Oral History Interview with
Assistant to White House Naval Aide, 1945-46; Special Counsel
to the President, 1946-50.
CLARK M. CLIFFORD
Washington, D. C.
April 19, 1971
by Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | Additional Clifford Oral History
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This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry
S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee
but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember
that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced
for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission
of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened April, 1977
Harry S. Truman Library
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | Additional Clifford Oral History
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HESS: Mr. Clifford, you have mentioned that two
of your first duties in the White House dealt with universal military training
and unification of the armed forces. Would you like to begin today's session
by covering what you recall on those two subjects?
CLIFFORD: Yes, sir. The first assignment, which came during the summer
or fall of 1945, was to conduct an inquiry into the background of the
whole subject of universal military training.
President Truman had the feeling at the time that it would be of tremendous
aid to this country in facing any other danger, and possible war, to have
a backlog of trained men. We have gone through very difficult times in
World War II, training an army quickly after we became involved following
Pearl Harbor in 1941.
I recall President Truman stating that we were slow in getting a military
force into action because of our lack of trained men. I also recall him
commenting on the fact that it was a national scandal, that so many of
our young men were unable to pass the minimum Army test from the physical
I do not recall the percentage, but it was inordinately high; something
close perhaps to a third of our young men had physical defects of one
kind or another. President Truman thought it would be of great benefit
to the country to have our young men appear at a certain age and at a
certain point in their educational process, go through a rigid physical,
and take the rudimentary and elementary basics of military training. Then
after a period of time, they could leave and go back into civilian life.
When the call ever came, these men would constitute a solid
which a military organization could be built and built expeditiously.
I checked into the whole background of it. I found that at one time former
Senator [James Wolcott] Wadsworth had researched the subject and believed
deeply in it. As we got into it more deeply and we checked with leaders
in a number of different areas in the country, I believe we all concluded,
at that time, that it would be impossible to get the necessary legislation
through the Congress. There was such a reaction after the Second World
War; people wanted to forget the war, and hoped that this time that this
was the last war. So many of our leaders and formulators of public opinion
were opposed to it that President Truman reluctantly dropped the idea.
I turn now to the second of the early assignments; that is a study of
the possible unification
of the services. President Truman stated, at
the conclusion of World War II, that we could never fight another war
with the organization that we had in World War II. He indicated one time
that we had won the war, but it certainly was not because of the
organization we had, it was despite the organization. There was
a definite lack of coordination in our entire military effort. At that
time we had but two departments; we had the War Department and the Department
of the Navy. Each was represented by a Cabinet officer; each considered
itself an independent executive department that was not subject to any
type of control, except that that came from the President.
There were many instances that (we learned during the war), that independence
of action on the part of the services were costly to the country, both
in manpower and in resources.
The President thought that there should
be a closer cooperation between the services. He felt that there should
be an opportunity to effect substantial economies by having a central
type of purchasing. We had learned many times during the war that the
two services would bid against each other in a number of areas for rare
commodities, and so push up the price for both of them.
Well, I started and conducted a study for him of the background of it.
It was something that he felt very deeply, because, as chairman of the
war investigating committee, he had a substantial and rich background
As a result of that study, which I started at his direction in 1945,
I interviewed a number of top military men, and a number of our top civilians
who had been involved in it. By 1946 we were making progress. I kept him
closely posted with reference to it. And finally, we turned
our attention to the possibility of legislation. Legislation was introduced,
and finally, the first law was passed in 1947. I might say at that particular
point that the Army favored unification, including the air wing of the
Army who favored it because they felt that they could get separate identity
and a separate air force. It was the Navy who opposed the idea so strenuously.
HESS: What was the basis for their reluctance?
CLIFFORD: The Navy felt that its independence, and its power to control
its own operation, would be adversely affected if it became but a division
in the Department of Defense. Also, the Navy had traditionally had great
strength in the Congress.
At that time, and for a long time prior
thereto, the chairman of the
House Naval Affairs Committee, Mr. Vinson, had been a great power in maintaining
the independence of the Navy. The Navy felt that to become but a part
of a Department of Defense would subordinate the Navy's importance and
take away some of the power that the Navy had exercised from time immemorial
to make its own decisions. It didn't want to be a part of a military
service along with the Army and the Air Force. It particularly opposed
the concept of the Air Force, because that meant that there would then
be three services instead of two and they felt that that would have a
tendency to minimize the importance of the services.
HESS: Did they think they might lose their air wing to the new
Air Force also?
CLIFFORD: Yes, they were concerned about that. They were also concerned
about the discussion at the
time that if you unified the services there
would no longer be any need for a Marine force. The Marines could become
part of the Army, which might have some logical basis, because they were
Another major objection that the Navy had was that unification
would mean that the Navy would no longer have a Cabinet representative
in the President's Cabinet. As it was, with a strong Secretary of the
Navy, they had immediate and continuing access to the President. They
could see that with unification, the Navy would not have Cabinet representation,
and feared that the Navy could very well be downgraded. So, under the
then Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal, they fought a bitter, intelligent,
artful, and skillful battle, and they won. The first unification act was
so watered down that the Secretary of Defense became really nothing
than a coordinator. That isn't good enough in government. A service, or
a department, or an agency, will assert all of its historic and statutory
powers under coordination, so that the coordinator does not have sufficient
authority to either rule or direct the service.
