Oral History Interview with
James W. Riddleberger
Chief, Division of Central European Affairs, U.S. Dept. of State, 1944-47;
counsellor of embassy, and chief, political section, American Military
Government, Berlin, Germany, 1947-50; acting political adviser to commander-in-chief,
U.S. Forces, Germany, 1949-50; political adviser to E.C.A., Paris, 1950-52;
appointed a career minister, 1950; director, Bureau of German Affairs,
U.S. Dept. of State, 1952-53; and subsequent to his service during the
Truman Presidency served as an ambassador to various countries and as
director of the Internationa1 Cooperation Administration.
April 26, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess
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Opened January, 1975
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
James W. Riddleberger
April 26, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Ambassador, in our last discussion, you mentioned being at
Potsdam. Let's go into that a little further. Tell me what you remember
about your trip to Potsdam during the summer of 1945.
RIDDLEBERGER: First of all, I remember the preparation for it and the
vast amount of material that had to be put together for the conference.
It was particularly difficult, as Roosevelt had died in April of 1945,
and Stettinius was still Secretary of State. However, several of the division
chiefs, who had been told they would go to Potsdam conference had been
commissioned to commence the briefing of Mr. Byrnes because it was anticipated
that he would be appointed Secretary of State as soon as the San
Francisco Conference on the UN was concluded. Therefore, a number of us
had to go out to the hotel where he was living and brief him at night,
because of course, it would have been rather awkward to have done it in
his office in those days. The decision had been to keep Mr. Stettinius
on until the conclusion of the United Nations Conference. This meant that
we had to brief, not only a prospective Secretary of State, but also prepare
as well as we could, the papers for the White House. They were completed
in good order, and I think in good time.
The real complication was naturally that President Truman had
only come into office a very short time before and it had not been Roosevelt's
practice to keep the Vice President very well-informed about the developments
on both the war front and the diplomatic front, so to speak. This made
it all the more necessary that we prepare the documents and do the preparation
in the form that would recite at least a sufficient background to be comprehensible.
Therefore, I spent many hours with Mr. Byrnes in his hotel, the Shoreham,
preparing him for the upcoming Potsdam meeting.
HESS: Did he absorb the material readily?
RIDDLEBERGER: I was just about to say he had a great capacity for absorption.
He would ask many questions, and it was largely through him that the State
Department views were transmitted to President Truman. The Secretary of
State, Stettinius, of course, was not in town, he was in San Francisco,
so therefore, the preparation was directed toward Mr. Byrnes with the
idea that he would then transmit it to the President. There may have been
a few meetings with the President before we went to Potsdam, but not very
many, he didn't have time.
HESS: Did you attend any of the meetings held with President Truman before
Potsdam? Who from the State Department met with President Truman besides
RIDDLEBERGER: Well, it was done mostly through Mr. Byrnes.
HESS: Mr. Byrnes himself.
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes. Now it may have been that several of the higher officials
went, but I don't recall being in any myself, because this system had
been set up through Byrnes and the President preferred to do it that way.
Now he was meeting constantly with Mr. Byrnes on a large number
of matters, domestic as well as foreign.
HESS: About how many of the higher officials went to Potsdam at the same
time that you did?
RIDDLEBERGER: Oh, there was a vast array. In the meantime General Clay
had been appointed Military Governor, not Commander in Chief, that came
later, but Military Governor. Eisenhower was still the Commander in Chief
of the U.S. forces.
HESS: How did you get over there?
RIDDLEBERGER: Well, I flew with Will Clayton, and there was a considerable
delegation from the State Department.
HESS: The President went over on the Augusta I believe.
RIDDLEBERGER: In the meantime, Byrnes had become Secretary of State,
he had taken his oath of office I think the night before he and the President
got aboard the cruiser to go to some Atlantic port in Europe. This was
also done, I think, for the purpose of giving some time to prepare the
President and go over a lot of these papers that were on board--I mean
that were sent with him on board.
HESS: Did you ever hear Secretary Byrnes give his impression about how
readily President Truman was absorbing the material that he was passing
on to him?
RIDDLEBERGER: No, I don't recall, but I think it was obvious in the Potsdam
meeting that he also had absorbed a vast amount in a very short time.
And Truman had in my opinion a very great advantage, he never pretended
to know something he didn't and had no hesitation in asking, you see.
