Galbraith, JK.



Nitze, Paul H

Tucker, R.


Interview with Martha Mautner


INT: So what would you say the risks of actual confrontation between Soviet and American tanks, how real were these risks?

MM: Confrontation is one thing, shooting is something else. The confrontation point, Clay was making a political point, the Soviets understood that very well. They accepted it finally, Those of us, as I say, who were familiar with Berlin were never worried about that and the Berliners who were sitting on the firing lines were delighted. They always felt that you had this show... look the Soviets to show them down and they would stand down once you showed a strong position.

INT: Can you tell us a little more about how the crisis was defused, if there was a back channel situation in operation between Khruschev and Kennedy?

MM: I think on that, it was too quick for that kind of action take... these kind of instantaneous communications that you have now didn't exist back then. But I don't think there was any of that type of back stage activity. This was an operation that Clay was conducting on his own. The Soviets became quickly of the fact that Washington wasn't at all happy about what Clay had done and that's why they began targeting a lot... had been along targeting a lot of their propaganda against him and encouraging this idea that he was provoking... seriously provoking a crisis and unfortunately that attitude was shared by all of the military, who had the responsibility for dealing with the military situation in Berlin, which... who always felt very invulnerable and therefore were afraid of any action that might provoke some untoward or unexpected Soviet action. So again, Clay's days were numbered from then on in, because the bureaucratic in-fighting, get this man out of the chain of command - well he wasn't even in the chain of command - to get him out of there and... so that the chain of command could operate safely began to work full steam.

INT: Throughout the whole attenuated situation in Berlin, there almost seems to be a degree of difference between the people who actually know what's going on and the people who are, say, in the White House, who've come in and haven't got the background and are not as attuned to what the possibilities might be. Could you perhaps talk a little about that?

MM: That's a fact of life on every issue. The people on the ground always know better than the ones back at headquarters and headquarters always knows better than the people back on the scene! People on the scene have localitis, they realise what it's... that they are promoting local causes, whereas the people back at headquarters have the bigger picture and understand the broader ramification in which this all exists. And this was very prominent during the Berlin crisis. The people in Washington were concerned with the nuclear aspect, the strategic military confrontation with Soviet might. The people in Berlin, I can't say couldn't care less about that aspect of it, but didn't consider that was a factor at all, because they knew that the Soviets always backed down with the... when they were faced with a show of force and when they weren't faced with any show of force, they always tried to push forward and therefore if you wanted to deal with them, you had to draw a line and that was it and then you could talk to them, if they knew that they could not cross that line. It took a while, I think, until Washington learned that on the Berlin context, but then the same problem would then arise everywhere else too, we still have that problem!

INT: One further jump ahead, then we'll stop and reconsider. The Kennedy visit of June 1963. Who actually made that decision he should go and why he should go to Berlin?

MM: Well, there was a lot of pressure on that if he was going to Europe that time - he had only been there, I think, once before, that was when he went for the Khruschev visit and visited France and England - but that he had had to go to Germany and if he went to Germany, he had to go to Berlin. But I think the Kennedy entourage was very much worried about morale in Berlin and whether he would be considered as guilty for allowing the situation to erode. By '63, of course, the morale in Berlin was not at the highest. The plans for rebuilding it, the lesson that they had learned through the wall, the very fact that the allies were willing to make further concessions at Geneva and elsewhere with this access authority, had registered. Now the American showed that the Cuban Missile Crisis had retrieved a lot of prestige, but at the same time, these people felt very, very vulnerable and the calculation was that if Kennedy had a very bad reception there, it would be very detrimental to his political image in the United States and therefore they didn't want to take any chances. But by the end of May, I think, they must have realised that he could not not go and so he went. His brother, Robert, had visited Berlin, I think in early part of '62 and had received a fairly good reception at the time. So that also played into the thing and of course the reception that he got was so overwhelming, that it undid all of the doubts he had about Berlin in the past and his willingness to stand firm.

INT: I'll just ask you that again. If you could mention Kennedy's name more, because for a long time we weren't sure that it was Kennedy. So if I ask you again why should the President go, why was it important the President should go, and please say Kennedy.

MM: Mmm, mmm, OK. It was important... those who were advising him to make the trip, advised it was very important both for the maintaining for the President, if he was going to Europe, to visit Germany, which he had not done before, and also if he was visiting Germany, he had to visit Berlin as well, to maintain German support in the alliance structure, which was more and more important as time goes on. You remember in '63 was also, if I'm not mistaken, the period when de Gaulle and Adenauer had gotten together and signed their own friendship agreement, which had to two of them lining up also to put more spine... shall we say bone, firmness into the Western backbone on positions vis vis the East, and Kennedy had to take this into account as well. But the doubts about it, whether the President would receive a good and vigorous reception in Berlin spooked a lot of people in the White House. After all, the Berliners were in the downside of the wall crisis at that time. The economic situation had not picked up, people were worried about the future and if he had received a very unfriendly welcome, it would have been very detrimental to the President's domestic political position, because by that time, actually earlier with the wall crisis and all, the American public opinion was a hun... was I would say at least eighty five per cent behind a strong Berlin policy. We were prepared to go to war for Berlin and that the Soviets should know it and this is something that a lot of people don't quite realise. The American public was willing to take that risk, even of nuclear war. And that registered with the Soviets too as time went on.

INT: Let's just stop there...