tv 1945 Potsdam Conference CSPAN November 11, 2016 4:35pm-5:26pm EST
interruption. watch live on c-span, on demand c-span.org or our c-span radio app. >> in 1945, harry truman, winston churchill and joseph stalin negotiated the end of world war ii and europe's reconstruction. next michael neiburg talks about potsdam and the remaking of europe. he chronicles the delegates's personalities, their hopes not repeating the mistakes of the paris peace conference, and how the negotiation toss rebuild europe played out. the kansas city public library hosted this 50-minute event. >> well, thank you, everyone, for coming out tonight. i don't know if it was the air-conditioning, the free wine or what, but i'm glad you're here.
i thank lisa and judy and all their hospitality. and i thank the truman library because it's one of the first places i went to do research on this project. so this is a wonderful thing to be able to do at the end of it. this is my fifth or sixth time coming to kansas city. i have yet to be here when the weather was tolerable. i've been here for a blizzard, thunder show, a tornado, now this. but every single time i have come here i have left with barbecue in my stomach, wonderful people that i've met, and more admiration for this great city that you have. so thank you for your hospitality here. [ applause ]. and i'm a baseball fan. so to be in a world series city is fine, even if it's not pittsburgh. and i want to the write a book, and truman said to stalin. those have been done before. and i don't find them very
interesting. and i don't want to presume as the two others of potsdam that a cold war was about to come. they didn't know there was a cold war coming. not to set up as a conflict themselves but stop the 30-year that europe had just been through with germany. so i wanted to go back to the start. i wanted to get back to the original sources i wanted to go back without any preconceived notions and see if the conference might look different if i did that. as crosby said, to go back with the understanding that this was a conference to end not one world war but two and the major participants of potsdam understood that full well. what i really wanted to do is touch on i suppose two things that i was really interested in this book. the first, as i have already articulated, to look at how the participants of this conference, the people you see is on the screen here, how did the they
understand what they had come to do. and i'll give you the end of the story up front. they came to end what they saw as the 30 years war of the 20th century. and as i'll talk a little bit more as i go forward, a lot of folks that are on this image, including of course harry truman of course, had fought in the first world war. and most of them, if they had any historical sensibility about them at all, and most of them did, came to this conference believing that the reason they were there is the people of a generation before, the peace makers of a generation before had badly failed in their job. they're explicit about it. we are here to fix what never got set in 1919. we are here so europe doesn't have is to go through this again. as i mentioned, truman was here. keanes had been at the first world war of the versailles peace conference. so had a number of the british delegates that were here. so they were all aware of it.
for them it wasn't distant history. it was living history. it was their lives. the second thing that i was interested in is the way in which the contest in which they were operating affected the way they thought. what did they think had brought them to germany in 1945? what historical processes were they thinking about? what historical a analogies were they making? what did they think about? and i want to get into that as well. and a third theme, although slightly less important than the other two i wanted to understand what the role of individuals really meant in these grand historic times people were living through. potsdam offers a perfect case study. as you know, winston churchill, to everybody's great surprise, lost that election. so halfway through the potsdam conference, churchill left
office and clement aptly replaced him. a person for which churchill had very little good to say. he had he was a sheep in sheep's clothing. also of course i don't have to remind anybody, the american presidency had just changed from the towering figure of franklin roosevelt to the man from missouri, harry truman. there is a one case study, a wonderful laboratory that we can do here. that's what i was interested in. first, i want to take you back to 1945. this is the gathering of the potsdam conference here. and the first thing i would like to note is how few people are in this room. this is in sharp contrast and intentional contrast to the paris peace conference which was held in a major european capital for signing peace treaties and had thousands of people. potsdam is intentionally held in
this room so only a small number of people can be there. and that's important. the other thing i want to stress is what berlin looked like in 1945. and i have a hard time with american undergraduate audiences, with american audiences to get them to understand how devastated europe was. i'll show you photographs in just a second. i saw this russian art who was in berlin in 1945. and this painting is called concert in a defeated berlin. i don't know how well comes across on the powerpoint. one is the devastation of the buildings behind the figures in the painting. and the second is the incredibly somber looks on their faces. to me this is a very sharp
contrast, stark contrast to the way americans think of the second world war. for us it will be the sailor kissing the woman at times square. it will be celebration, joy. for the russians it was anything but. for the city of berlin, in which this conference is going to take place, or at least in its suburbs, it was anything but. and i think this image sets it really, really well. i can't prove it definitively, i can't prove it 100%. but joseph stalin and the russian delegation intentionally delayed their arrival in berlin by 24 hours. i think he did it. i think the russians did it to force the americans and the british to see berlin with their own eyes. remember, a city that the russians conquered. again, this is in sharp contrast to what happened in 1919 when president wilson refused to leave paris, refused to go out to the battle grounds of world war i because, he said, he didn't want it to turn his heart against the germans.
