Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with George F. Muller
The fact that the Soviet tanks responded to our presence clearly indicated that the Soviets were in control. We knew it, of course, but now it was there for the world to see. However, as I said, it was played up as a confrontation that could ignite World War III. After several days of the confrontation, I forget how long it was exactly, by mutual agreement the two tank columns left. Ours rumbled back to Huettenweg and the Soviets returned to wherever they were stationed.
Which leads me to comment that public opinion regarding the Berlin situation was the prisoner of three basic misconceptions. I think that goes probably as far as the high reaches in the State Department and the White House, and I'm including the President.
Misconception number one was: Berlin is a divided city and East Berlin is part of the Soviet sphere of influence and we cannot change that except at risk of war. In fact, the President had said on July 25th, “We only guarantee the freedom of the West Berliners.”
That, of course, was true but we still had these residual rights for the city as a whole. Therefore, we did have responsibilities, if not for the people of East Berlin, but for the city as an interfacing network of communications with a myriad type of communications.
It was not fully realized that before the Wall went up, East Berliners and, to some extent also, East Germans could come to West Berlin. As I mentioned before, important church and other meetings, political meetings, took place in West Berlin to which East Germans and East Berliners could go. The Berliners regarded this as the city's mission in the East-West struggle.
So, while Berlin was a divided city, it was not divided to the extent that the Soviet sector of Berlin was completely severed from West Berlin. It was still a living organism as a city, a meeting place of East and West. The emission on radio, television and so on from West Berlin meant an awful lot to the people of East Berlin. Therefore, they sought contacts, bought newspapers, went to the movies, that kind of thing. This human dimension was overlooked in the West, even in the Federal Republic.
The second misconception was: World War III would break out over Berlin. We at the Mission felt that Khrushchev was continually probing—probing allied intentions, allied steadfastness, and that he would continue to probe until we told him that we would resist any further steps that what Brandt called, the “salami tactics” had to stop. But we also felt that the situation was tightly controlled by Moscow—the appearance of Soviet tanks at Checkpoint Charlie proved this—and that Khrushchev would not go to war over Berlin.