To: Joseph Stalin
From: Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Date: December 12, 1941
Hitler declared war on us yesterday. We now have a shared enemy. That superficially suggests we should make common cause. I am theoretically prepared to do that, but there are important issues to resolve first. Since plain talk is the most easily understood my comments below will be candid and blunt.
It will be some time before we can land troops in Europe, but we could start showering you with food, weapons, and raw materials almost immediately. Should we do that? There are arguments for and against. Let me list them to help us reach a decision.
The Polish Problem
The European branch of this world war began on September 1, 1939, when Hitler invaded and conquered Poland. But we should remember that Hitler did not do this alone. He had a partner.
You were that partner Joe. You invaded Poland, on September 17th. You then occupied the Eastern half of that country under a secret treaty you negotiated with your partner in crime, Mr. Hitler.
This raises a question of basic logic. If an invasion of Poland from the West justified a military response from France and Britain, does your invasion of Poland from the East warrant the same kind of response? The answer would seem to be yes. In other words, we should probably be at war with you too. Can we find counter-balancing arguments to suggest cooperation rather than war? Let’s keep looking…
Dictatorship versus democracy
The Soviet Union is a dictatorship. The United States is a democratic republic. We protect human rights. You violate them. We are capitalists. You are communists. Even worse, you are pledged to destroy our system by any means necessary, including violence. In fact, you seem to have a propensity for violence. This makes it sound like you too are an enemy, just like Hitler.
Capitalism versus communism
Our capitalist countries are very wealthy. Even our poorest people live better than the privileged Communist Party aristocrats who make up your Politburo. By contrast, your country is poor. Multiple Russian families have to share a single apartment and millions of your people have starved to death at various times. This suggests quite strongly that…
Communism doesn’t work
I think you actually know this. That explains why you’ve felt the need to murder and imprison millions of your own people. We have no such need in our system. These are yet more realities that argue against our becoming allies. But the positive case still remains to be made, so let’s continue to think this through.
Any aid we give you has the potential to do more than simply defeat Hitler. It could also create opportunities for you to conquer huge swaths of Eastern Europe. That unintended consequence would contradict the purpose of our struggle. It makes no sense to simply trade one conquering dictatorship for another.
Conversely, any supplies we don’t give you can be kept for our own war effort. That means we could invade Europe earlier, defeat Hitler sooner, and liberate Eastern Europe more quickly. These achievements would bring powerful military forces to your doorstep, ready to depose your regime for its rape of Poland, and for other crimes against humanity.
Best of all, Hitler will have weakened you so much in the meantime that we may have little trouble defeating you. Indeed, many of your persecuted people will probably welcome us as liberators. The wealth of food and medical care we can bring them should easily seal the deal. I find these prospects very enticing. By comparison…
Even victory is risky for you
Any success you achieve, with or without our aid, may turn out to be a pyrrhic victory. This is true even if you do conquer Eastern Europe.
Please consider that your armies will have to cross hundreds of miles of capitalist territory on the way to Berlin. Those territories, including Germany, have accumulated vast amounts of wealth. This wealth will give you great opportunities for looting, but it will also expose the lies you’ve told your soldiers
Your troops will see quite clearly that capitalist countries are rich, not poor. They will know that capitalist workers lead better lives than communist workers. All of this will be obvious, even if the landscape has been ravaged by war. You will then have a very grave problem…
How will you keep the boys down on the collective farm once they’ve seen the ruins of Berlin?
Your heavily armed soldiers may decide to turn their weapons on their officers, and on their NKVD torturers, and finally on you.
Please remember Joe that your own regime came to power in exactly this way. Russian soldiers turned against the Czar and then the Kerensky government during World War One. That was the precondition for your Bolshevik revolution. And what happened to those regimes can also happen to yours.
These realities suggest that even victory is a risky thing for you. But your prospects could become even worse. Let me explain…
The German Generals
We’ve known since June 1941 that the Nazis are exterminating the Jews who live in your country. We can only assume that the same thing is happening in occupied Europe. We will make sure the whole world knows about this, including the German people. We will do this by every means at our disposal. It will constitute an extra front in our war against Hitler. At the same time…
We will also call on the German General Staff to arrest the Nazi leadership for these crimes!
With each passing day, as our staggering industrial power makes German defeat more likely, the German generals will have more and more incentive to act.
The irony is that you will be helping us with this effort, Joe. Every German soldier you kill and every inch of ground you recover, if you manage to recover any ground at all, will give German officers an increased incentive to depose the Nazi regime. You can well imagine that Hitler and his cronies may start to lose a lot of sleep. And if the coup comes soon enough, along with a commitment to restore German democracy, we may even decide to make common cause with the German military — against you!
Wow Joe, things are looking bad for you. You could lose to Hitler, You could lose to us. You could lose to a combination of us and the German military. You could even lose to your own soldiers. Gosh, it looks hopeless. Can anything save you?
You have to make it worth our while Joe
We are capitalists after all. We believe in fair exchanges. Value for value. There is only one positive reason I can think of for aiding you. You must make a commitment that Soviet troops will not move beyond your own borders.
