CORRESPONDENCE BETWEEN THE CHAIRMAN OF THE COUNCIL OF MINISTERS OF THE U.S.S.R. AND THE PRESIDENTS OF THE U.S.A. AND THE PRIME MINISTERS OF GREAT BRITAIN DURING THE GREAT PATRIOTIC WAR OF 1941-1945. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1957, 2 v. in English. (American source for purchases, Chicago Council of American-Soviet Friendship, Inc.)

NOTE the title of these volumes! Throughout the Western world the recent struggle is known as the "Second World War." But in the Soviet glossary it is called "The Great Patriotic War."

This project of publication was first conceived, I am informed, while Stalin, sender and recipient of these missives, still held sway over the Soviet Union. It was suspended during the period when Khrushchev was repudiating the course and conduct of his predecessor. But when Khrushchev recanted, or found it prudent again to show respect for the memory of Stalin, the decision was made to release this full record of his correspondence with the Presidents of the United States and the Prime Ministers of Great Britain.

In the foreword a reason for doing so is avowed. "Tendentiously selected parts of this correspondence were published outside the Soviet Union at different times resulting in a distorted picture of the Soviet attitude during the war years. This publication is to help restore historical truth." The sponsors of this publication do not explain or particularize their accusation. And the contents do not contain evidence which justifies it. We may rejoice that the Soviet authorities, who have without any scruple rewritten and fabricated history whenever it suited them, have now developed a devotion to "historic truth." But still we may regret that it was left to the Soviet Government to appear to espouse that worthy cause by being the first to present in systematic form the complete collection of the written communications between the three leaders of the great war coalition.

Why did neither the American nor British Governments do so? In search for an answer the historian is compelled to wander among surmises; those who really know are not apt to explain. Except when defending themselves, governments abstain from competition and rivalry in priority in the publication of recent historical records; they usually see no reason for hurry and many reasons for taking their own time. The latter are variable. The archivists of all countries in whose custody such documents as these repose are more comfortable when recent records are locked up in their files than when they are released to roam in this predatory world. They may be criticized (or even lose their promotion or jobs) for permitting some revelation which an influential official or member of a legislature may judge unpatriotic or distasteful. A similar sense of caution constrains Foreign Offices--watchful lest some useful source of information should be stilled thereafter, worried about possibly providing some unfriendly foreign commentator with material that could be used to disadvantage, inclined to regard themselves as the custodian of national security, and mindful of the sensibilities of friendly foreign governments. Even more deeply ingrained is the caution of the military authorities (few more so than the American and British Chiefs of Staff) who resist all entry of outsiders into their records.

But perhaps no less pertinent in explaining this particular occurrence is a substantial professional reason. The historical sections of the American and British Governments who are responsible for the editing and publication of volumes of public documents appreciate that no collection of correspondence such as this can, by itself, convey an adequate or reliable version of the events and policies discussed. Important as the messages exchanged between heads of governments in wartime may have been in shaping the decisions and influencing relations of their countries, even these do not stand by themselves as historical records. For balanced knowledge of what was done and why, there is need to know much more; to have in hand at the same time the notes and documents which were the sills on which the top-level correspondence rested, the internal records of the decision-makers in each of the several governments, the memos of talks between diplomatic and military representatives and the messages exchanged between lesser government officials. All these crossbeams and uprights are properly deemed essential by the students of documents to arrive at a balanced knowledge of the structure of historical truth, and for critical judgment. This professional conception has determined the ordinary pattern and schedule of publication of the American and British diplomatic correspondence.

Historians are trained to defer to the expectation that historical realities are to be known in their fullness only long after they were current actualities. But in this instance I do not think it would have been imprudent, and it would have been more pleasing, had the first issuance of these documents borne an American or British imprint.

Taken by and in themselves, the volumes are reputable as a source. The collection is complete except for a few items of minor interest. There has been no tampering with the text nor any other sort of deformation of the originals. Nor, I have been informed, are there any distortions in translation of those which were written in the Russian language.

