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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
The next morning the President welcomed a visit from his nephew Harry, his brother Vivians son. Later in the day, the President’s mind turned to the new atomic bomb which had been successfully tested at Alamogordo, New Mexico, just two days earlier. The army code name for the project was “Manhattan,” and the question was whether to tell the Russians about it.
July 18, 1945
Ate breakfast with nephew Harry, a sergeant in the Field Artillery. He is a good soldier and a nice boy. They took him off the Queen Elizabeth at Glasgow and flew him here. Sending him home Friday. Went to lunch with P.M. at 1:30. Walked around to British Hqtrs. Met at the gate by Mr. Churchill. Guard of honor drawn up. Fine body of men—Scottish Guards. Band played Star Spangled Banner. Inspected Guard and went in for lunch. P.M. & I ate alone. Discussed Manhattan (it is a success). Decided to tell Stalin about it. Stalin had told P.M. of telegram from Jap Emperor asking for peace. Stalin also read his answer to me. It was satisfactory. Believe Japs will fold up before Russia comes in. I am sure they will when Manhattan appears over their homeland. I shall inform Stalin about it at an opportune time.
Stalin’s luncheon was a most satisfactory meeting. I invited him to come to the U.S. Told him I’d send the Battleship Missouri for him if he’d come. He said he wanted to cooperate with U.S. in peace as we had cooperated in war but it would be harder. Said he was grossly misunderstood in U.S. and I was misunderstood in Russia. I told him that we each could help to remedy that situation in our home countries and that I intended to try with all I had to do my part at home. He gave me a most cordial smile and said he would do as much in Russia.
We then went to the conference and it was my job to present the Ministers’ proposed agenda. There were three proposals and I banged them through in short order, much to the surprise of Mr. Churchill. Stalin was very much pleased. Churchill was too, after he had recovered. I’m not going to stay around this terrible place all summer, just to listen to speeches. I’ll go home to the Senate for that.
July 20, 1945
Jim Blair, now Lt. Col. [later governor of Missouri], came in for breakfast. Harry left for Paris & N. Y. Sure hated to see him go. Discussed German situation with Jim. He had been in command of clean-up detail which prepared the area for American occupation, especially for our conference delegation. Said it was the filthiest place imaginable. No sanitary arrangements whatever. Toilets all full and all stopped up. Basements used as outdoor toilets. Said the sewer system evidently hadn’t worked for months. Same all over town. Said Germans are sore and sullen. That we would not treat them rough enough. Russians treated ’em too rough and too kindly. Anyway it’s a hell of a mess any way it’s taken.
Saw Gen. Omar Bradley about taking over the Vets. Bureau. Will take over Aug. 15th. Talked to Gen. Eisenhower about government of Germany along same lines as I’d talked to Gen. [Lucius D.] Clay. Got a concrete program to present.
Raised a flag over our area in Berlin. It is the flag raised in Rome, North Africa, and Paris. Flag was on the White House when Pearl Harbor happened. Will be raised over Tokyo.
Uncle Joe looked drawn and tired today and the P.M. seemed lost. I told ’em U.S. had ceased to give away its assets without returns.
On July 24 Truman took Stalin aside after a conference session and told him that the Americans had tested a new weapon of unusual destructive force and that he wanted the Soviet Union to know of this achievement. Stalin gave no outward sign of understanding the extraordinary nature of Truman’s intelligence, and answered simply—without much consideration, the President thought—that he hoped the Americans would use the new weapon on the Japanese. Out of earshot, Stalin told Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov about the conversation, and Molotov volunteered to talk it over with Professor Kurchatov, his expert in nuclear matters, and the Soviet program to achieve atomic weapons, stalled during the war, immediately got under way.
July 25, 1945
We met at 11 A.M. today. That is, Stalin, Churchill and the U.S. President. But I had a most important session with Lord [Louis] Mountbatten & General [George C.] Marshall before that. We have discovered the most terrible bomb in the history of the world. It may be the fire destruction prophesied in the Euphrates Valley Era, after Noah and his fabulous Ark.
Anyway we “think” we have found the way to cause a disintegration of the atom. An experiment in the New Mexican desert was startling—to put it mildly. Thirteen pounds of the explosive caused the complete disintegration of a steel tower 60 feet high, created a crater 6 feet deep and 1,200 feet in diameter, knocked over a steel tower ½ mile away, and knocked men down 10,000 yards away. The explosion was visible for more than 200 miles and audible for 40 miles and more.