A military historian analyzes the significance of the final conference of the World War II allies.
In July 1945, the leaders of the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union met in the Berlin suburb of Potsdam to determine policy for the occupation of Europe and the conclusion of the war against Japan. The conference was originally expected to include the “Big Three” of the Teheran and Yalta conferences, but Franklin Roosevelt had died and been succeeded by the inexperienced Harry Truman, and in midconference, Churchill was unexpectedly turned out of office and replaced by the Labour Party chief Clement Attlee. Stalin was therefore the best prepared of the three and held most of the cards as his armies occupied Eastern Europe and much of Germany. Neiberg (History/U.S. Army War College; The Blood of Free Men: The Liberation of Paris, 1944, 2012, etc.) thoroughly canvasses the multiplicity of issues taken up by the conferees. He does not report the meetings in detail but concentrates on exploring several themes underlying the proceedings, particularly how visions of history weighed on the participants and how "strategic environments and historical understandings limited and shaped the range of options open to [these] so-called 'great men.’ ” Neiberg parts company with historians who view Potsdam as the beginning of the Cold War, pointing out that most participants left the conference optimistic about the prospects for continued cooperation among the allies. Instead, the author views it as a successful ending to the European conflicts that began in 1914. Neiberg’s casual acceptance of the reordering of Eastern Europe is troubling, as this was achieved only by displacing millions and placing the governments firmly under Stalin's thumb. Nevertheless, this is a solid account of the conference, concisely summarizing its results and significance without excessive indulgence in entertaining personal anecdotes.
Fills a hitherto surprisingly empty niche in the World War II library.