Friend to Foe: World War to Cold War
Frank Costigliola’s most recent book, Roosevelt’s Lost Alliances: How Personal Politics Helped Start the Cold War, unequivocally illustrates the power of maintaining good relationships, which a power Franklin D. Roosevelt held very dear during the negotiations of World War II. The Big Three, a very powerful alliance, contained Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin as he leaders of the United States, Great Britain, and Soviet Union. With Roosevelt and Stalin’s charisma and charm and Churchill’s enthusiasm, they turned the century into a new era at the end of the Second World War. “Personality, emotion, ideology, and culture” were the largest parts of the effectiveness of the group.1 However, these qualities also had the power to destroy the alliance as it ultimately did.
World War II did not begin with alliances that were pre-determined. The aaliance between the United States and Great Britain had evolved by then, and FDR soon realized that an alliance with the Soviet Union could be beneficial for the U.S. He and his advisors were convinced this was true especially with respect to revenge on the Japanese, because they were the reason the U.S. even entered the war. The Big Three met next at the Atlantic Conference that was held in August of 1941 before the U.S. had entered the war. However, the vision that remained stagnant was of the post-war world. This is when the Atlantic Charter, later accepted by all three allies, was drafted by the United States and Great Britain after FDR mentioned that he “wanted a declaration of war aims.”2 Yet at this point “Roosevelt remained uncertain about how to respond to international crisis.”3 In the early days of the alliance, each nation in the Big Three, the U.S., Great Britain, and the Soviet Union, and their respective leaders, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin, each wanted to present themselves as the most powerful. They started to meet throughout 1943 in preparation of one of their largest conferences, Tehran.
At the Tehran Conference, dynamics changed between the three leaders. The walls began to break down, as they began to speak more openly. While the war had come nowhere close to its end, the Big Three not only discussed war strategies, but also post-war governing strategies. In fact, “Stalin and Molotov [Soviet foreign minister] went all out in demonstrating their friendliness at the October 1943” conference.4 And Roosevelt used this as an opportunity to get closer to Stalin, showing him and the other Soviets that the U.S. really did want to have an alliance with them. Churchill was a little more reluctant and struggled with the similarities in personalities between Stalin and FDR. One agenda that changed since the Atlantic Charter was post war land acquisition and distribution. Stalin wanted the Baltic States, which made both Roosevelt and Churchill wary as they discussed Europe’s post war land distribution. Already, Tehran was a stretch for Roosevelt’s illness, as was it for Harry Hopkins, one of FDR’s closest advisers who would leave FDR due to health reasons. Losing members of his staff, such as one of his advisors, Missy LeHand, weakened FDR. Through 1944, Roosevelt continued to push his limits to an extent that even doctors were unsure when his body would give out, as the war reached its most critical time.
Stepping into Yalta Conference in February 1945, it was clear that FDR’s illness was catching up to him. Yet the FDR’s main concern walking into the conference remained the Atlantic Charter which had mostly been ignored. This had been FDR’s main concern walking into the alliance. Although FDR was physically “‘…certainly not up to normal, his mental and psychological state was certainly not affected.’”5 Yalta was the beginning of the muddling of conferences. The Big Three had become close enough, yet they still wanted to promote their own agendas when they could not agree. While it was friendly, suspicions started to grow. The leaders were growing weary and tired of war, as they began to snap at each other which assisted to the already growing pressures to rise. Often other diplomats, particularly the American and the British, would let their sense of superiority show through, which without doubt irked the Russians. In Yalta, the occupation zones and splitting of Germany and Berlin was determined, which also accompanied and amplified the cultural differences between the allies. By the end of Yalta, FDR’s health had truly deteriorated, and he died in April 1945.
