Communism, Stalin, and the Great American Mistakes of World War II

Hanson W. Baldwin (d. 1991), was a military-affairs editor for The New York Times, who authored over a dozen books on military and naval history and policy. Baldwin, a graduate of the United States Naval Academy, joined The Times in 1929, and in 1943  won a Pulitzer Prize for his World War II reporting from the Pacific.

Before retiring from The Times in 1968, Baldwin reported on the strategy, tactics and weapons of war in Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East and other theaters. Earlier, after covering the European and Pacific battles of World War II, as well as the immediate postwar transition period, so astutely, Hanson Baldwin had already earned recognition as one of the nation’s leading authorities on military and naval affairs.

In 1950, Baldwin published a pellucid World War II post-mortem strategic assessment monograph of 114 pp., entitled, Great Mistakes of the War. Baldwin’s summary analysis identifies the four “great—and false—premises, certainly false in retrospect and seen by some to be false at the time,” as the following:

1. That the Politburo had abandoned (with the ostensible end of the Communist International) its policy of a world Communist revolution and was honestly interested in the maintenance of friendly relations with capitalist governments

2. That “Joe” Stalin was a “good fellow” and we could “get along with him.” This was primarily a Rooseveltian policy and was based in part on the judgments formed by Roosevelt as a result of his direct and indirect contacts with Stalin during the war. This belief was shaken in the last months of Roosevelt’s life, partly by the Soviet stand on Poland.

3. That Russia might make a separate peace with Germany. Fear of this dominated the waking thoughts of our politico-strategists throughout all the early phases of the war, and some anticipated such an eventuality even after our landing in Normandy.

4. That Russian entry into the war against Japan was either: a) essential to victory, or b) necessary to save thousands of American lives. Some of our military men clung to this concept even after the capture of the Marianas and Okinawa.

The common denominator for these basic misconceptions, Baldwin argues, excepting, perhaps the second, which became a stubbornly willful “Rooseveltian policy,”  was,

…lack of adequate knowledge about Russian strengths, purposes, and motivations; and inadequate evaluation and interpretation of the knowledge we did possess, or failure to accept and apply it.

Baldwin reiterates his contention (i.e., regarding points 1 and 2) that American wartime policy hinged upon avoidable fallacious premises, which caused us to be victimized by our own hagiographic propaganda about Communism, Stalin, and the Soviet Union, observing:

Russian aims were good and noble, Communism had changed its stripes. A study of Marxian literature and of the speeches and writings of its high apostles, Lenin and Stalin, coupled with the expert knowledge of numerous American specialists, should have convinced an unbiased mind that international Communism had not altered its ultimate aim; the wolf had merely donned a sheep’s skin. Had we recognized this—and all past experience indicates we should have recognized it—our wartime alliance with Russia would have been understood for exactly what it was: a temporary marriage of expediency.

Baldwin concludes his introductory elucidation of the four false premises by returning to the misguided fear about the Soviet Union brokering a separate peace with Nazi Germany (in the latter stages of the war), and the disastrous U.S. policy of inducing Soviet entry into the Pacific theater war against Japan (when Japan’s defeat by the U.S. and Britain, without any Soviet assistance, was in fact clearly imminent).

[A] careful study of strategical facts and available military information should have indicated clearly the impossibility, from the Russian point of view [emphasis in the original], of a separate peace with Germany. Such a peace could only have been bought in the opening years of the war by major territorial concessions on Russia’s part, concessions which might well have imperiled the Stalin regime, and which, in any case, would have left the Russo-German conflict in the category of “unfinished business.” In the closing years of the war, when Russia had everything to gain and nothing to lose by continuing the struggle to complete victory, a separate peace would have been politically ludicrous. [emphasis added]

Russia had everything to gain and nothing to lose by entering the Pacific war, particularly in 1944 and 1945 when the power of Germany was broken and Japan was beleaguered and in a strategically hopeless position. Yet again we begged and induced, though we, not Russia, occupied the commanding position. We should have tried to keep Russia out of the war against Japan instead of buying her entry.

Nearly six decades later, former GRU (Soviet Military Intelligence) officer Victor Suvorov’s Soviet primary source-based re-analysis of Stalin’s grand World War II strategy, The Chief Culprit (2008),  provided striking independent confirmation of Baldwin’s 1950 arguments. For example, Suvorov demonstrates the remarkable success achieved by the well-planned Soviet blitzkrieg against a tottering Japan, to the lasting detriment of its erstwhile U.S. “ally’s” interests, and regional freedom:

On August 6, 1945 the American air force dropped an atomic bomb over Hiroshima, and on August 9, over Nagasaki. Japan was on its deathbed. And at this momenet, on August 9, 1945, the Red Army carried out its sudden and crushing attack against Japanese troops in Manchuria and China. The operations of all the armies were planned according to the principle of surprise attack and overpowering the enemy with the immediate use of gigantic force. Even in secondary locations, the actions took on an active and maneuvering character.

Officially, the Soviet military campaign in the Far East lasted twenty-four days, but battles only took place for twelve days. Not even two weeks had passed before a massive surrender of the Japanese troops began. Japanese losses numbered 84,000 killed and 594,000 taken prisoner. Among the prisoners were 148 Japanese generals. Unbelievable trophies were captured. The results of the operation were enviable. The United States fought against Japan for almost four years, and what did it receive? The Soviet Union fought against Japan for twelve days, and all of China, North Korea, and North Vietnam fell under the Soviet Union’s control. [emphasis added] Vasilevsky [Marshal of the Soviet Union/Chief of Staff of the Soviet Armed Forces] happily reported: “By delivering a crushing blow to the Japanese troops in Korea, the Soviet Army created favorable conditions for the activities of revolutionaries…In the northern section of the country, workers led by Communists began to build the first truly independent, democratic nation in Korean history…As a result of Japan’s defeat, favorable conditions were created in China, North Korea and North Vietnam for the victory of people’s revolutions…The Chinese People’s Army of Liberation received huge reserves of trophy arms, military equipment, and supplies…The defeat of Japanese militarism opened the way for national liberation movements throughout Asia. On September 2 [1945], when the Japanese foreign affairs minister Sigemitsu and Chief of Staff Umezdu signed the pact of total capitulation, President Ho Chi Minh declared the birth of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. On October 12 [1945], the Laos patriots pronounced the birth of Phatet-Lao.”

Suvorov’s meticulous 2008 assessment of Stalin’s machinations for a quarter century, before and during World War II—which, again, validates Baldwin’s immediate post-World War II observations—opens with this ironic comparison of the Soviet Communist dictator, and his German Nazi counterpart, Hitler:

Hitler’s actions were seen by the world as the greatest of crimes, while Stalin’s actions were considered by the world as a struggle for peace and progress. The world hated Hitler, and commiserated with Stalin. Hitler conquered half of Europe, and the rest of the world declared war against him. Stalin conquered half of Europe, and the world sent him greetings. To ensure that Hitler could not hold on to the conquered European countries, the West sank German ships, bombed German cities, and then landed a  massive and powerful army on the European continent. To enable Stalin to conquer and hold on to the other half of Europe, the West gave Stalin hundreds of warships, thousands of war planes and tanks, hundreds of thousands of the world’s best war vehicles, and millions of tons of its best fuel, ammunition, and supplies…For me, Hitler remains a heinous criminal. But if Hitler was a criminal, it does not all follow that Stalin was his innocent victim, as Communist propaganda portrayed him before the world.

I am indebted to my brave and perspicacious colleague Diana West, whose own remarkable study, American Betrayal, brought the complementary analyses of  Hanson Baldwin and Viktor Suvorov to my attention.

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