The Soviet authorities have not found it necessary to chaperon the correspondence by interpretive commentary. The footnotes which are clustered in the rear of each volume are short, factual and pertinent; they aid in identifying events, places, dates or persons referred to in the published messages. The treatment of the record, as well as the natural use of the English language displayed in the foreword and in the footnotes, suggests that the publication may have been edited or supervised by a person or persons trained in American or British universities or in their governmental departments. Could it be that a Burgess or Mac-Lean lent his talents to the task?


How much do these volumes add to what is known by historians and informed officials of the West? Of important information, little--just some interesting filaments of detail about turns of relationship within the coalition and some elucidation of the causes of the growth of mutual dissatisfaction. Their character and range can be indicated by a few selections.

There is confirmation in one of the earlier messages from Stalin to Churchill (July 18, 1941) that despite the well-authenticated warnings which both the American and British Governments had passed on to him long before the event, Stalin did not believe that Hitler was going to turn against the Soviet Union.

It may not be out of place [he wrote the Prime Minister a month after the assault began] to inform you that the position of the Soviet troops at the front remains strained. The results of Hitler's unexpected violation of the Non-Aggression Pact and the sudden attack on the Soviet Union, which have placed the German troops at an advantage, are still affecting the position of the Soviet armies.

The two words which I have italicized sustain the surmise that the reason the Soviet authorities did not defend their frontier regions effectively was not because of deliberate policy of strategic retreat but because they had failed in necessary preparations.

Another of the newly published messages similarly aids understanding of a British error in judgment--the ready acquiescence of Churchill and his colleagues in the summer and autumn of 1944 in the location of the boundary between the zones of occupation in Germany allocated to the Soviet Union and those assigned to the West. The accepted line runs well west of Berlin and of the areas reached by the American and British forces before the war ended, and later the Prime Minister sought intently to alter it. His comments on the progress of combat, such as those in the message sent to Stalin on July 1, 1944, clearly evidence that at this time the Prime Minister's unalloyed desire was to have the Red army continue to crush the German armies everywhere, and his anticipation that they would reach Berlin before the Western armies. He wrote:

This is the moment for me to tell you how immensely we are all here impressed with the magnificent advances of the Russian armies which seem, as they grow in momentum, to be pulverising the German armies which stand between you and Warsaw, and afterwards Berlin. Every victory that you gain is watched with eager attention here.

By then the cross-Channel invasion was well under way. But Stalin had shown himself equally eager the summer before to have the Western Allies land in France and fight their way eastward into Germany as far as possible. This is vividly shown by the reproaches and rejoinders that passed between Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt during that summer before the final decision to venture on the postponed cross-Channel invasion. In these volumes there is printed for the first time the texts of the aggrieved messages which Stalin sent to Churchill and Roosevelt. The full force of them can be suggested by extracts from one sent from Moscow on June 24, 1943. After reciting his version of what had gone before, Stalin went on to say:

It follows that the conditions for opening a second front in Western Europe during 1943, far from deteriorating, have, indeed, greatly improved.

That being so, the Soviet Government could not have imagined that the British and U.S. Governments would revise the decision to invade Western Europe, which they had adopted early this year. In fact, the Soviet Government was fully entitled to expect that the Anglo-American decision would be carried out, that appropriate preparations were under way and that the second front in Western Europe would at last be opened in 1943 . . . .

I shall not enlarge on the fact that this responsible decision, revoking your previous decisions on the invasion of Western Europe, was reached by you and the President without Soviet participation and without inviting its representatives to the Washington conference, although you cannot but be aware that the Soviet Union's role in the war against Germany and its interest in the problems of the second front are great enough.

There is no need to say that the Soviet Government cannot become reconciled to this disregard of vital Soviet interests in the war against the common enemy . . . .

I must tell you that the point here is not just the disappointment of the Soviet Government, but the preservation of its confidence in the Allies, a confidence which is being subjected to severe stress.

It was left to Churchill to correct Stalin's review of the record and repel his unjust assertions. Roosevelt did not pursue the argument. Perhaps he was mindful of the Washington press release which he had authorized after his talks with Molotov in the spring of 1942--a public statement that had the surface of a promise--or perhaps just because he saw nothing to be gained by doing so. The nature of Churchill's indignant, but restrained, response is conveyed in the answer that he sent to Stalin on June 27, 1943:

I am sorry to receive your message of the 24th. At every stage the information I have given you as to our future intentions has been based upon recorded advice of the British and American Staffs, and I have at all times been sincere in my relations with you. Although until June 22nd, 1941, we British were left alone to face the worst that Nazi Germany could do to us, I instantly began aiding Soviet Russia to the best of our limited means from the moment that she was herself attacked by Hitler. I am satisfied that I have done everything in human power to help you. Therefore the reproaches which you now cast upon your Western Allies leave me unmoved . . . .

