Both left and right should also consider contexts more carefully. Certainly the president's speech last weekend did not sound personal, as if he were apologizing to feel good about himself. It did not mention Roosevelt by name or wallow in Cold War rhetoric. On the contrary, Bush went on afterward to talk about the democratic values that had replaced Yalta, and to draw contemporary lessons. The tone was right -- and it contrasted sharply with the behavior of Russian president Vladimir Putin, as perhaps it was intended to...
No American or Russian leader should appear unpatriotic when abroad, but at the right time, in the right place, it is useful for statesmen to tell the truth, even if just to acknowledge that some stretches of our history were more ambiguous, and some of our victories more bittersweet, than they once seemed.
Okay, the tone may have been right. The interpretation of history, however, was extremely questionable. Certainly, equating Yalta with Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact is preposterous. Even knowing what we do now, the evidence still strongly supports the conclusion that Roosevelt chose the best of some very unattractive options. In any case, such discussions of history deserve better than Bush and conservatives seem willing or able to give.
Thanks also to Applebaum for reminding us of the stench of Republican sanctimony which filled the land in response to Clinton's apology for slavery, an historical wrong about which there is no debate. One can only imagine the chorus of conservative flatulence that similarly would greet any Democrat going abroad and condemning Ronald Reagan's moral cowardice in the face of apartheid.
Richard Brookhiser, in a column which would be more accurately titled Stupid Like a Fox!, argues that the clever Bush, in a very clever move, is cleverly applying just the right amount of clever cleverness to his relationship with Putin. Right. Lost amid the fog of all this bad history and partisan smoke is the image of Bush standing shoulder to shoulder (and hand in hand) with dictators like Putin and Saudi Prince Abdullah. If, as conservatives suggest, it was wrong for Roosevelt not to have confronted Stalin at Yalta at a time when Stalin's massive army was entrenched throughout Eastern Europe, then surely it's wrong for Bush not to confront the authoritarian Butcher of Chechnya and the monarchic Islamist enabler at a time when the U.S. occupies a position of clear military superiority over both? What's that you say? There are other considerations? Interesting.
Oh look, Jonah Goldberg expanded yesterday's inept Corner post into today's inept column. Goldberg's snide (good lord, does that guy have any other setting?) commentary reveals that he's not really interested in honestly debating history as much as trying to refight the Cold War in his back yard with a bucket o' soldiers. And it's more bizarre than humorous to see the comment about liberals "bang[ing] their spoons on their highchairs about any attempt to tarnish FDR's godhood" coming from the noted Ronald Reagan-cultist Goldberg, who collapses into a fetal ball of quivering rage at any suggestion that the Gipper did not single-handedly smite the Soviet Union dead with a mighty stroke of his enormous golden schlong. Yes, quite bizarre.
All this talk of Yalta has revived my own interest in my long-dormant masterwork, a musical entitled, yes, YALTA! I haven't worked on it in a while, I got stuck trying to figure out where to go after "The Dance of the FDRs," but now I think I'll pull it out of the drawer and take another shot at it. Stay tuned.