23 May 2010

George N. Crocker's Road to Conjecture

Roosevelt's Road to Russia
is a revisionist work of history first published in 1959 by a lawyer and military officer George N Crocker which, I suppose by the way of Old Right, is still read and appreciated by a fair number of libertarians. In it Crocker makes the claims that at every turn Roosevelt's diplomacy and conduct of the war favoured Stalin and the Soviet Union.

The work has its share of peculiarities that reveal Crocker was very much marked by certain biases of his time and place. As in the title so throughout the book the Soviet Union is referred to instead as "Russia" which is then called a "semi-Asiatic" or a "semi-Oriental dictatorship". In this the anti-Communist Crocker is in perfect sync with Marx and with Stalin who had written about Russia as "semi-Asiatic" before him. Stalin is mostly referred to as "the Russian dictator", sometimes as simply "the Russian". He finds time to tells the reader about something called vynoslivost or "lasting a thing out" which he informs us is said to be "congenial" with "Tartar-Slavs".

To Crocker Indochina is a place where "American planes and guns were eventually needed to hold at bay an enemy far more sinister than the Japanese". In his view Bolshevization of Western Europe had only been thwarted by the retention of American troops and airfields in Europe, the pouring in each year of billions of dollars in aid and "the feverish preparation for a war of survival".

He inaccurately reports the 1930 Yen Bai mutiny in French Indochina had been Communist inspired. In reality it was led by the Vietnamese version of the KMT. We are told that during the war the Chinese Communists "were taking their orders from Moscow". In reality the Chinese Communists disregarded instructions of Moscow to join forces with the Nationalists.

Now for the books's main point about Roosevelt:
"By intention and deed he not only built up the power of the Soviet Union and made it a high-priority project but also fanatically devoted himself to bringing about a state of affairs in Europe and Asia in which there would be no neighbouring powers capable of offering any check to Soviet ambitions. His "unconditional surrender" ultimatum and his insistence upon keeping American and British troops out of the Balkans and eastern German areas were but parts of this general design; and he overrode with inflexible stubbornness the efforts of Winston Churchill to look to the future and guard against the threat of a colossal Communistic hegemony casting its dark shadow over all of Europe and Asia."
In Crocker's mind aside from the German war and the Japanese war the Second World War also consisted of a Russian war, in which the Communist Soviet Union was the aggressor "on the march", bent on world domination. He claims that on every step in this war of theirs they were consciously and intentionally aided by Roosevelt for just this purpose. Roosevelt, his mind "possessed" of "Russophilism", aided the Soviet Union not only to defeat Nazi Germany but went far beyond that to greatly enhance its post war status and power. He helped make it the dominating power in Europe and handed over Manchuria to it which later led to the Soviet Empire expanding to include all of China.

The problem with Crocker's claim is two fold. The first is that Roosevelt in fact did not grant Stalin everything. He did not deliver on the one thing Stalin desired the most – the Second Front. Throughout the duration of the war Stalin put pressure on the Western Allies to open a second mayor front against the Germans in Europe that would engage a substantial part of the German military and relieve significant pressure from the Soviet Union. He would not have his wish until June 1944, less than a year before what was to be the end of the war in Europe. Because an invasion across the English Channel is the operation that would draw away the most German forces from the Eastern Front it is what Stalin insisted on. It was not his primary consideration in calling for a cross-Channel invasion to keep the Western Allies from landing in the Balkans or anywhere else. His overriding consideration was the reduction of the obstacle before the Red Army on the Eastern Front.

The second problem is that Crocker is unable to provide the explanation why Roosevelt acted as he did and made all the many moves which benefited the USSR. He only says that it was not a case of FDR being naive and that it was not that he was a crypto Communist. He explains that Roosevelt was surrounded by many Communist sympathisers but likewise says that most people around him were not of such mold. He adds that "psychobiographers of the future” will ask themselves this question of why he went out on his limb to aid the Soviet Union in the future, but he is unable to provide a definitive answer himself.