Harry Truman, the new president, had been in office for a few months by the time the Potsdam Conference had come around. Representing the British both Winston Churchill and Clement Atlee played part in this conference, leaving Stalin as the only one of the original three. This gave Stalin more reason to believe that he was superior to his American and British counterparts. Truman’s behavior was quite contrary to Roosevelt’s composed nature. This conference began with growing suspicions of each other which was not remedied by the fact that there were two new delegates, who did not know the dynamics of the Big Three. Suddenly each wanted to push forth their own plans and see them through. Some of the largest, most difficult diplomatic issues discussed at Potsdam were “the atomic bomb and the future of Germany, [which] would drive the Cold War for nearly a half-century afterward.”5 Later when Truman did drop the atomic bombs, many Russians believed it to be a threat. These consequences were all the result of the lack of “restraint [which] was what Roosevelt counted on in trying to bring the Grand Alliance into the postwar world” and led to severed ties.7
Costigliola’s purpose for writing this work is primarily to display the bias and misconceptions of popular perceptions that FDR did not to the best of his ability mitigate the tensions at the termination of the World War and the beginning of the Cold War. He believed that FDR didn’t work by putting pressure on the Soviets, as they were the presumed enemy, but rather worked by preserving a mutual, respectable relationship with Stalin. Costigliola’s primary position was to determine the vital components of significance of the origin of tensions at the beginning of the Cold War. He, being a contemporary, unlike many others believes that many of the policy issues that brought the alliance between the Big Three crashing down were “filtered through highly personal relationship, intense desires and disappointments, and deep flaws of body and personality.”8 He does believe that “personality, emotion, ideology, and culture” are part of the background which caused the leaders’ behaviors and beliefs. In addition behavior and beliefs have a blatant connection with the decisions that shaped history for the rest of the century. Costigliola asserts that Roosevelt’s charisma and determination for a peaceful post-war world was part of what kept the relationships between nations personal and pleasant. This instigates that after his death tensions skyrocketed, because no longer was there anyone to quell the intensity. His approach was to find out what, where, and how the thoughts of each of the leaders developed.
Costigliola has books many monographs apart from Roosevelt’s Lost Alliances. Costigliola’s take was somewhat influenced by Timothy Snyder’s recent Bloodlands, a book depicting the horrors of life that were Eastern Europe. It is quite apparent that Costigliola favors FDR to an extent, not only among the members of the Big Three, which is acceptable, but also between Roosevelt and Truman. He has made it blatant that he views Truman as not only less experienced, but also less imaginative and less prepared. Costigliola truly believes that at the time had Roosevelt been the anchor of the alliance on both a political and personal level. He acted as the bridge between Churchill and Stalin. Costigliola claims that “Roosevelt’s death unleashed those bent on changing U.S. policy,” which implies that the changes for the worse for this alliance occurred mostly in the year following Roosevelt’s death.9
Over the years, the perspective on the reasons for the start of the Cold War has drastically varied. At the time of the wartime conferences many, including FDR’s secretary of state, believed that the conferences themselves as well as FDR’s death was a major influence on the tensions between the leaders of the Big Three and the nations themselves. They felt that “‘Yalta proved the impossibility of expecting agreements with the Soviet Union.’”9 Those in the decade following the end of the Second World War claimed that the suspicions of each other commenced mostly at Yalta and increased by the Potsdam Conference. The growth in division and competition between capitalism and communism and the dropping of the atomic bombs only emerged as reasons for the beginnings of the Cold War during the 1960s. Later that decade a famous historian by the name Arthur Schlesinger Jr., believed that Stalin only acted irrational because he was insane. In the 1970s and ’80s, the post-revisionist theory emerged, which questioned Stalin’s ambition rather than his sanity. This theory evolved in the 1990s as historians came to believe that while Stalin possessed a “‘dark mind,” he was not insane.11 With the new millennium, it was believed that the “policies of Washington and Moscow” were “ideologically parallel” in their conditions, ambitions, and determination.12 It was only recently in 2007, that the influence of ideology, personality, and international structure was involved in the characterization of the beginnings of the Cold War. Regardless of these theories, historians have agreed that the restraint that Roosevelt displayed was what the wartime alliance depended upon most.
A renowned book review, the journal The Historian, has reviewed Frank Costigliola’s work, Roosevelt’s Lost Alliances, as a valid, yet fresh approach to this crucial period of history. It credits Costigliola’s thesis as one that will raise many questions among the community. Costigliola is one of the first to suggest analyzing certain significant aspects such as personality, emotions, or cultural background in order to identify the true beginning of the Cold War. The Historian explicitly states that the difficulty of Costigliola’s task was not portraying psychological dispositions as impacting decisions, but rather how “they were key to the making of one decision as opposed to another,” which would raise many other questions.13 For the afore mentioned reasons, this journal asserts that Costigliola’s bold thesis, although remote from other perspectives, allows for larger discussion as it presents a new factor in analyzing the commencement of the Cold War.
