Contributor: C. Peter Chen
The last of the major conferences during WW2 was held at Potsdam, code named Terminal. Immediately west of Berlin, President Truman was given a chance to tour the ravaged German capital while he waited for Stalin's arrival (the Russian leader was a day late). The meeting was held at the undamaged Cecilienhof Palace. Stalin's late arrival gave Truman's scientists one extra day to work on the Manhattan Project, and that one extra day seemed to be just enough for Oppenheimer's team to give Truman the resulted he wanted: On the same day that the leaders met at Potsdam, a successful atomic detonation was achieved at New Mexico's desert of Alamogordo under the code name Operation Trinity. By this point, the Americans had learned that Japan wished to end the war, partly by Japan's unrealistic pleas for Moscow to mediate a peace settlement between Japan and the Allied powers. However, the Americans also understood that, if war could not be stopped, many in Japan were prepared to fight to the bitter end, and the losses on both side would be tremendous should landings on the home islands become necessary. Understanding this about Japan, at Potsdam Truman made sure that Stalin would hold true to his promise that Russia would declare war on Japan three months after the surrender of Germany despite the news of the successful test atomic explosion; Truman was keeping his options open.
On 26 July, agreements were reached:
- Reversion of all German annexations in Europe after 1937 and separation of Austria from Germany.
- Statement of aims of the occupation of Germany by the Allies: demilitarization, denazification, democratization and decartelization.
- The Potsdam Agreement, which called for the division of Germany and Austria into four occupation zones (agreed on earlier at the Yalta Conference), and the similar division of Berlin and Vienna into four zones.
- Agreement on prosecution of Nazi war criminals.
- The establishment of the Oder-Neisse line as the provisional border between Germany and Poland.
- The expulsion of the German populations remaining outside the borders of Germany.
- Agreement on war reparations. The Allies estimated their losses and damages at 200 billion dollars. On insistence of the West, Germany was obliged to pay off only 20 billion in German property, current industry products, and work force (However, the Cold War prevented the full payment).
The Potsdam Declaration was also written (by Truman and Churchill, with input from Chiang Kaishek) and was broadcasted to the Japanese people by radio and dropped in pamphlets, both in the Japanese language. It promised "prompt and utter destruction" unless Japan forever renounced militarism, gave up the war criminals, return all conquered territories since 1895, and surrendered unconditionally.
Prime Minister Admiral Suzuki, upon hearing the declaration, was purposefully ambigious in his response while the cabinet debated Suzuki was buying time for himself before writing up his official response to Truman, Churchill, and Chiang. However, on the American side, this delay was completely misinterpreted as Japan's arrogance in continuing the war by ignoring the declaration. Historian Dan van der Vat commented: "Seldom can a misconstrued adverbial nuance have had such devastating consequences".
Source: the Pacific Campaign.
Potsdam Conference Timeline
|17 Jul 1945||At the Potsdam Conference in Germany, top Allied leadership set up a Control Council to administer occupied Germany.|
|18 Jul 1945||In Germany, the second plenary session of the Potsdam Conference was conducted.|
|20 Jul 1945||At Potsdam, Germany, Harry Truman declared that the Allies would demand no territory upon victory.|
|26 Jul 1945||The Potsdam Ultimatum was issued, threatening Japan with "utter destruction" if it did not surrender unconditionally.|
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Chiang Kaishek, 31 Jul 1937