HESS: If he didn't know it he would say so and ask.
RIDDLEBERGER: He'd say so, and ask. That of course, from the point of
those of us in the State Department was an admirable trait, because there
couldn't be confusion you see about something. If he weren't sure about
something, he'd just say, "I don't understand that, tell me more,'' and
so forth. He was very forthright in things like that.
HESS: Did you attend the meetings in Potsdam?
RIDDLEBERGER: Oh, I was in every meeting, yes.
RIDDLEBERGER: Except the very top...
HESS: Except the top level...
RIDDLEBERGER: ...the top three, yes.
HESS: When the Big Three would meet on matters.
RIDDLEBERGER: When they only had the Big Three, they had only...
HESS: Tell me about the meetings and how they were conducted, and your
opinion of Mr. Truman's handling of the meetings. Of course, he had been
asked to be the moderator, right?
RIDDLEBERGER: Because he was the only head of State there, he was in
one sense the chairman too.
HESS: That's right.
RIDDLEBERGER: You see, Stalin was technically at that point, not a head
of State and Churchill was not either, nor was Attlee when he replaced
Churchill after the British election.
HESS: That's right.
HESS: The Prime Minister is not the head of State.
RIDDLEBERGER: The Prime Minister is not the head of State, and Stalin
was not--whatever his title was...Chairman of the...
HESS: Chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.
RIDDLEBERGER: Not the President. Now I should make one correction. I
said I attended all of the meetings, I did not attend the military meetings.
That was confined to the top military people.
HESS: All right, now, briefly, just how were the meetings conducted and
how well did you think Mr. Truman handled them?
RIDDLEBERGER: The agenda had been worked out beforehand, and it was a
round table, and the President more or less opened the proceedings, he
did not necessarily make the first statement, he would turn either to
Stalin or to Churchill and ask if they wanted to open it up, and after
that they would all start. It was not in any sense an affair where the
Chairman had to more or less recognize people. There were only three who
would talk for the most part. Occasionally a foreign minister did. So,
therefore, the duties of chairman were not onerous and the foreign ministers--or
the deputies got together the night before and established the agenda
for the next day. But in addition to that there had been a general agenda
established before we left Washington as I recall.
HESS: Now at that meeting was the time that...
RIDDLEBERGER: This was a series of meetings.
HESS: That's right. I mean during those meetings was when the atomic
bomb was tested back at Alamogordo...
RIDDLEBERGER: That's right.
HESS: ...and it worked and Mr. Truman told Mr. Stalin that there was
a new weapon...
RIDDLEBERGER: That's right.
HESS: ...and perceived no great surprise on his part...
RIDDLEBERGER: That's right.
HESS: ...because he knew about it.
RIDDLEBERGER: But that was done at a military meeting, not at the other
HESS: Yes. I think this was done even informally, if I'm not mistaken.
RIDDLEBERGER: Informally, maybe it was.
HESS: If I'm not mistaken, I think this was just an informal discussion.
RIDDLEBERGER: With Stalin of course. The British knew all about it. Stalin
was told at Potsdam and who was with him or Truman, I don't remember.
HESS: It's in his Memoirs, but I'm really not clear on that.
RIDDLEBERGER: It's in his Memoirs I know.
HESS: But what did you know about the bomb? Did you know anything about
the bomb or our work on atomic energy?
RIDDLEBERGER: No, I didn't know anything about it in the sense of knowing
anything about it technically. I knew something big was up, but I did
not know the, let us say, the enormous possibilities of it. That secret
was very well kept, but at least some of us knew in the State Department
that there was something being prepared something of enormous scope and
HESS: Jumping ahead just a little, and we'll want to come back on Potsdam
a little more, but that bomb was used twice in the following month, on
August the 6th and on August the 9th. What is your general opinion, should
that bomb have been used?
RIDDLEBERGER: Oh I think it was right to use it, yes. Given all the circumstances.
HESS: There are those that say it was not necessarily the last bomb of
the last war, but the first bomb of the next war. It was not used against
primarily Japan, we had already defeated them, it was used to show Russia
what we had. What do you think about that?
RIDDLEBERGER: Well, Russia had been told that, and it...
HESS: It was a demonstration though of power. I mean they knew we had
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes, but I don't agree with that.
