American Policy Toward Europe: The Fateful Change
Notes On The Legacy Of Woodrow Wilson And Franklin RooseveltKarl Otto Braun
Following the final defeat of Napoleonic France, the leaders of Europe gathered for the Congress of Vienna in 1815 to reorganize the war-torn continent. European recovery from the consequences of Napoleon’s downfall was considerably aided by the decent and magnanimous treatment of defeated France by the victorious powers. Henry Kissinger aptly entitled his study of the Congress of Vienna A World Restored.1
In contrast, the leaders of the victorious coalition that defeated Germany in 1945 imposed a virtual Carthaginian peace upon the vanquished nation. Germany and Europe itself was split into two hostile camps: American-style democracy was imposed in the West and Soviet-style socialism was established in the East. The peace settlement of 1945 prevented European recovery from the consequences of Hitler’s downfall. Princeton professor Martin Sherwin gave his scholarly study of the consequences of the Second World War the appropriate title A World Destroyed.2
Hitler’s primary aim in the Second World War was the eradication of the world threat of Soviet Bolshevism. By halting General Eisenhower, Roosevelt enabled Stalin to conquer Berlin and thus establish an Asian presence in the middle of Europe. When Roosevelt and Churchill met off Newfoundland in August 1941 to plan their common war strategy, they sang “Onward Christian Soldiers” before the cameras. Their exhortation later became, in practice, support for the anti-Christian Red Army in its subjugation of half of Europe. In 1945 the German commander invited U.S. General George Patton to seize Prague, but Patton’s superior, General Eisenhower, forbade it.
The peace established in 1945 by Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin laid the foundation for a long-term conflict which has regularly broken out in crisis: the West Berlin blockade of 1948, the East Berlin uprising of 1953, the Budapest uprising of 1956, the Prague uprising of 1968, and the recent worker’s uprising in Poland, a country sacrificed by Roosevelt and Churchill to Stalin’s rule. No less than ten countries found themselves under Moscow’s rule in 1945, an ominous development with foreboding for the future of Western civilization as a whole. It is not surprising that after nearly forty years, there is still no peace treaty between defeated Germany and the victorious powers. Instead, Germany and Europe remain divided, plagued with turmoil and facing the threat of annihilation in a new war. Historical failures of this magnitude have always had a deep and lasting impact.
In his 1961 historical study, Russia and the West Under Lenin and Stalin, diplomat and historian George F. Kennan wrote:
The pattern of the events that led the Western world to new disaster in 1939 was laid down in its entirety by the Allied governments in l918 and 1919. What we shall have to observe from here on in the relations between Russia, Germany, and the West follows a logic as inexorable as that of any Greek tragedy …
In 1917, the Western powers, in their determination to inflict total defeat on a Germany far less dangerous to them than that of Hitler, had pressed so unwisely for the continuation of Russia’s help that they had consigned her to the arms of the Communists. Now, in 1939, they were paying the price for this folly.
The First World War, Kennan has correctly noted, was “the great seminal catastrophe of this century, excepting only perhaps the discovery of nuclear weaponry."3
The career of William C. Bullitt, whom Roosevelt appointed as America’s first ambassador to the Soviet Union, strikingly exemplifies the contradictory nature of U.S. policy toward the Kremlin over the years.
President Wilson’s close advisor and alter ego, Colonel Edward M. House, encouraged young Bullitt to visit the fledgling, civil warracked Soviet state and its leader, Lenin, in 1919. Bullitt returned to the Versailles conference with a sensational proposal from the Bolshevik government. In return for an immediate cease fire on all fronts, an end to the Allied blockade, establishment of normal relations, and Soviet access to the railways and ports of the former Russian empire, the Soviets would agree to accept the loss of all territories then under de facto non-Soviet control.