stalin wanted to make absolutely sure that the americans and the british saw berlin for themselves. and that they saw appalled them. the same question from 1919 emerged. what to do with this germany? what to do with it. should you rebuild it? should you keep it in its devastated state? as some of you may know, there was a plan to do just that. the morganthou. truman is going to make sure he is not eligible to come to the potsdam congress. but they will take away all the industrial assets and get rid of central government put power into the german states. essentially make germany go away. for a while, from 1943 on, this was allied policy. by 1945, however, especially
and then others who argue that the problem really wasn't german people. that as soon as they got the chance, they would try it again. these views exist in the minds of people voting for them, at least in democracies. they suggest of course different conclusions about what to do to prevent the next war. this is berlin. this is what it looked like in 1945. this is after the russians had already begun a massive process of cleaning it out. the few americans who had seen it in may and then came back for the conference in july and august were astonished by how much better it looked. this is what it looked like in july is and august. unlike the germany of 1919, 1918, there could be no doubt that the germany of 1945 was
defeated. there could be no doubt they would have to accept some major guilt for what it had done. however, the problem remained the same. what to do about germany. truman intentionally selected a county sheriff from missouri with four german grandparents and spoke fluent german. and this bodyguard reported back to truman that although they were upset they lost the war, he didn't hear any remorse. that worried him as you might imagine. potsdam had a fitting symbolism for two reasons. it was the traeurpl traditional power center where kaiser wilhelm signed the order for 1914. this fact, this conference would be held in one of the palaces built for the german royal family. and it was in a classy suburb for the naziy officials in 1930s and 40s. so holding the conference in
potsdam holds a lot of symbolism. another image of berlin in 1945. a wonderful city to visit today the. they have done a wonderful job rebuilding in as modern a style as possible, much opposite what the french did. another thing i wanted to do in this book was think about analogies. i was here working off analogies at peace by a scholar at oxford who put ground troops into vietnam. he argued it is the only thing you needed to know what a person vice president johnson, what analogy they were drawing. in this case he looked at their public statements and private statements knowing those two things would likely be different. if someone made the analogy to
munich this is appeasement all over again, then that person was likely to argue for asserting american ground troops in vietnam. if this was like korea, they were likely to be cautious. if the historical analogy was the french defeat in 1954, they were likely to argue against it at all. understanding historical analogies is going to understand the way people understand the present and the future. so i wanted to take a look and see what the people at potsdam were thinking. and i think it supports what he argued. the way people understood the past determined how they saw the present and where they thought the future was going. and there are four dominant analogies. the fourth one is the important one. there were people, most of them rich, some of them hard line americans, who argue this was munich again. only the problem now was going
to be the russians. what you had to do was make a firm statement early on they weren't allowed to do anything unless the british and the americans were in on it and stop them from growing too powerful right now. not everyone agreed. truman didn't agree. george kinnondid not agree. james burns from south carolina argued that the problem was the old financial arrangements that they used after the paris peace conference, setting up the dawes and is young plan. the united states was paying the germans who were, in turn, supposed to pay the french, but the money never ended up in france, creating a cycle of debts that created the great depression. that's the problem you had to avoid. third, there were people who said, look, if we redraw the borders of europe, as almost everybody agreed you had to do,
aren't you just creating new disputes that will seed future conflict after the war? potsdam, remember, was a peace conference not a wartime strategy conference. mood quite different. now, i told you it was the fourth analogy that was the important one, and you're not going to be surprised what you're going to see on the next slide. everybody came to potsdam, almost everybody, noting that the problem was this peace conference didn't do its job. these four men -- well, there's only three in this picture. the british prime minister, the french premier, the man with the king, the italian delegation led by vitori orlando didn't do their job. they instead created this terrible, awful map of europe. the first thing harry truman said in his official capacity at
potsdam was whatever we do here, we cannot repeat the mistakes of paris. joseph stalin said the same thing to joseph davis, whatever we do, we can't make the same mistake. and, again, toii want to stress here that these men did not look at the conference in paris as ancient history. they looked at it as events out of their own lives. winston churchill was there for much of it. james burns was there for much of it. it appears burns was the man who convinced woodrow wilson to attend the conference in person rather than send his own secretary of state. john maynard made appearance and he was back for potsdam. the first document i saw doing research for this project wz in the university of birmingham archives. the very first document was in 1943 foreign office assessment of what had gone wrong at the paris peace conference. they were doing that in 1943 in
anticipation of holding the conference just like this. i was fascinated by that. so what did they think the mistakes were? well, here's where the disagreement starts. they all agreed this process had been done very badly. nobody exactly agreed on what had been done badly. one, that they more or less agreed to was that the cycle of reparations was a disastrous idea. setting a figure germany could not pay, insisting that germany pay it and insisting germany pay those reparations in cash had been a badly destabilizing process. the reason why john maynard left paris in 1919 and wrote the book that made him an international, a book that is still in print in i think 75 languages. there were others who argue that shifting borders had been a mistake. that by creating this map of europe what you had essentially done is created a less stable europe, not a more stable europe.