After the '47 act was passed (and we took it because it was the best
that we could get), President Truman, with that rare judgment that he
had, appointed James Forrestal as the first Secretary of Defense, and
the result was most interesting.
After some number of months, I recall James Forrestal phoning me and
saying he wanted to talk about a matter. We both sat down and discussed
this subject at great length. The conclusion that Forrestal had reached
was that the Defense Act of 1947 was so weak that he was unable to administer
the Department of
Defense. He was perfectly forthright about it.
I recall later on that after we discussed it at some length, he said
he wanted to see the President and suggested that I go in with him. We
went in then, and as I've said a number of times, an incident occurred
then that rarely occurs. In substance, Mr. Forrestal said, "President
Truman, I have come over to confess \to you, that I've been terribly wrong."
And then he explained why. It was very gratifying to President
Truman, and I had a notion that perhaps President Truman foresaw what
might very well happen to Mr. Forrestal's attitude.
After Jim Forrestal stated that we needed a stronger law, we went to
work at once lining up support for it, and that time we had Army support,
Air Force support, and Naval support. Mr. Forrestal just stepped up with
complete candor, said, "We have to have a stronger law." Also, I believe
that from the experience of '47,
those objectors who were so bitterly
opposed, had tempered their criticism somewhat, because the Navy organization
had not been affected as adversely as they had assumed that it would.
So, with that support, we then obtained a new law in 1949. And in it,
we finally achieved what we had started to work on in 1945, because the
'49 law gave to the Secretary of Defense, the power, authority, responsibility,
and control that he needed. And the Defense Department was strengthened
to the point where it became a true executive department, with all of
the rights and privileges inherent in a department. The three services
gave up those rights that accrued under the law, to a separate
department of government. From that time on, it seems to me, that
we began to realize the benefits that Mr. Truman foresaw in true unification.
I might add as a postscript, that I have watched the process take place
within the Defense
Department, since that time, since we started on it
in 1945, which would at this point be twenty-six years ago. It proceeded
rather slowly at first. It made some progress under President Eisenhower.
I have a recollection in 1954 that he had an amendment passed that lent
some strength to the theory of unification.
I've had the feeling also that we attained our goal of true unification
under Secretary MacNamara. As he moved in in those early days under President
Kennedy, and then under President Johnson, he put into operation many
orders and innovations that I think completed the process of unification.
I think that we achieved then what President Truman had in mind.
It took over twenty years to do it, but it was worth it, because now
with the organization so much larger, with weapon systems incredibly complex,
with world conditions infinitely more
involved than they were twenty-five
years ago, the merit of the plan and the need for change, has become increasingly
apparent. And I suggest to you that is one of the real monuments that
President Truman created, and for which he should receive the undying
gratitude of the American people.
HESS: Did you find the things that Secretary MacNamara had implemented
to be of assistance to you when you took over in the Pentagon?
CLIFFORD: I did. The great majority of them I found to be helpful. Some
of them I differed on and gradually I allowed some of his innovations
to fall into disuse and ultimately disappear. I felt there had been, in
some instances, too great a centralization of direction and control, from
the office of the Secretary of Defense. We had almost gone to the other
extreme under Secretary MacNamara. There was needed to be some decentralization,
but only in minor areas.
HESS: Do you think this reflected his great love of organization and
charts and things of that nature?
CLIFFORD: To a certain extent, and it also reflected the desire of a
man who chose to make a great many decisions himself. I felt that by the
time I came in in early '68, that the administrative burdens upon the
Secretary had become so enormous that they interferred with the time and
thought that the Secretary should give to major policy decisions. And
so there was some minor decentralization that took place which I think
improved the process, but that was merely my personal opinion.
HESS: Okay. Moving back into 1945, do you recall if Judge Rosenman was
also assigned to work on problems of unification at the time that you
were working on them?
CLIFFORD: I would assume that I probably performed my task under the
direction of Judge Rosenman.
I do not recall the details, but I was new, young, and an unknown quantity
at the time. I rather assume that the assignment would have been given
to Judge Rosenman and me together, but that he would supervise my activity.
I don't recall that specifically, but I'm sure that I would not be given
an important assignment in those early days without some supervision.
HESS: You have been a naval officer, at the time you had been working
on unification and going out and meeting the people, was it ever suggested
to you that you were rocking the boat, that you were doing something that
the Navy didn't like when you were working for unification?
