Not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning.
A tacit deal with the devil
In September 1944, at the time of the Warsaw Uprising, George Orwell unleashed a withering blast against British Stalinists and their fellow-travelers:
FDR died before the end of the war. Any evaluation of his actions over Katyn must allow that wartime expediency played a large role in his decision-making.
Their attitude towards Russian foreign policy is not 'Is this policy right or wrong?' but 'This is Russian policy: how can we make it appear right?' And this attitude is defended, if at all, solely on grounds of power.
First of all, a message to English left-wing journalists and intellectuals generally: Do remember that dishonesty and cowardice always have to be paid for. Don't imagine that for years on end you can make yourself the boot-licking propagandist for the Soviet regime, or any other other regime, and then suddenly return to mental decency. Once a whore, always a whore.
Nonetheless, the choices he made had far-reaching consequences. Key parts of his administration behaved as propagandists for Stalin’s regime. As Orwell warned it would not be easy to put those habits aside or to face up to the moral cost.
We know that people do not change their minds easily. They will fight the evidence in front of their eyes. Most prefer to cling to illusions rather than admit error. When all else fails, people prefer to ignore the matter and pretend that it never happened.
This problem becomes even more acute when an issue becomes grist for political campaigns. Honesty may be the best policy but it can also be a quick way to lose an election.
Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman had no interest in losing elections.
Thus, while the US and Stalin came to be adversaries in the post-war years, the leaders of each country shared certain common objectives. For instance, none of them wanted the whole truth about Poland to come out.
Nor would they want the full story of Soviet penetration of the US government to become public.
- The NKVD and GRU obviously wanted to avoid a thorough reckoning. They might be able to salvage some of their intelligence and influence assets if the matter remained a shameful secret for the US government.
- Naïve liberals who could not distinguish between fellow liberals and Stalinist feared a witch-hunt. While they trusted communists, they feared the vast majority of the public. Therefore, they preferred to suppress information that might “inflame” public opinion.
- Clear-eyed functionaries understood that their reputations and claims to power would be damaged if it were revealed that they had permitted Stalin’s agents to roam freely through their departments or that they had helped cover-up Moscow’s crimes.
As Stephen Koch noted the Wise Men, the New Dealers, and the Brain Trusters faced a serious risk if the truth came out:
OK. It is finally time to talk about the narratives of McCarthyism and the importance of Katyn in them
Any very public housecleaning of the Washington penetrations would have handed the populist right an all-too-powerful blunt instrument for attacking Yalta, containment, and their own position in power.