Friday, July 20, 1945 at Potsdam, Germany
Late in the morning, Generals Dwight Eisenhower and Omar Bradley made their way to the Little White House to meet with President Truman. They spoke about strategy in the Pacific and the use of the atomic bomb, on which the generals were brought up to speed.
Even though Truman didn’t specifically ask the generals for their opinions, Eisenhower said he opposed the use of the bomb, thinking that Japan was already defeated. He’d even expressed to Secretary of War Stimson the hope that the United States would not be the first to deploy the most terrible weapon in the world. Some years later, though, Eisenhower would concede that his reaction was personal and based on no analysis of the subject.
Following a quick lunch, the three hopped into an open air car and headed up to Berlin. Along the way, the air stunk of death and destruction, and they saw firsthand the miserable procession of German citizens in rags, pushing what few belongings they had through the rubble. Truman recorded in his diary, “You never saw as completely ruined a city.”
The scene was a tragic contrast from the dinner party the night before.
The President and the two Generals arrived in the American sector at the US Group Control Council Headquarters for a flag raising ceremony. The Stars and Stripes raised that day was the same flag flying over the White House when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and on the day the United States declared war on Nazi Germany in 1941 (it would be raised over Rome and Paris when those two cites were liberated as well).
“We are here today to raise the flag of victory over the capital of our greatest adversary,” Truman spoke without notes and with obvious emotion, choosing his words carefully. “We are raising it in the name of the people of the United States, who are looking forward to a better world, a peaceful world, a world in which all the people will have an opportunity to enjoy the good things of life, and not just a few at the top.”
Unhooking his thumbs from the side pockets of his double-breasted suit, he freed his hands and chopped the air in unison as he then said, “We want peace and prosperity for the world as a whole,” as he stressed each word with emotion.
“If we can put this tremendous machine of ours, which has made victory possible, to work for peace, we can look forward to the greatest age in the history of mankind. That is what we propose to do.”
It may not have been what FDR would’ve said or other presidents before him, but Truman’s short speech was decidedly moving. General Lucius Clay recorded, “It was of lasting inspiration to all of us who were there…While the soldier is schooled against emotion, I have never forgotten that short ceremony as our flag rose to the staff.”
Following the ceremony up in Berlin, the fourth plenary session of the Potsdam Conference was called to order at 4:10 PM.
Today the Council of Foreign Ministers and the subject of the treatment of Italy would dominate this brief session. In short, Churchill wanted the Council to meet in London – to which Truman and Stalin supported – and the Big Three began discussing the terms of a peace treaty for Italy.
At the “Little White House” later that night, Truman recorded in his diary: “Uncle Joe looked tired and drawn today and the P.M. seemed lost.”
Little was accomplished.