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Truman At Potsdam
His newly discovered diary reveals how the President saw the conference that ushered in the Cold War
June/july 1980 | Volume 31, Issue 4
To get down to today. Mr. Churchill called by phone last night and said he’d like to call—for me to set the hour. I did—for 11 A.M. this morning. He was on time to the dot. His daughter told Gen. Vaughan he hadn’t been up so early in ten years! I’d been up for four and one-half hours.
We had a most pleasant conversation. He is a most charming and a very clever person—meaning clever in the English, not the Kentucky sense. He gave me a lot of hooey about how great my country is and how he loved Roosevelt and how he intended to love me, etc., etc. I gave him as cordial a reception as I could—being naturally (I hope) a polite and agreeable person.
I am sure we can get along if he doesn’t try to give me too much soft soap. You know, soft soap is made of ash hopper lye and it burns to beat hell when it gets into the eyes. It’s fine for chigger bites but not so good for rose complexions. But I haven’t a rose complexion.
We struck a “blow for liberty” when he left in Scotch—not the right brand for the purpose as the old V. P. Jack Garner can testify.
The photo men had a field day when he left.
At 3:30 P.M. Mr. Sec. Byrnes, Adm. (5 Star) [William D.] Leahy and I left in an open car for Berlin, followed by my two aides and various and sundry secret service and military guards and preceded by a two star general in a closed car with a couple of plainclothes men to fool ’em if they wanted to do any target practice of consequence on the Pres. They didn’t.
We reviewed the Second Armored Division and tied a citation on the guidon of Co. E, 17th Armored Engr. Bn. Gen. [J. H.] Collier, who seemed to know his stuff, put us in a reconnaissance car built with side seats and no top, just like a hoodlum wagon minus the top, or a fire truck with seats and no hose, and we drove slowly down a mile and a half of good soldiers and some millions of dollars worth of equipment—which had amply paid its way to Berlin.
Then we went on to Berlin and saw absolute ruin. Hitler’s folly. He overreached himself by trying to take in too much territory. He had no morals and his people backed him up. Never did I see a more sorrowful sight, nor witness retribution to the nth degree.
The most sorrowful part of the situation is the deluded Hitlerian populace. Of course the Russians have kidnapped the able-bodied and I suppose have made involuntary workmen of them. They have also looted every house left standing and have sent the loot to Russia. But Hitler did the same thing to them.
It is the Golden Rule in reverse—and it is not an uplifting sight. What a pity that the human animal is not able to put his moral thinking into practice!
We saw old men, old women, young women, children from tots to teens, carrying packs, pushing carts, pulling carts, evidently ejected by the conquerors and carrying what they could of their belongings to nowhere in particular.
I thought of Carthage, Baalbec, Jerusalem, Rome, Atlantis; Peking, Babylon, Nineveh; Scipio, Rameses II, Titus, Hermann, Sherman, Jenghis Khan, Alexander, Darius the Great. But Hitler only destroyed Stalingrad—and Berlin. I hope for some sort of peace—but I fear that machines are ahead of morals by some centuries and when morals catch up perhaps there’ll be no reason for any of it.
I hope not. But we are only termites on a planet and maybe when we bore too deeply into the planet there’ll be a reckoning—who knows?
The conference began on July 17, a day late, because Stalin was said to be indisposed: he had actually suffered a mild heart attack, a well-kept secret at the time.
July 17, 1945
Just spent a couple of hours with Stalin. [Former U.S. Ambassador to Moscow] Joe Davies called on [Ivan] Maisky [former Soviet ambassador to London] and made the date last night for noon today. Promptly a few minutes before twelve I looked up from the desk and there stood Stalin in the doorway. I got to my feet and advanced to meet him. He put out his hand and smiled. I did the same, we shook, I greeted Molotov and the interpreter, and we sat down. After the usual polite remarks we got down to business. I told Stalin that I am no diplomat but usually said yes & no to questions after hearing all the argument. It pleased him. I asked him if he had the agenda for the meeting. He said he had and that he had some more questions to present. I told him to fire away. He did and it is dynamite—but I have some dynamite too which I’m not exploding now. He wants to fire [Generalissmo Francisco] Franco [of Spain] to which I wouldn’t object, and divide up the Italian colonies and other mandates, some no doubt that the British have. Then he got on the Chinese situation, told us what agreements had been reached and what was in abeyance. Most of the big points are settled. He’ll be in the Jap War on August 15th. Fini Japs when that comes about. We had lunch, talked socially, put on a real show drinking toasts to everyone, then had pictures made in the backyard. I can deal with Stalin. He is honest—but smart as hell.