The assessment of the case of Roosevelt’s lie in “When Presidents Lie” by Eric Alterman, can be done in two approaches. One is simplistic, where the lie can be explained by an old joke, supposedly told by Churchill, when he saw an inscription on a gravestone saying, “here lay an honest man and a great politician”, to which Churchill replied: did they bury two people in one grave. Another approach is more complex and requires a more thorough examination.
The way Roosevelt handled the Yalta meeting can be explained as a bargaining process. This process might be unethical, rude and selfish. Nevertheless, that is the way politics is done, and as stated in the book, Americans were new to the concept of diplomatic “give-and-take”, while Roosevelt “knew that he could not escape typical diplomatic calculations in negotiations at Yalta”(Alterman, p. 34). In that regard, based on such context, American presidency can be characterized by unnecessary and even harmful self-sufficiency, in which vital decisions were taken with the hope to manage them independently, without involving American people.
The fate of democracy can be distinguished between the time when the aforementioned events took place and the current time, where the development of mass media is incomparable in covering these events. However, considering only the past time, the fate of democracy is always at risk when the power to make vital decisions that affect the course of history is gathered in one man’s hand. In that regard, it should always be remembered that in the aforementioned case a fate of a country was at stake, merely because of personal considerations.
Regarding the relationship between the president and the people, the keyword that should be the basis of such relation is transparency. The people should be fully acknowledged of the decisions taken, especially when the consequences of such decisions extend on generations. In that regard, the defensible reasons, which were mentioned by the author, in that “[l]ying about peaceful negotiations during wartime is a categorically different act than lying about warlike acts in peacetime,” cannot be justified.
Nevertheless, it might be argued whether telling about the meeting and its secret negotiations would have changed the subsequent outcomes. The only alteration that can be predicted is giving more options and flexibility to Truman, and possibly never dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in that matter.
As a personal opinion I would be unhappy knowing that the president is hiding any information from the public, regardless of the political considerations. I might not be interested in information about conducted secret missions with specifics, but nevertheless, I would want to know about the vital decisions that are taken, as well as the motives behind them. In that regard, taking democratic countries as an example, public opinion is a massive force that can influence the state’s decision process.
Thus, when the public is informed, it has the logical basis to form such public opinion, rather than making guesses and subsequent accusations which were resulted from the lack of knowledge. In the case of Roosevelt, the situation was much worse, as protecting the public from knowledge is totally a different aspect than leading the public to a different one, which happens to be a lie. The latter takes us back to the joke told at the beginning of the paper.
Alterman, Eric. When Presidents Lie : A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences. New York: Viking, 2004.