Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Oral History Interview with
George M. Elsey
April 9, 1970
Jerry N. Hess
ELSEY: Jerry, I believe the papers in box one speak for
themselves. They are clearly identified by folder, and unless you have
questions on any of them, I don't believe any explanatory statement
is necessary. If at a later date, someone at the Truman Library wishes
further explanations as to the material, of course, I'll be glad to
HESS: I have no questions on that. My first question comes
up in box number two. So, let's just shift boxes here. And box number
two is mostly on Roosevelt.
Just to hit them lightly, I found a couple of things of
interest in this large manila envelope in box number two and the folder
is entitled, "Conference Agreements." The second question I had dealt
with Palestine, "see memo on Jews to Palestine in Palestine folder,"
and this one mentions that on February 14, 1947 in a conversation with
Ibn-Saud, President Roosevelt remarked that he would do nothing to assist
the Jews against the Arabs, and he would make no move hostile to the
people. And it speaks that he would not want to move the Jewish
people into the Arab lands without the agreement of the Arabs. Was this
well known at the time as Mr. Roosevelt's stand?
ELSEY: No, I'm sure none of this was well known at the
time. These were all highly classified statements. Incidentally, you
mentioned--used the date 1947, I'm sure that was in error, you meant
HESS: '45, yes.
ELSEY: This memorandum was a summary of papers, highly
classified papers, in the White House files and I am sure that everything,
at least those items subsequent to April 12, '45 which are referred
to here, would all now be in the Truman Library at Independence. Some
of them might still be in that highly personal collection of papers
of the President.
HESS: Yes, Mr. Truman's private papers.
HESS: Did you write this memo?
ELSEY: Yes, and I gather that at the date, it was completed
on April 2, 1945, since that date appears in longhand here. And here
is a transmittal note that I sent it to Admiral Leahy on October 2,
'45. This would have-apparently was prepared at Admiral Leahy's request.
HESS: Here is a document on FDR and De Gaulle. It is still
marked "Top Secret" and it's by you on President Roosevelt's policy
towards De Gaulle. And it says that the President stated his views about
De Gaulle very clearly. What do you recall about Roosevelt's statements
about De Gaulle?
ELSEY: Well, I think it's best to refer to the memorandum
because they are all summarized, paraphrased, or excerpted in this memorandum,
and rather than my trying to quote from memory, I think I would simply
cite the memorandum itself and as the opening sentence, or sentences,
the material here does come from exchanges of messages between FDR and
Churchill, most of this does. This is one of the many background papers
prepared in preparation for the Potsdam Conference. This is one of the
many, all done under Admiral Leahy's direction, or at his request, so
that Admiral Leahy would have reference material at hand, and so that
Admiral Leahy could discuss with President Truman prior to, and enroute
to Potsdam, these-some of the more significant political issues that
would be coming up at that conference.
HESS: What other political issues do you recall . . .
ELSEY: Here you see is an example. This all started the
7th of June with a note from Frank Pinney, Jr. who was Admiral Leahy's
aide. "The Admiral would like a resume of our relations with De Gaulle
as revealed in presidential messages." So, this was in compliance with
that request and that's typical of the kind of requests, the
kind of matters that Leahy was having summarized for the new President's
HESS: Well, the other thing that I had on my list
and I can't find right now, dealt with Mr. Roosevelt's acceptance of
the [Henry, Jr.] Morgenthau plan, and was that well known at the time?
ELSEY: Back to (excuse me, but I'll interrupt), back to
the Palestine papers that you asked about. You'll see here
note that the documents cited were returned to Miss [Rose] Conway on
October 13, 1945, so these various secret memoranda, minutes of conversation,
and so on, were borrowed from Miss Conway and put together in this brief
five-page synopsis used by Leahy in conversations with the President,
and then returned by Leahy to me, and the back-up papers I handed to
HESS: Are these Leahy's initials?
ELSEY: That's WDL, that's Admiral Leahy. Leahy had-this
is again Admiral Leahy's initials.
HESS: What do you recall about the President's views on
the Morgenthau plan?
ELSEY: Are you citing a particular memorandum in here?
HESS: Well, yes. It's supposed to be in box two, in a
large folder and it's supposed to be "Conference Agreements." Do you
see anything in here entitled "Conference Agreements?" We do have folder
ELSEY: "Conference Agreements," yes.
HESS: Yes, Quebec was where this was brought up of course.
There are several things still marked "Top Secret" here.
ELSEY: Here on page 8 of a memorandum which I sent to
Admiral Leahy on May 23, 1945, you'll find a synopsis of what is popularly,
and publicly called the Morgenthau plan. The President did agree
to it, and this is an excerpt from the minutes of the meeting:
And the President and the Prime Minister agreed on a policy towards
and here is really the key sentence of what was popularly
called the Morgenthau plan:
This program for eliminating the warmaking industries in the Ruhr
and the Saar is looking forward to converting Germany into a country
primarily agricultural and pastoral in its character. The Prime Minister
and the President were in agreement on this program.
HESS: If they were in agreement at that time, why wasn't
that carried out, or carried further than it was? Was that sort of impractical
in a country that had so much iron and coal and a history of steel making?
