But we know now the great powers did agree at Yalta. Difficult issues were raised and resolved; agreements were reached. In a narrow sense, the summit conference was successful; the meeting produced tangible diplomatic results. And among these was an endorsement of the rights upheld in the Atlantic Charter, rights that would ``afford assurance that all men in all the lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want.'' And so, too, the right of self-determination of Eastern European nations like Poland were -- at least on paper -- guaranteed. But in a matter of months, Churchill's worst fears were realized: The Yalta guarantees of freedom and human rights in Eastern Europe became undone. And as democracy died in Poland, the era of allied cooperation ended. What followed is known to us now as the postwar era, a time of tense exchanges and often dangerous confrontations between East and West, our ``long twilight struggle,'' as President Kennedy called it. And so, 40 years ago, far from ending the world strife and human suffering that so haunted Churchill, the great powers embarked on an era of cold war conflict.
I had thought FDR must have been out of his mind to believe Stalin would grant freedom to Poland (a nation Stalin previously joined with Hitler in attacking years before the Soviets refused to support the Warsaw uprising against the Nazis). I knew that FDR's health wasn't at it's best, but was his mental state in such bad shape?
Well, according to a new book, maybe it was
FDR kept deadly disease hidden for years
by ERIC FETTMANN
Last Updated: 12:49 PM, January 3, 2010
Posted: 8:17 PM, January 2, 2010
It has long been known that President Franklin D. Roosevelt, during the last year of his life, was gravely ill with serious cardiac problems: He'd been diagnosed with acute heart failure in March 1944 and suffered from astronomically high blood pressure and arteriosclerosis.
But what the public did not know was that four years earlier, while still in the second of his four terms as president, FDR had been diagnosed with a deadly skin cancer, melanoma, in a lesion over his left eyebrow.
This disease would metastasize to Roosevelt's abdomen and his brain, causing a tumor that eventually killed him on April 12, 1945.
Which means the cerebral hemorrhage that struck him down shortly before V-E Day was not "a bolt out of the blue," as his doctors contended -- and as historians have long believed -- but the inevitable result of a catastrophic illness, compounded by heart problems.
Yet, as we found, there were other serious challenges to Roosevelt's health. In the spring of 1941, for example -- at the time of the Atlantic Charter and of Japan's pre-Pearl Harbor expansion in the Pacific -- FDR spent two months recovering from a life-threatening profound anemia which required as many as nine emergency blood transfusions.
Historians have known of this profound blood loss but never understood its significance -- or realized that FDR had undergone transfusions, which we uncovered in letters between his wife and daughter, as well as evidence on the lab slips. America came within a pint of blood of having Vice President Henry A. Wallace -- who would later run for president in a campaign controlled by the US Communist Party -- in the White House.
And for over a year prior to his death, FDR suffered repeated and dramatic seizures that made him appear almost catatonic and left the many eyewitnesses to such events believing he'd suffered a stroke.
Just how frequently this happened can be seen in the response by Roosevelt’s top aide, Gen. Edwin "Pa" Watson, to a frightened senator who'd witnessed one such attack: "He'll snap out of it -- he always does." Why does all this matter?
Because it raises new questions, long debated by historians, as to whether Roosevelt was fully capable of functioning as chief executive and commander-in-chief during World War II.
Some will see confirmation that FDR was indeed "the sick man of Yalta," incapable of negotiating skillfully with the determined Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin, on the future of postwar Europe -- a failure, critics have charged, that resulted in a generation of iron-curtain rule over half the continent.
That his risky gamble succeeded for as long as it did hardly excuses the overwhelming danger of the choice he made.
Post associate editorial-page editor Eric Fettmann is the co-author, with Dr. Steven Lomazow, of "FDR's Deadly Secret" (PublicAffairs), out this week.