Essel on the Bandit Bully

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.

7 responses to “Essel on the Bandit Bully

  1. stalin’s contempt for roosevelt’s disability is how russians even today look at the disabled. they’re ‘nipolnotsenniye’—not ‘full-value’ people.
    russians regard the disabled as useless people without value that should be ignored and removed from the mainstream of society. so yea, stalin’s reaction to roosevelt was predictable.
    i’m sure putin would view a disabled leader in much the same way as stalin.
    the russian contempt for the disabled is one of those things that an American learns only through living there for many years.
    the bright side is many Americans continue to work for ngos that help the disabled in russian and attitudes are slowly changing.

  2. At Yalta FDR’s closest aide and advisor was Alger Hiss, a proven soviet spy. Also the comment about the Russian attitude to the disabled is true. In my travels through Russia, whenever the conversation turned to disabled people, the common and accepted opinion was that they should be exposed at birth. Sad.

  3. Let me get this straight: You guys are comparing Stalin’s 22-million-square-mile empire with the Russia of 2008? Such a comparison is facetious, at best.

    With the U.S. presently staging troops in countless countries worldwide, and waging no less than two campaigns in the Middle East–to say nothing of the Central American Drug Wars–to call Russia a “bully” seems nothing less than ludicrous, the very peak of hypocrisy.

    Don’t get me wrong: I support American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, and I voted for their presence in those countries. It’s our self-righteous condemnation of Russia and our pre-August 7 military presence in Georgia that I dislike.

    LA RUSSOPHOBE RESPONDS: You voted for their presence? Are you a member of Congress, dear sir? Are you even vaguely aware that your comments are totally devoid of any specific facts to support your claims, much less source material? Aren’t you, in fact, the ugliest of all Americans?

  4. Stalin was of course a Georgian. Yes, I know you know that, but since your blog has a policy against racism, it would be good to avoid assuming Soviet = Russian. Ukrainian attitudes to the disabled are not much different from Russian, nor from Kazakh etc. The Soviet system had a cold-blooded of people as human resources in the literal sense and disabled people would be seen as equivalent to malfunctioning labour resources. I don’t think that is an inherent Russian cultural trait. It was widely said in the 1990s that transition would take a couple of generations and this kind of attitude will gradually disappear in the process.

    As for Teheran and Yalta, I think Rooseveldt was cynical rather than dumb. My understanding was that his friendliness with Stalin had the purpose of marginalising Churchill and the British and preparing for a bi-polar world. This suited Stalin also – after all it was Churchill who was the real anti-communist of the two and it was Britain that had traditionally been Russia’s imperial rival in Asia. For his part FDR wanted Britain’s empire dismantled as soon as possible. The British, being a pragmatic people adjusted to their reduced circumstances (there had always been widespread scepticism about Empire in liberal circles) and the ‘special relationship’ was born.

    There were some in Russia in the 1990s who would have pursued a similar path and disillusion with the Soviet past was such that a closer alignment with the West/USA might have been posible (interestingly right-wing Russian nationalist writer Weller has long advocated this). To some extent the West encouraged this, through aid and political friendship and support. What the West was not prepared to do was recognise some Russian interest or role in the ‘near-abroad’ – the assumption was that NATO/US/EU would fill the void left by the USSR. Whether this was a principled stand or a geopolitical error (or both or neither) is really what underlies different views in the West about the recent events in Georgia.

  5. AC,
    yes Stalin was Georgian , but in Georgia he was a criminal and personna non granta in russia he became a “tsar” , so what does this tell you?

  6. AC, if you want to say that Roosevelt wasn’t dumb you have to explain his failure to imagine that his quarters in Tehran might be bugged. And then there is the separate issue, of which Senator McCarthy, that much-maligned hero, warned, that our government was infested with Russian spies and sympathizers. Much, if not most, of that infiltration clearly occurred during the Roosevelt administration, where the Communists would hardly have to hide–most of Roosevelt’s governing philosophy, and nearly all his prescriptions for solving this country’s problems were basically Communist statist ideas, watered down a bit. (And predictably, they all failed, making problems worse and not better until the reality of war caused these programs to be largely abandoned in favor of war aims.)

    If Roosevelt was actually clever in his dealings with Stalin then he cleverly condemned half of Europe to virtual slavery, and deserved to be reviled by history as any such monster who would do such a thing deserves. If he wasn’t this sort of “clever,” then he was had by the master manipulator.

    My guess is that the political clever, and comparatively (to his American rivals) unscrupulous Roosevelt was so used to being the most cunning and conniving person in the room, that he simply couldn’t imagine Stalin’s beating him at his own game. Being a committed socialist/command economy proponent himself, Roosevelt had a natural liking for Stalin, who ruled (with the iron fist Roosevelt had always wished he could have) a nation that had basically put into action many of the ideas Roosevelt wished to see take firm hold in his.

    Roosevelt hadn’t seen the many disasters of Soviet power, but only the apparent success–and likely believed all the false propaganda of production quotas all being exceeded every year, etc. This gave him confidence that his own tumultuous rule was leading in the right and necessary direction, and made thinking well of Stalin sort of a psychological need, which no doubt was even more impervious to actual information and observations due to Roosevelt’s ailing health, and the fact that his mental clarity, at this point, was almost certainly suffering.

    At the end of the day, Roosevelt’s willingness to allow himself to be fooled, and desire to believe in the goodness of Soviet power, played a large role in his incredible concessions to Stalin.

  7. jdepps,

    Well said, you obviously have done your homework on Roosevelt!

    The fact that the American President was preaching non commitment of his country in any war against Nazi Germany, but secretly doing the opposite, shows what a hypocrite he really was. Furthermore he was surrounded by communist spies or sympathizers like Harry Hopkins and Alger Hiss, just to name two, helps to explain his benevolent attitude to that mass murderer Stalin, whom he called “Uncle Joe”.

    It was Japan’s act of bombing Pearl Harbor, shortly followed by Hitler’s declaration of war against the United States that allowed Roosevelt a free hand to run riot in unleashing the mighty power of the U.S. in fighting these ‘new’ enemies.

    It was only shortly before his death just before war’s end that he finally woke up and realized the duplicity of his beloved “Uncle Joe” and how he had been used and fooled by him. Roosevelt, the master of duplicity, had in fact been outfoxed by a more cunning and devious master of duplicity. As one month after Yalta, which ended February 12, 1945, Roosevelt’s Ambassador to the U.S.S.R., Averill Harriman, cabled Roosevelt that “we must come clearly to realize that the Soviet program is the establishment of totalitarianism, ending personal liberty and democracy as we know it.” Two days later, Roosevelt began to admit that his view of Stalin had been excessively optimistic and that “Averell is right”. (Berthon Potts pp296-27.)

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