CLIFFORD: Yes, but I think that Mr. Forrestal and I came to an early
understanding about that. I was not a regular naval officer. I was serving
temporarily, and I had assumed that when the war was over
that I would
return to my law practice in St. Louis. As a result I had no background
of training, tradition, or attitude, that would cause me to oppose the
concept of unification. Further, during my own naval experience (which
had been an exceedingly interesting one) I had encountered the same sort
of problems that President Truman had, and I personally felt that
unification would be of real benefit to the country. And it made no difference
to me whatsoever that the Navy was opposed to it, because I was there
only by accident and only there temporarily. Finally, it would make no
difference what my personal attitude would be. I was working for the President,
and if the President thought that this was the way to go, then that became
my opinion. That's the way it had to be around the White House. The President
makes the decision, and you subordinate your personal views to carrying
presidential decisions are made. In this instance I did not
have to do that because I enthusiastically agreed with him on the need
HESS: Do you think unification should be carried further than it is at
the present time? Right down to the same uniform and same belt buckles
and everything of that nature?
CLIFFORD: I believe not. In the year 1960, either while President Kennedy
was running, or after he had been elected, he appointed a committee which
became known as the Symington Committee because Senator [Stuart] Symington
was named chairman. It was about a five, six, seven man committee, to
study the Defense Department and to come up with recommendations for its
improvement. We submitted a report early in the Kennedy administration,
which was an extreme report in recommending unification to the ultimate
end of having but one military service. I might say we did it for a particular
purpose, and that was to move unification in the direction that we wished
to go. In our effort to get a half an apple, we recommended a whole apple,
and much was thus accomplished.
But I considered at the time the report to be very extreme. After I got
into the Department I continued to think it was extreme. I was questioned
about the Symington Committee report at my hearing before the Senate Armed
Services Committee, and explained then what the purpose of that committee
had been and that I did not intend when Secretary--when serving as Secretary
of Defense, to go as far as the committee had gone. So that I think that
at the present point of unification, I believe we've struck a reasonably
I think we should constantly be attempting to find other areas in which
there can be additional unification. But we must do it with care so as
not to affect what I consider to be now, a really
and machinery that operates in the Pentagon.
HESS: The National Security Act of 1947 set up the National Security
Council. I have read that Mr. Forrestal pushed quite strenuously for the
setting up of the National Security Council, and that perhaps one of the
reasons that he did so was to make it unnecessary to have a Department
of Defense. That it was not necessary to go any further than that. Any
validity in that?
CLIFFORD: I cannot recall that. I have some misty, hazy recollection
that when it became inevitable that some type of unification was coming,
I believe that I can recall that he did favor the National Security Council
and I think probably with two reasons. One: Because it did offer a type
of substitute for unification, and Second: Because the Navy would be represented
on the National
Security Council as originally conceived. So, I have some
recollection that he went along for those reasons and not because he thought
the Council in itself constituted an improvement. He believed only that
it might lessen the possibility of our gaining the sort of unification
that we hoped to obtain.
HESS: I've also read that Mr. Truman was not necessarily in favor, or
did not enthusiastically support, the establishment of the National Security
Council do you recall that?
CLIFFORD: I do not recall that detail.
HESS: Do you recall if he met with them very often? As I have read, he
met infrequently with the National Security Council, at least up until
the time of the Korean invasion.
CLIFFORD: Again, it's been so long ago that I do not
have a very clear
recollection of it. I am unable, at this time, to recall instances in
which he met with the National Security Council. I would rather suppose
that perhaps he would have thought it advisable for me to be there too,
because of the part that I was playing at the time. I remember meeting
with the military personnel and with representatives from State, but it's
difficult for me to recall a single National Security Council meeting.
HESS: Did Commodore Vardaman assist you, or did you assist Commodore
Vardaman, in the writing of the National Security Act? Was he involved
CLIFFORD: He was not involved in it at all. But I took an active part
of the writing of both the '47 act, and the '49 act.
HESS: Did Mr. Elsey assist you in the writing of those two?
CLIFFORD: He did.
HESS: What is your general evaluation of the effectiveness of Mr. George
Elsey as an assistant, since he has been your number one man on various
CLIFFORD: Yes. I consider him to be an outstanding younger man. He has
a superior intellect. He had almost perfect training for the job to which
he was assigned in the White House, for he had majored in American history,
and had taught American history, and that made him very valuable.
He wrote clearly, he was industrious, he enjoyed the work; he found it
exciting and challenging. I suppose that from the standpoint of the younger
men at the time, in the White House, I think he made the greatest contribution.
Also I might say my opinion of his value was demonstrated. When I became
Defense, one of my first acts was to pursuade Mr. Elsey to
leave the job he was then holding and come over as an assistant to me
in the Defense Department where he performed with the same superb service
as he had in those years long ago at the White House.
HESS: Two other organizations that were established by the National Security
Act are the Central Intelligence Agency, which is very much with us today,
and the National Security Resources Board. Has there ever been a bill
in Congress that set up quite so many well-known organizations I wonder;
the CIA, the National Security Agency?
CLIFFORD: I don't recall that there ever has been any. It was a wide,
far-reaching amendment of our whole National Security organization.
Prior to the act of '47 there was an intelligence agency that to some
as far as the OSS, and rather grew from that. And it was felt
that the time had come to formalize and institutionalize its creation,
so an agency was created and given the title Central Intelligence Agency
in the act of '47. And I recall that President Truman named an Admiral,
Sidney Souers, a Reserve admiral, to be its first director. And that relationship
was valuable and the CIA grew and flourished under his leadership.