HESS: It was a demonstration of power?
RIDDLEBERGER: I don't agree with that theory that Japan was defeated.
HESS: You do not agree with it?
RIDDLEBERGER: I think that Japan would have been defeated, but I think
it was a long, hard, rough road ahead before the final capitulation of
HESS: Do you think that it would have taken the invasion, the invasion
of the islands of Japan?
RIDDLEBERGER: I think so, yes.
HESS: Which were planned. The Olympic Coronet invasion was planned.
RIDDLEBERGER: It might well have taken that, I do indeed. I do think
it shortened the war, I don't know by how long, but I do think it did.
HESS: All right, now moving back to Potsdam. Is there anything of interest
you might say about just the physical surroundings, your housing, for
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes. The meetings were held in the Cecilienhof, which is
a palace, an ex-Hohenzollern palace in the vicinity of Potsdam. We did
not live in the Cecilienhof but we were housed in the vicinity, in requisitioned
places that had bean taken over. I mean requisitioned by the Soviet forces.
We were provided with food and that sort of thing by our armed forces.
They had already moved up and made those arrangements.
HESS: When the meeting opened, Winston Churchill, of course, was the
RIDDLEBERGER: Great Britain.
HESS: Great Britain, and when it closed it was Clement Attlee.
HESS: Did that come as a surprise to you?
RIDDLEBERGER: It did to me, very much so. I was amazed after being victorious
in such a long and bitter struggle, that he would be defeated. Yes, it
was a surprise, perhaps not entirely so as I had been in England during
the war too. I had left Germany in '41 and then came home for awhile and
then in '42 I went to London and stayed until '44, so therefore, I recognized
that some of the opposition to Churchill was increasing, but I did not
think it would reach the point where he would be defeated in the election.
HESS: There has been a good deal of criticism of our handling of both
the Yalta, and the Potsdam conferences. Perhaps more criticism regarding
the Yalta Conference than the one at Potsdam, but criticism of agreements
that we made with the Soviets that were not kept. That we placed too much
trust in them, and they didn't live up to their agreements. Did you personally
think that the Russians, the Soviets, could be trusted, and would live
up to the agreements that they were making?
HESS: What led you to that viewpoint?
RIDDLEBERGER: Well, the whole history of the relationship between the
Soviet Union and Germany and what I thought the real intentions of the
Soviet leaders were. Don't forget, I was still in Berlin for both the
Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact at the outbreak of the war and also for the famous
Molotov visit in the winter of 1939-40 when he came down to carve up Europe,
so I didn't have many illusions about it. And then also during the war
it didn't strike me that the Soviets are cooperative in a number of ways,
so I didn't anticipate that there would be a high degree of cooperation,
HESS: All right, now one of the things that the Soviets tried to do,
as I see it, was to try to surround their country with what they would
call a friendly or neutral zone.
HESS: Poland, Lithuania, and some of the other areas. Is that surprising
in international politics that a major country wants to have a buffer
zone around them?
RIDDLEBERGER: I don't say that it's surprising in international politics
for one moment, but of course, there had been the Moscow declaration of
1943 on liberated areas. Therefore, I think that the Soviets promptly
violated their own commitments as taken at that conference, and I think
that applies to Austria, I think it applies to Rumania, I think it applies
HESS: They had agreed to free elections in Poland which was one of the
main sore points that came up.
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes, and Poland. I'm not talking about Germany, I'm talking
about the victims of Germany.
HESS: Yes, that's right. The adjacent areas to the Soviet Union.
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes. And as these went on I had no reason to think that
they were going to get out. And of course, don't forget that I'd still
been in Germany at the time of the Katyn Massacre, too. And whatever...
HESS: The massacre of the officers in the forest, right?
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes, in the Polish army. And while I always discounted
the Goebbels propaganda, nonetheless, I think that there was a great deal
of evidence produced at that time respecting that massacre, which was
hard to contest, quite apart from the Nazi propaganda on it.
HESS: Do you think President Roosevelt and President Truman gave up too
much at the different conferences, as is quite often stated?
RIDDLEBERGER: I don't know that Truman did. I think that Roosevelt did,
but that's an opinion. I don't know that Truman did because I think he
was already faced with a fait accompli. I mean Yalta had been a fact.