and for this woodrow wilson came in for much of the blame. the russians tended to argue that the problem with the paris peace conference was that all of these countries on the board got to have their say. so what ended up happening was a conference of compromises. as stalin himself said at potsdam, states are not virtuous merely because they are small. so at potsdam none of these states will be represented. much to france's chagrin, italy's chagrin. the polls will be allowed to send two delegations, they argue with each other, nobody particularly listens to them, winston churchill in fact says i don't want to talk to the polls. i'm sick of the polls, he says. the same issues as i noted remained. if woodrow wilson, david louis george they would have recognized everything with one exception, and i'll come to that exception in just a bit.
the exact same issues are under debate. one, what to do with germany. two, what to do about reparations, which is a very tricky subject. somebody has to pay for the reconstruction of europe. third, how to handle the differences between the ethnic and political maps of europe. this doesn't do that. four, what role should the united states play? and shocking as it is sometimes to american audiences, truman went to potsdam believing that the united states would not and should not have a permanent role in europe. this was a european problem to solve. and fifth, what should be the role of multilateral organizations? should you create overarching international structures, or should you stay with the west state system? again, all but one, and i'll come to that in just a bit. as i said three nations are going to run this. no france, no poland, and unlike the end of the first world war,
the british dominions, canada, australia, new zealand, et cetera, will not be represented individually, they will be represented by the british. the soviet union decided on where this conference would happen. the soviets said there would be no conference unless it was in some place the russian army controlled and unless it was some place that stalin could get to without getting on an airplane. truman proposed washington as an initial site hoping that he could get stal into see the united states for himself. stalin said no. the americans came back with alaska as an alternative. close to russia, easy to secure. nice weather in july and august. stalin said no to that one as well. i think it was for two reasons. one, the soviet paranoia for security meant it had to be a place the red army controlled and all of the americans in british were stunned at the lengths the russians went to for security at this conference. and second, i really do think he wanted to give the americans and
british time to see images like the ones i showed you at the beginning. the americans set the timing of the conference. truman wanted to delay the conference for as long as possible. and you can understand why. he was new to his job, as i'll tell you in just a bit, he had been absolutely unprepared for this job. he was reshuffling his cabinet, getting rid of almost the entire roosevelt cabinet. and by the way he was waiting to hear about the results of an experiment going on in the american southwest. the british only set the code name, winston churchill picked the code name terminal. the british were bankrupt, and they knew it. and the british knew that as much as truman and the new american political structure talked about maintaining the special friendship with great britain, they knew that america's strategic interests and british strategic interests did not overlap. especially when it came to the empire. churchill did everything he possibly could to create symbols that the united states and britain were working together. he liked to refer to the
anglo-american approach to a problem. there was a time when there was a photograph being taken and churchill was on one end and truman was in the middle. and churchill would slightly move his chair a little closer to truman's hoping to get the picture to look like they were closer. truman would see it and move his chair a little further. there's actually one copy of this picture where stalin is laughing, right, at the idiocy of winston churchill, a man he had very little respect for. most importantly, the british knew that they had very few cards to play at this conference. they had very little they could bring to force the americans or the russians to see things the way that britain wanted. back to this role of personalities. this is clement attlee sitting to harry truman's right. referred to as the big three. when attlee left it was jokingly referred to as the big two and a half.
