World War II: Allied Conferences--Potsdam (July-August 1945)


Figure 1.--The major issue to be settled at Potsdam was finalizing details on the occupation of Germany. Issues like reparations and ensuring the Germans would not start another War dominated the discussions. At the time it was not clear to any of the participants that the Cold War had begun. Stalin had already launched it, but was hoping that America would not participate and would withdrw from Europe as it had after World War I. The greatest surprise to all the participnts would have been that the German people would decide the outcome. The Cold War can be said to have begun in Berlin and through all the twist of turns of the ensuing four decades end in Berlin (November 1989). The choice was an overwealong rejection of Communist totaltarianism and embrace of dmocracy and enbrace of market economics. And what Stalin would have never understood, it was the East Germans who experienced over 40 years of living in the wirker's pradise that rejected Communism.

The Potsdam Conference was unlike Yalta not a war conference. It was held in a suburb of a defeated and prostrate Germany. It was a post-War settlement conference to decide issues concerning primarily the occupation and Germany's future. President Truman left Washington heading for Potsdam (July 6). Some accounts described Truman as dreading the Conference. It was essentially was Truman's transition from a senator with only minor influence and experience to one of the central characters in 'high-takes' international diplomacy. And he brought to Potsdam none of the confidence that President Roosevelt had brought to Tehran and Yalta. [Bechloss in the Conquerors, pp. 252-53.] With Germany defeated, how to deal with the Soviets was one of President Truman's primary concerns. He was not favorably disposed toward the Communist Soviet Union while still a senator. And Soviet behavior before and after V-E Day had disturbed him. At the time, dealing with Stalin and the Soviets was very much on Truman's mind. Trouble with the Soviets in occupied Germany were increasing. It was at the Potsdam Conference that Truman told Stalin about the bomb. [Beschloss, p.66.] It was thought that an atomic bomb would greatly strengthen America's bargaining position. At the time the President left Washington, he knew that a test was being prepared at Alamogordo. Thus he anxiously awaited news as he traveled toward Potsdam. The Trinity Test was successfully conducted (July 16). The Conference opened the next day (July 17). In the middle of the discussions, Secretary Stimson brought the President an irgent cable informing him that that the Alamogordo Trinity test had been 'successful beyond the most optimistic expectations of everyone' (July 21)." (We have noted some references to July 19.) This meant that the United States would be able to end the Pacific War without Soviet assistance and gave the President increased confidence in dealing with Stalin. Churchill noted a new 'boldness' in stanfing up to the Soviets on issues concerning the Germans. [Beschloss, p. 259.] Truman 3 days after learning of the Trinty test, quietly told Stalin about the bomb, but provided few details. Stalin's reaction has been endlessly assessed by historians. Unknown to Truman was that because Soviet intelligence services had penetrated the Manhattan Project, Stalin already knew a great deal. America, Britain, and China issued the Potsdam Declaration demanding Japan's unconditional surrender and outlining the terms (July 26). For Truman the failure of the Japanese to respond made up his mind to go ahead with dropping the bomb. He hoped that one bomb would be enough to force a surrender. Truman gave Secretary Stimson a handwritten order to 'release when ready but not sooner than August 2' (July 31, 1945).

Potsdam: Berlin Suburb

Potsdam is a city on the border of Berlin. Several royal palaces were built there. , The Potsdam Conference was held at the Cecilienhof in Potsdam, a suburb of Berlin. The Cecilienhof was a palace built during World War I. One wonders why Kaiser Wilhelm II was building a new palace at the time. Construction began before world War I, but cntinued even after the war began. It would be the last palace built by the Hohenzollerns. The Marmorpalais was the traditional Potsdam residence of the Hohenzollern crown prince. The Kaiser and Crowm Prince decided that the Marmorpalais was not adequate for the Imperial crown prince. The Kaiser ordered the establishment of a fund for constructing the new palace at Potsdam (1912).

Conference

The Conference was held from July 17 to August 2, 1945. It was a conference of the Big Three (the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States). The Potsdam Conference was unlike Yalta not a war conference. It was held in a suburb of a defeated and prostrate Germany. It was a post-War settlement conference to decide issues concerning primarily the occupation and Germany's future.