And then I think that over and above that Truman had the enormous political
difficulty of changing the American policy because I think that he was
left with the legacy of Roosevelt, which was far from being a frank expose
given to the American people, therefore, he was faced with a very difficult
HESS: Was Mr. Roosevelt often less than frank with the American people,
in your opinion?
RIDDLEBERGER: I think he was much less than frank, but I'm talking now
about the relations with the Soviet Union. I think he was much less than
frank. I think that while a lot of us knew the true state of affairs,
I don't think the American public did. You know this is another whole
history in itself...
HESS: It really is. It really is.
RIDDLEBERGER: ...the U.S.-Soviet relations during the czar, but I wouldn't
undertake to go into that in a short time.
HESS: Yes, I know. Just one further question on that, but in your opinion
do you think President Roosevelt really expected the Soviets to abide
by their agreements?
RIDDLEBERGER: I often wonder if he did in the end. I think that he had
this enormous confidence in his own ability to influence the developments
of Soviet policy, a confidence which I personally did not share.
HESS: I have read that toward the end of his life his views were changing.
What's your opinion, do you think that he thought perhaps he had been
in error in trusting the Soviets to the degree that he had? Just as an
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes, I think there's some evidence to that effect. I don't
know how persuasive it is because I didn't see the President often enough
to know, myself. But I've heard various things that led me to think, well,
perhaps he had been overoptimistic about his power to influence Stalin,
because that became so evident towards the end of the war, particularly
in respect of Poland, and then the whole history of the other countries
there is nothing but one disappointment after the other, as far as living
up to the obligations of the Moscow conference were concerned.
HESS: Just a brief question about your opinion of some of the other advisers
who the President had at the Potsdam meeting. I believe Admiral Leahy
RIDDLEBERGER: Oh, yes, he was always with him at all these meetings.
HESS: What's your general opinion of Admiral Leahy and his advice?
RIDDLEBERGER: I never knew him very well, he also, at the Potsdam meeting
seemed to confine himself largely to the military side of it. I don't
know what went on. No, I'm talking about the Potsdam meeting, I wasn't
HESS: That's right, that's what I'm talking about.
HESS: He was at Potsdam, too.
RIDDLEBERGER: He was at Potsdam, too.
HESS: That's right.
RIDDLEBERGER: And there I had the impression that he--he didn't intervene
often on the political side of it. Now maybe he did privately with the
President, I don't know.
HESS: How about Charles Bohlen? He was along.
RIDDLEBERGER: Oh my yes, very much so: Yes, the State Department delegation
was James Dunn, H. Freeman Matthews; and Bohlen, and [Charles W.] Yost
and I and Tommy [Llewellyn E., Jr.] Thompson, who died recently, we were
all on the delegation. [Emilio G.] Collado, an economist, and Will Clayton,
who was Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, was there.
HESS: Pretty high level group. I won't ask you to run down the entire
RIDDLEBERGER: It was more or less assistant secretaries and division
chiefs, or bureau chiefs then, but in those days they called them division,
you see. Oh, yes, I imagine Cavendish Cannon was there, he used to head
the Southern European Division.
HESS: Do you recall the statement that Stalin is supposed to have made
when they were talking about the Pope, and Stalin is supposed to have
said, "How many division does he have?"
RIDDLEBERGER: No, I wasn't there. I've heard it often but I don't know.
I don't recall whether it was Stalin.
HESS: Is that true, have you heard it from some of the other people who
may have been in the meeting?
RIDDLEBERGER: Oh, yes. Sure, I've heard it from people that were there,
but I don't know when it was said.
HESS: I've heard that the statement was made and that the statement was
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes, but I don't know, I never heard him say it. But there
were, you see, we must not forget that in addition to the formal meeting
there were dinners and informal get togethers and
HESS: Many opportunities.
RIDDLEBERGER: Oh yes, so therefore
HESS: Picture taking sessions and the like.
RIDDLEBERGER: That's correct, so you can't go entirely by the formal
meetings I mean, because often, as you well know, compromises may be arranged
informally and then merely registered by the formal meeting. Or informal
understandings might be arranged that are not included in any formal papers.
We were there several weeks, and it is possible that high-level understandings
were agreed upon, particularly on the military aspects.