I don't need to go on about the CIA; its growth is well-known. It has
performed what I considered to be not only a useful, but an absolutely
necessary function since its creation in 1947.
The National Security Resources Board never lived up to its potential.
At the time, after the conclusion of World War II, knowledgeable leaders
of this country
were concerned about the fact that we were running out
of necessary resources that were used in the conduct of the war, and it
was felt that we needed a Board to keep constant tab on the state of our
country's resources, so that if we were running short in some area, we
An illustration is the metal tungston that is necessary in many areas.
And we knew already that we had to stockpile that particular metal, because
in a war, with enemy submarines plying the seas, it was very difficult
to bring into this country certain products that were needed, and of course,
to get material abroad to the various theatres.
At first it was felt it was going to serve a useful function. As time
went on, it gradually diminished in importance; today, I do not know whether
it is active or not, it has so withered
on the vine. But I believe that
in those early days it did help emphasize and dramatize the need for that
sort of inquiry. I think its functions have gradually been assigned to
other departments and agencies of government.
HESS: Did Dr. Steelman and David Stowe go from the White House for a
period of time to the National Security Resources Board and try to run
it when they were having difficulty getting a director?
CLIFFORD: Yes. Yes, I have some recollection that John Steelman was assigned
to that post and served there for a limited number of months and then
came back to the White House.
HESS: During the time that you were writing the National Security Act,
how often would you check in with President Truman, and how closely did
he watch the developments in this project?
CLIFFORD: It was the type of operation that was so
beset by problems,
and difficulties, that he was kept very closely informed.
There were many instances in which only the President could get over
the next hurdle that stood in our way. And there were times when it would
be necessary for him to call in the Secretary of War and the Secretary
of Navy. There were other times when he would call in top personnel and
this was invaluable to those of us who were working on it, because it
placed the full weight of the Presidency behind the effort. And I would
keep him closely informed, and others who were working on it at the time
would be in close association with him and with me.
It was a very well coordinated effort, and one in which he took strong
direction and never wavered. At no time did he ever indicate that because
of Naval opposition, that maybe we ought to sidetrack it and wait a while.
He was just as
consistent as he could be.
HESS: Now, regarding Secretary Forrestal: Do you think that he found
it easier to run the Pentagon after it had been changed from National
Military Establishment to the Department of Defense?
CLIFFORD: Yes, although I do not recall how long he ran it. It was a
HESS: It was from August of '49--no, well, I'm not sure either, I should
have looked that up.
CLIFFORD: It was a limited period.
HESS: It was a limited period of time.
CLIFFORD: I have a feeling it was really just a period of some months.
HESS: It was a limited period of time.
Why was he replaced by Louis Johnson?
CLIFFORD: I'm not sure that I know that entire story.
I was not privy
to the consideration that President Truman gave to it, and by that time
Secretary Forrestal had begun to have problems, which later led to his
I would say that being on the periphery of it there would be two important
reasons. One is, I think President Truman felt that the time had come
to replace Secretary Forrestal.
Secretary Forrestal was having problems, he was having signs of that
emotional disturbance which later led to his death, and . . .
HESS: What were the first evidences of that that you recall seeing?
CLIFFORD: Well, it's a curious incident (and one that's not very attractive),
but I recall it distinctly, sitting in a meeting in the Cabinet Room with
President Truman, Secretary Forrestal and others.
And I happened to be
sitting on the side of Secretary Forrestal and noted that he was so nervous
that there was a place on his scalp that he constantly was scratching
or rubbing. He had opened an open sore there, and yet still couldn't stay
away from it.
It was a nervous manifestation that I found very disquieting, and you
could sense something was going on within the man. There was a change
going on. You recognize it, your inclination is to put it down to temporary
fatigue, or accumulated strain.
I know there was some discussion at the time that he ought to get away,
that he had gotten terribly overtired and overdrawn, and I remember that
one particular incident very well. It concerned me, because here he was
doing something to himself. And on a couple of other occasions I saw this
sore on his scalp
was constantly getting larger.
One reason he was replaced is that I think that President Truman had
concluded that Forrestal had served well through a very difficult and
trying time, and the evidences of strain were obvious. I think President
Truman thought he ought to go.
Another reason (this is a very practical one, and I'm not sure but it's
just speculation), I think Louis Johnson had come in to help President
Truman at a time when really nobody else would have taken that particular
assignment, very difficult assignment, that is of raising money for the
1948 campaign. When President Truman brought off the miracle of the 20th
Century, as far as politics were concerned, he owed a very real debt to
Louis Johnson was an ambitious man. He had served previously as Under
Secretary of the Army
under Harry Woodring, and he had gotten involved
in a serious dispute with Woodring and I think had been let go. I think
he wanted very much to get back into the Defense Department. That would
rather justify the dispute that had taken place earlier. And then I have
heard it suggested that he even had higher ambitions. He had a great following
among the American Legion and so forth. And it was entirely possible that
he thought this would be a stepping stone to even higher office.
HESS: Do you think he would have like to have been President?
CLIFFORD: I think so.
HESS: Did you ever hear him say so?