Another famous review, the New York Review of Books, believes Costigliola’s approach is pragmatic and raw; however, it questions his sources. It states the questionability of whether or not “it is possible to write a valid study of World War II developments in Europe without some familiarity with the languages of its two greatest antagonists, the Russians and the Germans.”13 This is in response to Costigliola’s lack of non-English sources, translations of foreign language works, and perspective. It is evident that this critic has captured Costigliola’s logic behind characterizing Stalin for his abilities as a statesman, rather than a murderer. It is curious that Costigliola mentions some of the concession and acquisitions in terms of territory after the war explicitly and others vaguely. However, overall credit is given where it is due to Costigliola and his daring avenue to the beginnings of the Cold War.
This book reflects on the beginnings of the Cold War down to the specifics of what caused the decisions that were made. Many other historians, especially in past decades, have discussed this crucial point in history with the resolution of events that impacted decisions. It was informative as well as fascinating that Costigliola chose to analyze and decipher even the smallest of details in the personal histories of history’s greatest leaders—Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt. FDR’s role and significance is conspicuous, which allows the readers to completely comprehend the seriousness of FDR’s terminal illness and its impact on U.S. policy and action. Roosevelt’s relationship with Stalin is depicted as one better than that of even Roosevelt’s with Churchill. In fact, FDR worked “hard to lay the groundwork for a post-war alliance that included Stalin” and constantly kept in mind the alliance of Three Policemen determining the principles of the post-war world.15 This proves that Roosevelt’s relationship with Churchill was not as strong regardless of the similarities in government, and it is made ever tangible by Roosevelt’s own statement that “he had ‘had a rather hard time with Churchill all the way.’”16 After Truman became president, the change in aura and emotions between the three nations and their respective leaders is clearly observable. The reason why Atlee (Churchill’s successor), Truman, and Stalin were scarcely able to compromise in the time they had left as allies was clear in that bonds did not exist and none were able to exercise Roosevelt’s policy of restraint. Nevertheless, the fraternal feeling created between these three men definitely impacted the decisions they made as well as the concessions and compromises that they were willing to make.
Frank Costigliola truly does believe that the 1940s was a watershed not only in American history but world history. It sets the stage for American policy and action for the remainder of the twentieth century. The beginning of two different wars, where the second of which happens to be against a former ally is clearly a transition period. In fact, Costigliola’s purpose is to find that instant when emotions ran high, when the mood changed, and thus American foreign policy changed altering the course of the post-war plans. He discusses FDR’s expectation for a “long postwar transition during which Americans would have to tolerate spheres of influence” in other parts of the world and in its own hemisphere.17 This is compared to Truman, as FDR’s successor, who is quite obviously less experienced and almost not at all prepared for the decisions he is about to make as he steps into office. Costigliola views America’s policy change as a chance for others to jump and promote their own agenda, which occurs after FDR’s death. He claims that Roosevelt’s construction is broken down within a matter of months by “US diplomats and military and political leaders” who attempt to “personally and morally [satisfy] expressions of anger and frustration” that only heightens tensions.18 Yalta is also viewed as a turning point in Roosevelt’s health, as it takes a turn for the worst part of the sickness that FDR will endure, which parallel’s the nation’s situation. Costigliola has unmistakably unveiled the turning points and transition of every turn in the negotiations during and following World War II, which appropriately qualifies the 1940s a true watershed in American history.
There is no doubt that Roosevelt and his personal alliances and relationships drastically affected diplomatic decisions between the members of the Big Three for as long as he was a part of this alliance. This goes to show just how far, well maintained relationships can lead. And just as clear is it that as Truman stepped into office the situation changed not only at home but abroad with Alee succeeding Churchill. Therefore the Russians, as well as many historians, were convinced that if Roosevelt had still been alive and at full strength, the fate of the world would have been indeterminable because “Roosevelt could lead the world.”19
1. Costigliola, Frank. Roosevelt’s Lost Alliances: How Personal Politics Helped Start the Cold War. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012. 12.
2. Costigliola, Frank. 134.
3. Costigliola, Frank. 139.
4. Costigliola, Frank. 194.
5. Costigliola, Frank. 234.
6. Costigliola, Frank. 365.
7. Costigliola, Frank. 12.
8. Costigliola, Frank. 20.
9. Costigliola, Frank. 311.
10. Costigliola, Frank. 7.
11. Costigliola, Frank. 11.
12. Costigliola, Frank. 11.
13. Dobson, Alan P. The Historian. Delaware, OH: St. Andrews University, .Summer2013, Vol. 75 Issue 2. 339.
14. Costigliola, Frank. 231.
15. Costigliola, Frank. 205.
16. Costigliola, Frank. 200.
17. Costigliola, Frank. 316.
18. Dobson, Alan P. 338. ; Costigliola, Frank. 427.
19. Costigliola, Frank. 428.