Thursday, August 5, 2010

Yalta: The Price of Peace by S. M. Plokhy

S. M. Plokhy's Yalta is an updated monograph on the conference created with the help of newly accessed archival sources in both Ukraine and Russia. Unlike the recently released monograph on Yalta by Fraser J. Harbutt, he does not offered a new interpretation of Yalta but an updated narrative on the negotiations, which he believes are outdated due to the lack of publications on this event since the end of the Cold War and the opening of former Soviet archives. Plokhy also presents a conclusion that attempts to dispel "myths", but the majority have already been addressed in previous publications on the conference. And although the author does offer a better contextual understanding of the Soviet delegation's position, including "the mindset of the Soviet leaders", his prose is too often marred by attacks on those same leaders.

Whereas the previously mentioned Harbutt views the real split at the beginning of Yalta to be between Churchill and Stalin, Plokhy readily sets up the Western bloc to oppose that of the Eastern in the beginning chapters of his monograph, stating "Stalin...saw both Churchill and Roosevelt as representatives of the same imperialist camp." Plokhy credits Stalin with "exploiting" both Roosevelt and Churchill, claiming "Stalin, who liked to play off his unsuspecting subordinates against one another at the Kremlin, appears to have succeeded in doing the same to the two Western leaders." But he omits the major gaps that already existed in Roosevelt's policies when compared to Churchill, even though he mentions them at various points in the text. For instance, in describing Churchill's reaction to the commitments Roosevelt made in regards to German reparations and Poland, Plokhy states: "Churchill fought to the very end...and felt more betrayed by Roosevelt than by Stalin."

For Plokhy, the Soviets were just as pleased with the outcome of Yalta as the Western Allies. Unfortunately, this satisfaction was based on their own interpretations of what occurred at the conference. "...each side misjudged the other's intentions" and "what followed was a period of mutual distrust and suspicion that helped bring about the Cold War." Thus, Plokhy considers Yalta a stepping stone to the Cold War, which can readily be overshadowed by some of the other conferences he views as being far more detrimental to the Big Three than Yalta. The Crimean conference, for Plokhy, might have left many unanswered questions and a lack of alternatives for the Big Three, "but the main decisions leading to the Cold War were made after" Yalta. Therefore, in his final analysis, Plokhy echoes previous historians in insisting that Yalta's "true significance can be appreciated only by considering it in the context of its own time and peeling off the accretion of multiple layers of Cold War myth."

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