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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
For the past year and a half, Robert H. Ferrell, a diplomatic historian at Indiana University, has been at work among President Harry S. Truman’s newly opened private papers at the Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. Early last year, working with Erwin J. Mueller, an extraordinarily able library archivist, he uncovered a hitherto unknown personal journal kept sporadically by the President during the 1945 Big Three Conference at Potsdam, Germany. Scribbled on miscellaneous scraps of paper—White House stationery, lined sheets from a tablet, note paper picked up aboard the U.S.S. Augusta, the cruiser that took Truman to Europe—it is reproduced here for the first time and in its entirety.
Although the journal had been among the President’s papers for more than thirty years, no other scholar had ever seen it. The reason should be familiar to anyone who has ever worked in an office: it had been misfiled. Upon his return to Washington from Potsdam, Truman lent it to his old friend and press secretary, Charles G. Ross. The President evidently forgot about it, and sometime before Ross’s death in 1950 it was given back to the President’s secretary. She, in turn, slammed a staple through the middle of the bundle of scraps, then put them, sheets askew, into a folder marked “Ross, Mr. and Mrs. Charles G.” There they sat until Erwin Mueller and Professor Ferrell finally found them.
The Potsdam Conference, which ran from July 17 to August 2,1945, was the last three-power meeting of World War II; it may also have been the most important. Here Allied harmony ended and the Cold War may safely be said to have begun. The first generation of postwar historians tended to blame Soviet aggressiveness for the failure of the wartime Allies to remain united in peacetime. Later, revisionists cited aggressiveness in our own actions, an aggressiveness which they believed basic to capitalism.
A central element in any satisfactory explanation, of course, is an understanding of the particular cast of mind of Harry Truman, the determined Missourian who had become President three months before the Conference began. The newly discovered Truman journal, Professor Ferrell believes, sheds important new light on that crucial question. In it, he writes, “there are several revelations.
“First, it is clear from the diary that Truman was more deeply concerned about the atomic bomb and its awful potential for destruction than many historians believed he was.
“Second, there is the obvious fact that Stalin greatly impressed Truman even after the conference was well under way. An unsent letter, written to Dean Acheson a dozen years after the conference [and also published below for the first time], shows that Truman knew he had been fooled.”
Finally, Ferrell explains, in recent years there has been considerable academic and political controversy as to what finally ended the war in the Far East. Some scholars have argued that it was the impact of Russia’s entry into the war that compelled Japan to surrender on August 14, and not the atomic bomb that cost perhaps 100,000 lives at Hiroshima alone. The decision to drop the bomb, according to this view, was therefore a tragic, callous redundancy. Soviet historians, of course, favor this view, in part because it suggests that Russia should have had a share in the occupation of Japan. At earlier Allied conferences, Stalin had vowed to declare war on Japan three months after the war’s end in Europe—and the Soviets did, in fact, come into the Asian war on August 8, three months to the day after V-E Day. But, as the diary shows, on July 17 Stalin told Truman that the Russians would not enter the war until the fifteenth. Stalin’s subsequent—and unexpected—change of heart suggests strongly that, rather than a literal fulfillment of the dictator’s earlier pledges, it was the Hiroshima bomb on August 6 and his own fear that the fighting would end before the Soviets could get into it that made Stalin speed up Russian entry.
We have included every word of the Truman diary. Professor Ferrell has provided explanatory material where necessary, but for the most part Harry Truman is allowed to speak clearly and forthrightly for himself.—The Editors
The journal begins on the evening of July 7,1945, aboard the Augusta as it steams toward Europe from Newport News.
Had two rather full and interesting days. Received a committee of Congressmen and Senators who are members of the Lions Club. They presented me with an honorary membership, all framed etc. and a scroll on principles of ethics. It was stated to them, by me, that business ethics would settle most trade difficulties and do away with courts of equity etc.
A couple of nice children gave me a plaque commemorating $715,000,000.00 in bonds sales by the school children. The nice boy made me a speech. At his age I’d have surely passed out, if I’d had to make a statement, similar to his, to the town mayor let alone the President of the U.S. He didn’t seem to be much bothered or impressed. These modern kids are something to write home about even if they can’t spell or find a word in the dictionary or tell what 3 x 3 equals.
On the 7th I saw Sens. [Burton K.] Wheeler, [Ernest W.] McFarland, [Albert W.] Hawkes, and [Homer] Capehart. They’d been overseas, had seen Germany, France, Italy—and knew all the answers. Smart men I’d say. Since Julius Caesar such men as Charlemagne, Richelieu, Charles V, Francis I, the great King Henry IV of France, Frederick Barbarossa, to name a few, and Woodrow Wilson and Frank Roosevelt have had remedies and still couldn’t solve the problem. Maybe these historical characters didn’t have the brains and background of the four “able senators.”