Bolshevik rule would be confined to central Russia (including Moscow and Petrograd), while relinquishing Finland, Murmansk-Archangel, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, western Byelorussia Bessarabia, western Ukraine, Crimea, Caucasus, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the whole of the Urals and Siberia.4 Wilson tabled this unique offer until it expired on 10 April 1919. Sigmund Freud, who co-authored a psychological biography of Wilson with Bullitt, considered this “the most important single decision that he [Wilson] made in Paris."5
This fumbled opportunity deeply disappointed Bullitt, and he resigned from the foreign service. In his resignation letter to Wilson of 17 May 1919, Bullitt denounced the Versailles Treaty which the Allies had imposed on defeated Germany as unjust and prophesied that the unresolved issues of Danzig and (detached) East Prussia would “make new international conflicts certain."6 In his youthful idealism, Bullitt did not foresee that one day, as Roosevelt’s ambassador to France in 1938-39, he himself would energetically promote uncompromising Polish opposition to any revision of the Versailles settlement. Twenty years later Bullitt helped to implement his own fateful prophecy! This was the first great historical irony of Bullitt’s life.
In the 1930s it was trendy for American intellectuals to idealize the Bolshevik revolution and the new Soviet regime, although the Red reign of terror had already claimed many times more victims than the guillotines of the French revolution. Bullitt shared that fashionable enthusiasm. He married Louise Bryant Reed, widow of American Communist leader John Reed, who had authored the flattering portrait of the Bolshevik revolution, Ten Days that Shook the World.
Roosevelt called Bullitt back to the diplomatic service in 1933 and appropriately sent him to Moscow as America’s first envoy to the USSR. When he arrived, he laid a wreath at the tomb of John Reed by the Kremlin wall. He was honored by the Soviet dictator in extraordinary fashion: “Stalin took my head in his two hands and gave me a large kiss! I swallowed my astonishment and when he turned up his face for a return kiss, I delivered it."7 But Bullitt’s sincere enthusiasm for the Soviet regime “ended in frustration."8 The Ambassador’s confidential dispatches to the President on the terror of the Soviet Commissars became as critical as the articles appearing in German newspapers of the time. His reports to Washington echoed the speeches of German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. He thus became an obstacle for Roosevelt, who sought friendship with Stalin. Bullitt was transferred to Paris in 1936.
After America and the Soviet Union became allies in the Second World War, the latent friction between Bullitt and Roosevelt surfaced and finally led to a complete break between them. (The break was hastened by Bullitt’s circulation of stories about the sexual peccadillos of a rival and Roosevelt favorite, Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles. For this Roosevelt never forgave him.) According to Kennan, in early 1943 “Bullitt predicted with startling accuracy the situation to which the war would lead… He urged the President to use the great influence he still had with a view to bringing Stalin to a specific renunciation of all conquests and annexation in Europe.” Bullitt was “remarkably prophetic on what would happen in Europe, if the Russians were allowed to reach Berlin."9 He told Roosevelt: “This is not the old British policy of the Balance of Power in Europe, but a new one of the Balance of Impotence…"10 His brother Orville remarked: “In retrospect it would appear that had Bullitt accompanied Roosevelt and later Truman, the meetings with Stalin might have been on a more realistic basis and might have saved the world untold misery.” But Roosevelt remained totally deaf to Bullitt’s many realistic warnings. This was the second great historical irony of Bullitt’s life.
Bullitt left a valuable book to posterity. Together with the renowned Sigmund Freud he wrote a fascinating psychological study of President Wilson.12 This analysis of Wilson’s character was so devastating that its publication had to be postponed until 1967, following the death of Wilson’s widow. Bullitt and Freud explain that Wilson was psychologically unable properly to carry out his duties at the Versailles Peace Conference. On 8 April 1919 he even suffered what Bullitt and Freud called a “moral collapse” in relinquishing his highly touted “Fourteen Points” peace plan on the promises of which Germany had laid down its arms.13
The German Social Democratic party had welcomed returning German soldiers to the homeland in 1918 with the words: “Welcome back, brave soldiers. God and Wilson will help us from now on.” By abandoning his peace pledges, Wilson squandered his enormous popularity in Germany and paved the way for the sham peace which, in Kennan’s words, was “forced upon the loser” and “had to be accepted in humiliation under duress."14 Versailles gave birth to Hitler, just as the Polish “Solidarity” movement is the child of Yalta.
