its spheres of influence fell, and within a few years Vladimir Putin arose in the Russian Federation and has since dedicated himself to restoring the lost empire as best he can.

The USA lost repeated foreign wars, but it was never so humbled in the ways that Stalin’s and Churchill’s operations were.

The world has changed, but in the USA there are these bipartisan “neoconservatives” who aim to dismantle both the Russian Federation and the Peoples Republic of China. Putin and Xi have other ideas.

Wouldn’t the world be a much happier and safer place if the underlying assumptions at Yalta were specifically rejected by all parties? That Ukraine isn’t Russia’s to annex or dominate, that Britannia does not rule the waves, that Latin America and the Caribbean lands are not the US “back yard? Moreover, that China’s “Nine-Dash Line” encroachment into neighboring countries’ territorial seas and international waters is an outrageous proposition in this day and age? That so are assumptions that the Middle East has “America’s oil” and the notion that other foreign interests have dibs on the copper found on and under the Isthmus of Panama?

The imperial age that was being redrawn at Yalta is over. So, too, should be a thousand corollaries based on maintaining the presumptions of those smoke-filled rooms in Yalta. Let’s not pass that baggage on to younger generations.


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