A close look at one of the most consequential six-month periods of the last century.
In the six months following the “Big Three” conference in Yalta in February 1945, Franklin Roosevelt died and was succeeded by Truman, Germany surrendered, the United Nations convened in San Francisco, Churchill was turned out, and the atomic bomb was tested and then dropped on Japan. Yalta seemed to produce broad agreements on strategies to end the war and cooperate in the occupation of a unified Europe. By the time the newly constituted Big Three met again in Potsdam in August, however, Germany and Europe were becoming irrevocably divided and world war was evolving into cold war, despite the intentions of all three leaders. In this elegantly written narrative, longtime journalist Dobbs (One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War, 2009, etc.) shows how the Allies’ political and economic systems ultimately proved hopelessly incompatible. Words like “elections,” “democracy,” “fascism” and “freedom” meant very different things to the Soviets than they did to the Americans and British, leading each side to accuse the other of reneging on their commitments. Against a background of savage ethnic cleansing, Stalin imposed Soviet-style governments on territory held by the Red Army and pillaged surviving industrial equipment, while the Americans moved to keep German uranium and atomic scientists from falling into Soviet hands. When the Russians refused to supply Pomeranian grain and Silesian coal for western Germany and began interfering with access to Berlin, the alliance had clearly devolved into deadly rivalry. Dobbs delivers engaging portraits of the national leaders and often amusingly detailed accounts of their conferences, while demonstrating that “sometimes history has a mind of its own, riding roughshod over the decisions of the most charismatic personalities and moving in directions contrary to their desires.”
A confident and rewarding survey of a hinge point in 20th-century history.