On July 17, 1945, President Harry S. Truman records his first impressions of Stalin in his diary.
Truman described his initial meeting with the intimidating Soviet leader as cordial. “Promptly a few minutes before twelve” the president wrote, “I looked up from the desk and there stood Stalin in the doorway. I got to my feet and advanced to meet him. He put out his hand and smiled. I did the same, we shook—and we sat down.” After exchanging pleasantries, the two got down to discussing post-World War II policy in Europe. The U.S. was still engaged in a war in the Pacific against Japan, and Truman wanted to get a read on Stalin’s plans for the territories that he now controlled in Europe.
Truman told Stalin that his diplomatic style was straightforward and to-the-point, an admission that Truman observed had visibly pleased Stalin. Truman hoped to get the Soviets to join in the U.S. war against Japan. In return, Stalin wanted to impose Soviet control over certain territories annexed at the beginning of the war by Japan and Germany. Truman hinted that although Stalin’s agenda was “dynamite” or aggressive, the U.S. now had ammunition to counter the communist leader. Truman had refrained from informing the Soviet leader about the Manhattan Project, which had just successfully tested the world’s first atom bomb, but knew that the new weapon strengthened his hand. Truman referred to this secret in his diary as “some dynamite which I am not exploding now.”
After their meeting, Truman, Stalin and accompanying advisors “had lunch, talked socially, [and] put on a real show, drinking toasts to everyone” and posing for photographs. Truman closed his entry for that day on a note of confidence. “I can deal with Stalin,” he wrote. “He is honest, but smart as hell.”