Yet another irony of history is the fact that at a second crucial international conference after a world war, an American president was physically incapable of fully understanding the awesome issues which were decided and which affect us still today. President Roosevelt was a visibly dying man. Churchill’s personal physician, Lord Moran, noted in his diary at Yalta on 9 February 1945: “Everyone was shocked by his [Roosevelt's] appearance and gabbled about it afterwards. The President looked old and thin and drawn. He sat looking straight ahead with his mouth open, as if he were not taking things in."15 In his critical study of Roosevelt’s foreign policy, Hamilton Fish deals extensively with the great cover-up about the President’s mental and physical deterioration in 1944 and 1945. “This tragic deception over the status of his health… was one of the most unjustifiable, cruelest and most dangerous of all the political tricks and stratagems ever used to deceive the American people."16
Fish came to the same devastating conclusion about Roosevelt’s health in 1945 as Freud and Bullitt had about Wilson’s condition in 1919. These are two of the most appalling cases of failure in American leadership during critical periods of world history. In each of its “crusades” in Europe, America failed to reach the “Holy Land” of a world made safe for Democracy! On the contrary, the present “Great Wall of Europe” (or “Iron Curtain") which divides the continent down the middle with barbed wire, explosive mines, baying dogs, and killer guards, is the real legacy of the last crusade. It is the most shameful monument of our age.
In light of all this, one must admit that the voice of the sober historian is often drowned out in the noise of rough power politics. Human passions prevail in history. Both President Wilson and President Roosevelt were imbued with blind hatred. In Wilson’s view, the French and British Allies were fighting in September 1915 with their backs to the wall against “wild beasts.” Roosevelt, in turn, went so far as to tell the Senate military affairs committee in May 1939 that it would be a good thing if Hitler and Mussolini were to be murdered.17
In 1943 Roosevelt laid the basis for the destruction of Germany by unexpectedly demanding unconditional surrender, thereby surpassing the blunders of the Versailles conference. The destruction of the sovereignty of the German Reich had the effect of unilaterally promoting Soviet expansion. The intense hatred fomented by subversive pressure groups in America changed the course of U.S. foreign policy in a direction detrimental to the nation’s welfare. But hatred and vengeance have always been the most awesome tools of politicians.
The crucial turning point in American foreign policy dates from President Wilson’s fateful rejection of Washington’s admonition in his Farewell Address. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson warned against any U.S. entanglements in European disputes and called for strict neutrality in the Western hemisphere. For Jefferson, England was always the enemy. In 1776, when the thirteen colonies were still ruled from London, Thomas Paine prophetically wrote in Common Sense: “It is the true interest of America to steer clear of European contentions, which she can never do while, by her dependence on Britain she is made the makeweight in the scale of British politics.”
Backed by his intimate pro-Marxist advisor, Colonel House, Wilson proclaimed a hazy internationalism as the new foundation of U.S. foreign policy. The adoption of Marxist principles under a smokescreen of liberal rhetoric contributed tremendously to the decline of American national strength. Sixty years later, the full working-out of this progressive decline was made dramatically manifest in the humiliating, chaotic fall of Saigon in April 1975.
In 1913 President Wilson signed the law which established the Federal Reserve system. In contradiction to the U.S. Constitution, private enterprise was thereby authorized to print and circulate money, outside of the control of Congress. Under Roosevelt the term of office of the System’s governors was extended from seven to fourteen years, thus putting the governing Board’s membership beyond the reach of any president. During the debate on the proposed System, Representative Charles Lindbergh, Sr. (father of the famous aviator) warned in February 1912 that “the great special financial interests” of America would use the System to try “to control absolutely by law as well as by environment and manipulation the finances of this country, and eventually, I believe, the markets of the world to form a world trust.” The System “would practically put the people of this government and the government itself into a receivership. It would place within the control of a few the means of commercial exchange by the use of which they would control the rest of us to eat out of their hands on such terms as they fixed."l8 After the financial association was established, he wrote: “The Federal Reserve Act panics are scientifically created."19 With the establishment of the Federal Reserve System, Wall Street finally triumphed over the White House.
