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.