Beware the Bandit Bully
by Dave Essel
Beware the Russian bandit bully – he always was one and always will be unless properly slapped down.
As the EU gets its talking shop into gear – I fear mainly to settle on some minimum of actions against Russia for its behaviour in Georgia that can just about be spun to the public as ‘principled’ – I find myself this Sunday reading a superb new book about the fate of the several thousand Americans left stranded in the Soviet Union of the 1930s. They had gone there – some out of their misconceived socialist convictions, others, misled by an irresponsible press corps that failed to inform them properly, to escape the Depression and find employment. Of course, absent serious a serious taking of positions by their country, all but a tiny few were arrested, tortured, and died in the Gulag.
Their detailed story is to be found in The Forsaken – An American Tragedy in Stalin’s Russia by Tim Tzouliadis (Penguin Press, New York, 2008). I highly recommend this book.
It is hackneyed, but that does not in any way detract from its total truth, to remember George Santayana’s most famous saying that ‘those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ The world obviously forgets this too often, hence the need to repeat this mantra.
Our public may be forgiven – but our politicians may not be – for always forgetting history in their dealing with Russia. This is all the more disappointing because our politicians have access to historical information and this offers them a very real tactical and strategic advantage over the Russian counterparts with whom they have to deal, since the latter do not have this advantage. For Russians, history is the current pack of lies expounding the party line of the tyrant of the day. So of course they don’t respect history and of course they don’t learn and of course they continually repeat it. We have no such justification.
One only has to say the words Karelia, Poland, the Baltic States, Georgia to see that we are faced with Russia’s record player with the needle jumping in the groove. Would that I could have faith that our representatives today will look at these past experiences and be Mannerheims rather than Chamberlains.
Reading The Forsaken today, there jumps out at me every few pages descriptions of thoughts and actions/inactions of instructive relevance to dealing with Russia over its disgraceful behaviour in Georgia and elsewhere today.
He is an example (about the Tehran Conference):
At the White House, when William Bullitt tried to warn Roosevelt about Stalin’s true intent, the president lost patience with him. “Bill, I don’t dispute your facts, they are accurate,” Roosevelt replied. “I don’t dispute the logic of your reasoning. I just have a hunch that Stalin is not that kind of man. Harry says he’s not and that he doesn’t want anything but security for his country, and I think that if I give him everything I possibly can and ask for nothing from him in return, noblesse oblige, he won’t try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of democracy and peace.” Bullitt purposefully reminded the president that “when he talked of noblesse oblige he was not speaking of the Duke of Norfolk but of a Caucasian bandit whose only thought when he got something for nothing was that the other fellow was an ass.” But Roosevelt had heard enough: “It’s my responsibility and not yours, and I’m going to play my hunch.” [...]
At Teheran on November 28, 1943, Franklin Roosevelt met Joseph Stalin for the first time with only interpreters present. “I am glad to see you,” said Roosevelt, “I have tried for a long tie to bring this about.” For security reasons, the American president was housed in the compound of the Soviet Embassy, pushed into and out of building by his valet on a system if ramps, and lifted in and out of cars while Secret Service agents kept him surrounded. In their long conversations Roosevelt happily discussed issues ranging from the future of India – “The best solution,” Roosevelt said, “ would be to reform from the bottom, somewhat on the Soviet line” – to the future liberty of Poland, a political question that Roosevelt reminded Stalin had domestic political considerations, since there were “six to seven million Americans of Polish extraction, and as a practical man he would not wish to lose their vote.” Stressing the need for free elections in the once-independent Baltic states, Roosevelt agreed that he “personally was confident that the people would vote to join the Soviet Union.”
For his part, Stalin’s contempt for the perceived weakness he saw in Roosevelt was revealed at the end of a morning session in Tehran. Roosevelt genially announced to the conference table, “Now we can adjourn and let’s go have some lunch.” After everyone got to his feet, the Soviet interpreter Valentin Berezhkov heard Stalin mockingly remark: “Some will walk and some will ride.” When Berezhkov asked if this comment should be translated, Stalin answered: “Niet.”
With the interpreters, Berezhkov worked around the clock translating Roosevelt’s private conversations, since his living quarters were, of course, bugged by the NKVD. These conversations were not hostile in the slightest, so much so that Berezhkov wondered if perhaps Roosevelt was speaking not only to his American aides but also to the microphones. Later, at Yalta, a perplexed Stalin would ask: “What do you think? Do they know we are listening to them? … It’s bizarre. They say everything in the fullest detail.”
At Tehran, the most revealing conversation was made quite openly, over dinner on November 29, 1943. Stalin twice proposed that after the war in Germany “at least 50,000 and perhaps 100,00 of the German Commanding Staff must be physically liquidated.” Franklin Roosevelt, evidently believing the Soviet leader was joking, suggested that “only forty-nine thousand” should be killed. While Winston Churchill got up from the table and left the room in disgust. “I was deeply angered,” Churchill later wrote. “I would rather, I said, be taken out into the garden here and now and be shot myself than to sully my own and my country’s honour by such infamy.” Both Churchill and Roosevelt had read Owen O’Malleys report of the Katyn Massacre just three months earlier.
I just pray that tomorrow someone with the heart and mind of a Churchill, Mannerheim, Thatcher, or Reagan will make his presence felt at the EU conference. But I am not sanguine about this and fear another load of empty talk by Eurodrips playing right into Russia’s hands.