Spheres of Influence: The Great Powers Partition Europe, From Munich to Yalta.
Churchill's dreams for the future of Europe and his fears of the past are a major focus of Lloyd Gardner's new book on the diplomacy of the Second World War. Spheres of Influence: The Great Powers Partition Europe, from Munich to Yalta retells a story that has gripped the imagination since 1945. Herbert Feis called his 1957 diplomatic history of World War II, Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin: The War They Waged and the Peace They Sought. Gardner's focus is on the second part of Feis's subtitle, namely what the three wartime leaders wanted the world, more precisely Europe, to look like after the war.
Feis wrote at the height of the Cold War, and he based his story on substantial but incomplete records from the U.S. government, more fragmentary documents from the British archives, and virtually no original sources from Moscow. Gardner's account comes after the Cold War and makes use of the ocean of primary sources from all the archives of all three wartime allies. Feis's orthodox account credited Churchill for his farsighted skepticism of Soviet motives, gave Joseph Stalin the devil's due for grabbing what he could, and blamed Roosevelt for naivete.
Reflecting on the events of the Second World War in the aftermath of the Cold War. Gardner comes at the story from a different angle. Where Feis agreed with Churchill that the Cold War's division of Europe and confrontation between the East and West had been a tragic misfortune. Gardner argues that there were many post-World War II scenarios that could have been worse than the Cold War. He is no Pollyanna claiming that all's well that end's well. Rather the point of his book is that the alternative to the Cold War might not have been European unity or continued comity among the wartime allies. Instead "the uneasy equilibrium of the Cold War might have deteriorated into something much worse--a series of civil wars of possibly an even darker Orwellian condition of localized wars along an uncertain border". In other words, Europe in the four years after 1945 might have looked very much like the former republics of Yugoslavia and the southern rim of the former Soviet Union in the years after the Cold War.
Of course, there is no way of knowing what might have happened in Europe after 1945 had the allies arranged their affairs differently during the war. The only thing the historian can do is discover what people at the time thought might happen and what they did to affect the outcome. Here the memory of the participants is key. The end of World War I made Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin what they were. If Churchill deserves the gold medal for dinner table reminiscences, the competition was extremely keen. All of the wartime contestants focused their current thoughts through the prism of what had happened during the war of 1914-1918 and the peace conference that followed. They spoke of the end of the First World War incessantly.
While Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin are the protagonists in Gardner's story, the ghost of Woodrow Wilson hovers over them. For the Europeans in this book, Wilson's ideas and his legacy were an unremitting catastrophe. Churchill's views on Wilson resemble those of H. L. Mencken or John Maynard Keynes. The greatest English-speaking orator of the twentieth century faulted Wilson for using words without regard to their content or consequences, for excessive idealism, and for intellectual laziness. Roosevelt, on the other hand, had a far more benign view of Wilson and Wilsonianism. Roosevelt, like Churchill, wanted the American public engaged in foreign affairs. But Roosevelt thought that they would want their government to participate in the future of Europe only if they believed that what happened in Europe mattered to them. Wilson's goals had not been wrong, FDR thought; he simply had not been very adept at carrying them through to fruition.
Throughout the war Roosevelt sought to create a modern version of a Wilsonian world order. The great powers would create a kind of collective security, either through whatever general international organization followed the Second World War or through personal diplomacy. Like many American policymakers in World War II, Roosevelt alternated between believing that Wilson had failed during the Paris peace conference because he lacked the ability to make other men of equal stature come around to his point of view, or because the United States lacked the political, economic, or military power to impose its views on its partners. While he directed wartime diplomacy, Roosevelt tried both to schmooze Churchill and Stalin and to show them that they needed the United States more than America needed Britain or the Soviet Union.
This view of Roosevelt the crafty politician is by no means new. Indeed, Gardner dedicates Spheres of Influence to Warren Kimball. The picture of Roosevelt that emerges in Gardner's account follows the contours of Roosevelt as a foreign policy circus performer presented in Kimball's 1991 book The Juggler. What Gardner does in Spheres of Influence is to analyze the ways five key episodes of wartime Big Three diplomacy demonstrated the plans Churchill (and before him Chamberlain), Stalin, and Roosevelt had for Europe. These incidents include the Munich conference of 1938, the development of the Atlantic Charter in 1941, the Tehran conference of 1943, and the Yalta conference of 1945. In every instance Gardner argues that the British and the Soviets wanted to create spheres of influence of the sort that had characterized European diplomacy in the imperial epoch. Despite his frequent fulminations against the barbarism of the Soviet system. Churchill found Stalin to be a man who kept his word once he signed a piece of paper. In Gardner's account of Churchill we hear previews of Margaret Thatcher's "I like Mr. Gorbachev. He's a man with whom we can do business."