HESS: What is your opinion of Mr. Truman's handling of the matters that
RIDDLEBERGER: I thought he did extraordinarily well. Given his lack of
background--having to make replies before others to people like Churchill
and Stalin who had been deep in the war from the outset. Although one
may be surrounded by advisers nonetheless it's not always easy in a meeting
of that kind for any head of State or any head of government to have to
give a public demonstration of his dependency on advisers, and I don't
blame them. I wouldn't want to do that either.
That's why the preparation for the conference for Mr. Truman was much
more complicated certainly than it was for either Churchill or Stalin,
of that I'm sure. But I thought given all the circumstances and the shortness
of time which he had, and all the responsibilities which evolved upon
him immediately after the death of Roosevelt, I thought he handled himself
in a remarkably capable and astute way.
HESS: Any other thoughts on Potsdam?
RIDDLEBERGER: I think that whatever criticism may be made of Truman,
as you mentioned earlier, the possible giving away too much at Potsdam,
I feel that he did not himself make concessions that were deleterious
to the American interests. I think he was caught in situations where he
felt obliged to go along with a certain decision or certain decisions,
because of commitments that had been made earlier, and this is not a position
that could be--on the part of the United States--be readily turned around.
I think he would have been subjected to very violent criticism if he had
tried to do it too fast. I think he was exceedingly astute in both his
understanding of what the Soviets were really after, and his great appreciation
of how far he could go in changing policy without drawing too much fire
within the United States. Now what I mean by all this I think was shown
later in the Wallace affair.
HESS: In September of '46 when Wallace left.
RIDDLEBERGER: '46, yes.
HESS: This is just asking for your opinion, but do you think that when
Mr. Truman first became President he had a greater suspicion of the Soviets
motives than Roosevelt had had? Now what I'm leading to is Molotov stopped
by Washington on the way to the San Francisco Conference...
RIDDLEBERGER: The San Francisco Conference, yes.
HESS: ...and as has been very well recorded, was spoken to by Mr. Truman
in rather blunt terms.
RIDDLEBERGER: Because of Poland.
HESS: As I understand it, Molotov said he had never been spoken to in
that manner and Mr. Truman said something to the nature, "Well, if you
would live up to your agreements, you wouldn't have to be spoken to in
a manner like that." Just in your opinion, do you think that Mr. Truman
was coming in with an attitude of great suspicion of the Soviets motives?
RIDDLEBERGER: I don't know that he came in with an attitude of suspicion,
but I think that the facts were so early revealed to him, that I can well
understand his resentment about Poland in his conversation with Molotov,
but I think it was a question of facts by that time and a complete unwillingness
of the Soviets to go along with what they had agreed to.
HESS: And how did you get back, did you fly back from Potsdam?
RIDDLEBERGER: I flew back.
HESS: Do you recall conversations that you may have had with other State
Department officials and their reactions to the meetings? You mentioned
you flew over with Will Clayton.
RIDDLEBERGER: Will Clayton.
HESS: Who did you fly back with?
RIDDLEBERGER: Well, I said Will Clayton because we happened to share
the same seat going over, I remember that, and coming back I don't remember
HESS: Do you remember any...
RIDDLEBERGER: Oh, I beg your pardon, I must stop to say something. I
stopped off in Germany on my way back I think, yes, to go over a number
HESS: All right.
RIDDLEBERGER: In Berlin--no, of course, this wasn't Germany. I beg your
pardon. May I stop to think a moment?
HESS: You certainly may.
RIDDLEBERGER: No, I flew back. Now it comes back to me, I now remember
what happened. I shouldn't say I stopped over in Germany as we were in
HESS: You were in Germany.
RIDDLEBERGER: I stopped in Frankfort, that was it, and with Dunn and
Matthews and I went to see General Clay, to give him a complete fill-in
of what had happened at Potsdam. That's what happened. Then I flew back.
I don't know that I flew back with the entire delegation, but I flew back
with Dunn and Matthews. The three of us, I think flew back in an Army
HESS: What seemed to be the general opinion, consensus of opinion if
indeed there was one among the State Department officials, as to how things
had gone, after it was all over and you were leaving? And what did you
tell General Clay?
RIDDLEBERGER: I'll take the last question first, because General Clay
and I, who were great friends, and I worked under him for several years
in Germany after the war. I told him exactly what I thought the real Soviet
HESS: And what did you think they were?
