Friday, October 2, 2015

Potsdam: The End of World War II and the Remaking of Europe by Michael Neiberg

Professor Neiberg provides a fairly conventional account of the Potsdam Conference.  He highlights President Truman’s unpreparedness for the conference.  As Vice President Truman was kept totally in the dark.  On assuming the presidency he was still, in spite of his efforts, handicapped.  As Neiberg points out, “No one could find the official copies of the minutes of the Cairo, Tehran, and Yalta proceedings.” (p. 26)  He, like FDR’s State Department and the American public, was denied access to this information.  After 70 years it is about time to investigate some of this information.  
Bryton Barron, assistant chief of the State Department’s research and publication division, claimed, “the historian in charge of the Potsdam compilation had informed his superiors in the Historical Division that he had uncovered documents ‘too hot for public eyes’ and wanted these papers returned to the files.”  Some of this information is available to a dedicated researcher.  Some are probably still classified and some have disappeared into a Sandy Berger type’s underwear.    
Neiberg provides more information on the decision to leave the Central European capitals to the Soviets than is usually provided.  However, he cites General Omar Bradley’s estimate that the capture of Berlin would possibly cost 100,000 American casualties and compares that to the actual Russian casualties of 300,000.  This assumes that, in spite of the Morgenthau Plan, German resistance to U.S. forces would have been as ferocious as it was to the Soviets.  Colonel Frank Howley was informed that there was only one SS regiment between the Ninth Army and Berlin.     
I had never read that Eisenhower informed Truman that Russian assistance would be unnecessary for the defeat of Japan.  Neiberg claims John Deane and Admirals Leahy and King also held this view.  He states that the “Soviets demanded a restoration of some of what they had lost to Japan in 1905,” for their participation in the war in the Pacific.  He does not explain that this would be a restoration of Tzarist imperial goals that would be paid for by our ally the Chinese.   
On the negative side it appears that Neiberg suggests that the Cold War was to some extent the responsibility of the Truman administration which began with Truman’s first meeting with Soviet ambassador Molotov.  He attributes Russian policies to their paranoia which appears to justify their behavior.  He makes several references to the massive Russian casualties as a justification for their demands.  There is no mention of the number of self-inflicted casualties.  There were nearly one million Soviet citizens fighting with the Wehrmacht.  This often neglected fact should have been a clue that "Uncle Joe" was not the sweetheart that he was frequently portrayed as. 
Lastly Neiberg attributes a quote to Henry Morgenthau that according to John Morton Blum was made by FDR (p. 195).  He cites Benn Steil’s The Battle of Bretton Woods (p. 283).  I could not find it there.  John Morton Blum in From the Morgenthau Diaries (p. 342) attributes it to FDR.

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