May 9, 1945 – First Meeting of the Interim Committee

May 9th, 1945

Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson met with Truman on April 25, 1945 and explained to him what Stimson knew of the Manhattan project and the plans to bomb Japan.  He proposed that a special committee be set up to consider “whether the atomic bomb would be used”, and if so, “when and where it would be deployed.”  This was in effect a “review” of the decision made by Oppenheimer and Groves on May 10, 1945 to both use both bombs and to use them on a “short list” of selected cities.

Members of this panel, known as the Interim Committee, which Stimson chaired, included George L. Harrison, President of the New York Life Insurance Company and special consultant in the Secretary’s office; James F. Byrnes, President Truman’s personal representative; Ralph A. Bard, Under Secretary of the Navy; William L. Clayton, Assistant Secretary of State; and scientific advisers Vannevar Bush, Karl T. Compton, and James B. Conant.

General George C. Marshall and Manhattan Project Director Leslie Groves also participated in some of the committee’s meetings.

James B. Conant – President of Harvard University 1941 – 1953.   Chairman of the National Defense Research Committee 1941 – 1946 (authorized to “ramp up” the Manhattan Project).  Close friend of Vannevar Bush Vice president of MIT).

“(James Byrnes) was concerned about Russia’s postwar behavior. Russian troops had moved into Hungary (April 4, 1945) and Rumania (September 1944), and Byrnes thought it would be very difficult to persuade Russia to withdraw her troops from these countries, that Russia might be more manageable if impressed by American military might, and that a demonstration of the bomb might impress Russia.”  – Leo Szilard

On May 2, 1944, troops of the Soviet Union completed the capture of Berlin.

On June 1, 1945, the Interim Committee recommended that that atomic bombs should be dropped on military targets in Japan as soon as possible and without warning.

Ralph Bard called for a two to three day warning before the bomb was dropped.  He was convinced that Japan may be seeking a way to end the war.

President Truman appointed James Byrnes as Secretary of State on July 3, 1945.  He played a major role at the Potsdam Conference.  Byrnes knew little more about foreign relations than Truman (source: Robert H. Ferrell).  Byrnes and his small group paid little attention to the State Department and similarly ignored the president.  Advisers were Donald S. Russell and Benjamin V. Cohen.

Although Byrnes’s tough position against the Soviets paralleled the feelings of the President, personal relations between the two men grew strained, particularly when Truman felt that Byrnes was attempting to set foreign policy by himself, and only informing the President afterward.

Vyacheslav Molotov, James F. Byrnes, Anthony Eden – July 1945 at the Potsdam Conference.

“Truman in July 1945 had begun to look toward the postwar world.  The United States was faced with the realization that the Soviet and communist ideal were gaining increased support across the globe.  According to several senators that had recently toured postwar Europe in a meeting with President Truman said, “France would go Communistic, so would Germany, Italy and the Scandinavians, there was grave doubt about England staying sane.”

Potsdam was an unbombed suburb of Berlin.  Secretary of War Stimpson arrived in Berlin by air on July 15, 1945 with President Truman; they then moved my motorcade to Potsdam where “The Little White House” residency was established.  The conference began July 17, 1945 and ended August 2, 1945.  Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and President Truman attended. Truman on July 15thTruman arrival in PotsdamC-54 “Sacred Cow”.  Truman toured Berlin after his arrival, he may have seen this.

On the agenda was the partitioning of the postwar world and resolving the problems of the war in the Far East. This included hammering out the details regarding the division of Germany; the movement of populations from Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Italy; the creation of a Council of Foreign Ministers to administer the agreed upon zones of occupation; and issuing a proclamation demanding unconditional surrender from the Japanese government.

Truman, despite his relative inexperience in dealing with foreign diplomats, was holding a trump card that would give him confidence in making demands of the other leaders, the atomic bomb. The most powerful and destructive armament to date, the atomic bomb was solely in the hands of the United States government.