attlee's replacement looked like a real contrast. churchill was bombastic, knew everybody, very active. attlee was calmer, people mistook him for a stockbroker very often in london. no american photographer had a picture of him for their newspapers. nobody had bothered to take a picture of him. nobody thought he was going to be prime minister. the role of personalities was important. anthony eden, the british prime minister, was also critically important. when churchill left, he left. ernst bevin, went to eden, they had a meeting shortly after the election results came back. eden said what position are you going to seek in the new government? going to seek chancellor of the secretary. eden said what for? all you do is count the money we have not gotten? and urged him to become the foreign minister instead. of course in the united states as well harry truman took over
and immediately moved to get rid of most of franklin roosevelt's cabinet. the first person he targeted was secretary of state, the man he wanted in the position was james burns, in my view the single most important american in the 20th century nobody knows anything about. james burns is the only man in american history to have served on the supreme court, the house, the senate, the cabinet and the governorship. and nobody knows anything about him. in 1944, he was the guy everybody expected would be franklin roosevelt's vice president. everybody. harry truman is the guy who nominated burns -- excuse me, was prepared to nominate burns when the phone call came, no, they want you instead. for reasons that i can talk about if you'd like. burns became the secretary of state, the only person in the truman cabinet who knew how the government actually functioned. truman had been a senator for not all that long remember. truman also moved very quickly to remove the secretary of the
treasury. with burns coming with him, the secretary of treasury was next in line of succession. had there been a plane crash, had there been a problem, had there been anything, the secretary of treasury would have become the president of the united states, and truman did not want henry morgenthau in that position. truman replaced most of the ivy league people was comfortable around, burns and harry truman between them did not have a college degree. which is an amazing thing to think about in the situation that they were in. but burns had experience. another fascinating thing, when truman went to potsdam, he had never met a russian. i should say when he became president. he relied on these three men for advice on the russians. and much to truman's chagrin they gave him wildly contradictory advice.
robert lovett argued that what stalin was really doing, the way to read stalin was not to read him as a revolutionary. not to read him as anything new. but to understand that the demands of stalin would make at potsdam would be essentially the exact same demands that a czar would have made. control of eastern europe, warm water access through turkey and some reasonable security for their western borders. chip bollin, who's on the far right there, truman's interpreter at potsdam, tended to argue that this really is a different phenomenon. they think differently, act differently, behave differently. the brilliant george kennan, who is the man to bollin's right there, later he would develop into his famous long telegram in which argued that the soviet union was based on internal contradictions. it was doomed to fail. the best thing you could do was to give it time to fail. if you pushed it, if you made it
more paranoid, if you made it more defensive, they would push back against you even harder. if however you contained them, if however you prevented them from expanding, sooner or later the thing would break up from its own internal contradictions. the key difference in what these three men argued to stalin -- to truman, was what to do about the borders of eastern europe and what to do specifically about the country of poland. all right. let's get to potsdam. this is where the conference was held. the palace in potsdam. you will note what the americans and british saw when they pulled up, a gigantic red star of geraniums. the russians wanted to make absolutely sure that everybody knew whose conference this was and who conquered this particular piece of ground. the russians emptied the palace and took everything they could out and replace it with the best of whatever they could find in potsdam, whether it matched architectural styles or not. leaving the british especially
very confused about what they presumed to be the artistic taste of the nazi elite. attlee called it stockbroker gothic, which was a great line. this palace was built during the first world war, that is the germans were fighting the first world war and still building palaces at the same time. for kaiser wilhelm's son, for him and his wife, hence the name of the palace. there would be no germans in potsdam while this conference was going on. the red army moved them all out. the conferees at potsdam did not see a german. the milk they drank came from britain. the hams they ate came from britain. nobody was taking any chances. the russians on the inside had taken all the tapestries out and replaced with red tapestries. they replaced the chairs with red covered chairs. maximum security but at the same time maximum comfort for the attendees. okay. what i'd like to do is focus on the americans here in the time