But in fact a simple explanation all but writes itself if one only abandons Crocker's premise of Roosevelt conducting his policy with the interests of the march of the Soviet Union in mind, but instead operates on the likelier pressumption he acted for the interests of Washington as he conceived of them. These interests are invisible to Crocker because he refuses to see the United States for what Roosevelt had made it into – a vast, globe spanning, unilateralist empire. If one thinks of the force contrasted to the “semi-Asiatic” Soviet Union and international Communism not as some sort of community of all the decent people in the world but as the emergent global American Empire Roosevelt's conduct of the war makes perfect sense.

Roosevelt resurrected the WWI American demand for unconditional surrender because this new empire would brook no independence. By the 1940s the USA was so powerful that as soon as it started to throw its weight around it became clear that she did not have a pressing need for allies of the conventional sort. It could be a 'unilateral empire' without any allies, but only subordinates. By way of old thinking and balance of power realpolitik it would have been useful to conclude a peace with Germany and Japan and offer terms and preserve much of their strength so they would serve as a useful bulwark against the Soviet Union. But in that case they would have also retained a measure of independence. American victory would not have been total, and so total submission could not be expected. But when they unconditionally surrendered they could be added to the American empire outright, in much the same manner that Eastern Europe was added to the Soviet one. Let us be reminded that tiny Finland which in 1944 extricated itself from the war by accepting Soviet terms was as a result in the ensuing decades, albeit in its sphere of influence much more autonomous of the Soviet Union than the much larger West Germany and Japan were of the United States. In fact even Ceau┼čescu's Romania proved itself more independent of Moscow, in terms of foreign policy, than Japan and West Germany were of Washington.

There is the issue of Japan suing for peace on terms very similar to those that were later imposed on it, as early as January 1945. Not accepting this offer was most unwise in addition to being immoral, but it not need be a proof of an elaborate scheme to prolong the war long enough for Soviet Union to be able to join it so it could extract from this an improvement of its strategic position as Crocker claims. There are ample examples before and after of Americans foolishly refusing to conclude a deal with an adversary on any terms, but instead blindly pressing on contrary to their own interest. In 1918 John Pershing the commander of American Expeditionary Forces opposed the November armistice with Germany calling for the war to be continued until Germany was conquered. In the post-invasion Iraq the deal concluded in 2007 with the elements of resistance that greatly reduced the level of violence against the occupiers had been offered the Americans as early as 2004 but had been turned down. In the present day Afghanistan the US is escalating the war against the elements that do not recognise the Kabul government and preventing its marionette Hamid Karzai from entering into negotiations with them, it seems for no other reason that they are offering resistance. These are not parts of elaborate grand designs, but stupidity born out of intoxication with power. Roosevelt went to war without a clear war goal in mind, beyond the need to achieve victory over Japan and Germany, taken away by the power at his command he not even in the course of the war devised any, instead taken away by the might at his command uttered, and stuck by, "unconditional surrender". His conduct rather than being crypto-Soviet was decidingly American.

Lend-lease to the Soviet Union - which Crocker raises protestations against - was initially perhaps sent because the US had feared that the Soviet Union could be knocked out of the war and later on perhaps to alleviate some of the pressure Stalin was applying on the Western Allies to open the Second Front. But most of all it was sent because it was a smart, low-cost way of fighting and defeating the Germans. Fighting by way of proxy. The Germans could be fought by launching an invasion of Europe or by sending of aid to the USSR, Roosevelt wisely on his part chose the second route and fought by way of lend-lease rather than expend too much of America's own blood. This constitutes a mystery for Crocker, but it was understood intuitively by the Soviets right down to the common soldiers who were in the habit of referring to their American canned food rations, not without cynicism, as “the Second Front”. Of course if he was fighting the war by proxy and was using the Soviet Union to spare himself the loss of a certain number of American lives he could scarcely make a fuss about Poland or the Baltics - another protestation of Crocker's. Besides Crocker overstates the importance of lend lease. In reality the American aid to the Soviets was important but it was not decisive. The lend lease aid to Britain for example was three times as large as that which was provided the Soviet Union.

