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WW II: Behind Closed Doors

Stalin, the Nazis and the West

Stalin - A Hero in the West

In the United States, Time magazine put him on the cover as 1942’s “man of the year.” The accompanying citation concluded, “Stalin’s methods were tough—but they paid off.” A few months later, Life magazine described Stalin’s secret police, the NKVD , as “a national police similar to the FBI.” Most Americans knew nothing about Stalin’s purges or the deportations of hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens, an ignorance the U.S. government was comfortable maintaining. After all, the Soviet Union was bearing the brunt of the war, and Stalin was a vital ally.

German soldiers surround a British tank after a battle

German soldiers surround a British tank after a battle
in North Africa

It was necessary for the American leadership, the government, the president, to have a sense of realism about the Soviet Union and the public at large, it was not really essential for the public at large to know that. We’ve got to win the war. That’s what counted.

– George Elsey, Naval Intelligence Officer, White House

By the spring of 1943, the Western Allies , who had invaded North Africa the previous November, were facing tougher opposition than expected. With plans for the invasion of France in jeopardy, Winston Churchill travelled to Washington in May to meet with President Franklin D. Roosevelt . The British and the Americans found themselves divided over what to do next: Churchill wanted to invade Italy while Roosevelt preferred to focus on the cross-Channel invasion of France.

Eventually, the two men decided to invade Italy. The cross-Channel invasion of France was postponed until 1944. A cable notifying Stalin was transmitted on June 2, giving the new date for the invasion, “in the Spring of 1944,” at the very end of the long document. Predictably, Stalin was dismayed and saw the delay as further evidence that the Western Allies were leaving the Soviets to battle Germany almost on their own.