RIDDLEBERGER: I thought they had no intention whatsoever of carrying
out a lot of these agreements that had been arrived at either in the European
Advisory Commission or at the Potsdam Conference, and I particularly thought
they did not intend to carry out the agreement to treat Germany as an
economic entity. Clay didn't like all this at the time, but I think later
on he got over it. But he said, "You're suggesting that I should deviate
from the line that has been laid down by our President at the conference
And I said, "Well, no, I'm not suggesting it, I'm merely telling you
what I think is going to happen."
HESS: And warning you what may come about.
RIDDLEBERGER: What may come about, what I think the real Soviet intentions
are. There was an acid disagreement at that point, but I don't think Clay
ever held it against me. Later on, of course, that's exactly what transpired,
and he had to struggle for over a year with this whole problem of us putting
things in through the West and the Soviets taking it out through the East.
I went over the major decisions, or Dunn and Matthews and I all did, I
in more detail because I worked directly on Germany all the time while
they had other responsibilities, and gave Clay what I thought was the
real meaning behind the Soviet words.
HESS: What did the other men seem to think at this time; Mr. Dunn and
RIDDLEBERGER: They were a little more hopeful than I was, a little bit,
and I don't know that any of the State Department people were very hopeful.
I think most of them foresaw it was going to be very rough going indeed.
Don't forget we had the great advantage of having to deal with the Soviets,
if you can call it that, during the war period, and there was too much
information within the State Department, which we knew about, but which
was never disclosed to the public, about the Soviet attitude.
HESS: Bringing things up to today, what do you think are the goals of
Communism today, have they changed?
RIDDLEBERGER: I don't think they have changed, no I think their methods
are somewhat different, but I don't think they've changed. I think they
still look forward to what they would call a world revolution, their form
of government will become standard so to speak.
HESS: World domination.
RIDDLEBERGER: Well, domination, not necessarily through a military conquest,
but through the evolution of Communism, and the development of Communism
throughout the world. I don't think they will get there, but I think that's
their desire. But it's all written down in their philosophy and their
HESS: They don't make any secret of it do they?
RIDDLEBERGER: No, I'm not revealing any secret on this at all.
HESS: One point I want to make, even after they have made clear what
their goals are, a lot of people say they don't really mean it, and they
now believe we can coexist.
HESS: But they have said full well they don't intend to coexist.
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes, you can coexist if you're strong enough.
RIDDLEBERGER: But of course, I mean Hitler said it all, too, in Mein
HESS: In Mein Kampf, that's right, and people didn't believe that
All right, everything on Potsdam?
RIDDLEBERGER: I don't think of anything else. The agreements have all
been published and the territorial issues as we know have never been resolved
and the German peace treaty has never emerged. All this was contemplated
as you know in the Potsdam agreement. I personally did not have much confidence
the Soviets were going to carry any of it out, and of course, they didn't.
HESS: Which they have not.
RIDDLEBERGER: And then the Austrian discussion was not very profound
at Potsdam, that was deferred more or less to another date and the Soviets
showed no intention of evacuating their troops from Austria even though
they had already recognized the Government there. So to my mind, I could
not see any evidence of the Soviet intentions to withdraw from Eastern
Europe in the immediate future and indeed they wanted to get a Ruhr Authority
in which they would be a full member, in which they could be a full member.
But that's for later, you know, that all shows up much later.
HESS: Yes, it does. All right, moving on to our second topic for the
morning, unfortunately Governor James Byrnes just died, I believe this
month in fact, and in the obituary that I cut out of the news, I would
like to read just a little bit, but it says in effect that General Lucius
Clay credited a speech Byrnes made in 1946 in Stuttgart, Germany as largely
responsible for the failure of Communism to take root in Western Europe
after World War II, and that was when Byrnes assured Europe that U. S.
military forces would remain as long as there was a Soviet threat. General
Clay said later that this was Mr. Byrnes' "most significant contribution
in a lifetime of service." What do you recall about Mr. Byrnes' views
and also of that very famous speech.
RIDDLEBERGER: The background of the Stuttgart speech was indeed very
interesting. By that time I think that both General Clay, and let us say
the higher echelons in the American government, were absolutely convinced
that there was no possibility of executing the decisions at Potsdam in
the way that we had hoped that would be done.
