Friday, May 13, 2005

From Yalta to Paris

The Baltic States got an apology from the US. On May 7th, 2005 at Riga, Latvia, President Bush said:
"... As we mark a victory of six days ago -- six decades ago, we are mindful of a paradox. For much of Germany, defeat led to freedom. For much of Eastern and Central Europe, victory brought the iron rule of another empire. V-E Day marked the end of fascism, but it did not end oppression. The agreement at Yalta followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Once again, when powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable. Yet this attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability left a continent divided and unstable. The captivity of millions in Central and Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the greatest wrongs of history..."
Great! I was hearten by the comment. An admission of guilt by the most powerful superpower toward a minor little country about an policy 60 years ago, an understandable and forgivable policy? It could not get better than that. But those on Left certaintly did not share my sentiment. They was foaming at the mouth about the comment. David Greenberg, who was guessed blogging at Daniel W. Drezner devoted three posts to it. (here, here, and here). His description was "outragous" and "scandalous." He also wrote an article on Slate title: "Known Thy Allies: What Bush Got Wrong About Yalta." What was and is the cause for the knee-jerk reaction from the Liberal Left ? They argue that (1) it was revisionist history, that their beloved FDR did not sell out the Baltic or Eastern Europe to Communist International. That Yalta was neccessary in the context of time and circumstance. True. But the Baltic and Eastern Europe was condemn to four decades of Communist tyranny is a fact. And whether our action was justified or not, we did it. Stalin swallowed Eastern Europe knowing with certainty that we would not intervene.
(2) But the second reason that the Left found the speech troubling has less to do with historical nuance but paranoia. David Greenberg mentioned the McCathyism. Kevin Drum call Yalta righwing's "codeword."
But here's what I'm curious about: why did Bush mention Yalta at all? For most people alive today this is long dead history, but Bush's speechwriters are well aware that "Yalta" was once a codeword extraordinaire among a certain segment of the population. In fact, it was perhaps the single biggest bugaboo of the wingnut right in the late 40s and 50s, right up there with Alger Hiss and Joe McCarthy's list of communists in the State Department.

But most of those people are dead. So who was the reference aimed at? Not just the Latvians, that's for sure. Bush is a master of using codewords in his speeches, and inserting Yalta into this speech wasn't a casual decision. It was there for someone. Who?
Kevin. It was for me, and people like me. The little people who had to live the consequence of power politic between the giants. For the people of Latvia and Eastern Europe who had to live under Communism, it is not easy to forget the event that lead to their immeasurable suffering. They were freed just recently; the wall just came down in 1989. Most of them still have painful and fresh memory of those day.
Unlike liberal Western academics, I did not have the luxury of studying tyranny as an academic subject from afar; my experiene with it was close and personal. I was only one year old when the Paris Peace Accord was signed. To this day I am still bitter about it. It was long ago for most people, mere history. But it is fresh in my memory since I had to live it. For most of my childhood, I lived under Communisst tyranny, the one that born out of Paris 1973. I still remember having to listen to VOA and BBC clandestinely, having to turn the volumn just enough so that it can only be heard if I put my ears next to the speaker. I still remember the food shortage of the late 70's and 80's, the one that result in my malnutrition. I still remember growing up for years without my father, for he was in jail. I still remember the fears and paranoia of living under a police state.
I have no doubt the Latvians remember and were hearten by the comment. For all their pain, they deserved to hear an apology and I am happy for them. And I hope that when it is time for a US president to apologize for the 1973 Paris Peace Accord, no liberal academic will rub salt in my wound by denying me those words of comfort.

10 Comments:

Blogger VietPundit said...

Great post, Minh-Duc.

"Unlike liberal Western academics, I did not have the luxury of studying tyranny as an academic subject from afar; my experiene with it was close and personal. I was only one year old when the Paris Peace Accord was signed. To this day I am still bitter about it. It was long ago for most people, mere history. But it is fresh in my memory since I had to live it. For most of my childhood, I lived under Communisst tyranny, the one that born out of Paris 1973. I still remember having to listen to VOA and BBC clandestinely, having to turn the volumn just enough so that it can only be heard if I put my ears next to the speaker. I still remember the food shortage of the late 70's and 80's, the one that result in my malnutrition. I still remember growing up for years without my father, for he was in jail. I still remember the fears and paranoia of living under a police state."

Wow, you took the words right out of my mouth!

3:35 PM  
Blogger josh narins said...

I have a little argument for you.

The Declaration of Independence fairly laid out the tyranny of George III, a laundry list of insults.

After the war was over, Washington became President, and Canada still choked under the yoke of the British King, taxation without representation, all the rest.