Crocker complains that “Russia” only “swooped in” at the end of the war with Japan, securing for itself a plentiful bounty, without having made a significant contribution to its defeat. Jet from the Soviet point of view the same case can be made for United States' conduct of the war in Europe. The US had only opened the long anticipated Second Front in June 1944, less than a year before the war would end, but rewarded itself with France, Italy, Norway, Denmark, the Low Countries, Greece and the bigger chunk of Germany for its trouble. The Soviet bounty of several East European countries and the smaller portion of Germany looks positively meager in comparison, considering it was the USSR which had over the years faced and shattered the much larger portion of German strength.

Another aspect of the Allies handling of the war which casts Roosevelt in a much different light than the one Crocker argues for are the ULTRA codes. Allies had cracked the encryption that the Germans and the Japanese used to encode their communications. As a result they could decode any message they intercepted which meant they knew of most German and Japanese strategic and operational decisions in advance. They were an enormously potent weapon, jet were kept by the Allies for themselves and not passed on to the Soviets, albeit doing so would have cost them nothing but would have aided the Soviet war effort a great deal. Doing so would have spared the Soviets hundreds of thousands of lives of their soldiers and quite likely shortened the war by several months. Of course it may have also meant that the Soviets would not be met on the Elbe but somewhere more to the east of it, the Rhine perhaps, which is the likely the reason it was never shared. However Crocker could not have known about this since the existence of ULTRA had been kept a secret until 1974.

Where possible the book contrasts the course of action favoured by Roosevelt to that favoured by Churchill who is presented as a dogged anti-Communist who had remained vary of Stalin and uneasy about Communist expansion even during the war. However this is contradicted by the fact that the British government switched its support from the Royalist to the Communist guerillas in Yugoslavia before the United States did. The Churchill narrative that Crocker espouses was nurtured by Churchill himself in his carefully written Cold War era memoirs but as testified by the "Percentages Agreement", he in the course of the war became quite comfortable with Stalin and besides he had argued for a British-Soviet alliance against the Germans as early as the Danzig Crisis.

Crocker shows that Roosevelt handled much of his foreign policy in an amateurish, personality-driven manner. Also doubtlessly some of the decisions of Allied leadership in the war were influenced by disinformation brought to them by communist sympathisers. However Crocker's overarching proposition is almost fantastic, a notion that a man like Roosevelt, who Crocker himself shows to have been a powermonger, would be labouring under a scheme not meant to benefit his own power, but that of Stalin is not likely.

Extinguishing Germany and Japan as independent powers did benefit the USSR and ended in a creation of a bipolar world. It meant that as the only remaining truly independent great power the USSR loomed larger than before, had been provided with opportunities for further aggrandizement in the division of Japanese and the brief German empire. It made it "the other superpower" by default and increased its prestige, possibly even over-inflating its status over what was the true distribution of power between the two. However it was also gainful for the US if one thinks of the US as a giant 'unilateral' empire. It delivered most of the globe into Washington's hands, it established a tight grip on Japan and the bigger part of Germany and by way of elimination of what could otherwise be at least regional, semi-independent powers increased its clout over other states aligned to itself.

If we have this in mind, that it benefited both, why would we then assume that Roosevelt laboured in order to benefit the power of the state ruled by Stalin instead of the one ruled by himself? This view, the view that in the overall picture Roosevelt worked not for the Soviet but for the American Empire is not a vindication of Roosevelt of any sort but a condemnation even greater than the one proposed by Crocker. But it is one which the anti-Communist Crocker is unable to adopt since he it is not ready to see in the United States an empire. This, for all his sincerity in denouncing Roosevelt for doing everything in his power to bring US into the war after promising just the opposite to the American voters, leaves him for the most part arguing for the arch-hawkish position that the USA should have started to fight the Cold War against the USSR even before the war against Germany was over.

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