Truman and the Potsdam Conference

Potsdam Conference

Potsdam Conference

“Operation Iceberg,” the invasion of Okinawa began on 1 April 1945 and would basically end 22 June. Many are unaware that small skirmishes continued even after the 11th Airborne Division landed on that island. But … as we enter into July, others matters begin to develop.

Harry S. Truman did not have the outstanding record that most people look for in a president. He had poor eyesight and was unable to complete a 4-year college. Later, he failed as the owner/operator of a small mining and oil business, as a farmer and then as a haberdasher. (In my opinion, that only left politics as an option.) HST was elected to the Senate with the assistance of the corrupt Thomas J. Pendergast and proved to be an unimportant legislator. His only military achievement was in successfully tightening up the discipline of the rag-tag outfit he was given. He was chosen as the Vice-Presidential candidate because southern democrats liked him and FDR needed those votes. (I’m afraid these facts were located during research, they are not my own thoughts – unless specified.)

The 7 points of the Potsdam Proclamation

The 7 points of the Potsdam Proclamation

This was the man sent to Germany, sailing on the “Augusta” with Secretary of State, James Byrnes and Admiral Leahy to attend the Potsdam Conference to begin on 17 July 1945. The primary agenda for the massive meeting dealt with the revision of the German-Soviet-Polish borders and the expulsion of several million Germans from the disputed territories. The code name for this conference was “Terminal,” with Stalin, Churchill and Truman representing the three major powers.

16 July was significant in that the Atomic bomb was successfully tested, exploding the equivalent of 20,000 tons of TNT and a blast point of 750 degrees F. Oppenheimer would then prepare the test results for his report to Henry Stimson in Potsdam. Truman confided the news to Churchill and the two rulers instantly decided that at least two bobs would be dropped on Japan. This decision was made despite the arguments of Adm.Leahy, General “Hap” Arnold and Gen. Dwight Eisenhower who strongly spoke against it’s use, calling it completely unnecessary. Many of the scientists that worked on the Manhattan Project felt that such a dramatic scientific discovery should not be used. The petition, “…the liberated forces of nature for the purpose of destruction … open the door to an era of devastation …,” was signed by 57 scientists. They had the foresight to visualize the nuclear problems that we face today, but their qualms went unheeded.

The Potsdam Proclamation demanded the unconditional surrender of Japan, but did not make mention of two clearly important issues – (1) that the atomic bomb was is existence and (2) whether or not the Emperor would retain his seat in the palace. Both of these provisions would have clarified the true situation for the Japanese Army. Many, on-site at Potsdam, believe that the Japanese were purposely and maliciously misguided.

26 July, the same day that Clement Attlee defeated Winston Churchill in the election for Prime Minister, the Potsdam Declaration was sent to the enemy. The exact wording of this document made it unthinkable for Japan to accept. Once again, the lack of understanding for a foreign culture would hinder the road to peace.

page of the Potsdam Declaration

page of the Potsdam Declaration

Keep in mind, while still at sea on the ‘Augusta,’ Byrnes had received a message from Sweden stating that Japanese Major Gen. Makoto Onodera, having authorization from the Emperor, wished to enter into peace negotiations. The only stipulation being that the Emperor remain in power.

By this time, Prince Konoye had spent two years laboring to uncover a route to peace. The prince had had the correct procedure all along, but mistakenly had chosen the Soviet Union as the go-between. Stalin had his own agenda in mind for the Japanese and their territories and therefore he deceitfully strung the envoys along with various delaying tactics. OSS Allen Dulles, who assisted in negotiations when Italy fell, was working on the same premise in Switzerland. Nevertheless, as spring turned to summer, militarists in Japan continued to plan for Operation Decision (Ketsu-Go) and ignored their government’s attempts for peace. Disregarding Japan’s concern for their Emperor, the Potsdam Declaration was considered by Premier Suzuki and the military to be a re-hashing of the Cairo Declaration which deemed it to be marked as “mokusatsu” (‘ignore entirely’ or ‘regard as unworthy of notice’)

In regards to the A-bomb, Secretary of War, Stimson and his assistant, John McCloy, told Truman, “We should all have our heads examined if we don’t try to find a political solution.” Truman laughed.

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So many manuevers, conversations and secrets go on behind the main headlines, but here is one story I hope you take the time to click and read. This obituary was in “The Week” news-magazine and I could not resist including it here. Could any of us do this job today?

Amazing story

Amazing story

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Resources: U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian; “The Week” magazine; “The Last Great Victory” by Stanley Weintraub; University of Virginia, Miller Center.

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Note of interest – 17 July 1945, kamikaze units were no longer voluntary.

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on March 19, 2013, in Uncategorized, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 37 Comments.

  1. Great young men lost with so greatness of honor and the men that lived with minds of suffering was so great may many blessing on them all.

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  2. I really enjoed the last two I read. Thank you.

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  3. You have provided a fascinating ‘look back’ into history here. Tghanks for visiting my blog and liking my latest post.

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  4. I was always thought that they wanted to test their bomb on a real target rather than used it as a scarecrow; Japan was the ideal choice for a test-target. You just convince me more of that fact tonight.

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  5. Fascinating history. I like your approach to history/documentaries ; “what did they leave out?” Most of what you say was left out of my secondary school classes although back in those ancient days teachers were really only interested in making us memorise dates and events!

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  6. More good stuff . . . and more thanks.

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  7. Reblogged this on kjmhoffman.

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  8. I think in all fairness one has to study various viewpoints in order to gain a personal understanding of what occurred during this time. Four documentaries that provide enough data and documentation to get that viewpoint are: both The War and The Pacific, by Ken Burns. Another is called The Last Days of World War II and the final is The Untold History of the United States. These offer a culmination of first hand opinion, documentation and the last one included personal observation and conclusion of the director which clearly showed his bias but so much of the data in the documentary is valuable , for that reason, it is recommended for anyone studying this period in history.

