- Historic Sites
1. A Good Way To Pick A Fight
August 1977 | Volume 28, Issue 5
Evidently Stalin could not understand this demand; apparently he could not believe that Americans were sincerely so idealistic. Did not America, after all, support a manifestly undemocratic dictatorship in Franco’s Spain? “I am afraid,” Averell Harriman, the U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, cabled home to Truman, “Stalin does not and never will fully understand our interest in a free Poland as a matter of principle. He is a realist in all of his actions, and it is hard for him to appreciate our faith in abstract principles. It is difficult for him to understand why we should want to interfere with Soviet policy in a country like Poland, which he considers so important to Russia’s security, unless we have some ulterior motive.”
And indeed, Russia’s sphere of influence was recognized, it seemed, only so that it might serve as a bone of contention. Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Rumania, Hungary, all became bones of contention. It is not clear that any one of the Big Three deeply cared what happened to these eastern European countries so long as the countries served as useful pawns. Hopkins insisted that Stalin must recognize freedom of speech, assembly, movement, and religious worship in Poland and that all political parties (except fascists) must be “permitted the free use, without distinction, of the press, radio, meetings and other facilities of political expression.” Furthermore, all citizens must have “the right of public trial, defense by counsel of their own choosing, and the right of habeas corpus.”
Of course, Stalin said, of course, “these principles of democracy are well known and would find no objection on the part of the Soviet Government.” To be sure, he said, “in regard to the specific [italics added] freedoms mentioned by Mr. Hopkins, they could only be applied in full in peace time, and even then with certain limitations.”
In the latter two weeks of July, 1945, the Big Three gathered at Potsdam, just outside of Berlin, for the last of the wartime conferences. They discussed the issues with which the war in Europe had left them, and with which the war in the Far East would leave them when it came to an end. They discussed spheres of influence, the disposition of Germany, the spoils of war, reparations, and, of course, eastern Europe.
At one of the plenary sessions of the Potsdam Conference, they outlined the spheres of influence precisely, clearly, and in detail during a discussion of the issue of “German shares, gold, and assets abroad.” To whom did these items belong? What, for instance, did Stalin mean when he said “abroad”?
STALIN :”…the Soviet delegation … will regard the whole of Western Germany as falling within your sphere, and Eastern Germany, within ours.”
Truman asked whether Stalin meant to establish “a line running from the Baltic to the Adriatic.” Stalin replied that he did.
STALIN : “As to the German investments, I should put the question this way: as to the German investments in Eastern Europe, they remain with us, and the rest, with you.…”
TRUMAN : “Does this apply only to German investments in Europe or in other countries as well?”
STALIN : “Let me put it more specifically: the German investments in Rumania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Finland go to us, and all the rest to you.”
FOREIGN MINISTER ERNEST BEVIN : “The German investments in other countries go to us?”
STALIN : “In all other countries, in South America, in Canada, etc., all this is yours.…”
SECRETARY OF STATE JAMES BYRNES : “If an enterprise is not in Eastern Europe but in Western Europe or in other parts of the world, that enterprise remains ours?”
STALIN : “In the United States, in Norway, in Switzerland, in Sweden, in Argentina [general laughter], etc.—all that is yours.”
A delegation of Poles arrived at Potsdam to argue their own case before the Big Three. The Poles, struggling desperately and vainly for their land, their borders, their freedoms, did not seem to understand that their fate was being settled for reasons that had nothing to do with them. They wandered about Potsdam, trying to impress their wishes on the Big Three. “I’m sick of the bloody Poles,” Churchill said when they came to call on him. “I don’t want to see them. Why can’t Anthony [Eden] talk to them?” Alexander Cadogan, Permanent Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs, found the Poles at Eden’s house late one night and “had to entertain them as best I could, and went on entertaining them—nosignsof A. Hedidn’tturn up till 11:30.…Sothenwegot down to it, and talked shop till 1:30. Then filled the Poles (and ourselves) with sandwiches and whiskies and sodas and I went to bed at 2 A.M. ” Altogether, it had been an agreeable enough evening, although in general, Cadogan confided to his diary, he found the Poles to be “dreadful people.…”