Less than 30 years later, Canada would become a staging ground for part of the attacks against America during the War of 1812. The British managed to burn down the White House at that time.

Were Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison appeasers for letting Canada rot in tyranny? Why didn't they take the war to the enemy, when the enemy was so obviously oppression, and it was so close.

To make matters worse, the end of the American war for independence is known as the Treaty of Paris, 1783.

Your argument, and the Yalta folks, seems to amount that anything less than an endless-war-to-liberate-everyone is something to apologize for.

The Bushes, meanwhile, are close personal friends with the Saudis, where it is illegal for women to leave their homes without a male, relative as an escort. Woman also can not drive. Bush arms Pakistan (not a free country) even as India and Pakistan (both nuclear powers) posture over Kashmir.

When Truman put US troops in Viet Nam, he was mouthing off around the planet about self-determination, even as he was propping up the French Colonial system. Even now, the world powers expend some effort (mostly in Iraq, but elsewhere) that the French Colonial _borders_ in South East Asia are inviolate. Why did France carve up the Mon-Khmer penninsula as they did? I tell you, Sir, it was not for the advantage of the Mon-Khmer people.

I am no expert on this region. I use the term Mon-Khmer because Lao, Khmer, Muong, and Vietnamese are all languages in what is commonly called the Mon-Khmer branch of the Austro-Asiatic family.

11:08 AM  
Blogger dick said...

Josh,

I guess you forget that the Saudis were closer personal friends of the Harrimans than they ever were of the Bush family. After all it was Averell Harriman who got Prescott Bush to invest in Saudi Arabia after he had done so himself. So what was the point of your comment about Saudi Arabia. Also, Bush is far from the first president to arm Pakistan. We shuld be grateful to Pakistan for standing by us now. Without them the war in Afghanistan with the Taliban and Al Qaeda would not have gone nearly so well. The terrorists would just have nipped over the border and been home free.

As it is the Pakistanis have done well for us. They have provided a shelter to refugees from the Taliban who are now streaming back into Afghanistan to build up their home in a free country. What more could we ask for from them. They also are working with us to track down the terrorists who are trying to destabilize Pakistan as well as Afghanistan. And wonder of wonders, they are also now trying to get along with India. That is an unexpected bonus.

So therefore what in reality was your problem with the posts of our Vietnamese friend who actually lived under the Communist tyranny? Do you feel he should have been grateful for the opportunity to live as a member of the proletariat?

3:18 PM  
Blogger thewiz said...

I have heard many comments on Bush's trip to the Balkans and Georgia and the speeches he made. Many have talked about correcting history and making the Russians face up to their past. But I feel there is much more to why Bush said what he said. No Prez would risk alienating a friend just to correct history, especially a nuclear power that we have only recently befriended. Therefore, there must be much more going on here than meets the eye. My theory, one that I have not seen or heard anywhere, is that these speeches are more about the present and future than they are about the past.

Not only is there a revisionist history in Russia but also a deep yearning for the past glory days. Putin himself has made statements that indicate he longs for the return of Soviet dominance. You have addressed this longing in some of your posts. Even many of the Russian people are known to wish for the "good old days," especially the older people that lived easier when the Communist government supplied to their critical needs. And this yearning is what Putin is using to empower his actions as he cracks down on democracy. Controlling the press, nationalizing many industries, controlling elections all are endagering democracy but the people seem to favor these steps because they appear to make the country more stable.

Many around the world have seen this and fear a return to Communist rule, or some form of dictatorship. Bush is trying to point out the many failings of the old system to the Russian people so that they will remember what life under such centralized government can be like. They need to understand that such power is corrupting and can lead to a government that cares more about staying in power than it does its own people. It leads to corruption, control, nepotism, stagnation, and a lack of economic dynamics. Worse, it leads to a power that can subjugate its neighbors and even its own people. It leads to the terrible history that the Russians are denying and Bush is pointing out.

People in Russia need to examine all this and make informed decisions. And Bush is trying to correct history so that they have a better understanding of what is at stake. Bush is talking about the past in order to strenghten democracy today not only in the Balkans and Georgia but also in Russia itself.

8:30 PM  
Anonymous Michael said...

I would just point out that the Paris Peace Accord represented victory for our side. The U.S. betrayal of your country occurred in the intervening years when we permitted, even encouraged, the rearming of North Vietnam that was forbidden by the treaty while virtually embargoing arms shipmets to South Vietnam even though we were pledged by the treaty to maintain them. North Vietnam never defeated anyone capable of shooting back at them but by 1975 they had little to fear from South Vietnam's empty gun barrels. I share your wish to someday see a president of the United States go to a free Vietnam and apologize for the betrayal of the South after 1972.