that i have remaining and then i'll be happy to answer questions on the british and russian position if folks have them. this is the famous picture of harry truman accepting the oath of office to become president of the united states. i was really taken by this picture. i spent a long time staring at it when i was working on this project for two things. the first is the look on people's faces after the death of roosevelt. and the second is that truman chose to take this oath underneath a por trade of woodrow wilson. he did that by design. and the reason was that truman still believed deeply in the ideals for which woodrow wilson fought. but he wanted to play the game a little bit differently. no longer truman said would an american president come to an international conference with only speeches and morality. no longer would an american president come with a speech like the 14 points about which george so sof wanted to make su
come to this conference with a good hand. truman worked to create new instruments of american policy. one of the first is the united nations. a form that the united states would participate in and dominate, a form that could not hurt the united states because the united states would have one of its veto votes, a structure that was set up long before potsdam. unlike the first world war where woodrow wilson went to paris without knowing whether the senate would support the league of nations or not, truman arranged a vote on the united states before he left. that vote came back unanimously in favor. and the first meeting was famously held in the war memorial upper house in san francisco built to commemorate the last war. the symbolism was very important. originally the thing was going to be hosted -- the united nations was going to be hosted in san francisco. instead of course they moved it to new york city. and it was typical of the multilateral arrangements that
truman's administration and truman's generation preferred over those of woodrow wilson. they would be dominated by the united states through either money or power. the united states would not solely be responsible for the decisions that they made. and they would be set up long before the potsdam conference began. a second example would be the bretton woods financial arrangements. this is john maynard keens in the middle. this is the conference that gave us the world bank. this is the conference that gave us a global currency paid to dpold, which in turn was pegged to the u.s. dollar. and those of you may remember before it went away in the early 1970s there was no such thing as a floating exchange rate. all exchange rates were fixed gold. what that meant was that any transaction done almost anywhere in the world a percentage of it would come back to the united states in one form or another. it's what built post-war new york city. john maynard keens who's sitting in the middle there called bretton woods a swindle because he knew what this meant.
what it meant was even if two parts of the british empire did business, say canada and australia, they would now likely do it in u.s. dollars, and they would now likely do it through new york bankers and new york insurance companies. this had been in the making since 1914. 1945 will make sure it stays in place until the early 1970s. keens however also said that great britain can't police half the world while sitting in debt to the other half. and this is a key difference in the american approach at the end of the first world war and the end of the second. at the end of the first world war, woodrow wilson was unwilling to use european debt to the united states as an instrument of american power. harry truman was absolutely willing to use that power. bank of england officials said the only thing worse than losing the war was bretton woods. yet the british had to agree to it. and john maynard keens left new hampshire, went to canada and begged $100 million out of the
canadian government. the british made the argument at potsdam that they shouldn't be forced to pay like this because they had paid in blood. their men had died. they had fought alone for a couple of months after the surrender of france in 1940. the irony of that argument was that it was exact same argument that the french had used in 1919 in both the british and americans had rejected it. a symbol of power over principle. now, i told you there was one new item under discussion in 1945. and it was the most important card in the deck. and that was the announcement that came in to truman a couple of days into the conference that the trinity experiment in new mexico had worked. and truman had a history with this. as senator truman he had uncovered a hole in the federal budge of almost $2 billion. he had gone to the secretary of war and asked for an explanation of $2 million missing from the federal budget, and he was told i can't tell you. and truman at that point had
said, okay. after he was sworn in as president of the united states, the same man, henry stinson, took him into a room and told him what that $2 million had been for. i want you to think about that for just a minute. it means for the couple months harry truman was vice president, nobody thought it was important to tell him. okay. this is not the first shock that harry truman is going to find when he's president. it was the first time after his inauguration as president of the united states that he was allowed into the white house map room. it was the first time that he was read in on all of the secret message traffic. there's a wonderful recollection by one of the white house staffers with truman in the map room just trying to find basic places on the map. trying to figure out where rangoon was, for example. and the confusion with all of these maps and all of these symbols and all of these things on it to a man who just wasn't prepared to do this. truman got the note at potsdam it's a wonderful note, wonderfully worded note.