CLIFFORD: No. I don't believe anybody says that, but I know a number
of those around him had the
same feeling, and I rather accepted it as
most people did. It is not an uncommon attitude at all for one . . .
HESS: Many people want to move in across the street over here don't they?
CLIFFORD: Yes, that's right.
HESS: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
There was a rumor at the time, close to the time of Mr. Forrestalls release,
that he had an anti-Jewish and a pro-Arab feeling, and that had something
to do with his dismissal.
CLIFFORD: I do not know if that was a factor. I know that he had
very strong feelings about the Middle East. I would doubt that it was
an anti-Jewish bias. I believe that it was based more on what he considered
to be the military realities of the Middle East.
HESS: Was it more pro-oil?
CLIFFORD: It was more pro-Arab than it was anti-Palestine at that time,
or later, anti-Israel.
I believe that he and most of the military and most of
the civilians in the Defense Department, felt that we were making a mistake
by taking the side of Israel, and that the real power in the Middle East
was on the side of the Arabs. I remember at that time the argument being
made that there were approximately 20 or 30 million Arabs and a million
and a half Israelis, and that the day would come that the Israelis would
be pushed into the Mediterranean. Obviously also, the oil was a matter
of important military consideration; a military machine runs on oil, and
here in the Middle East . . .
HESS: Particularly the Navy.
CLIFFORD: Sure, and then as the Army became more
mechanized, it runs
on oil; you transport your men in trucks. Tanks had become very important.
The Air Force ran on petroleum, the Navy ran on petroleum. And the rather
narrow military view was you cannot overlook the importance of that part
of the world, which is the largest oil producing area of the globe. It
was almost that simple.
HESS: And to clear up a point, I was in error awhile ago. The National
Security Act of 149 was signed on August the 10th, 1949, well after the
death of Mr. Forrestal. He died on May the 22nd of 1949, so he was there
during the time that the act was being written, but it was actually signed
well after his death and when Louis Johnson was Secretary.
CLIFFORD: That is obviously why I couldn't remember how he had fared
under the new act. I can recall
that he was still there when the new act
was being worked on, and I can recall that he was a proponent of a stronger
piece of legislation.
HESS: And that he had gone into President Truman and admitted that he
CLIFFORD: That's right.
HESS: Anything else come to mind on unification?
CLIFFORD: I think this covers it.
HESS: All right, now on the Truman Doctrine
for Greece and Turkey, we
have mentioned the subject in both of our previous meetings, but I have
yet a couple of brief questions to touch on.
According to some historians, the statement that really catalyzed the
action on the Greek and Turkey was not necessarily Mr. Truman's speech
to Congress on March the 12th, but was Under Secretary Acheson's remarks
White House to a bipartisan group of congressional leaders on February
the 27th of 1947. Now, I have it marked there as to who was present, and
in his book, Present at the Creation, Mr. Acheson states that Secretary
of State Marshall, "Flubbed his opening statement." And the people who
were present were General Marshall and Mr. Acheson, Tom Connally, Styles
Bridges, Arthur Vandenberg, Joe Martin, Charles Eaton, Sol Bloom and Sam
Rayburn. Do you recall, did you sit in on that meeting.
CLIFFORD: I cannot recall. The best that I can recall about the Greek-Turkish
crisis was sometime during the end of 1946 we received, maybe first it
was an informal word or maybe it was a letter from the British informing
us that they were going to have to pull out of Greece and Turkey. It created
a vepy real emergency as far as our government was concerned.
Greece and Turkey are located, as you know, strategically insofar as
the Mediterranean is concerned and it was a time when there was still
this aggressive Soviet expansionism going on.
And I can recall after we were notified by the British in late '46, attending
meetings, both at State and at the War Department, and I have some recollection
of going along with Admiral Leahy at the time. And then I think in early
'47 we received a formal note from the British informing us that they
had to get out. And then we had a series of meetings. I sat in some of
them. I think President Truman knew that some type of speech or message
had to be made; that was one reason that I would be asked to sit in the
Then I recall, in February I started to work on the so-called Truman
I worked with State, and with Dean Acheson, who at the
time was Under Secretary of State. We had quite a to-do back and forth
over the language and how far it was to go.
HESS: Did you work with Joseph Jones on this?
CLIFFORD: Yes, I worked with a Joseph Jones (I had not thought of him
for a great many years).
HESS: Did he provide a draft?
CLIFFORD: I was going to say he did some of the writing that went in
there. He was there for quite a while and had quite a facility for writing
so I tried to find ways to use him. Anybody who could write well, as soon
as we located them, why . . .
HESS: He was a valuable man?
CLIFFORD: Oh, yes, sir, and we'd begin to use him;
he had a very definite
input. And I remember how much we talked about how far we should go. Really
the major significance of the Truman Doctrine message of March 12, '47,
was the warning that it gave to the Soviet Union, because there is language
in that message, which President Truman read to the Congress, which says
that it shall be the policy of the United States to come to the aid of
those countries whose freedom was threatened by force, either from within
or from without.
