In July 1945 Harry Truman, just three months into the United States presidency, attended a multilateral conference in Potsdam, Germany. In these extracts from Truman’s diary he reflects on his discussions with Joseph Stalin and the successful testing of an atomic bomb:
[July 17th 1945]
“Just spent a couple of hours with Stalin. Joe Davies called on Maisky and made the date last night for noon today. Promptly at a few minutes before twelve, I looked up from my 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’ and ‘no’ to questions after hearing all the arguments. 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 am not exploding now. He wants to fire Franco, 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 [Japanese] 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.”
July 18th 1945
“[British] PM and I ate alone. Discussed Manhattan (it is a success). Decided to tell Stalin about it. Stalin had told PM 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 US. Told him I’d send the battleship Missouri for him if he’d come. He said he wanted to cooperate with the US in peace as we had cooperated in war, but it would be harder. Said he was grossly misunderstood in the US 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 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 25th 1945
“We met at 11.00am. today. That is, Stalin, Churchill and the US president. But I had a most important session with Lord Mountbatten and General 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 Mexico desert was startling – to put it mildly. Thirteen pounds of the explosive caused a crater six hundred feet deep and twelve hundred feet in diameter, knocked over a steel tower a half mile away, and knocked men down ten thousand yards away. The explosion was visible for more than two hundred miles and audible for forty miles and more.
This weapon is to be used against Japan between now and August 10th. I have told the secretary of war, Mr Stimson, to use it so that military objectives and soldiers and sailors are the target and not women and children. Even if 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 capital or the new. He and 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.”