Now the preparation of the speech went over a considerable period of
time. I recall very well that we first discussed this during the peace
conference in Paris in the summer of 1946. I think to understand the background
of it we have to remember that the Byrnes proposal for the forty year
disarmament treaty with Germany had been brought forward at the Paris
peace conference, and this speech was not made until after that.
Secretary Byrnes had gone to Moscow I think it was late in 1945 in an
endeavor to find out what were the basic Soviet fears and see if there
was some way that they might be met. I think that he was persuaded that
the Soviets realized that the French and the British were far weaker than
perhaps even evident to the public at that time and that there were only
two great military powers, namely the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and that
Byrnes who had a great appreciation, I think, in many ways of the fears
of the Soviet Union wanted to find a key which would unlock the door to
some kind of a security system. Therefore, after a long private conversation
with Stalin, he decided that maybe the way to do it was to commit the
United States to a lengthy period of enforcing disarmament of Germany
and preventing the rise of any kind of German militarism for a very long
period of time until effective and fundamental political reforms within
Germany could be accomplished.
Now that was the real point of the forty year disarmament treaty. I speak
categorically on it, because I wrote the first draft and Mr. Byrnes would
not even permit me to discuss it. I was in a rather awkward position and
not being an authority on military matters, I finally pointed out to him
that at some point it seemed to me it must be vetted by someone in the
Pentagon. So with some reluctance, and after some hesitation he finally
took it directly to George Marshall. Before it was presented in Paris,
we had the approval of some of our own military people, but it was kept
a very close secret until it was unveiled at the session on Germany
in the Council of Foreign Ministers during the Italian Peace Treaty Conference
in Paris, as you may remember. We know this proposal got no kind of favorable
response whatsoever in spite of Byrnes' enthusiasm for it.
HESS: Why didn't it, what seemed to be the major opposition?
RIDDLEBERGER: Either because Stalin changed his mind, which I think perhaps
he did if he ever had really intended to go ahead with it, or that
the upper strata of the Soviet government decided that it was better to
hold onto what they had rather than go into a system that would in effect
enable them to carry out the commitments of the Potsdam conference. In
other words, hang on to their territory. By this time there had been a
lot of developments in what we now call the satellites, which reinforced
the power of the Soviet government within those countries.
But there was still a hope as early as the spring and summer of '46,
that there might be a way of diminishing some of this tension and still
meet the legitimate Soviet demands. Clay understood all this very well
and so did Murphy (Murphy was Clay's political adviser). I was the chief
of the division back here and the speech was worked out primarily by the
four of us in Paris. Even then Byrnes didn't deliver it until September.
But the broad outline of it had been determined, let us say, as a result
of Clay and Murphy's report on the actual situation in Germany; my report
on what I thought was the situation in Washington. Byrnes had been in
Paris for some weeks, and we undertook our joint work on the drafting
of it in Paris.
Clay came over with a draft, as I recall, and we all went to work on
it, and Murphy contributed substantially as he always does, and in the
meantime I had done the work on the forty years disarmament proposal.
The speech was in pretty good shape I would say, and ready for presidential
approval by the late summer of '46--and then it was decided that Mr. Byrnes
would go over to Stuttgart and give it on German soil.
Now that's roughly the background of it, and it was a great turning point
of course, in our whole policy. Up to that time Clay was still attempting
to ascertain if there were any possibility of coming to an understanding
with the Russians so that the Potsdam agreement could be implemented within
Germany. But the Control Council was in a constant stalemate and the Soviets
spent most of their time hurling accusations and little else. The speech
itself is history now, but it will show the distance which Truman and
Byrnes had come since Potsdam. In about a year.
The speech itself, I won't comment on that, because anyone can read it.
HESS: That's the background to it.
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes, that's the background of it.
HESS: In your opinion did Secretary Byrnes think that the Soviets might
live up to their agreements, or could be brought around to living up to
RIDDLEBERGER: He had a highly pragmatic mind. He thought that if some
of the Soviet suspicion could be removed, if some of their fears could
be removed, by a formal U.S. commitment, that that was worth trying. That
was one reason we didn't make any great changes in our German policy before
the speech, but by that time, it had become apparent to ever