Does Stalin now suddenly want to demolish this laboriously constructed pretense of a pseudo-legal procedure in order to follow the example of Genghis Khan or Tamerlane? — not to punish but to exterminate, cruelly, but swiftly and thoroughly, without protracted, unconvincing judicial farces? Or do yet other causes motivate Stalin’s pointedly deliberate provocation in Teheran?
Nearly a decade later Churchill would examine Stalin’s notorious toast for its underlying intentions. In his memoirs he suggested a purely military explanation for it:
Stalin was thinking that the German general staff must be liquidated. The whole striking power of Hitler’s mighty armies would depend on about 50,000 officers and specialists. If they were captured and shot at the end of the war, Germany’s military strength would be forever broken.
That would be consistent with the ways of Genghis Khan. In that case it is not a matter of democracy, justice, or humanity, or similar Western pretexts: the Katyn Forest Massacre was supposed to be repeated on a larger scale. Just as the intention there was, through the elimination of 15,000 captured Polish officers, at the same time to annihilate the militarily capable Polish nobility and therewith a people’s elite, so now was the most militarily and technically gifted class of the German people supposed to be culled through a three-fold Katyn.
Churchill seems to have had scruples about this. Did he already have some foreboding that this military elite, the best in the world at the time, could become a necessary aid for the defense of his island against the Stalinist empire that was victoriously advancing into Europe? Perhaps he foresaw the development, a few years after the catastrophe of 1945, that had to lead to the re-establishment of the German military – and to NATO.
Moral reasons and his brandy-fueled argumentativeness alone would not have triggered his outburst. During that banquet in Teheran it was also Stalin’s dismissive smirk that enraged him:
“I would rather have myself led out into the garden and shot right here and now, than to stain my honor and that of my people with such an infamy.”