wouldn't have taken a whole lot of imagination to figure out what the note was talking about, that this had worked. because it was a joint american-british-canadian project, immediately went to churchill and agreed they would tell stalin about the bomb and remove the word atomic or nuclear. the only thing was they have a new weapon. the question was when to tell him and they decided to do it as innocuously as possible. walk up at lunch, pull stalin to the side, whisper in his ear and say we have a new bomb of unprecedented power, or something of the like. it's interesting for a moment as historically important as this one there are four contradictory accounts, some say he smiled, some say he didn't. but it all appears he said a version of, a new bomb, how interesting. and walked away. we now know of course he probably knew more than truman
did. one of stalin's translators oral history done of him said that stalin interpreted it as anything but innocuous, that is the timing. it had come shortly after a very tense discussion about the post war borders of poland and stalin used the words of blackmail to describe the timing. not until his boat was at sea, not until the u.s.s. augusta was at sea, so he was quite literally at sea when the bomb was dropped. this, i think, if you want to pin the start of the cold war to anything, it needs to be the post conference decision to use the atomic bomb. even then i would say we're on shaky ground. so understanding this conference with the exception of this, you have to go back to 1919, not looking forward to the cold war. there were two major outcomes of this that we have to see in connection with 1919. we must understand not as cold war problems, but as first world
war problems. and the first is the new borders of europe. and these are of course the new borders of germany. the argument in 1919 had been to redraw the borders. figure out roughly where yugoslavia or poland or hungary ought to be and draw borders. what they figured quickly in 1919 is that was impossible to do. even if theoretically you could figure out where all polls lived, you could not create a state that could defend itself and feed itself. so in 1945 they went with a very different approach. that is to redraw the borders to create rough power balances, but then to forcibly move people into those new countries. the best estimates are that about 35 million people moved borders as the borders shifted, moved countries that is, the americans knew and the british knew that the russians were doing this. they knew the russians were doing it quite brutally. they knew they were robbing, raping, killing people who showed any reluctance at all. but the united states looked the other way. they did so because they knew
that it would solve a 1919 problem. it would fix the ethnic borders of europe. poland is the country of course that paid the price. and the key was the polish city of stenton just across the german border in the northeast there which the americans believed was still open for negotiation when they came to potsdam, that is whether it would be a polish city or german city. by the time the americans got to potsdam however, the russians already replaced the german language signs with polish signs, they had already closed all of the german newspapers and reopened them as polish ones. the second decision that i think has to be understood in connection with 1919 is the division of germany into a british zone, soviet zone, french zone and american zone, later of course to become west germany and east germany. that division was done to settle the reparations problem. this was james burns' idea. remember what i told you, he was horrified by the way that the
reparations had been done at the end of the first world war. he did not want a reparation at the end of the second. that is americans put reparations money into germany and somebody else in this case the russians take that money out. and the americans knew full well that the russians were taking everything not nailed down out of germany and poland. so it was burns' idea to divide germany for economic purposes. the idea was this, if the russians wanted to take out their reparations in kind, they could do it. take away factories, take whatever you want. but in the western zone, the americans and the british would make sure that that didn't happen. and if they decided as eventually they did they wanted to put resources into germany rather than take resources out, there would be nothing to stop them. that's the origin of the division of germany. there was no intent on the minds of anybody in potsdam that it would lead to political divisions and that it would lead to those divisions being in place for half a century. the most important thing that i want to highlight is that these decisions that came out of
potsdam in 1945 solved the problem of 1945 as the people of 1945 understood them. they left potsdam optimistic. that is they knew that there would be future problems between the united states, britain, russia, france, italy. but they believed they had gone a long way to solve them. and they believed most importantly they believed that the problem of germany had been solved. they believed that they had fixed the mistakes of 1919 as they understood them. and that it seems to me is the key to understanding this historical moment in july and august of 1945. we're in the anniversary of potsdam as we speak. the potsdam conference represented the final paragraph of the chapter in european and world history that began on a street corner in sarajevo. in the new chapter of that ongoing history, berlin, poland, yugoslavia will appear less as actors in their own right than pawns in a new game of
superpower rivalry. and if the men in 1945 at potsdam could not predict that future, they at least knew the past they were desperately trying not to repeat. thank you. [ applause ] >> we have some microphones for questions if anybody has any. yes, sir. >> you haven't mentioned george marshall, yet he was an influential figure in roosevelt's administration. >> he was. so one of the reasons that i didn't talk about marshall or any military people is that this is a peace conference. it's not a wartime conference. so there are very few generals actually at potsdam. the only time they show up is in the interim for the british election, take a couple days off
