April 12

This Day in History

Cold War

Apr 12, 1945:

President Franklin D. Roosevelt dies

While on a vacation in Warm Springs, Georgia, President Roosevelt suffers a stroke and dies. His death marked a critical turning point in U.S. relations with the Soviet Union, as his successor, Harry S. Truman, decided to take a tougher stance with the Russians.

By April 1945, Roosevelt had been elected president of the United States four times and had served for over 12 years. He had seen the United States through some of its darkest days, from the depths of the Great Depression through the toughest times of World War II. In early 1945, shortly after being sworn in for his fourth term as president, Roosevelt was on the verge of leading his nation to triumph in the Second World War. Germany teetered on the brink of defeat, and the Japanese empire was crumbling under the blows of the American military. In February 1945, Roosevelt traveled to Yalta in the Soviet Union to meet with Russian leader Joseph Stalin and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to discuss the postwar world. Roosevelt returned from these intense meetings drawn and sick. He vacationed in Warm Springs, Georgia, but the rest did not lead to recuperation. On April 12, 1945, he suffered a massive stroke and died.

Roosevelt left a controversial legacy in terms of U.S.-Soviet relations. Critics charged that the president had been "soft" on the communists and naive in dealing with Stalin. The meetings at Yalta, they claimed, resulted in a "sellout" that left the Soviets in control of Eastern Europe and half of Germany. Roosevelt's defenders responded that he made the best of difficult circumstances. He kept the Grand Alliance between the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain intact long enough to defeat Germany. As for Eastern Europe and Germany, there was little Roosevelt could have done, since the Red Army occupied those areas. Roosevelt's successor, Harry S. Truman, decided that a "tougher" policy toward the Soviets was in order, and he began to press the Russians on a number of issues. By 1947, relations between the two former allies had nearly reached the breaking point and the Cold War was in full swing.

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