    My opinion, after watching these documentaries is that Truman was weak and a pawn. He also inherited a position with no previous knowledge of the existence of the A bomb. It was a hurry up operation as far as I could tell. Roosevelt and Stalin got along quite well and had made negotiations for dividing up Germany and he allowed Stalin to give Germany the final blow as the Russians had suffered the greatest loss in terms of casualties, fighting the Nazi’s with very little promised support ever arriving. Roosevelt had no interest in occupying Germany after the war.

    When Truman got into office, he and Stalin did not connect on any level. He also changed all the earlier agreements regarding Germany redistribution that Stalin had made with Roosevelt. Stalin kept getting screwed by the US, yet he personally kept all of his promises, including supporting the US in the Pacific once the Nazi Regime had been taken. I believe it was Roosevelt who asked for Japan’s unconditional surrender…some historians believe it to be his biggest mistake.

    I often wonder whether we would have ever had a Cold War if the agreements that were made between Stalin and Roosevelt had been honored. I believe Truman was manipulated by the bankers and war mongers during most of his term. A manipulation that poured salt on an open would…eventually creating a mistrust between the US and Russia. There is much to learn with a closer study of the subject. Maybe I should have written a post on this.

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    • I enjoy watching the documentaries as much as anyone, but there again you need to read between the lines of personal opinion. “The Pacific (I even read the book based on the film) revolves entirely around the Marines, no mention of Army and basically around the men who raised the flag on IWO. I have a library that continues to grow and am always open to new information (I am always trying to learn as well). I merely try to report the facts that I find and my personal opinions marked as such. When you read history or watch a documentary – ask yourself – what are they NOT telling me? and then go look for it. I am going to double check my notes, but I believe you will be surprised when you find out WHO sent the Declaration that was missing any mention of the Emperor (Unconditional surrender).

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      • Oh, YES, I would be very interested in that! I agree with you about reading between the lines. Learning about history as an adult is so much more interesting because you can control what you read, watch, etc. rather than relying on the spoon fed version of the textbooks given in school which I discovered have many holes and is relayed in a slant that gives the US the best light.

        Every side has their own viewpoint of what happened. This is true even within units on the ground. No two people experience it exactly the same. But there are things that were commonly shared, recorded and experienced and that is about as close to the truth as you will get. I think that your research falls into that category as a lot of your sources acquired the information from people who were actually there.

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  9. Another fantastic history lesson! You remind me of my son, who eats up history like candy. I love to have him tell me “stories” His passion is so evident, as is yours! You should be a teacher, the students would be memorized! – my history teacher could have sold his lectures as an alternative to sleeping pills.

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    • Wow, that’s quite a compliment. Don’t know if I’d ever have the patience to be a teacher, but I hope this site leaves something behind for future generations to learn. Thanks again.

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  10. WOW – I sure learned a lot. Thanks for expanding my knowledge, gpcox. It is greatly appreciated.

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  11. An excellent, excellent, post!
    The role of cultural issues and the goals of the Soviet Union in the peace process with Japan is fascinating.
    That Truman had a history of embarrassing failures, most notably the mining fiascoes (which seemed, in my opinion, to involve questionable ethical issues) and the haberdashery (which crashed during the recession of 1921) is certain. I’m not so sure that he was a failure at farming. I’d have to check into this but I think he was widely admired as a farmer and left the family operation in 1917 to go to war.
    Truman was certainly chosen as candidate for vice president for political considerations but by this time had also gained significant respect in his own right and was no longer the Senator from Pendergast. This was primarily due to his work on the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, later known as the Truman Committee. The Truman Committee is credited with saving 10 to 15 billion in military spending and saving the lives of thousands of U.S. servicemen by rooting out sloppy work in the defense industry, waste and profiteering. By the time he arrived at Potsdam as U.S. President, he was even able to gain the admiration of — despite his initial doubts — Churchill, who was no poor judge of human character.
    Truman was an amazing man, a stubborn “Missouri Mule” whose decisions sometimes seem hair triggered and befuddling but who never seemed to lack the courage and confidence of his convictions.
    It’s interesting to imagine how things might have turned out differently had Roosevelt gone to Pottsdam.

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    • I will bow to your research, but I do believe Truman disliked farming and was unable to manage the family business. Churchill thought he could deal with Truman because he wasn’t very diplomatic.

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      • My goodness! It is I who must bow to your expertise! I am simply a fan of your blog who shares an interest in the subject matter and is enjoying the opportunity to discuss this with someone who shares my interest. Believe me, I would find no takers in this discussion at my dinner table! Thank you for the opportunity.

        In his Memoirs of the Second World War, Churchill, upon meeting Truman at Pottsdam, says that he was “impressed by his gay, precise, sparkling manner and obvious power of decision.”
        Less convicted was Churchill’s comment to his friend and physician, Lord Moran. When asked if Truman had ability, Church responded, “At any rate, he is a man of immense determination.” Is that damning with faint praise?
        When asked about Churchill, Truman responded, “he is …a clever person — meaning clever in the English not the Kentucky sense. He gave me a lot of hooey. . . ”
        They seemed to remain great friends despite wartime differences.

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        • I find it difficult to rely on a politician’s memoirs, as they are aware that these papers will be put in a library for all to see in the future. They write these diaries just as they write their speeches – if you get my drift. I prefer to get the responses of people that surrounded them at the time and read their reactions.

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  12. Pierre Lagacé

    A reblogué ceci sur Lest We Forget and commented:
    About the Postdam Conference and a whole lot more…

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  13. Pierre Lagacé

    Great research even though we are used to this kind of posts.

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