Anyway their song was that France would go Communistic, so would Germany, Italy and the Scandinavians, and there was grave doubt about England staying sane. The Pope, they said, was blue as indigo about the situation. All of ’em except McFarland assured me that the European world is at an end and that Russia is a big bad wolf. Europe has passed out so often in the last 2000 years—and has come back, better or worse than ever, whichever pleases the fancy, that I’m not impressed with cursory glances of oratorical members of the famous “Cave of the Winds” on Capitol Hill. I’ve been there myself and have been through crisis after crisis in each of which the country surely would disintegrate (and it never did) so that “Senatorial Alarm” doesn’t much alarm me.
My good isolationist friend Wheeler is a natural purveyor of bad news. Capehart is a promoter gone political. Hawkes is an honest man with a good Chamber of Commerce mind and my Arizona friend is really worried but is an optimist and of all four I think most anxious to help me win a peace.
Talked to Bess last night and the night before. She wasn’t happy about my going to see Mr. Russia and Mr. Great Britain—neither am I.
Had a long talk with my able and conniving Secretary of State [James F. Byrnes]. My but he has a keen mind! And he is an honest man. But all country politicians are alike. They are sure all other politicians are circuitous in their dealings. When they are told the straight truth, unvarnished it is never believed—an asset sometimes.
Byrnes & I discussed [Edwin] Pauley’s plans on reparations. [Pauley headed the U.S. delegation to the three-power Allied Reparations Commission in Moscow.] The smart boys in the State Department, as usual, are against the best interests of the U.S. if they can circumvent a straightforward hard hitting trader for the home front. But they are stymied this time. Byrnes & I shall expect our interests to come first. Pauley is doing a job for the United States.
How I hate this trip! But I have to make it—win, lose or draw—and we must win. I’m not working for my interest but the Republic of the United States. I [am] giving nothing away except to save starving people and even then I hope we can only help them to help themselves.
July 9, 1945, U.S.S. Augusta
Had a very pleasant Sunday. Went to church with Ship’s Captain, Sec. State and aides. Then had a shower and a nap. Good lunch and a probabilities game with [Press Secretary Charles G.] Ross, [Brigadier General Harry H.] Vaughan and three press assn. men; ended pleasantly with my doing some satisfactory guessing on my opponents’ hole cards.
Good picture show—Bob Hope in technicolor as a pirate’s victim in the West Indies.
Arose at 6:15 as usual this morning, took a turn around the deck and then breakfast. Had dinner last night in the officers mess or ward room.
Maneuvers and firing at 8:30. Eight-inch, five-inch, and 40-mm. Most interesting to me because of field artillery experience. I’d still rather fire a battery than run a country. Had lunch with warrant officers. It was a good one. There is an excellent band of 30 pieces and an orchestra from the same thirty. They make excellent music at all meals but breakfast. They’ve found I like good music and they play it for me.
The Augusta docked at Antwerp and the President and his party then flew to Berlin and drove out to Potsdam, a suburb.
July 16, 1945
Today has been an historical one. Arrived last evening from Antwerp via the President’s C54 and was driven to the movie colony district in Potsdam. The German Will Hays apparently had what is considered the best house. It was fixed up for me as President & called the Berlin White House. It is a dirty yellow and red. A ruined French Chateau—architectural style ruined by German endeavor to cover up the French. They erected a couple of tombstone chimneys on each side of the porch facing the lake so they would cover up the beautiful chateau roof and tower. Make the place look like hell but purely German—just like the Kansas City Union Station.
The President was mistaken about the owner of the house in which he stayed. It had never belonged to a Nazi film censor but instead had been the mansion of a publisher named D. Mueller-Grote. While Truman and his staff occupied the house, its owner and his family huddled in far less grand surroundings nearby.
We did not see but two German civilians on the several mile drive from the airport to the yellow “White House.”
The house as were all others was stripped of everything by the Russians—not even a tin spoon left. The American commander however, being a man of energy, caught the Russian loot train and recovered enough furniture to make the place liveable. Nothing matches. We have a two-ton German sideboard in the dining room and a French or Chippendale table and chairs—maybe a mixture of both. There is a birdseye maple wardrobe and an oak chest matching the two-ton sideboard in my bedroom. It is comfortable enough all round but what a nightmare it would give an interior decorator.
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.
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.
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.
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
… I hardly ever look back for the purpose of contemplating “what might have been”: Potsdam brings to mind “what might have been.” … Certainly … Russia had no program except to take over the free part of Europe, kill as many Germans as possible, and fool the Western Alliance. Britain only wanted to control the Eastern Mediterranean, keep India, oil in Persia, the Suez Canal, and whatever else was floating loose.
There was an innocent idealist at one corner of that Round Table who wanted free waterways, Danube-Rhine-Kiel Canal, Suez, Black Sea Straits, Panama all free, a restoration of Germany, France, Italy, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Rumania, and the Balkans, and a proper treatment of Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, free Philippines, Indonesia, Indo-China, a Chinese Republic, and a free Japan.
What a show that was! But a large number of agreements were reached in spite of the setup—only to be broken as soon as the unconscionable Russian Dictator returned to Moscow! And I liked the little son of a bitch. …
Professor Ferrell’s book Off the Record : The Private Papers of Harry S. Truman will be published by Harper and Row next autumn.