Now, that's not exact, but that's the substance of it. You should note
that the pressure was growing on other countries at this time. It was
felt that it was advisable to lay down such a rule as this. For the edification
and encouragement of Western Europe and to sound a note of warning to
the Soviet Union.
HESS: In George Kennan's Memoirs he states that he thought the
message was too strongly worded, that we were sort of backing the Russians
into a corner, would you . . .
CLIFFORD: I disagree with that. As I look back on it now, I think that
was too broad a statement of our country's policy, but not for the reason
that he gives. It could, however, very well have placed too many responsibilities
upon the United States in the years that followed if the language was
taken literally. I think it served a useful purpose at the time, but it
must be viewed in the light of conditions that existed in 1947.
It is unfair and inaccurate, as an illustration, to suggest that the
language in that message could serve as a basis for our going into Vietnam
in 1965 would be wrong since the conditions were nothing like that that
existed almost twenty years before in 1947.
It did serve a very useful purpose in 1947; it brought a sense of comfort
and deep encouragement to the other nations of Europe who were being very
badly pressed. Many of these nations had exceedingly active and growing
Communist parties within their country after World War II. You may recall
the strength of the Communist Party in Italy and to a lesser extent in
England. There thus was this existing danger. Now we have weathered that
very difficult period, but at the time nobody knew whether we were going
to make it or not.
HESS: In Greece the Communist guerrillas were quite militant weren't
they? With their guerrilla activities?
CLIFFORD: They were. I know at one time it became a question as to whether
or not we might ultimately have to send some troops to Greece. This is
another reason that I think that the statement at the time was what we
needed. it gave such a sense of encouragement to persons within countries
in Europe that we were behind them, so that they were willing to make
stand and combat Communist forces within their country.
HESS: All right, one more question about the writing of the message.
In his book Present at the Creation, Dean Acheson states that you
thought Joseph Jones' draft of the President's message was too weak and
you added some points that he, Acheson, though unwise, and using General
Marshall's prestige, Acheson got you to withdraw your additions. Does
that square with your recollections?
CLIFFORD: Well . . .
HESS: Do you remember anything like that at all?
CLIFFORD: What I remember is, as I stated previously, that we had quite
a time over the message. When Mr. Acheson refers to Joe Jones' draft . . .
HESS: He sort of implies that that was the
final draft, that that draft made it through to the final stages.
CLIFFORD: I would have a different recollection about that. I think that
what happened, in accordance with the custom that prevailed at that time,
was that when a message of this sort was to be delivered and the President
had made the decision, we would meet with President Truman as we did on
this instance, and discuss the matter fully. At that meeting I would take
notes, because it would be from those notes that I'd have to go to work
on the message. At the time we would also request the department involved,
whether it was State or whether it might have been Agriculture, or Interior
at the time to come up with a draft of the message. And my recollection
is the State Department came up with the Joe Jones' draft.
Now, Mr. Acheson might call it the Joe Jones' draft but I would have
called it the State Department draft because it would be delivered from
the State Department.
I thought it was too weak. I thought it didn't do the job. And through
a process of meetings, and writing, and rewriting, that draft was changed
and strengthened a great deal. I think there may have been some instances
in which I perhaps wanted to go farther than the State Department wanted
to go. Some one of the drafts probably were tempered, but it still was
a strong draft. It still had this language in it. And I thought that language
was sound, President Truman thought it was sound, and that language stayed
in there. I do not remember the details, but it's entirely possible that
the State Department would have liked to have tempered that language.
HESS: During this period of time that these meetings were being held,
could you see an evolution in the President's thinking that we were going
to have to take a definite strong stand here in this area of the world?
CLIFFORD: Well, it wasn't quite like that. As I went into these conferences
and meetings that resulted in the Truman Doctrine message, I had in mind
the whole background of the work on the September 1946 memoranda.
I had been all through this before. I had talked to Marshall and Acheson,
and all of the top military leaders. I had all their views, and I knew
the President had the September 1946 document. My convictions had
already formed in my mind. I believe to a substantial extent they had
formed, or partially formed, in President Truman's mind as well. If you
look at the Truman Doctrine from an isolated standpoint, you
one view. If you look at it as an incident within the framework of the
September '46 message, you would know . . .
HESS: Your memo?
CLIFFORD: That's right, the memo of September 146, then you would know
that this is ground over which we had pretty well trod before. I don't
recall President Truman agonizing through the decision as far as the Truman
Doctrine was concerned. I think he had begun to feel that we had to face
up to Soviet expansionism.
I don't know when the Trieste incident occurred, but I think it was prior
to this time. And that had an impact. That showed how the President felt
about it too. He had taken the stand on Trieste and the Soviets or the
Communists had backed down on it. The Truman Doctrine fit within the general
framework of the policy that
we were going to have to pursue so far as
the Soviet Union was concerned.
Now, keep in mind that when the war was over, President Truman and most
thoughtful Americans hoped and prayed that we could develop a rapport
with the Soviet Union. We had been allies during the war and thus we gave
up that hope with definite reticence and difficulty, because we still
wanted it to be true.