Thus not only on the one hand have the difficulties of a cross-Channel attack continually seemed greater to us and the resources have not been forthcoming, but a more hopeful and fruitful policy has been opened to us in another theatre, and we have the right and duty to act in accordance with our convictions informing you at every stage of the changes in our views imposed by the vast movement of the war.

What, now that we have the complete survey of arguments back and forth, can be said about this generating cause of friction? The assurances given Stalin that the Western Allies were going to attempt some sort of cross-Channel operation in 1942 were vague and conditioned on further measurement of available means, probable results and competing combat demands and opportunities. But he was given more reason for believing that the operation would be launched in 1943, though still only provisional warrant for this anticipation. It was made easy for him to mistake expressions of desire and intent for promises or military forecasts. However, he was experienced and wise enough not to have done so. His protests no doubt expressed genuine disappointment; but it is probable that they were also inspired by the thought that by putting the Western Allies in the wrong the Soviet Union might gain advantage, somewhere at some time. Certainly Stalin was willfully unfair in his efforts to get the responsible British and American authorities to disregard or underestimate the difficulties, obstacles and risks that properly had to be taken into account. And he was also unfair in failing to accord due recognition to the efforts which the Western Allies were devoting to other operations against the Axis during the time which they judged themselves unready and unable wisely to attempt the cross-Channel operation. He did not recognize the heroic battle to retain the use of the sea lanes to Europe; the compressing campaigns which resulted in securing control of the whole of North Africa, gradually bringing France back as a competent ally and driving Italy out of the war; the crescending air assault on Germany; and, above all, the vast grappling and bloody struggles in which American forces confined Japan in the Pacific.

Stalin during this same period did not feel called upon to justify to his allies the Soviet decision to be neutral in the war against Japan; his own view of Soviet capabilities and tasks seemed enough. Just so, Western commentators will not, now that they have the fuller record, find reasons in it for inferring that Great Britain and the United States allowed their Soviet ally to bear more than its necessary share of the agony of the war either by intention or because of their heedless preference for other and more manageable operations.

The Russians, by entering into the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, had unleashed the Germans towards the West. But when, despite the grovelling Soviet efforts to mollify Hitler, the Panzers turned toward the East, the Russians demanded as a matter of right that the Allies ward them off, no matter what the consequences. What fools we and the British would have been to venture on the cross-Channel invasion until the military chances were acceptable!


Let me turn from these selections which concern military matters to those which add to our knowledge of the perplexing questions of what happened to an interesting political proposal made by Stalin. During the summer and autumn of 1943 he became aggrieved and aroused because he believed that the American-British combination was denying the Soviet Union a merited right to be fully informed about the policies being pursued in North Africa and Italy, and the chance to share in determining them. Thus, in connection with his complaints over the way in which negotiations for Italian surrender had been conducted, he informed Roosevelt and Churchill that he thought the time is ripe for us to set up a military-political commission of representatives of the three countries--the U.S.A., Great Britain and the U.S.S.R.--for consideration of problems related to negotiations with various Governments falling away from Germany . . . . I propose setting up the commission and making Sicily its seat for the time being.

Neither the President nor the Prime Minister repelled the proposal; rather the contrary. But the President stayed on guard. In contrast to his (and Secretary Hull's) later support for the principle that the policies pursued toward and in the defeated Allies of Germany should be determined jointly, at this juncture he preferred to retain flexibility. The purposeful interest which the Soviet Government and the French Communists had shown in North Africa had troubled him. And now Eisenhower and the American and British commanders under him who were fighting the campaign in Italy were worried about possible Soviet interference in their operations and policies. So Roosevelt tried to sheer away from immediate decision by proposing instead that the Soviet Government send an officer to Eisenhower's headquarters to join in the discussion of a settlement with the Italians.

