23 April, 2012

23 April 1945

No letter today. Just this:


about Truman Meets Molotov
without Cocktails

Vyacheslav Mikhaylovich Molotov
9 March 1890 - 8 November 1986

From Wikipedia comes this excerpt:

The name "Molotov cocktail" was coined by the Finns during the "Winter War" and is an insulting reference, not a tribute, to Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov, who was responsible for the partition of Finland. The Molotov cocktail, also known as the petrol bomb, gasoline bomb, Molotov bomb, fire bottle, fire bomb, or simply Molotov, is a generic name used for a variety of improvised incendiary weapons, usually made from a fuel-filled bottle and a rag or piece of rope that acts as a fuse. They are primarily intended to set targets ablaze rather than instantly destroy them.

On 30 November 1939, after a futile year-and-a-half campaign to persuade the Finnish government to cede territory to the Soviet Union and give up some sovereignty by conceding specific military and political favors, the Soviet Union launched an offensive against Finland, starting what came to be known as the "Winter War". The Finnish Army faced large numbers of Red Army tanks. Being short on anti-tank guns, they improvised incendiary devices to use against them.

During the Winter War, the Soviet air force made extensive use of incendiaries and cluster bombs against Finnish troops and fortifications. When Soviet People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav Molotov claimed in radio broadcasts that they were not bombing, but rather delivering food to the starving Finns, the Finns, who were not starving, started to call the air bombs "Molotov bread baskets".

Soon the Finns responded by attacking advancing tanks with "Molotov cocktails", which were "a drink to go with the food". At first, the term was used to describe only the burning mixture itself, but in practical use the term was soon applied to the combination of both the bottle and its contents. This Finnish use of the hand- or sling-thrown explosive against Soviet tanks was repeated in the subsequent Continuation War between the two countries.

The Finns perfected the design and tactical use of the petrol bomb. The fuel for the Molotov cocktail was refined to a slightly sticky mixture of gasoline, kerosene, tar, and potassium chlorate. Further refinements included the attachment of wind-proof matches or a vial of chemicals that would ignite on breakage, thereby removing the need to pre-ignite the bottle, and leaving the bottle about one-third empty was found to make breaking more likely. As the cooling system was almost invariably placed where direct fire wouldn't hit them, the target of choice was the rear deck of a tank; the burning contents of the bottle would pour through the large cooling grills and ignite fuel, hydraulic fluids and ammunition.

Molotov cocktails were eventually mass-produced, bundled with matches to light them. Production totaled 450,000 during the Winter War. The original design of the Molotov cocktail was a mixture of ethanol, tar and gasoline in a 750 ml bottle. The bottle had two long pyrotechnic storm matches attached to either side. Before use, one or both of the matches was lit; when the bottle broke on impact, the mixture ignited. The storm matches were found to be safer to use than a burning rag on the mouth of the bottle.

From This Day in History and from an interview with Walter LaFeber on PBS's American Experience web site comes this information:

When Roosevelt died of a massive stroke on 12 April 1945, Harry S. Truman took over as president. Truman was overwhelmed by the responsibilities so suddenly thrust upon him and, particularly in terms of foreign policy, the new president was uncertain about his approach. Roosevelt had kept his vice-president in the dark about most diplomatic decisions, not even informing Truman about the secret program to develop an atomic bomb. Truman had to learn quickly, however. The approaching end of World War II meant that momentous decisions about the postwar world needed to be made quickly. The primary issue Truman faced was how to deal with the Soviet Union.

Just weeks before his death, Roosevelt had met with Russian leader Joseph Stalin and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at Yalta to discuss the postwar situation. Molotov was present.

Front Row (l to r) Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin
Behind Stalin stands Molotov

Agreements made during the meeting left the Soviets in de facto control of Eastern Europe in exchange for Soviet promises to hold "democratic" elections in Poland. Some officials in the U.S. government were appalled at these decisions, believing that Roosevelt was too "soft" on the Soviets and naive in his belief that Stalin would cooperate with the West after the war. Truman gravitated to this same point of view, partially because of his desire to appear decisive, but also because of his long-standing animosity toward the Soviets.

On 23 April 1945 Russia's foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, passed through Washington on his way to San Francisco and the United Nations conference and stopped in Washington to talk with Truman about how the Russians were dealing with Poland. They were imposing a Communist government on Poland and Truman thought this was not the way that Roosevelt and Stalin had agreed to deal with Poland at Yalta four months before.

Before Truman met with Molotov in the White House, he called a meeting of his top advisers and those advisers were split on the topic. Probably the most distinguished person in the cabinet, 77 year-old Henry Stimson, the Secretary of War, told Truman that he must be very, very careful in dealing with Molotov on the Polish issue because Poland was a key factor of Russian security. The Germans had attacked Russia through Poland twice in 30 years, making this an extremely sensitive issue.

But there were other people around the table, including Averill Harriman, who had just returned as U.S. Ambassador to Moscow. He told Truman that the Russians had not been upholding the agreements that they had made with Roosevelt and that this was the moment to draw the line.

When Foreign Minister Molotov arrived at the White House for the meeting with the new president, Truman immediately lashed out at Molotov, "in words of one syllable," as the president later recalled. As Molotov listened incredulously, Truman charged that the Soviets were breaking their agreements on Poland and that Stalin needed to keep his word. At the end of Truman's tirade, Molotov indignantly declared that he had never been talked to in such a manner. Truman, not to be outdone, replied that if Molotov had kept his promises, he would not need to be talked to like that. Molotov stormed out of the meeting. Truman was delighted with his own performance, telling one friend that he gave the Soviet official "the straight one-two to the jaw."

This incident indicated that Truman was determined to take a "tougher" stance with the Soviets than his predecessor had. The president was convinced that a tough stance was the only way to deal with the communists, a policy that came to dominate America's early Cold War policies toward the Soviets.

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