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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
Conference is delayed. Stalin and Molotov were to call on me yesterday to discuss Polish question and reparations. Molotov came but no Stalin. Said he is sick. No big three meeting yesterday and none today as a result of Stalin’s indisposition. Send him a note expressing regret at his illness. Sent Churchill a note of consolation, telling him we regretted his failure to return and wishing him a long and happy life. [Churchill had been defeated in the British General Election: Clement Attlee was the new prime minister and flew immediately to Potsdam.]
If Stalin should suddenly cash in, it would end the original Big Three. First Roosevelt by death, then Churchill by political failure, and then Stalin. I am wondering what would happen to Russia and Central Europe if Joe suddenly passed out. If some demagogue on horseback gained control of the efficient Russian military machine, he could play havoc with European peace for a while. I also wonder if there is a man with the necessary strength and following to step into Stalin’s place and maintain peace and solidarity at home. It isn’t customary for dictators to train leaders to follow them in power. I’ve seen no one at this conference in the Russian line-up who can do the job. Molotov is not able to do it. He lacks sincerity. [Andrei Y.] Vishinsky [deputy minister of foreign affairs] same thing and Maisky is short on honesty. Well, we shall see what we shall see. Uncle Joe’s pretty tough mentally and physically but there is an end to every man and we can’t help but speculate.
We are at an impasse on Poland and its western boundary and on reparations. Russia and Poland have agreed on the Oder and West Neisse to the Czechoslovakian border. Just a unilateral arrangement without so much as a by your leave. I don’t like it. Roosevelt let Maisky mention twenty billions as reparations—half for Russia and half for everybody else. Experts say no such figure is available.
I’ve made it plain that the United States of America does not intend to pay reparations this time. I want the German war industry machine completely dismantled and as far as the U.S. is concerned the other allies can divide it up on any basis they choose. Food and other necessities we send into the restored countries and Germany must be first lien on exports before reparations. If Russians strip the country and carry off population of course there’ll be no reparations.
I have offered a waterway program and a suggestion for free intercourse between Central European nations which will help keep future peace. Our only hope for good from the European war is restored prosperity to Europe and future trade with them. It is a sick situation at best.
The Potsdam conference ended at last on August 2. The President flew to England, visited with George VI, and resumed his jottings three days later aboard the Augusta bound for home.
August 5, 1945, U.S.S. Augusta
Well, we’ve been away from Berlin since 8 o’clock in the morning on Aug. 2 and I am very sure no one wants to go back to that awful city.
Had lunch with Britain’s King George VI. He is a very pleasant and surprising person. We had a short interview, just before luncheon on the Renown in the King’s cabin. He was very much interested in what had taken place at the conference and in our new terrific explosion. He showed me a sword which had been presented to Sir Francis Drake by Queen Elizabeth. It was a powerful weapon, but the King said it was not properly balanced.
We had a nice and appetizing lunch—soup, fish, lamb chops, peas, potatoes, and ice cream with chocolate sauce. The King, myself, Lord Halifax, a British admiral, Adm. Leahy, [Sir Alan Frederick] Lascelles [private secretary to the King], the Secretary of State, in that order around the table. Talked of most everything, and nothing much. Before lunch I inspected a guard of honor and complimented the British Band on the manner in which it had played the National Anthem of U.S. There was much formality etc. in getting on and off the British ship.
As soon as we returned to the Augusta , the King returned the call and we put on the formalities. He inspected the guard, looked over the sailors, took a snort of Haig & Haig, signed the ship’s guest book, collected an autograph for each of his daughters and the Queen and, after some more formalities, went back for his ship. We’ve been crossing the Atlantic ever since at the rate of 645 miles every 24 hours.
Next day, August 6, the U.S. Air Force dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and the President and his aides aboard the Augusta were exultant: Truman himself announced the news to the officers and crew. The Japanese war seemed virtually at an end. Russia entered the war on August 8, a second bomb fell on Nagasaki the next day, and by the tenth, with Truman back in the White House, the Japanese sued for peace. It came on August 14.
A dozen years later, after Truman had left the White House and retired to Independence, he recalled Potsdam in a letter to his last secretary of state, Dean Acheson. The letter was never sent.
March 13, 1957