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10-08-2015, 17:09


In November 1943, Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill, the leaders of the Grand Alliance, met at Tehran (the capital of Iran) to decide the future course of the war. Their major strategic decision involved approval for an American- British invasion of the Continent through France, which they scheduled for the spring of 1944. The acceptance of this plan had important consequences. It meant that Soviet and British-American forces would meet in defeated Germany along a north-south dividing line and that eastern Europe would most likely be liberated by Soviet forces. The Allies also agreed to a partition of postwar Germany until denazification could take place. Roosevelt privately assured Stalin that Soviet borders in Europe would be moved westward to compensate for the loss of territories belonging to the old Russian Empire after World War I. Poland would receive lands in eastern Germany to make up for territory lost in the east to the Soviet Union. In February 1945, the three Allied leaders met once more at Yalta, on the Crimean peninsula of the Soviet Union. Since the defeat of Germany was a foregone conclusion, much of the attention focused on the war in the Pacific. Roosevelt sought Soviet military help against Japan. Development of the atomic bomb was not yet assured, and U.S. military planners feared the possibility of heavy casualties in amphibious assaults on the Japanese home islands. Roosevelt therefore agreed to Stalin’s price for military assistance against Japan: possession of Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands, as well as two warmwater ports and railroad rights in Manchuria. The creation of the United Nations was a major U.S. concern at Yalta. Roosevelt hoped to ensure the participation of the Big Three Powers in a postwar international organization before difficult issues divided them into hostile camps. After a number of compromises, both Churchill and Stalin accepted Roosevelt’s plans for the United Nations organization and set the first meeting for San Francisco in April 1945. The issues of Germany and eastern Europe were treated less decisively. The Big Three reaffirmed that Germany must surrender unconditionally and created four occupation zones. German reparations were set at $20 billion. A compromise was also worked out in regard to Poland. Stalin agreed to free elections in the future to determine a new government. But the issue of free elections in eastern Europe would ultimately cause a serious rift between the Soviets and the Americans. The Allied leaders agreed on an ambiguous statement that eastern European governments would be freely elected but were also supposed to be friendly to the Soviet Union. This attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable was doomed to failure. Even before the next conference at Potsdam, Germany, took place in July 1945, Western relations with the Soviets had begun to deteriorate rapidly. The Grand Alliance had been one of necessity in which ideological incompatibility had been subordinated to the pragmatic concerns of the war. The Allied Powers’ only common aim was the defeat of Nazism. Once this aim had been all but accomplished, the many differences that antagonized East-West relations came to the surface. The Potsdam conference of July 1945, the last Allied conference of World War II, consequently began under a cloud of mistrust. Roosevelt had died on April 12 and had been succeeded as president by Harry Truman. During the conference, Truman received word that the atomic bomb had been successfully tested. Some historians have argued that this knowledge stiffened Truman’s resolve against the Soviets. Whatever the reasons, there was a new coldness in the relations between the Soviets and the Americans. At Potsdam, Truman demanded free elections throughout eastern Europe. Stalin responded: “A freely elected government in any of these East European countries would be anti-Soviet, and that we cannot allow.” 6 After a bitterly fought and devastating war, Stalin sought absolute military security, which in his view could be ensured only by the presence of Communist states in eastern Europe. Free elections might result in governments hostile to the Soviet Union. By the middle of 1945, only an invasion by Western forces could undo developments in eastern Europe, and in the immediate aftermath of the world’s most destructive conflict, few people favored such a policy. But the stage was set for a new confrontation, this time between the two major victors of World War II.