Skip to comments.'No One's Liberty Is Expendable': Bush remembers WWII in his distinctive way
Posted on 05/23/2005 6:02:33 PM PDT by quidnunc
London; Prague; Budapest Central and Eastern Europe is a good vantage point from which to judge President Bush's recent visit to Moscow for the anniversary of VE Day and the resulting debate over Yalta and the value of his democracy project. After all, Prague and Warsaw were the flashpoints that prepared and ignited World War II. Britain and France declared war on Germany in September 1939 because the German army had crossed the Polish borders the Allies had guaranteed six months earlier (in response to Hitler's seizure of the rump of Czechoslovakia). Poland was one of the four nations that fought in World War II from start to finish (the others were Britain, Germany, and the USSR) first in the invasion of Poland, then in the RAF, later in the Polish army recruited from Stalin's gulag and sent via Persia and South Africa to southern England to prepare for D-Day, and throughout the war in an astonishingly brave and resilient Polish Home Army. When in 1946 "Chips" Channon, the Chicago meat-packing socialite heir and British Tory MP, gestured around the room at a smart London society wedding and said with fatuous snobbery, "This is what we have been fighting for," Emerald Cunard replied, "Oh, are they all Poles?"
For, by then, the Poles had been, well, not forgotten exactly, but pushed very firmly down the memory hole, along with the other faraway nations passing behind the Iron Curtain. Only a handful of MPs (among them, to his credit, the future prime minister Alec Douglas-Home) voted against the Yalta treaty in the House of Commons. Poland had been occupied by the Red Army, and Stalin's Communist quislings were imposed on the stricken nation. Hungary enjoyed a brief illusion of democracy and elected conservative smallholder parties rather than the socialists allegedly favored by history before the minority Communists seized full power under the gaze of the Red Army. And the Czechs fell to a classic Communist coup. That completed the Cold War division of Europe which would last 40 years. It is a history that makes it hard to celebrate the anniversary of VE Day with unqualified rapture in Warsaw, Prague, Budapest or Moscow.
That is why President Bush was right to begin his visit not there but in Riga, Latvia and even more right to mark the event with a speech conceding that the Baltic and East European states had not been liberated in 1945 but had merely passed from one despotism to another. In choosing to visit one of the Baltic republics, moreover, he reminded people of the reality not only of 1945 but also of 193940. For World War II began when Hitler and Stalin agreed to divide up Europe between them in the Nazi-Soviet Pact one week before the invasion of Poland. In accord with its provisions, Stalin invaded Poland just 17 days after Hitler, took over the Baltic republics, and invaded Finland. To be sure, the USSR was in World War II from start to finish but on both sides.
There were five countries in it from start to finish. Canada declared war on Germany in September 1939, one week after Britain & France (the delay was to allow the Americans to ship materiel to us without running afoul of the Neutrality Act) and we were at war with Japan after they invaded Hong Kong. /nitpick
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