8:38 PM  
Anonymous jimbo said...

great post and commentary...you can thank joan commie carrie and jane fumunda for the commie hell that became the coffin for millions of vietnamese citizens...i don't recall the general's name, but a commie general wrote in his memoirs that had it not been for folks like joan carrie and jane fumunda, the commie pigs would have surrended to the U.S...their battle fought in the media, as is being done now by islamo fascists, emboldened the murderers to not surrender...

3:20 AM  
Blogger josh narins said...

Yes, the Harrimans were closer friends. George HW Bush's father got his business career started with the Harrimans. Harrimans and Bushes go back 90 years now, longer even than the Saudi Royal Family.

I fail to see how this bears on whether or not the US President is in up to his neck with these ****heads.

Pakistan has had different governments over the years. Musharaff only took over, via a coup, in 1999.

In fact, Bush is the first President to sell arms to this particular tyrant.

http://www.fas.org/news/pakistan/2000/000324-pak1.htm

Your points, both about the Harrimans and sales to Pakistan, have no bearing.

I guess I have two points on the Vietnamese who lived under tyranny, and both look bad for me. I live under a ruthless, lying sack of shit, and I do not rise up and fight Mr. Bush. Where Vietnamese women allowed to freely leave their homes? It is true Saudi Arabia is rich, but that means they don't starve, not that they are free.

Why didn't the Vietnamese author organize and strike, risking his own life, against his tyrannical government? Perhaps he worked covertly, and it simply didn't come up in the post. It takes certain things to maintain a self-respecting government, and citizens willing to lay down their lives to make sure it is so must rank highly, if not first, among those things.

Viet Nam wasn't a case of a beset upon government requesting US aid, it was the case of a puppet/colonial administration that intended to continue enjoying the fruits of rule with the threat, and then the eventuality, of foreign backing.

11:23 AM  
Blogger mamapajamas said...

Great Post. Couldn't help but mention Drum's comment to this effect: "In fact, it was perhaps the single biggest bugaboo of the wingnut right in the late 40s and 50s, right up there with Alger Hiss and Joe McCarthy's list of communists in the State Department."

There's one teensy-weensy but ever so signifigant detail about this comment that needs clarification:

The opening of the KGB files in 1991 PROVED that Alger Hiss and every person on McCarthy's "list" was on the KGB payroll

Leftist writers just LOVE to refer to McCarthy as an allegory for paranoia. The problem is, when they are really out to get you, you aren't a paranoid; you're a realist.

4:14 PM  
Anonymous Jason said...

Well I see Josh has found a new home to sell his bizarre and random ratiocination...a delightful combination of prattling off random "facts" along with pedantic disclaimers such as this:

"I am no expert on this region. I use the term Mon-Khmer because Lao, Khmer, Muong, and Vietnamese are all languages in what is commonly called the Mon-Khmer branch of the Austro-Asiatic family."

Thanks for the tip boss...it contributes so much to the debate about post-WWII history.

"Were Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison appeasers for letting Canada rot in tyranny? Why didn't they take the war to the enemy, when the enemy was so obviously oppression, and it was so close."

In the aforementioned war of 1812 the US Army did invade Canada...and got its ass kicked...so I'm not sure what your point is.

"Your argument, and the Yalta folks, seems to amount that anything less than an endless-war-to-liberate-everyone is something to apologize for."

Not at all, the US —and Britain in particular— was simply incapable of following Patton's advice to advance all the way to Moscow. We simply didn't have the means —military of political— to extend the war against the Soviet Union not matter how bad they might be. No one is arguing that our failure to invade the USSR is some kind of moral stain on the US, but rather that we should take the obvious lesson and be wary of who are allies are, and always keep our eyes on the ultimate goal of human freedom.

Besides, isn't "Why invade Iraq when there is tyranny X, Y, and Z?" a standard trope of the left? I know it is one you personally employ Josh.

4:41 PM  
Blogger Minh-Duc said...

Josh,

Two points:

(1) I am not suggesting that the US started a war with the USSR in and the end of WWII. But apologizing to the Latvians and the Eastern European is still the right thing to do. When you see people in pain and you are unable to help, do you say "I'm sorry?"

(2) First, your comparision of living under the Bush administration is laugable and ridiculous. The administraton maybe flaw, but it is no tyranny. It is disrepectful to those who have lived undery real tyranny.

(3) Are you suggesting that because the US is not apologizing to people who are suffering under the House of Saud and Musharaf, we should apologize to no one. It is similar to the argument that if we cannot treat every patient for cancer, no one should receive treatment.

In the future, when another US president apologize to the Saudi and the Pakistani, I will support that too.

5:07 PM  

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