If the only two great powers that existed in the world at the time had
been able to work together, they could have created a peace that would
have lasted indefinitely. Instead, we found that the other power was moving
in exactly the opposite direction. So, from the time the war was over
in August of 1945, until the end of 1946 (that's just a year approximately),
the thinking of the leaders of this country were undergoing this change.
And President Truman
had been in the process of reaching that conclusion.
We had to face up what was taking place; we had to confront the
realities of this aggressive nature of the Russians, and this was one
of the first illustrations.
With this as background I would say that there was greater impetus within
the White House than there was in the State Department to have a very
strong message. The State Department is always more cautious, it is always
looking at the political facets and ramifications.
HESS: Do you recall what particular foreign leaders that the White House
staff might have thought at that time were the most important people to
work with in such a program, the Greek-Turkish aid program? Do you recall?
CLIFFORD: I do not.
HESS: There has been since the years of the Greek-Turkish
some discussion that the United States should not have acted in a unilateral
manner, but should have acted through theUnited Nations. Was that discussed
at the time?
CLIFFORD: It was. And the decision was made, correctly in my opinion,
that the crisis was a dangerous and imminent one. You could go before
the U.N., but once you took that route, you would have to continue down
that road. It could have taken months before anything was done.
You would have to expect a most violent opposition from some member nations
within the U.N. By that time in early 147, you will recall that the Soviet
Union had already moved against the whole tier of nations on its western
border (all of whom had become satellites). If the job was to be done,
it seemed to me at the time, that it had to be done in the manner in which
it was done. I think that all that has transpired since then
confirms the wisdom of President Truman's judgment to do it in that manner.
HESS: And just reading into the record, the White House staff member
that I had in mind was George Elsey, because in a memo that he wrote you
on September the 22nd, 1947, when you were working on the Marshall plan,
Number two: Is Warren Austin being kept informed? We are concerned
less about Austin's position than we are concerned about public opinion.
The apparent failure of the administration to consider the United Nations,
at the time the President spoke to the Congress on March the 12th, 1947,
was very costly.
CLIFFORD: I would be in disagreement with him in that regard. It was not
unusual that we would disagree at the time. I knew that at the time this
decision was made, the U.N. which had been in existence since the spring
of 1945, was very much in everyone's mind. More was expected from the U.N.
at that time than we now expect from it.
We all had great hopes for
it. At the same time, one had to be realistic about it. I always
felt, for instance, in the numerous talks that I had with Secretary Acheson
that he never attached any real importance or significance to the U.N. at
HESS: Is that right?
CLIFFORD: Yes. He never thought that it was going to be a real force
for peace. And I think he feels that way to this day.
The fall of 1947 (you say September) was maybe six months after the Truman
Doctrine crisis. I would just have to say that Mr. Elsey may have had
that view and there may have been others at the time who felt that the
U.N. should have been called in. I certainly did not. I'm not sure that
we ever would have accomplished what President Truman accomplished if
taken to the U.N.
HESS: Moving on to the Marshall plan, how important was William Clayton
in the development of the Marshall plan? As you will recall, he took a
trip to Europe and came back and had several memos that he distributed
around around and he's been given (I think those were in May of 1947),
and he received quite a bit of credit for some of the early thinking on
the Marshall plan.
CLIFFORD: I think he deserved some credit for his contribution to the
concept of the Marshall plan. The man who deserves the most credit, of
course, is President Truman. The man who deserves the second most
credit is Under Secretary of State Acheson, because the genesis of the
Marshall plan was contained in a speech which Under Secretary Acheson
delivered in a southern
HESS: The Delta Conference at Cleveland, Mississippi.
CLIFFORD: Right. He delivered it in Mississippi, and that must have been
sometime in the spring of 1947. I remember reading the speech at the time
and sensing a trend. I was not startled or surprised by the idea, because
it again fell within the framework of the study that I was engaged in.
HESS: Did you ever discuss that with him?
CLIFFORD: I do not know. I just do not know. I do recall one other interesting
incident about the so-called Marshall plan.
When we were working on it we recognized that at times one cannot foresee
the impact that a development has, and other times one can. I think, however,
we were conscious during the
time that we were working on the Marshall
plan and the Marshall plan message, of its significance and the world
importance it would achieve.
I remember at the time discussing the fact that it should bear President
Truman's name. Whether it would be the Truman plan, or another phase of
the Truman Doctrine, I felt it should bear his name.
I'm sure President Truman recognized and appreciated my sense of loyalty.
President Truman, however, was so much more experienced than I, and was
very clear on the fact that any type of project encompassing this broad
on action that might bear his name, would have been awfully rough going
in that Congress. There were Republican majorities in both the Senate
and the House during that period as a result of the off-year election
of 1946. So, it was his decision and his alone, to vest the plan and give,
effect, the credit for the plan, to General Marshall, although General
Marshall took no real part in it.
The idea developed, originally, in the top thinking in government. It
germinated, and then flowered in the speech that Secretary Acheson gave
in Mississippi. It was then picked up and formulated by President Truman,
joined in by Senator Vandenberg, who was chairman of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee. Then after it was created, formed, and put in final
shape, it was presented to General Marshall on a silver platter. He then
went, I think, to Princeton or...