The Prime Minister was no more ready than the President to grant the Soviet Government a veto right over the conduct of operations or the direction of political or social affairs in Italy. But he assented to Stalin's proposal--if it could be made to mean what he thought it ought to mean. It would have been understood, he explained in his response to Stalin, that the commission would not have the power to make final decisions; that would remain with the governments. It would have to be agreed that the commission would not interfere with the military functions of the Allied Commander-in-Chief. It would seem advisable that the commission should, in the first instance, handle the Italian question only; and when other cases arose, experience would have shown whether this or some other organ would be the best medium for arriving at joint views and plans.

Here the further trail of discussion of this consequential proposal cannot be followed through the rather dense forest of diplomatic foliage. But messages in this collection make it easier to follow it up to the Conference of Foreign Ministers (Hull, Eden, Molotov) in Moscow in October; for the terminal stage, however, the student will have to consult records of that Conference and the correspondence about the Advisory Commission for Italy.

In the outcome the President and the Prime Minister had their way. The commission that was constituted was authorized only to advise, not to determine, what was done in, for and to Italy. And later on, Stalin was wont to defend his refusal to accord the Western Allies an effective voice in the control of Bulgaria, Hungary and Rumania on the score that similar Soviet claims in regard to Italy had been rejected. When another commission was later established in London (the European Advisory Commission) to consider policies to be adopted for surrender and control of Germany's other satellites, it also was authorized only to propose, not to dispose. Through it the procedure for joint consultation was regularized; and by it many of the main accords regarding treatment of the Axis members were developed. But fortunes of war, relative military power, national and political purposes and geography--rather than principle--determined the measure of influence exercised by each of the three main Allies in each separate situation. Roosevelt and Hull never reconciled themselves to the rule of such realities. Churchill however did so. A year later he entered into an understanding with Stalin about the measure of their respective influence or "responsibilities" in the smaller countries of Eastern and Central Europe except Poland.

It is, then, for providing more or less new information about such matters that these volumes will be valued by the historian. But the interest of others will circle rather about the general impressions of the nature and views of the three correspondents which linger in their lines.


Of the literary style and mode of expression of the signatories of these messages, those who lived through the period will find only familiar repetitions. Even the most routine of those sent off by Churchill were zestful, fluid and sparkling with the dew of his personality. Those bearing the name of Roosevelt were usually flat and friendly--the phraseology being the standard usage of diplomacy when the original draft was prepared in the State Department, stiffly lucid when it was produced in the Pentagon. Those of Stalin are dun-colored, purposeful, not wasteful of a word; even those conveying congratulations read as though they were taken out of a manual used by the authors of greeting cards.

Roosevelt and Churchill often expounded the aspirations and principles of democracy. Stalin rarely made similar attempts to secure approval of Marxist-Leninist doctrine.

All three men deeply felt that they and the nations for whom they spoke were engaged in a noble struggle against evil and base cruelty; none had twinges of doubt that the agony of the war was well endured for the sake of preserving a conception of decency in human life and affairs.

This vital sense of good purpose ought not to be erased from memory by later regrets, in the way that some old frescos done by great Renaissance artists were covered over in duller times by duller tones.

Despite this common bond of detestation of the enemy, the only period when Stalin and his associates might have been induced to curb their aggressive temper and circumscribe their aims out of deference for their allies was in 1941-42, when the Soviet Union was in dire need of Western support and coöperation. Then, greatly suffering, on the verge of being forced to yield, the Soviet Government might have restrained its desire to extend its control far beyond its boundaries. Did not Stalin urge Churchill in 1941 to come with all available force into the Balkans? And did he not tell Sikorski that he would be content with only small changes in the Soviet-Polish boundaries as they had been before Germany and the Soviet Union had divided Poland between them? But after the Soviet rulers became reassured of their power to survive the German assault, and as the paths for expansion became cleared, diplomacy, no matter how skilled, could not, I believe, have induced them to restrain themselves. Their later course shows the revival of their determination to regain everything they had obtained as a result of their deal with Hitler; and to strive to get those further extensions to which Hitler had refused assent, such as the establishment of military bases within range of the Dardanelles. The change in the expectations of Stalin and his associates of what they could secure by the exercise of Soviet power is reflected in the change in tone of Stalin's messages --from amiability--to reserve--to bluntness--to bold rudeness.

