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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
This weapon is to be used against Japan between now and August 10th. I have told the Sec. of War, Mr. [Henry] Stimson, to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children. Even if the Japs are savages, ruthless, merciless and fanatic, we as the leader of the world for the common welfare cannot drop this terrible bomb on the old Capitol [Kyoto] or the new [Tokyo].
He & I are in accord. The target will be a purely military one and we will issue a warning statement asking the Japs to surrender and save lives. I’m sure they will not do that, but we will have given them the chance. It is certainly a good thing for the world that Hitler’s crowd or Stalin’s did not discover this atomic bomb. It seems to be the most terrible thing ever discovered, but it can be made the most useful.
At 10:15 I had Gen. Marshall come in and discuss with me the tactical and political situation. He is a level-headed man—so is Mountbatten.
At the Conference, Poland and the Bolsheviki land grab came up. Russia helped herself to a slice of Poland and gave Poland a nice slice of Germany, taking also a good slice of East Prussia for herself. Poland has moved in up to the Oder and the West Neisse, taking Stettin and Silesia as a fact accomplished. My position is that, according to commitments made at Yalta by my predecessor, Germany was to be divided into four occupation zones, one each for Britain, Russia, and France, and the U.S. If Russia chooses to allow Poland to occupy a part of her zone, I am agreeable, but title to territory cannot and will not be settled here. For the fourth time I restated my position and explained that territorial cessions had to be made by treaty and ratified by the Senate.
We discussed reparations and movement of populations from East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Italy, and elsewhere. Churchill said Maisky had so defined war booty as to include the German fleet and merchant marine. It was a bombshell and sort of paralyzed the Russkies, but it has a lot of merit.
The definition of war booty offered by the former Russian ambassador in London had tacitly called for the German fleet and merchant marine to remain in Anglo-American hands; Maisky had unwittingly offered a definition hostile to the interests of his own country.
It must have seemed odd to Truman, and indeed it was odd, that in the midst of a discussion of nuclear power it was necessary to think of the sort of questions that once consumed the attention of Frederick the Great. The British and Americans were uneasy about Russian policy in Poland, for it had taken up more than half of the discussions at Yalta, and Roosevelt and Churchill had left the Crimea believing that the Russians would behave well toward the Poles. Now the Soviet government had unilaterally expanded its own western boundary by advancing it to the so-called Curzon line in the middle of prewar Poland, and had ordered the Poles to obtain what compensation they could by seizing territory far into prewar Germany.
July 26, 1945
Last night talked to Gen. [Brehon B.] Somerville [head of the army’s services of supply] on time for universal military training. Regular Army wants a straight year [of compulsory military service for all American youths]. I am very sure it cannot be put into effect. Talked to Mr. [Jefferson] Caffery [U.S. Ambassador to Paris] about France. He is scared stiff of Communism, the Russian variety which isn’t communism at all but just police government pure and simple. A few top hands just take clubs, pistols and concentration camps and rule the people on the lower levels.
The Communist Party in Moscow is no different in its methods and actions toward the common man than were the Czar and the Russian noblemen (so-called: they were anything but noble). Nazis and Fascists were worse. It seems that Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and perhaps Switzerland have the only real people’s governments on the Continent of Europe. But the rest are a bad lot, from the standpoint of the people who do not believe in tyranny.
Truman had offered a program for free transit of the world’s waterways—the Panama, Suez, and Kiel canals, the Rhine, the Danube, the Dardanelles, and hoped, vainly as it turned out, that the conference would take interest in an economic solution to the problems of peace.
July 30, 1945
Sent Capt. [James K.] Vardaman Qr., a naval aide] to ship at Portsmouth, Eng. to get ready for departure to US some day soon. Secretary of Navy Jas. Forrestal came to breakfast with me and we discussed universal military service after the war and navy policy on officer training etc. Gen. Eisenhower and son were also at breakfast with us. His boy is a nice fellow. Adm. [Edward L.] Cochrane and several other naval officers were present.