CLIFFORD: Harvard, and made a speech in the spring of ‘47.
HESS: At the commencement at Harvard.
CLIFFORD: He offered this plan which caused great attention at the time.
It certainly was part of President Truman's tactics and strategy, to assist
in the plan's becoming known as the Marshall plan. The Republican majorities
in both chambers of the Congress, could accept, vote, and be for a Marshall
plan, whereas, they probably couldn't have been for a Truman plan. And
this again, I think, demonstrates President Truman's realism, his pragmatism,
his greater interest in the results to be obtained than to who was to
get the credit.
Some wise man once said, "There is no limit to what a single man can
accomplish, so long as he doesn't care who gets the credit." And this
was very much President Truman's attitude. I think it was in the finest
tradition of the office of the Presidency of the United States.
HESS: Is a view like that a little rare in politics?
CLIFFORD: I'll say it is! It's also mighty rare with Presidents too.
HESS: Do you recall how instrumental George Kennan was in the--and the
State Department Policy Planning Staff, in setting up the Marshall plan?
CLIFFORD: I do not know. I had no real contact with George Kennan at
that time. Once in a while I would see him, but I don't have any recollection
of his taking part in the meetings that we had during the formulation
of the Marshall plan. He was found more at the State Department, in that
ivory tower where the Policy Planning Staff held forth. That's where the
thinking would go on, and the memoranda would be issued from them.
I knew George Kennan, and talked with him from time to time. I would
see him around, but I do not recall that he was one of those that the
State Department would present as its
representative, or one of
its representatives. He was more in the back room at the State Department,
issuing the ideas and memoranda to them, rather as a front man
looking after the customers in the store. And that's why I don't recall
his taking part in this.
Now, my recollection could be defective. He could have conducted some
of those meetings, but the man who represented the State Department all
through that period, was Dean Acheson; and he didn't need George Kennan
or anybody else. He's not that kind of fellow.
HESS: No, he isn't.
What's your opinion of the success of the Marshall plan?
CLIFFORD: I would bestow upon it the highest encomium. I think that it
set a new level in international conduct and responsibility on the part
of a major
I cannot recall ever before in history that a country set out on a course
of action to save nations of the free world, solely on the basis of the
highest ethical concept of what was good for those countries and good
for the human race generally.
I believe that the Marshall plan was one of the pillars of President
Truman's foreign policy; the others were such programs as the Truman Doctrine
and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
The Marshall plan was the most important of all I and it seems to me
that the five year period of 1945 to 1950, I consider in many respects
to be the proudest period in American history. It was the time when a
great power which had already made an enormous contribution and sacrifice
to save the free world in the
Second World War (and we did, the world
could not have been saved without the United States), then decided to
take on the additional burden of giving away tens and tens of billions
of dollars to rehabilitate the nations of the world which were prostrate
after the war, and which could never have made it without us. it is one
of the greatest tributes I think to high mindedness and fine ethical thinking
on the part of a nation's leaders. I certainly give the highest
marks to the men who were responsible for it, and I believe that history
HESS: Would it have surprised you if the Iron Curtain countries had come
CLIFFORD: No, I think as a matter of fact . . .
HESS: The invitation was made.
CLIFFORD: Yes. I think, as a matter of fact, I
believe that we anticipated...
HESS: It's getting close to 6, sir.
CLIFFORD: I believe we anticipated in the beginning that the Soviet Union
would come in. I can't be absolutely clear, but we had announced "We wish
to assist you. We will do it with our money, with our technical stills,
with our machinery. We want to help you recover from the ravishes of war."
Well, the Soviets had lost, I believe, something like 20 million men.
All you have to do is think back to Stalingrad to realize the devastation
that the Germans had wreaked on the Soviet Union as they marched through.
It just defied one's imagination. The Soviets had ended up with a very
strong military machine after the war was over, but, my God, their country
was in trouble.
One would, I think, naturally assume
that after that kind of experience,
the Soviets would have accepted this very generous offer. I believe I
assumed they would.
Well, their quick response was they wanted no part of it. They had different
views in mind as to what was going on. It was at that time that Lenin
had said that there was an inescapable and unalterable conflict in the
world between democracy and communism, and he had no doubt whatsoever,
but that communism would ultimately prevail. That was their policy. The
die had been cast, the struggle was on, and as far as their attitude was
concerned, there would be no quarter asked and none given. And that's
what we went through from that time on.
It was a terribly difficult time and I thank God that we had a man (and
I say it advisedly), with the simplicity of mind and courage that
in President Truman. He never got involved in the complexities
of the period.
He saw it just as clearly as you can see black and white. There were
good men and there proved to be bad men; and, by God, he was going to
see to it that the men in the white hats prevailed and the men in the
black hats did not prevail. And one of the best ways to do it, was to
take a good, hard, tough, umcompromising attitude, which he did during
that period. And, of course, we had the bomb and they didn't, and this
was a matter of inestimable importance in getting us through that very
critical period. Otherwise, the whole face of the world would have been
HESS: Enough for one day, sir?
CLIFFORD: I must stop.
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