The flow of these communications confirms the opinion that after the American Government had sent combat forces to Europe it could not, unless it had reached a definite understanding with the Soviet Union about war aims, have exercised a determining influence upon the course of most postwar developments in Europe. But it supports the belief that it might have done so in the Far East. For in that region we had by far the strongest and most flexible military force, and the conformation of the war in the Pacific enabled us to have our way in matters both of strategy and diplomacy. But we wasted our opportunity --most of all by clinging to the formula of unconditional surrender for Japan, and by publicly proclaiming our intent not only to expel Japan from the mainland of Asia but also to deprive it of all the rest of its empire, before we could know whether China and Russia would be permanent friends. If Roosevelt and Hopkins had had a more real and correct understanding of Stalin's nature and techniques, and if Marshall, MacArthur and Stimson had not attached undue importance to Soviet participation in the Pacific war, the whole scene in that region might be far more satisfactory today.

Now with our retrospective knowledge and chance to reëxamine the whole past, the prevailing American optimism regarding the possibility of dealing with Stalin on friendly and frank terms in a spirit of good faith and in a belief in his moderation is amazing. How did Roosevelt, how did most of the American nation, fail to grasp, or ignore, or overlook the traits which had enabled Stalin to get and hold supreme power in the Soviet Union? Among the variety of explanations that have been attempted for this fault of judgment, I believe one is of more importance than is usually recognized: it was that our perceptions were blurred by the more intense glare of Hitler's evil light. But considering again in our own day the inner history of Stalin's career, as known to many Bolshevik associates whom he mastered, how clearly the dominant traits appear: opportunist, sly, malevolent, persistent, most skilled in the graduation of pressures, ablest of all dissemblers, a person about whose every statement his familiars were apt to ask: what skein is he going to wind around that bobbin?

Churchill, of course, had a more caustic feeling about the nature of the Soviet régime and a more real grasp of the nature of the men who controlled it. But he failed to bring about a correction in the American view. This was partly his fault--partly ours. Roosevelt and those who shared his feelings and purposes were determined not to allow their hopeful belief in the possibility of coöperation with the Soviet Union to be destroyed; for unless this could be made to come true, they foresaw only grim disorder in the world. This devotion to a great political purpose inclined them to attribute prejudiced and nationally selfish motives to the advice of the British Prime Minister when he advocated bolder resistance to Soviet claims or actions. But Churchill's effectiveness in persuasion may also have been reduced by American memory of the effort he had made after the 1917 Revolution to bring about intervention in Soviet affairs, an effort which for many years had deterred any tendency toward reconciliation between the West and the Soviet Union; the Americans were afraid of being led into a repetition of this failure. Then also his reactions to Soviet actions and to Stalin's personality were deemed at times intemperate. They fluctuated over a wide arc of feeling and judgment. His rejoicing over Soviet military achievements inspired messages to Stalin of unqualified admiration. His satisfaction when some quarrel was adjusted found expression in messages which seem brimful of trust. But many more were devoted to contesting some Soviet action or tensely conveying his fears and criticisms.

As for Stalin, he was always measuring Roosevelt and Churchill. He never became so absorbed in his relations with them as to be distracted from essential Soviet purposes. He remains on every one of these pages a member of the Politburo.

It is permissible to imagine that these volumes might be reissued, say 25 years from now, under another title, "The Correspondence of the Three Men Who Presided over the Great Upheaval." By then, while the details of the correspondence will have diminished in interest, the significance of the events to which they relate will have grown. During this war period the dissolution of the British and French empires was hastened, the way was opened for the vast expansion of the realm of Communist control and power, the energy within the atom was released for weapons of destruction and for tasks of production; and the nations sought with a moving sense of longing to create a new and livable basis of association with each other in the United Nations. It is becoming that the mind should indulge in the prayerful hope that in that later time the upheaval will have subsided into a reliable state of stability.

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  • HERBERT FEIS, former Economic Adviser in the Department of State; author of "The Road to Pearl Harbor," "The China Tangle," "Churchill-Roosevelt-Stalin" and other works
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