There were times when important dramatic events that occurred in life were centered on one single moment. Throughout the history of human life, these moments didn't happen much. Potsdam Conference was one of them.
Approximately, that was what was delivered and recorded by The New York Times journalist Anne O'hare McCormick, as quoted in Potsdam, when she covered the conference, one of the most historic for humanity.
At this conference, three people who held the most power in the world met and joined hands to determine where to move at the end of World War II. The three were President Harry S. Truman, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Chairman Joseph Stalin.
Potsdam was a city in Germany, which was located not far from Berlin, which McCormick described as a place that was once a symbol of world power but had become a grave at the end of World War II. Michael S. Neiberg argued that the collapse of Berlin at that time was an important event because it was evidence of the extent to which the achievement of statesmen and politicians was achievable.
The Potsdam Conference took place on July 17 and ended on August 2, 1945. This conference was the last conducted by the US, the UK, and the Soviet Union in World War II. The three countries had met before, one of them at the Yalta Conference in the same year in February.
Still from Neiberg, at the Yalta Conference, their focus was more on how to destroy Germany. The Postdam Conference focused on the remaking of Europe. Citing Encyclopædia Britannica, there were a number of issues that were the main concerns of the three superpowers.
The first issue was related to the new German government, which had to be built after it was devastated by WWII. In addition, there were also issues related to the demarcation of the Polish border, the occupation of Austria, the role of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe, the determination of reparations, and the steps to be taken regarding the war against Japan.
Unlike previous conferences, in this conference, the three countries had started to carry out political maneuvers and play their respective interests. In this conference, German territory was divided into four military occupation zones under the great powers of the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and France.
To quote Neiberg, France joined the German occupation at the request of the US and Britain. With a note, the Soviet Union insisted that the French residence zone be formed from the occupied territories of the US and Britain. These four forces had an equal voice, and all policy decisions required unanimity, Neiberg said.
Furthermore, still from Encyclopædia Britannica, Berlin, Vienna, and Austria were also divided into four residential areas. The Allied Control Council formed at the conference was a body that would deal with matters relating to the government in Germany and Austria.
This council consisted of representatives from the four countries. The four countries had the power to seize reparations from occupied zones. Reparations were levies against war-losing countries and forced them to pay a portion of the costs of war incurred by the winner.
As in the Yalta Conference, Stalin seemed more prepared to negotiate in Potsdam than Truman and Churchill, later replaced by Clement Attlee as Prime Minister on July 26. Stalin had spent a lot of time preparing for the meeting without regard to the fatigue that had accumulated throughout the war for four years, Neiberg said.
The Soviet delegation did look confident. They believed they had at least three cards that could give the Soviet a better bargaining position than the West.
First, at that time, the Soviets had the largest number of troops in the world. This meant that the Soviets had better military power in Germany and Eastern Europe because it was likely that the West would divert themselves into war with Japan.
Secondly, Stalin knew the important position of Russian membership in an effort to initiate the United Nations. The Soviets knew that the United Nations was more meaningful to the US than it was to them. Therefore, the Soviets then used this position to bargain with their core interests at the Potsdam Conference.
Finally, Stalin understood very well that the US wanted the Soviets to participate in the war against the Japanese Empire. The US wanted the number of war casualties on their side to be minimized, and the involvement of Russia had an important role in this plan.
In Cold War Summits, Chris Tudda wrote in the Potsdam Conference, the three countries tried to maintain their relations even though each had different interests. Truman wanted Stalin to keep the promise he made at the Yalta Conference and for the Soviets to declare war on Japan.
Churchill and Attlee wanted to guard the British Empire and reach a mutual agreement with the Soviets in Europe. Stalin, meanwhile, wanted confirmation of Soviet political and military dominance in Eastern Europe and territorial concessions in Asia.
Tudda noted the three countries had good relations at least until 1945 ended. Unfortunately, after that, competition between the three countries escalated. The massive looting and rape that occurred in the Soviet zone in Germany led to tensions with the West, to the crisis that arose due to the reluctance to shift the Polish border made relations between the Soviets and the three countries worsened.
On June 24, 1948, Stalin reacted to the decisions of the United States, Great Britain, and France that recognized a separate state in western Germany. He closed the border and access to western Germany as agreed in Yalta.
From this moment on, the direction to the Cold War was increasingly read, and the world was no longer the same, at least, for the next four decades.
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