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Snippet of History Unplugged Podcast: The Kremlin Letters-Stalin's Wartime Correspondence with Churchill and Roosevelt

Last Played: February 19, 2021
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History Unplugged discovered over six hundred messages from Joseph Stalin, from 1941 to 1945, that were sent to allies Theodore Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. We get a better understanding of the tension Stalin built with allies through the vocabulary used in these messages.
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destroy the Nazi regime in Berlin. But style in silence just creates that sense of anxiety. Starling, I think, understands intuitively a really important principle of diplomacy, which is that in an alliance you build up a degree of trust with your allies, but you never allow them to completely take you for granted. You retain that capacity for surprise, and he does that in a way that neither of his two Western allies managed to dio. That's an interesting insight into his character, the usage of silence. And that's something I love about archival research, because when you look at archives, when you look at actual documents, at least for me, that's where I felt most connected to a historical figure and could imagine them actually speaking these words when you see the handwriting, or at least a message they themselves dictated in a way that I wouldn't get from secondary literature or even an autobiography. When you were looking at the archives of these different figures, were there any moments where you felt like you were speaking to their ghost or hearing from them? And you've gotten insight out of this research that you wouldn't have had otherwise Yes, I have worked on, um, the Second World War for a good deal of my career. I've written other kinds of books, but certainly I've come back to that on dim, particularly in the case of Churchill and Roosevelt. I felt I knew them pretty well, but I saw them differently. I understood them differently. I'm through reading the correspondence and reading the material around that correspondence. In other words, not just the wrong messages, but the drafts. Um, at the discussions, Um, that went on one of the things that came out very strongly. Waas Ah, Churchill's volatility now the tender, the stereotype off Churchill. And it's a really quite a serious problem, I think both in Britain and America, if you're you know seriously from the stereotype of Churchill is pretty two dimensional. It's, you know, the Bulldogs figure the jaw clenched the cigar. The adamant refusal to to compromise and so on. Want you get from the correspondence is a sense of how much this man's moves went up and down. Andi Um, although there are some firm, fairly firm general parameters, For example, um, Churchill's underlying anti communism, his refusal, his unwillingness to accept the idea that communism might extend across Europe. His antipathy to socialism in Britain. This is a man who's emotions about Stalin, are very engaged. Who, um, repose is increasingly great. Trust in Starling persuades himself that Stein is a force for moderation in a country where the extremists could easily take hold. Onda there these very revealing documents where he talks about to starlet. He tries to explain why, for example, on the same day 15th of March 1943 he gets a message from Stalin complaining again in the most vehement terms about the failure of the British to keep their promises to deliver a second front and all the rest of it and insinuating they might be cowards. And then, on that same day, another message from Stalin saying, Oh, thank you so much for the the film you just sent me about the British victory in the Battle of Alamein. I will send you the I'm going to show this around cinemas in Russia. It shows our allies are really are playing their part in the war on Let me reciprocate by sending you our latest film about Stalingrad. So you have a nasty message. If you like or a really tough one. Onda Nice one. Churchill's explanation. The nice one comes from Stalin personally because he and style in are now developing a close personal relationship and the other one comes from the machine. It's Starlin having to write these kinds of things because he is beholden to, um, dark forces in the Kremlin, um, the polit Bureau, the senior generals, or whatever it is. Um, now this is a really bizarre interpretation off of what's going on in the Kremlin. We know now that okay, Starlin does run a team, as historian Sheila Fitzpatrick had said has said. But it's a team in which everybody knows who's boss. The idea that there's There's Stalin, somewhat sort of cringing because, awful these people who are arguing with him and criticizing him behind the scenes is totally ludicrous. Uh, so this this concept the Churchill has, as he puts it into the British foreign secretary, and in Eden, he says, there's there are two forces to be reckoned with in Russia, a styling himself personally cordial to me, be Starling in council, a grin thing behind him, which we on Dhere. He have to reckon with that whole concept is utterly crazy. Yet it becomes the basis of Churchill's policy towards Russia that so that that Stalin's if you like the moderate holding, obey the forces of extremism. Stalin, if you like, is the eyes, not the problem. But the answer to the problem, which, as I say is a complete misrepresentation of what we now know is going on and reading that and realizing that from reading the original documents, that's the kind of thing which I absolutely agree with. That's why one does original research. That's why one gets away from the secondary material and has these kind of lightbulb moments where you look at something you say, Oh, my goodness, that's incredible. So, yeah, absolutely. I'm really intrigued by that. Why do you think it was so important for Churchill to square that circle that he had to somehow justify how somebody could be so direct and cruel and then open hearted in a similar message? Why was it problematic or difficult for Churchill to see that Churchill dwells on these things? You see, I think part of when, when, when I was writing the introduction on, I said to Vladimira, my collaborator I said, I think it has to be written in this way. It has to be written. Interest has to be written for a Facebook generation that does not understand why one would write letters when you can. You can use all sorts of electronic media to communicate, you know, cell phones, Internet, you know, tweets. Whatever it is. Videoconferencing nowadays in business and so on. Um, the what is what is involved If you are running perhaps the one of the most significant alliances in world history and you've got to do it by writing messages which has send either as letters or cables. And then you you you have to sort of squeeze out from those messages every drop off, juicy information you can get about what these other guys alike now in Churchill and Roosevelt case they meet, they get to know each other. But you need to remember that Roosevelt does not meet Starlin until more than two years into the alliance. Um, Roosevelt supports the Soviet Union. He provides support even when the United States is a neutral in in the second half of 1941 for Pearl Harbor. But he doesn't meet style in until November 1943. Until then, he's got to go on what the message is. Uh, he can glean from the messages Andi, even Mawr important what he can get from If you like those VIPs that I mentioned earlier, he sends to Moscow to deliver messages on. Then when they come back, he debriefs them extensively on what they find. So, for example, the one of the most important visitors is Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt's closest diplomatic adviser, who goes to Moscow in July 41. So only a few weeks after the German invasion, Roosevelt wants to know whether the Russians are going to survive, whether it's worth providing support. Hopkins doesn't go anywhere near the front. He doesn't see or spend much time really talking to senior Russian officers. His evaluation off Russian resistance is based almost entirely on what he gets from Starling in hours of conversation translated, of course, an interpreter in the Kremlin in Stalin's Kremlin office on what he reports to Roosevelt in messages and then in person when he gets back to Washington, is that yes, this man is is a fighter. This man has a grip on the military situation, he understands strategy, understands logistics. He is determined to fight. They're in a bad situation, but it's worth putting your money on the Soviet Union. On Roosevelt extends lend lease aid to the Soviet Union even before he brings America into the war on. That's done largely on the say so off Harry Hopkins and Rose lots faith in people like Hopkins. So this the way that these leaders squeeze the information out of the letters is an indication off just how much they're reliant on this to our way of thinking in the 21st century. Highly primitive way of communicating because that's the only way for most of the war they can run this alliance everyone's got here. One more brief word from our sponsors. From the East Side in downtown to the Westside in the Valley, Los Angeles restaurants are open for contact list delivery or pickup with door dash. If you're looking for brunch, happy hour or just an afternoon snack. Doordash has your favorite local picks, all in one app, so you can follow city guidelines without missing out on everything your neighborhood has to offer. Download the door dash app and get your local neighborhood delivered right to your door door. Dash every flavor. Welcome from the East Side in downtown to the Westside in the Valley. Los Angeles restaurants are open for contact list delivery or pickup with door dash. 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