174. Memorandum of Conversation Between Dean Acheson and the German Ambassador (Grewe)1

This morning the German Ambassador called on me at his request and remained for an hour’s talk. He was disturbed and depressed. I shall not attempt to give the whole conversation in detail, but merely its highlights.

He began by asking me what was going on in the making of United States policy toward Germany and where was our Government headed. I told him that I could not answer this question, except in the most general way; that I had prepared a memorandum on the subject at the end of July,2 which I had understood was favorably received by the President and the Secretary; but I had not been in the State Department for over a month. I knew from the press that the Ambassador was disturbed and hoped that in the course of our talk he would tell me why.

I reminded him that in my book I had described a meeting with the Chancellor in 1951 in Paris,3 in which he had asked me whether he could rely upon the United States, or whether it was fattening West Germany to get a more advantageous price upon selling it to the Soviet Union. I had replied that there was no possibility of this as far as I could then see ahead, which was certainly through the administration which would follow Mr. Truman’s; and I now wished to assure the Ambassador that he need have no such suspicion of the present one.

I went over the general points of my recommendations on policy, in the course of which he interrupted to say that he would be wholly in favor of such a policy, but that in the past two weeks it was clear that the Administration had taken a new line in regard to several points. In the first place, the Germans had been told almost categorically that it was a waste of time even for negotiating purposes to talk about reunification of Germany. In the second place, they were being urged to form contacts with the East Germans quite apart from any program looking toward unification. Thirdly, the United States was moving toward something which was indistinguishable from de facto recognition of East Germany; and, fourthly we were talking about the desirability or possibility of recognizing, as of the present, the Oder-Neisse line as the boundary of Poland. He said that these points had been practically announced by the [Page 491] press as the official line and that never in his ten years of working with the U.S. Government had he felt so depressed about its policy or about his personal relations with his American colleagues.

I told him that I had gotten from the press the same idea regarding these points, but that I had no such impression from any of my friends in the Department. I would, of course, disagree with such a policy; although it would seem to me that, if a Russian acceptance of the status quo in Berlin (ante the division of the city) could be obtained, the recognition of the Oder-Neisse line would be a price worth paying—not that it was worth much, DeGaulle and others having already indicated their willingness to pay it. To this he replied that all that Germany could do, since every fifth person was a refugee from the east of that line, would be to say that force would never be used.

The rest of the conversation was taken up by my urging the Ambassador to urge the Government in Bonn (which he said was practically settled with the Chancellor continuing) to emerge from the trauma of the election and take a positive and vigorous position. My impression of the German official attitude, I said, was that it was negative, suspicious, and hysterical, seeing dangers in every suggestion, protesting, making no positive suggestions, and taking no action. I said that even a wrong attitude was better than none and that action of any sort would calm a nervous situation.

I urged the Ambassador to get the Government to do two things: One was to work out a practical negotiating position, which he was to present and fight for; secondly, to take steps so that the German Government would be able economically, politically, and militarily to play a vigorous and active part in carrying out the agreed policy.

The Ambassador said that he had made the suggestion that if worse came to worst we should blockade the Baltic and the Black Sea. I said that this did not impress me, first of all, because it was a suggestion by them of what someone else should do; secondly, because I had studied the same suggestion and had made it myself, but only upon the realization that such action was quite likely to produce immediate hostilities, for which we had all better be prepared.

The Ambassador asked what I would think of the proposal that Berlin should be made the eleventh Laender [Land]. I said that, as a proposal coming from the Germans, it made no sense to me. In the first place, it would be the height of provocative action by a government which was prepared to take no risk at all. Here again it was the suggestion that somebody else do something. From the point of view of the allies, it seemed to me to be based upon an acceptance of the division of Germany and the attempt to retain an enclave far within East Germany rather than our present position, which was that we held West Berlin as the symbol of reunification of Germany to which we were all pledged. [Page 492] The proposal would play into the hands of those people in England and elsewhere who talked about the folly of “fighting for Berlin.”

I said that what I would like to see from the Germans was a responsible and vigorous attitude by a government which regarded itself as speaking for an important power.

I reminded the Ambassador that, while he was now criticizing what he said was U.S. policy as being too weak, Strauss had criticized my suggestions as being too strong, even to the point of recklessness. The Germans could not have it both ways, and it was time that they worked out a policy which they were prepared to propose and back up with power.

D. A.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.62A/10-1161. Confidential. Attached to a memorandum of transmittal from Acheson to Executive Secretary Lucius D. Battle.
  2. Document 89.
  3. Sketches From Life of Men I Have Known (New York, 1959), pp. 176-177.