Participants

The participants proved to be quite different than those at the other major World War II conferences, including Yalta held a few months earlier. Stalin still represented the Soviet Union. And he fully expected to eventually dominate all of Germny. Fresident Roosevelt had died after Yalta and was replaced by the new, untested president--Harry Truman. Stalin considered him a light weight. President Truman left Washington heading for Potsdam (July 6). Some accounts described Truman as dreading the Conference. It was essentially Truman's transition from a senator with only minor influence and experience to one of the central characters in 'high-stakes' international diplomacy. And he brought to Potsdam none of the confidence that President Roosevelt had brought to Tehran and Yalta. [Bechloss in the Conquerors, pp. 252-53.] Churchill after the beginning session replaced as prime minister by Labour leader Clement Attlee, whose party won a general election.

War Situation

The Conference was held after the NAZI surrender (May 1945). Japan had not yet surrendered although by the time of the Conference, the United Stateshad completed the comquest of Okinawa.

Issues

The Big Three discussed both the European and Pacific situation. The occupation of Germany and European issues were the porimary matters of discussion.

Europe

The primary order of business was how to administer occupied Germany as well as the post-War order, peace treaties, and the huge problems created by the War. With Germany defeated, how to deal with the Soviets was one of President Truman's primary concerns. He was not favorably disposed toward the Communist Soviet Union while still a senator. And Soviet behavior before and after V-E Day had disturbed him. At the time, dealing with Stalin and the Soviets was very much on Truman's mind. Trouble with the Soviets in occupied Germany was already increasing. France was one of the issues. The Americans and British wanted France to participte in the occupation. Stalin objected maintaining that France had played no role in the victory, but relented as lomg as the French occupation zome would be cut out of the American and British zones.

Pacific

The primary importance of Potsdam concerning the Pacific War. Truman asked Stalin about his pledge to enter the War. Stalin secretly pledged to enter the War by August 15. This had been a primary goal of Presidnt Roosevelt. President Truman was less interested in Soviet participation. He was hopeful that the atomic bomb would force Japan to surrender without the Soviets. And he was not anxious to face the same problems with the Soviets in Japan that were developing in occupied Germany. President Truman while at Potsdam received word that the test of the A-bomb at Alamagordo had been successful. He informed Stalin of the atmoic bomb. Because of Soviet espionage, he already knew.

The Atomic Bomb

It was at the Potsdam Conference that Truman told Stalin about the bomb. [Beschloss, p.66.] It was thought that an atomic bomb would greatly strengthen America's bargaining position. At the time the President left Washington, he knew that a test was being prepared at Alamogordo. Thus he anxiously awaited news as he traveled toward Potsdam. The Trinity Test was successfully conducted (July 16). The Conference opened the next day (July 17). In the middle of the discussions, Secretary Stimson brought the President an urgent cable informing him that that the Alamogordo Trinity test had been 'successful beyond the most optimistic expectations of everyone' (July 21)." [Beschloss, p. 258.] (We have noted some references to July 19.) This meant that the United States would almost surely be able to end the Pacific War without Soviet assistance and gave the President increased confidence in dealing with Stalin. Churchill noted a new 'boldness' in stanfing up to the Soviets on issues concerning the Germans. [Beschloss, p. 259.] Truman 3 days after learning of the Trinty test, quietly told Stalin about the bomb, but provided few details. [Beschloss, p. 266.] Stalin's reaction has been endlessly assessed by historians. Unknown to Truman was that because Soviet intelligence services had penetrated the Manhattan Project, Stalin already knew a great deal. America, Britain, and China issued the Potsdam Declaration demanding Japan's unconditional surrender and outlining the terms (July 26). For Truman the failure of the Japanese to respond made up his mind to go ahead with dropping the bomb. He hoped that one bomb would be enough to force a surrender. Truman gave Secretary Stimson a handwritten order to 'release when ready but not sooner than August 2' (July 31, 1945).

Potsdam Declaration (July 26, 1945)

The Americans, British, and China issued a declaration demanding that Japan immediately surrender or face "prompt and utter destruction" (July 26). The Japanese did not respond. Some Japanese officials actually thought the Potsdam Declaration showed the success of their policy of bleeding the Americans. Although the Potsdam Declaration called for unconditional surrender, there was language providing for Japan eventually rejoining the community of nations. This language caused some Japanese officials to see a weakening of the American will. Also and perhaps more impotantly to the Japanese, the Soviet Union did not sign the Declaration. Foreign Minister Suzuki decided to ignore it. He decided to wait for a response to his iniatives from the Soviets.

Sources

Beschloss, Michael. The Conqueroes (Simon &Schuster: New York, 2002), 377p.







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Created: 5:34 AM 2/23/2007
Last updated: 2:42 AM 2/20/2017