860F.00/2–2648: Telegram

The Ambassador in Czechoslovakia (Steinhardt) to the Secretary of State


216. 1. I believe that a strong statement on Czechoslovak developments by the Secretary would have a very sobering effect on the Czechoslovak Communists who are at present flushed with victory (Department’s 172, February 25).1 Czechoslovakia differs to a marked [Page 739] degree from other satellite states by reason of country’s democratic traditions, its extensive industrialization and fact that in spite of extreme Soviet pressure for over two years, nearly 80 percent of country’s total foreign trade is still with west. Having regard to fact that within a week all effective opposition to Communist dictation has been extinguished, a strong statement by Secretary as soon as possible might encourage the rebirth of either open or underground opposition to complete Communist dictation. Furthermore, as Beneš has not yet clarified his position, a strong statement by the Secretary might and doubtless would influence his course of action.

2. My appraisal of present situation is that the Communists as a result of long and careful preparations, dating back to acceptance of the Marshall Plan in July 1947, by intimidation and demonstration of armed force have succeeded in seizing the government and eliminating all opposition. They are now endeavoring to cover up a ruthless seizure of power by inclusion in the new Cabinet of Left-Wing Socialist Democrats, stooges and quislings from the non-Communist parties, all of whom will do their bidding. They have wiped out every vestige of true representative government and are about to deny to the 62 percent of the electorate who voted non-Communistic in 1946 any future real voice in the government. They have intimidated the public and all of the non-Communistic leaders and by their arrests and threatened arrests are about to destroy all effective opposition to their program. By talking over the radio and broadcasting untruths and only their own propaganda and by either suppressing or putting stooges in charge of the non-Communist press, they have effectively silenced all criticism of their methods and all means of appealing to public. They have browbeaten and exercised a degree of duress on President Beneš strikingly similar to methods employed by Hitler in dealing with heads of states. In short, they have employed identical methods to achieve a successful putsch which were first employed by the Nazis and subsequently by the Communists in other satellite states.2

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3. In connection with any statement the Secretary may make or Department may issue, Department may wish to give consideration to following suggestions.

4. Any statement to have real value should be issued as soon as possible preferably by the Secretary because of his great personal prestige in Czechoslovakia. No statement should be issued unless it carries sufficient punch to operate as a very definite warning.

5. The statement might imply that the United States has under consideration suspension of exports to Czechoslovakia or, what would more seriously alarm the Communist authorities, a suggestion that the United States military authorities in Germany and Austria might be directed to suspend all traffic into or, through US zones of occupation. In view fact that nearly all of Czechoslovakia foreign trade other than with Soviet Union and satellite states must pass thru American zones of occupation and there is little likelihood that more than a minute fraction of this trade could be diverted to the Soviet Union and the other satellite countries, any suggestion would be equivalent to putting the Communist leaders on notice of an impending strangulation of the country’s economy which they are well aware would inevitably be followed by economic and financial chaos. I am reasonably certain that what the Communist leaders fear more than anything else is an economic debacle as a result of their putsch and while it is probable, in view of the relatively good economic conditions now existing that consequences of any such strangulation would take at least a year to make themselves felt, I have little doubt that veiled threat along these lines would cause Communist leaders to proceed with extreme caution in carrying out plan they obviously have in mind of accusing the US of having been a party to the alleged conspiracy of the non-Communists against the Czechoslovakian Government, of “plots” and “espionage” and of all similar charges made against US in other satellite countries. To extent that we have been on defensive in the other satellite countries when these charges were made and have been unable to react effectively against them and have thereby lost much prestige throughout Europe, our ability to react in case of Czechoslovakia by anticipating the customary Communist charges against US might have desirable repercussions throughout Europe.

6. If the Department feels that general overall international situation warrants, I would suggest including in the statement something to effect that the government of United States is not disposed to ignore much longer repeated charges and insinuations by governments of states which owe their liberation to American blood and industrial power and which were nourished during the postwar period by American generosity, of plots, espionage and active support of reactionaries [Page 741] by the United States, which in effect constitute veiled threats by a small state against its benefactor. (These charges have already begun.) As the Soviet Government has been careful to keep well in the background of recent developments in Czechoslovakia the statement might well be directed at new Czechoslovakian Government.

  1. Telegram under reference read as follows: “Dept is considering issuing strong statement on Czech developments but before doing so would like your appraisal of the situation.” (860F.00/2–2548) Telegram 198, February 27, to Paris, revised the Department’s position as follows:

    “Dept appreciates very much your appraisal and comment (Embniact 216 Feb 26) concerning possible action in dealing with Zecho situation. You will understand that tripartite declaration released yesterday [see editorial note, supra] replaces for moment suggested US statement. We will review matter, however, in light continuing developments.” (860F.00/2–2648)

  2. In telegram 228, February 27, from Praha, Ambassador Steinhardt sent the following additional comment:

    “As stated in my 216, February 26 the Communists as a result of long and careful preparation and ruthless intimidation backed by a display of armed force seized Czechoslovak Government by a putsch similar to those engineered by Hitler and Communists in other satellite countries. They exercised a degree of pressure and duress on the ailing Beneš which left him no alternative than to capitulate. Having regard to the President’s illness which is of a serious and permanent nature, it is surprising that he stood up as long as he did under terrific strain to which he was subjected. There can be no doubt that he acted under duress or that he was intimidated and faced with a fait accompli.” (860F.00/2–2748)