to find out who wins the british election. eisenhower and bunch of people come pay respects to the new president. marshall is important to truman pre-potsdam because he sees marshall as the guy who really understands the way the world is organized and structured. and it's no coincidence that he wants marshall to be secretary of state once he finally has had it with james burns. but this is understood as a peace conference, not a war conference, which means it's diplomats, not generals who are in charge. there are no military men at potsdam. none. which is another indication to me that they're not thinking cold war. they're thinking political problems. sir? >> eisenhower went to truman before this conference and told him specifically we don't need the russians. >> yeah. >> i can defeat japan using embargo and bombing. >> yep. >> yet truman went to potsdam and felt compelled that he had to convince the russians to stay in the war. >> yes, he did. >> why did he ignore
eisenhower's advice? >> i think there's two things going on. you're absolutely right. the number one thing truman wanted out of the russians was an agreement to invade china. there were 1.2 million japanese soldiers in china. and truman's thinking was twofold. one, if we're going to have to go in and fight them either in japan or in china, i want help. our army's not that big and we're going to demobilize it. as soon as the war in europe ends, there's already calls to demobilize half the army. the other reason is even if the atomic bomb works, those 1.2 million japanese soldiers in china might not surrender. and the united states can't get them. so the thinking is that even if this works, meaning the atomic bomb works, you still don't want the entire responsibility of either an invasion of japan or an invasion of china to go on on your shoulders alone. so when the russians agreed very early on in the conference that they will participate in a war against japan, truman writes
home to his wife or his daughter, one of the two and says, i already got what i came for, the rest is gravy. but that's the reason. sir? >> yes, sir. i'm putting myself in the position of being in charge of security at the potsdam. and it's always -- i've never heard it discussed before, but i've always been intrigued by the fact that there's millions of demobilized german troops all around -- >> all over the place. >> all over the place around this conference. did anybody worry about that? i would have. >> everybody worry about it. so what they do is there's an entire american -- i think it's an armored division sent to berlin to clear the streets when truman and the other american dignitaries go through. potsdam itself fascinatingly there is a bridge ironically called the friendship bridge that goes into the compound that the russians don't let anybody anywhere near. the security at the conference stuns almost everybody that was there. especially the americans and british. they just can't figure out why
all this security. because potsdam for those of you who've been there, it's not like you're just going to show up in potsdam. i think there's one rail line into it in 1945 and one functioning road that goes into it. yes, they're worried about what all these germans are doing running around. i don't think too many people were worried they were all going to show up in potsdam. but, yeah, security i would not have wanted to be a security officer in potsdam. and it's in the imperial war museum in britain kept all this stuff, the various passes and things you had to go through to get certified. worse than army bureaucracy today. >> did you why president roosevelt chose truman instead of burns. >> it doesn't appear it was roosevelt who made the decision, it appears it was the party bosses, especially a guy named ed flynn from new york city who did it. you have a wing of the democratic party mostly southern who wanted burns, he was a segregationist, a south carolinan, more recognized.
the more liberal wing wanted a person they were more recognized, current sitting vice president. truman was the kind of center guy. what had me so fascinated, if you really thought franklin roosevelt was going to die, then burns is the obvious choice. they picked truman. and then if you really thought roosevelt was going to die, as soon as truman became vice president, you would have started to get him ready for the responsibilities he was going to have. and nobody did that. nobody. there's in fact a note at the truman library in one of the exhibits downstairs, it's a note from roosevelt to truman telling him don't bother me, work through the chief of staff. i don't want to talk to you. if you really thought roosevelt had weeks to live or months to live, that's not what you would have done. sir? >> you mentioned bollen, kennonand conflicting analogies they're giving to truman. i wondered if you could
elaborate or perhaps would you take one of the three you would agree with? >> well, to me kennan -- what kennan said is, look, world war ii has brought out all of the worst aspects of the russian system, which includes paranoia, suspicion of everybody. >> and just link that to stalin's position. >> yeah. so what kennoni think was telling truman is there are things that you're going to talk about at potsdam, most importantly poland, that are existential for the russians. and are tangential for you at best. if you go in and say, look, the border of poland is going to be here or we'll fight you, the russians will fight you. and they'll put more men in the field than you will. so what you need to do is recognize where are those red lines to use the more modern phrase, are for the russians. what you need to do is understand that. so if you're willing to fight a third world war over 50 miles of polish territory, then you'll have that opportunity. what you should do is back off
for now, create a system in which you can let the contradictions of the russian system work on itself. let it collapse from within. because if you try to push it from without, you're going to have a newtonian problem, force meaning equal force back the other way. that was his great insight. i just read an interesting interview with him later in life where he was asked about potsdam after i wrote the book, he said i had a few good ideas for that one, also had a lot of really bad ones. any questions? >> i think if that's all we have for questions tonight, then let's give a warm -- >> thanks everybody. [ applause ]
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