In his 1979 study of Bismarck, George Kennan meticulously exposed the way in which international finance began promoting the Franco-Russian military alliance beginning in 1888.20 Later, Wall Street financing of Britain’s war program between 1914 and 1917 virtually insured America’s eventual entry into the First World War on the British side. In 1939 Britain had still not repaid her war debt of 1918 to the United States and could not dare engage in a new conflagration without assurances of U.S. financial backing from the outset. With crucial help from Henry Morgenthau, head of the U.S. Treasury Department, and from Wall Street banking houses, Britain received the (then) staggering sum of 30.75 billion dollars in Lend-Lease aid during the course of the Second World War. The Soviet Union received aid amounting to 11.4 billion dollars.21 These figures prove — better than could a thousand documents — America’s prime responsibility for the intensity and duration of the Second World War. The results of the enormous American sacrifices in money, material, and lives are utterly disappointing. George Kennan was right when he spoke at the end of the war of the “wreckage of FDR’s policy with relation to Russia and Poland."22
It was Wilson and, above all, Roosevelt, who were responsible for abandoning an independent, national and American foreign policy. Instead, American interests were twice subordinated to British interests in support of the antiquated British “balance of power” policy in Europe. Americans have been encouraged to forget that it was only after Napoleon’s fall that the British occupied Washington and burned the Capitol and White House (in 1814).
George Kennan was filled with “horror and shame” when he suddenly learned in Moscow from British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden of the secret Yalta agreement to “repatriate” all Russian, Cossack, and Ukrainian prisoners held by the Germans. The result was a Soviet-made holocaust. Britain induced America to participate in the crime. Between 1943 and 1947, 2.27 million Soviet citizens — many of whom had fought on the Axis side — were forcibly delivered to Stalin’s revenge by the British and Americans.23
The U.S government similarly betrayed the traditional hemispheric principles of President Monroe and its Pan-American commitments when it sided with Britain in the recent tragi-comic colonial war over the Falklands/Malvinas Islands. (The forcible removal of the Argentine Governor of the Islands by a British military force in 1833 was a clear violation of the Monroe Doctrine proclaimed in 1823.) America’s support for (divergent) British interests may drag the United States into the abyss unless financial sovereignty is restored to Congress and the White House. In short, the “Paradise Lost” with Wilson’s abandonment of a sovereign foreign policy must be regained.
When this writer was a teenage student in Munich in 1927 he had to write a composition, “Germany, the Heart of Europe.” Until 1945, the German Reich was the heart and defender of Europe. The Reich defended Europe against Hungarians, Mongols, and Turks, and enabled Western culture to develop from the Middle Ages onwards. In this century, British envy attacked this continental heart without considering the consequences. America blindly followed the British slogans. America has paid for it. Bismarck once said: “Whoever rules Bohemia is master of Europe.” German culture and influence prevailed there for more than 900 years. A German emperor built Prague.
In 1945 German power was crushed. Consistent with the geopolitical principle that power abhors a vacuum, Soviet Russian influence filled the void. The Western-minded Czech Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk was thrown from a Prague window in 1948 as a prelude to complete Soviet rule, another consequence of Roosevelt’s lack of geopolitical awareness.
How did America come to war against Germany, the heart of Europe? Could not Roosevelt have acted as a great peacemaker by mediating the Danzig conflict in 1939, instead of instigating the Poles against Germany? Roosevelt knew full well that war between Germany and Poland would mean the end of Poland. Just a week before the outbreak of war, a traitor in the German embassy in Moscow informed the U.S. government that Germany and the Soviet Union had agreed to divide Poland between them.24 Roosevelt knew this but refrained from telling the hapless Poles. Veteran New York Times correspondent Harrison Salisbury reports in his memoirs that Roosevelt knew in advance of the German-Soviet pact of August 1939 and could have delayed (or prevented?) war had he leaked this information to the press.25 The American President could very possibly have saved the peace in 1939. Instead, he fed the American people inventions about a hypothetical German plot to take over the United States and the whole world. Of course, a Germany which was incapable of crossing the English Channel to conquer Britain had not the slightest ability (or intention) of conquering America from across the Atlantic ocean. Roosevelt and Truman should have easily realized that Churchill’s 1934 dream of finally destroying Germany for all time and subjecting her to a new super-Versailles would end in global chaos.26 Bullitt’s prophecy became reality.
