The case study of Teheran and Yalta can be ultimately reduced to the question: Should the President of the United States lie? Pericles would have thought so, “for there is justice in the claim that steadfastness in his country’s battles should be a cloak to cover a man’s other imperfections; since the good action has blotted out the bad, and his merit as a citizen more than outweighed his merit as an individual.”

The bottom line of the game of international politics can be formulated through another question: Should a President be guided by his personal code while performing public functions, or does his position grant him a special “ethical” code that gives him dispensation and expiates lying (or some other dishonorable behavior) as long as it is done on behalf of his own perceptions of the interest of his country in the international arena? We could dispense with the question by simply assuming Mark Twain’s belief that diplomacy is “a gentle art of lying in state,” but what happens if you are the victim? The victims, in this instance are the 10 Central European republics which lost their freedom as a result of World War II: Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Yugoslavia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia. As one perceptive BBC commentator noted in a broadcast last January, immediately after World War II “Commissars took over from the Gauleiters in command of the capitals of Central Europe.” This loss of freedom for well over 170 million people was not the result of their military defeats on the battlefield, but of the decisions of three men—Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin—who carved Central Europe at conferences at Teheran, Moscow, and Yalta. Thorough review of the primary data on the decision-making processes during the war period indicate that Mr. Roosevelt’s attitudes, values, priorities, and personal style bear great responsibility for what happened to Central Europe at conferences at Teheran, Moscow, and Yalta. Thorough review of the primary data on the decision-making processes during the war period indicate that Mr.Roosevelt’s attitudes, values, priorities, and personal style bear great responsibility for what happened to Central Europe. In fact, millions of people in Central Europe are paying for Mr. Roosevelt’s decisions with their lives even today, Poland being territorially the largest.

In posing the question about the President’s dissembling in the line of duty it is necessary to bring forth evidence that Mr. Roosevelt, as President of the United States, did lie in connection with Poland.

Some empirical data about him is useful here. He was born January 30, 1882 and died on April 12, 1945. He was an Episcopalian of Dutch ancestry, a lawyer by occupation, a Democrat, and President of the United States for 12 years and 39 days. He had six children and 13 grandchildren. At the age of 39 he was stricken with infantile paralysis and was confined to crutches or a wheelchair for the rest of his life (a fact which, by mutual consensus, the American press hid from the general public). He inherited $600,000; his mother was worth $1 million. The American Communist convention held May 22, 1944, in New York City in anticipation of the 1944 general election led to a position wherein Roosevelt’s candidacy was favored. Roosevelt described himself during one of his press conferences as being “a little left of center.” There are widely differing opinions about him as President. For example, James MacGregor Burns writes in his Roosevelt: the Soldier of Freedom, 1940-1945 (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich; New York; 1970): “he had a strong and active faith and a huge and unprovable [sic]faith, in the possibilities of human understanding, trust, and love.” One less charitable example, this from C. L. Sulzberger in Such a Peace: The Roots and Ashes of Yalta (Giniger; New York; 1982) says: “[Roosevelt was] by instinct rather than brain, a politician; a man whose place on the greased pole of history had already been achieved before the war by his slick intuition; a bit of gentleman-shyster but oh, what a cleverness and skill he showed, and oh, what a charm he could summon to his will. And he truly favored poor and underprivileged….but for the war he was a bit too crafty. He frequently talked out of two sides of his diplomatic mouth.”

On August 14, 1941, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Churchill and President of the United States agreed on a Joint Declaration known as the Atlantic Charter, in which they stated the purposes and principles of their political activities. Among the principles were those guaranteeing the territorial integrity of the states participating in the war against Germany. The Atlantic Charter was signed by 47 countries, including Poland. Poles thought these principles were part of a binding agreement. Six months after signing the Atlantic Charter, Roosevelt, in a discussion with the Polish Ambassador to the United States, Jan Ciechanowski, and Polish Ambassador to Great Britain Count Edward Raczynski (presently the President of the Polish Government-in-Exile with domicile in London), confirmed that “there could be no question … of being at variance with the Atlantic Charter.” But, alas, about two years later in Teheran, Roosevelt attended a secret meeting with Stalin (even Churchill was not told about it), during which he broke his word given to the Polish Ambassadors and in the Atlantic Charter. During this meeting President Roosevelt and Stalin agreed on changes in the Polish frontiers; moreover, the President also disclaimed interest in the political integrity of Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia in favor of the Soviet Union.