Gardner argues that Roosevelt made different sorts of deals with both Churchill and Stalin. While he might agree to temporary divisions of Europe, he did so to keep the process of U.S. engagement in the affairs of Europe moving forward. In that way his actions throughout the war followed the pattern of Wilson's behavior at Paris. Roosevelt was not Wilson, a difference Roosevelt took pride in and Churchill expressed gratitude for. Whether Roosevelt was Kimball's juggler or James MacGregor Burns's lion and the fox, he was above all a consummate politician. For the most part, Gardner admires his act.
Not everyone did at the time or since. Nor did all of the secondary figures at the time express unqualified esteem for their principals. One of the most rewarding aspects of Spheres of Influence is Gardner's explanation of the relationships between the secretary of state or foreign ministers of the United States. Britain, and the Soviet Union and their superiors. Roosevelt's disdain for first Cordell Hull and later Edward Stettinius is well known. Hull, at least, found Roosevelt personally remote and intellectually lazy. Roosevelt did not share Hull's passion for trade expansion. It is fascinating to note how Gardner's own views on the significance of trade have evolved since his first book, Economic Aspects of New Deal Diplomacy (1964). While he still discusses the ways in which politicians conflate commerce, prosperity, peace, and world order, the subject matter of this book involves many things other than the exchange of goods. Roosevelt kept more ideas in his head and more balls in the air than did Cordell Hull, a man for whom the expansion of trade stood at the center of foreign policy. Roosevelt liked to play with toy ships, and also move real ones. For such a man, encouraging other people to expand the trade in goods they owed was not completely satisfying or engaging.
Gardner adds new details to the more complicated relationship between Churchill and Anthony Eden. The prime minister often considered the foreign minister to be a drone, too concerned with details to sense the poetry of the great events of World War II. Churchill, of course could not abide equals. While he liked the company of talented and even eccentric personalities (whatever his talents, Eden was no eccentric), Churchill demanded and often received slavish devotion. This Eden would not supply. He often railed against Churchill's enthusiasms and hare-brained schemes. No one in Stalin's entourage dared to voice dissent from the leader's positions or question his conduct of events. Yet Foreign Minister Vyachslav Molotov emerges from his traditional stiff gray suit in this volume. He occasionally gloats over the tactical victories he and Stalin wrought over the Anglo-Americans by explaining that the Soviets were Marxists. Unlike their bourgeois counterparts, they understood the science of society. Had Roosevelt, U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union Averell Harriman, Churchill, or Eden heard Molotov make these remarks their reaction probably would have been the world-weary exasperation John LeCarre's antihero of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold expressed when his British communist lover told him that she believed in History.
Gardner ends with a chapter called "Let's Pretend It Never Happened." Many historians have wanted to use a title like that, but most avoid the temptation. Gardner carries it off. In it he argues that the division of Europe following World War II allowed for precisely the sort of engagement in European affairs that Roosevelt wanted all along. He had not planned this division, nor did he or anyone else expect it to last as long as it did. The fact of the division, along with the greatly exaggerated Western fear of Soviet intentions, provoked the United States to devote more attention and wealth to the rebuilding of Europe than otherwise probably would have been the case. The Cold War enabled Western Europe to revive and thrive. Had Europe been whole after 1945, he asserts, it would have been poorer, meaner, more contentious.
Spheres of Influence is not a long book; the text runs 265 pages. The subject is limited geographically to Europe. Gardner focuses on plans for the political future of Europe rather than the military operations of the war. In every way other than length, though, it is thick, even grand, in the very best sense. Gardner has made good use of the recent archival openings in Washington, Hyde Park, London, and Moscow. The book is rich with quotations from the participants through their state papers and the contemporary impressions of others. The diaries of Lord Moran, Churchill's physician, and John Colville, his private secretary, have been around for years. Few writers have gotten as much out of them as has Gardner. This book is not for beginners. It assumes a reader's familiarity with the events of World War II and the historiography of the war and the early Cold War days. There are a lot of experts in this field, and they will appreciate a book that engages them at a high level. Gardner is not so much a story teller as a masterful psychologist, evoking the feelings, presuppositions, and even dreams of the major protagonists. He is also playful in the best tradition of post-World War II intellectuals. He likes puns, riddles, conundrums, and the texture of the English language. He likes the way Roosevelt bantered with the press. Sometimes the president and the journalists wrestled like friendly siblings. At other times FDR dominated reporters as he parried inquiries he would rather not answer. Roosevelt always mastered his encounters with journalists. They knew the rules and let him set the tone. Gardner takes the same sort of playful and oblique approach to this material. The result is as enjoyable as the best of Roosevelt's press conferences.
1. Winston S. Churchill. The Second World War, vol. 1, The Gathering Storm (1948), p. 596.
Robert D. Schulzinger, Department of History, University of Colorado-Boulder, is the author of American Diplomacy in the Twentieth Century 3d ed. (1994), and is currently writing a history of the war in Vietnam and its legacy.
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|Author:||Schulzinger, Robert D.|
|Publication:||Reviews in American History|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 1994|
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