After dispatching his declaration of war to Berlin on 4 August 1914, British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey said: “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” In his book on Roosevelt, Hamilton Fish com- mented: “That remark was only partly true then but it does describe the aftermath of World War II. With communism dominating half the world and nuclear missiles threatening us all, the lights are dimmer. An overt act of aggression might unleash a nuclear war that would extinguish lights everywhere."27
- Henry Kissinger, A World Restored (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973).
- Martin J. Sherwin, A World Destroyed (New York: Knopf, 1975).
- George F. Kennan, Russia and the West Under Lenin and Stalin (Boston: Little, Brown, 1961), pp. 164, 330.
- Orville H. Bullitt (ed.) For the President — Personal and Secret: Correspondence Between Franklin D. Roosevelt and William C. Bullitt (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1972), pp. 5-6; Sigmund Freud and William C. Bullitt, Thomas Woodrow Wilson, Twenty-Eighth President of the United States (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1976), p. 253.
- Freud/Bullitt, pp. 253-54. ("Incidentally, Lenin had also offered to recognize Soviet responsibility for the debts of the Russian Empire.” p. 253)
- Ibid., p. 271.
- Orville H. Bullitt (ed.), p. 69.
- Ibid., Introduction by George F. Kennan, p. vi.
- Ibid., p. xiv.
- Ibid., p. 583.
- Ibid., p. 572.
- See note 4.
- Freud/Bullitt, pp. 255, 260.
- George F. Kennan, American Diplomacy 1900-1950 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), pp. 66, 68.
- Charles M.W. (Lord) Moran, Winston Churchill: The Struggle for Survival 1940-1965 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966), p. 234.
- Hamilton Fish, FDR: The Other Side of the Coin (New York: Vantage, 1976; Torrance, Calif.: Institute for Historical Review, 1980), p. 181.
- Report by Charge d'affaires Dr. Hans Thomsen from the German Embassy in Washington to Berlin of 17 May 1939. Cited in David L. Hoggan, Der Erzwungene Krieg (Tuebingen: Grabert, 1974), p. 520.
- Speech of 27 February 1912. Congressional Record, Appendix (62nd Congress, 2nd Session), Vol. 48, part 12 (289) pp. 60 (col. 1), 64 (col. 1).
- Charles A. Lindbergh, Sr., The Economic Pinch (Philadelphia: Dorrance, 1923), pp. 145, 95.
- George F. Kennan, The Decline of Bismarck’s European Order (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), p. 389. See especially the chapter “Financial and Military Stirrings.”
- Twenty-Second Report to Congress on Lend-Lease Operations [for period ending 31 December 1945] (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1946), pp. 17, 26.
- George F. Kennan, Memoirs 1925-1950 (Boston: Little, Brown. 1967), p. 212.
- Nikolai Tolstoy, Victims of Yalta (London: Corgi, 1979), p. 468. See also: Charles Lutton, “Stalin’s War: Victims and Accomplices,” Journal of Historical Review Vol. 5, No. 1 (Spring 1984), pp. 84-94.
- Charles E. Bohlen, Witness to History (New York: W.W. Norton, 1973), pp. 69-87. Confirmed in telegram 465 of 24 August 1939 from Steinhardt in Moscow to Washington.
- Robert Sherill, review of Harrison Salisbury, A Journey for Our Times, in Washington Post (29 May 1983), “Book World” section, p. 14.
- Heinrich Bruening, Briefe und Gespraeche 1934-1945 (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1974), p. 31. See also pp. 29, 206, 211, 220, 223.
- Fish, p. 178.
About the author
KARL OTTO BRAUN is a West German writer, specializing in twentieth century diplomatic history. He served in Japan on the East Asia desk of the German Foreign Office during the Second World War.