The meeting took place on December 1, 1943, at 3:20 P.M. The United States was represented by President Roosevelt, Mr. Harriman, and Mr. Bohlen (who served as interpreter). The Soviet Union was represented by Marshal Stalin, Foreign Commissar Molotov, and Mr.Pavlov(as interpreter). A report of this fateful meeting is preserved in Roosevelt’s Presidential Archives in HydePark (see also theU.S.Department of State’s The Conferences at Cairo and Teheran, 1943;Government Printing Office; Washington, DC).

Mr. Churchill’s response to Teheran was anger. “A bloody lot has gone wrong” were his words. It is not to say that Mr. Churchill was impeccably innocent in respect to this deal. It was he who, on Stalin’s insistence, through the British Foreign Secretary, Mr. Anthony Eden, had planted the idea of giving away the Eastern Polish territory in Roosevelt’s head as early as March 1943. One may guess that Churchill’s disappointment was in the fact that Roosevelt gave away freely and without bargaining. But Mr. Roosevelt gave away in order to appear amenable. He did so at the time the German army was hundreds of miles inside the Soviet Union, and if someone was desperate and dependent, it was the Soviet Union. Roosevelt made his arrangement without consulting with the Polish Government in London, the faithful ally whose soldiers were giving their lives fighting under the Allied command from Africa to Norway, and whose 700,000 (350,000 front line plus 350,000 supporting services) soldiers of the Polish Underground Movement (A.K.) were effectively tying over one million German soldiers in occupied Poland. Not only did he not consult the Poles, he lied to them by suppressing his deal with Stalin. In fact, Roosevelt was lying to the American people. In his Message to Congress on January 11, 1944, in regard to Teheran he stated that “no secret treaties or political or financial commitments” were made. In the same spirit he wrote to a Congressman of Polish origin, Joseph Mruk (R-New York),”no secret commitments were made by me at Teheran.” His lies continued. On June 7, 1944, Roosevelt said to Polish Prime Minister Mikolajczyk, “I will see to it that Poland does not come out of the war injured,” but he failed to mention that he had already given away 70,049 square miles of Polish territory to Stalin at Teheran. Mr. Mikolajczyk is on record saying that “the deal” at Teheran surfaced in confrontation between him, Stalin, Churchill, and Harriman in Moscow on October 13, 1944.

The Polish territory was not the only pawn given away at Roosevelt’s convenience; so was the Polish government. Roosevelt’s opening statement at Yalta at the fourth plenary meeting of February 7, 1944, specifically addressed to Stalin and Churchill was: “I am not concerned with frontiers. I am likewise not so concerned on the question of the continuity of the (Polish) government. There has not really been any Polish government since 1939 … I discard the idea of continuity [ofthe Polish Government-in-Exile].” He discarded that Government which had led its people since 1939 for 2078 days in fighting against Germany. No other country in World War II fought so long against nazis. Each day cost the Poles 3000 human lives. As Stanislaw Mikolajczyk wrote in The Rape of Poland (McGraw-Hill; New York; 1948), 800,000 Poles were killed in battle; thousands more died in concentration camps, prisons, and street executions.

Mr. Harriman, who demonstrated some distress of conscience, suggested in January 1944 that Poles be told about Roosevelt’s deal with Stalin. The President and then-Secretary of State Cordell Hull vetoed this suggestion.

Just as the President chose not to disclose information about Teheran to the United States Congress, he also covered up his dealing at Yalta. At Yalta an agreement was signed that was not included in the formal text. It contained two secret accords: one gave the Soviets the Kuril Islands, previously a Japanese territory (among other Far East concessions); the second part promised the forcible return of Soviet citizens from Allied zones to the Soviet Union. It was Mr. Eden who promoted the latter idea and steered it through the British Cabinet. The results of it were shameful; as Sulzberger writes in Such a Peace: “in Odessa the Soviet citizens were being taken off the ship upon arrival, and shot in batches behind the buildings.” It was tragic to witness American soldiers armed with cudgels herding Soviet citizens in West Germany into cattle trains to be taken to the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, on March 1, 1945, in a report to Congress on his trip to Yalta, Roosevelt did not mention the Agreement for the forcible return of Soviet citizens. Moreover, he specifically denied that he had discussed the Far East (Kuril Islands) at Yalta.