We will give you material aid to repel the German invader from your country. We will also start a second front, to attract German forces away from your territory. But you must leave the rest of the job to us.
We will defeat Hitler. We will liberate Eastern Europe. We will restore democratic republics in those conquered countries. You will keep your hands off of Eastern Europe, unless you want to suffer the same fate as Hitler.
If you agree to these terms then our aid to you could start flowing in a matter of weeks.
My next steps
I will ask the United States Congress for a formal declaration of war against Nazi Germany tomorrow. Soon after that I will seek a resolution defining what our war aims are. I will request that these aims should include the liberation of Eastern Europe, including that part of Poland conquered by you. This will put us on a path toward war with you, unless we cut a deal of the sort I’ve described in this letter.
You may believe that we will invade you after we defeat Hitler, no matter what public promises we have made. This is a reasonable fear given the harsh judgments I’ve made in this letter. Plus, to be honest, it’s entirely possible that a future president and congress will take a different view of any agreement you and I make today. That probably depends on your behavior after Hitler’s defeat. But please realize…
The kind of agreement I’ve proposed is your only chance to gain our direct assistance. Absent such an agreement the conflict you fear with us becomes more likely rather than less. I think you should seize this opportunity.
Please know that I am sharing this letter with the United States Congress and the world press. I realize that this may anger or embarrass you. That can’t be helped. Whereas you operate in darkness and secrecy because of your shame and illegitimacy, we operate in the full light of day, for all to see. We can do that because our cause is just.
This is a chance for you to redeem yourself Joe. You can stop being a part of the problem and perhaps become a part of the solution. That may also be the only way to save your regime.
I look forward to hearing from you! Cheers!
My fantasy letter to Stalin ignores the fact that FDR started sending aid to Stalin in October 1941, two months before Hitler declared war on the U.S. But an FDR who would have sent a letter such as mine would never have sent that aid, so I think the omission is justified.
Of course, the FDR who existed in our world would never have sent a letter like mine. That isn’t the point. The point is that FDR should have acted differently than he did. He should not have provided uncompensated aid to a mass murderer. There were better strategic and tactical moves available, given the information he actually had at the time.
What FDR knew
FDR knew Stalin was a mass murderer. He knew Stalin had invaded Poland in partnership with Hitler. He knew the Nazis were exterminating Russia’s Jews. He knew that the German Generals (and the Colonels later as Hitler began bribing the Generals) were constantly considering plots to depose the Nazi regime. All of these facts, and others I mentioned in my letter, should have been accounted for in FDR’s strategic and moral calculus.
I think FDR missed obvious chances to gain a better outcome.
What if Stalin had cut a deal with Hitler?
This is what FDR worried about. He feared Stalin would negotiate a settlement with Hitler. This is why people cut FDR slack for giving Stalin aid. But I think this analysis is silly.
Hitler wasn’t going to make a deal with Stalin so long as he had the upper hand. Then, when the tide turned, Stalin wasn’t going to let Hitler off the hook. These were ruthless men. That’s how they gained power. They weren’t going to give the other guy a break so long as they had the advantage. This seems obvious to me. It would have been obvious to FDR too, if only he had bothered to really study both Hitler and Stalin, as he should have done given that he was charged with deciding the fates of millions of people.
In short, I think FDR was both a poor strategist and a bad psychologist. He did not apply the appropriate due diligence.
Many will object that my letter is undiplomatic. Perhaps a more gentle text could have worked as well or better, but it wouldn’t have been as entertaining to read. Giving Uncle Joe the piss is fun! But it may also have been the right stance to take with him. Stalin may have respected open hostility more than hidden motives.
We cannot know for sure what style would have worked best, but I think we can know that FDR should not have given aid to a mass murderer absent a clear and firm agreement about the post-war settlement.
It’s possible, and perhaps even probable, that Congress would have rejected the war aims I described in the letter. If so, FDR could have responded by sending no aid to the Soviet Union. We could have retained those materials for our own war effort.
Perhaps the combination of the U.S. having more, and the Soviets having less, would have enabled allied forces to reach Berlin, or perhaps even Warsaw, before the Soviets did. That would have been a superior outcome.
Of course, there would also have been more American deaths, but people had already decided that the moral stakes were worth a price in blood. Paying that cost makes more sense if the benefit is a free Europe.
As it was, the U.S. largely negated its own war effort by trading Hitler for Stalin in Eastern Europe.
A final point
If Stalin had accepted U.S. aid by accepting my proposed terms then that would have been a better outcome. But if Stalin had rejected the aid because he rejected the terms that would be okay too. It would have allowed the allies to conclude the war in a better way, by providing no assistance to evil. The only truly bad result is what happened in our reality, where FDR used American tax dollars to expand communist tyranny throughout Eastern Europe.
I hope my exercise in “what if” has managed to both entertain and educate. Thanks for your attention. If you like my work please subscribe.
Perry Willis is a past National Director of the Libertarian Party. He also ran the Harry Browne for President campaign in 2000, and was the co-founder of Downsize DC and the Zero Aggression Project. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. This article was previously published at Perry Willis on Substack. We encourage you to subscribe to his free newsletter.