World War II: Potsdam Conference

World War II: Potsdam Conference

The “Big Three” Allied leaders, Franklin Roosevelt (United States), Winston Churchill (Great Britain), and Joseph Stalin (USSR) agreed to meet following the German surrender on May 8 to determine postwar borders, negotiate treaties, and resolve issues pertaining to the handling of Germany. This meeting is known as the Potsdam Conference. They had already met twice: at the Tehran Conference in November 1943 and the Yalta Conference in February 1945.

Changes Before and During the Potsdam Conference

On April 12, Roosevelt died and Vice President Harry S. Truman became U.S. president. Truman was suspicious of Stalin's motives and desires in Eastern Europe. On July 26 Churchill's Conservative Party was defeated in the general elections. Incoming Prime Minister Clement Attlee let Truman take the lead during the talks.

Working to Create the Postwar World

The leaders agreed that both Germany and Austria would be divided into four zones of occupation. Truman worked to limit war reparations to avoid the mistakes made in the World War I Treaty of Versailles. It was agreed that Soviet reparations would be confined to their zone of occupation plus 10% of the other zone’s surplus industrial capacity.

The leaders also agreed that Germany would be demilitarized and all war criminals would be prosecuted. The new German economy was to be based on agriculture and domestic manufacturing. The U.S. and Britain agreed to recognize the Soviet-backed Provisional Government of National Unity in Poland, rather than the Polish government-in-exile.

Truman also reluctantly agreed to Soviet demands that Poland's new western border would be along the Oder-Neisse Linein, leading to the displacement of large numbers of ethnic Germans.

The Allies also agreed on the following points:

  • A new Council of Foreign Ministers would prepare peace treaties with Germany's former allies
  • Revisions would be made in the treaty that gave Turkey sole control over the Turkish Straits
  • The U.S. and Britain would determine the government of Austria
  • Austria would not pay reparations

The Potsdam Declaration

On July 26, Churchill, Truman, and Nationalist Chinese leader Chiang Kai-Shek issued the Potsdam Declaration, which called for Japan’s unconditional surrender. They declared that Japanese sovereignty was to be limited to the home islands, war criminals would be prosecuted, authoritarian government was to end, the military would be disarmed, and that an occupation would ensue. It also emphasized that the Allies did not seek to destroy the Japanese as a people.

The Allies threatened Japan with “prompt and utter destruction.” Still, the Japanese refused these terms. In return, Truman ordered the deployment of the atomic bomb.

Source: World War II: Potsdam Conference
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