Other United States Presidents did not condone the Yalta Agreement. President Truman, who was normally well disposed toward the Soviets, within 48 hours of taking office, proposed to Churchill to send a telegram to Stalin protesting the breaking of Yalta commitments in regard to Poland. Also, President Eisenhower submitted a Resolution on February 20, 1953, rejecting the Teheran and Yalta Agreements in unequivocal language:

that the United States rejects any interpretation or applications of any international agreements or understandings, made during the course of World War II, which have been perverted to bring about the subjugation of free peoples and further join in proclaiming the hope that the peoples, who have been subjected to the captivity of Soviet despotism shall again enjoy the right of self-determination within a framework which will sustain the peace; that they shall again have the right to choose the form of government under which they will live; and that sovereign rights of self-government shall be restored to  them all in accordance with the pledge of the Atlantic Charter.

Unfortunately, Congress did not pass the Resolution.

From the perspective of time, it is obvious that “the malice of the wicked was reinforced by the weakness of the virtuous.” Yet, the question remains: Should the President lie by omission or otherwise in the interest of his own country? In 1941, a Pole in Warsaw was arrested in a street dragnet by German police. He was sent to a concentration camp where he was murdered. His crime—he carried Mr. Roosevelt’s picture in his billfold. Nothing can be done for him now, but what about the rest of the Poles? Do they have to carry the yoke of Teheran and Yalta forever?

Listed in a current publication by the United States Department of State, Treaties in Force: a List of Treaties and Other International Agreements of the United States in Force on January 1, 1983, are two contradictory documents. One is “Atlantic Charter.” The other is “Protocol of the proceedings of the Crimea Conference. Signed at Yalta February 1, 1945; entered into force for the United States February 11, 1945. States which are parties: Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics, United Kingdom and the United States.” How can these two documents possibly coexist “in force”? Roosevelt’s apologists use the argument that Yalta was “a good deal,” but they tiptoe over Teheran. They minimize Roosevelt’s role in relation to Poland’s and East Europe’s fate because Roosevelt “meant well” and they blame the Soviet Government for not keeping promises. These arguments defy logic. Neither Roosevelt nor Churchill had any right to grant the Soviet Union 40 percent of the Polish territory and to change her frontiers, nor to change the Polish Government, nor to impose Soviet tutelage over the Polish election. They dealt directly with Stalin on all four issues. In making these decisions they bypassed the legal Polish Government-in-Exile. This was betrayal of an ally, and the heart of the problem.

True, some ameliorating factors should be recognized, painful as they might be to the Poles. When British Field Marshal Alexander asserted at Yalta that the purpose of fighting this war was to secure “liberty and decent existence for the people of Europe,” Prime Minister Churchill blurted out, “Not a bit of it. We are fighting to secure the proper respect for the British people.” This may be called a policy priority, but both morally and historically it proved to be a posture of doleful myopia. As far as Roosevelt’s priorities were concerned, these were perhaps best assessed and ranked in Dr. Blaine David Benedict’s dissertation Roosevelt and Poland: 1) “To win the War with Stalin’s cooperation”; 2) “To establish the United Nations with the Soviet Union’s participation”; 3) “To formulate written principles of post-war international cooperation with assent of the Soviet Government”; 4) “To win the Presidential Election of 1944.” It should also be recognized that even if from the Soviet Government’s point of view, Poland was relevant to Soviet security, Stalin’s notion of “security” meant dominance and control. To assume that Churchill and Roosevelt thought that by “Soviet security” Stalin meant anything less than dominance and control was even at their historical moment politically naive, if not wholly inept.

As someone observed, Roosevelt and Churchill sold a neighbor’s house to a ruthless partner, without the neighbor’s knowledge. Then, common sense dictates that they were responsible for whatever action the ruthless partner undertook afterwards in the neighbor’s house. To blame him is a childish excuse—they stole the house in the first place. The best postscript to the history of our century’s most egregious blunder in the realm of political morality will be the simple fact that one of the Solidarity members arrested in Poland noticed “Made in the U.S.A.” on his handcuffs.

J. K. Zawodny

Dr. Zawodny is a Professor Emeritus of the Claremont Graduate School and Pomona College. He was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, Harvard Center for International Affairs, and the Center for the Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford.