The Yalta Conference - Winning the War, Debating the Peace
In the winter of 1945, Roosevelt met with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin for the last time. The setting was the Ukrainian town of Yalta.
The Big Three gathered to chart a course for final victory in World War II. But during the Yalta Conference, they also struggled to create the basis for post-war cooperation.
FDR received Stalin's firm commitment to enter the increasingly bloody war against Japan three months after Germany's defeat. With American casualties rising in the Pacific war - and the atomic bomb yet untested - this was a significant achievement for the President. The Big Three also formally agreed to another of FDR's priorities - the establishment of the United Nations organization. But there were serious disagreements about the future of Germany and the fate of areas occupied by Soviet armies, especially Poland.
Yalta: The Key Issues
At Yalta, FDR won Stalin's assurances to enter the war against Japan and join the United Nations organization. But Europe's future proved a thornier issue.
Faced with the reality of large Soviet armies in Eastern Europe - and unable to contemplate going to war with Russia - FDR and Churchill quietly acquiesced to Stalin's demand for a sphere of influence there. They managed to secure Soviet acceptance of the Declaration of Liberated Europe and an agreement on Poland calling for a government of national unity that would hold "free and unfettered elections." But Stalin didn't honor the agreement. After the war, critics charged Roosevelt "gave away" Eastern Europe.
Today Yalta occupies an ambiguous place in historical memory. Those who met there witnessed the cooperation of wartime allies and the rising wariness of future rivals.
Yalta Speech to Congress
"I hope that you will pardon me for this unusual posture of sitting down...but I know that you will realize that it makes it a lot easier for me not to have to carry about ten pounds of steel around on the bottom of my legs."
- Franklin Roosevelt, Address to Congress on the Yalta Conference, March 1, 1945
After the Yalta Conference, FDR made a grueling 7,000-mile journey home by plane and ship. While at sea, his long-time aide and friend, Edwin "Pa" Watson, died of a stroke. Watson's death cast a pall over the returning presidential party.
By the time he returned to Washington, the President was exhausted. But he was determined to report quickly to the nation about the conference. On March 1, he addressed a joint session of Congress at the Capitol. His audience was struck by FDR's gaunt appearance. Even more striking was that he delivered the speech while seated. FDR confronted the issue directly in the first line of his address, publicly acknowledging his disability for the first and only time in his presidential career.