ELSEY: Yes. And I think the basic reason why it was not
carried out was the fact that within a matter of, oh,
months after the
second Quebec conference, the United States began to be much more concerned
about the political aspirations of the Soviet Union on the continent
of Europe, and the recognition that if Germany were completely
demilitarized and turned into a pastoral country, the whole of Europe
would be wide open to takeover by the Soviet Union. That was the principal
reason why the Morgenthau plan was not ever carried into
effect by the United States and Britain.
HESS: The remainder of the box consists of six manila
envelopes, all with Roosevelt labels. Anything else in this box?
ELSEY: In many of those as you recognize are magazines,
newspapers contemporary public statements which I saved for, not knowing
what future use might be made of them or might be required of them.
There--Admiral [Wilson] Brown who was Roosevelt's Naval Aide most of
the war, was very much concerned about having adequate records maintained
for President Roosevelt's own use in writing about the war. Of
course, this all ended with Roosevelt's death, but I saved all sorts
of things for
that purpose, not having any idea what the ultimate use
We're wasting all of your tape there, Jerry.
HESS: Oh, don't worry about that, tape's cheap.
That's all the specific questions that I have out of box
two. Let's get on to box three.
ELSEY: I might make a comment about those memoranda that
are in there that were prepared at Leahy's, primarily at Leahy's request,
some at Harry Hopkins' request, for President Truman. Many, I'm sure
will be found to be incomplete in many respects. Their value lies not
so much that they were total and complete stories, but they reveal exactly
what information was in the White House at that time. I had total
access, unrestricted access, to the files of Admiral Leahy, Harry
Hopkins, the Map Room papers of President Roosevelt that were retained
in the White House for a very long period after FDR's death, and the
papers, the personal papers, of President Truman. So, when I prepared
for Leahy, for example some of those files, reports, we were just looking
at, briefing papers in preparation for the Potsdam conference, that--
those do contain accurate, as accurate as I could make them, summaries
of everything that was available in the White House. Now, if a scholar
finds that they are greatly deficient in key respects, which a scholar
may or may not find, I don't know that he will, but if he does, the
significance of that would be that that data just simply was not available
in the White House to the new administration. That, I think is the principal
virtue to having these papers now available. You can check to see whether
. . .
HESS: What was missing and what wasn't.
ELSEY: What was missing.
HESS: Decisions had to be made actually….
ELSEY: Decisions had to be made on what was there, present,
and that is as accurate as it was possible to make them to reveal what
was in the White House at that time.
HESS: Before we go further into that, my eye lands on
the file relating to the Yalta Conference and in the latest Saturday
Review of Literature, there is an article by a doctor who examined
Roosevelt in 1944. Have you seen
that article yet?
ELSEY: Howard Bruenn. I have not seen the article, I saw
news stories about that.
HESS: What is your view of Mr. Roosevelt's health in the
last year of his life?
ELSEY: I certainly wouldn't attempt to make any medical
evaluation, that's obviously out of the question. I had great respect
for Bruenn and I know that everyone else around there held him in extremely
high regard. I would simply have to accept anything that Dr. Bruenn
says, from the medical point of view, as being accurate. I would also
say that I would place a higher degree of reliability on what Bruenn
writes than on the "quickie" book published in Admiral Ross McIntire's
name, oh, fairly soon after FDR's death. McIntire's book I found then
gravely deficient, sloppy and full of errors. It was ghostwritten
by someone who didn't know the situation very well and I think Ross
McIntire did himself and FDR an injustice by painting much too rosy
a picture. If you compare McIntire and Bruenn I'm sure you will find
wide discrepancies and my chips are on Bruenn, not on
HESS: It mentioned in the article that I read this morning
that they had sort of left it up to McIntire to tell the President about
his enlarged heart and his failing health and they are not so sure if
he did tell him. They thought that perhaps since he had been giving
glowing reports over the years, he just didn't want to.
ELSEY: Whether McIntire did or not, of course, I have
no way of knowing.
HESS: All right, the first one in the next box is on the
Berlin Conference. I don't have any particular questions on this. It
seems to be photographs and some newspapers . . .
ELSEY: Press clippings . . .
HESS: Press clippings . . .
ELSEY: …copies of releases.
HESS: Press releases and things of that nature. The surrender
of Japan. Anything important there?
ELSEY: I don't think anything here that is not self-explanatory.
HESS: Now, the next two folders deal with Clark Clifford's
Russian report, which I noticed Arthur Krock quotes in total, I believe,
in the appendix of his new book.
HESS: Is that right?
ELSEY: That's right.
HESS: Can you tell me about the writing of that report?
Did you assist Mr. Clifford in the writing of that report?
ELSEY: I think you'll find the whole story of that in
here including every draft all the way through from my longhand and
other typings right on through to the tail end.
HESS: Your longhand. Did you write it?
ELSEY: All you have to do is look at the draft to get
the answer to that.
HESS: Well, that looks like it's all in your hand doesn't
it? I think you wrote it.
ELSEY: And various memoranda on chapters. But Mr. Clifford
worked on it. You'll find some of the drafts with his handwriting where
he edited it.
HESS: Is this his handwriting?
ELSEY: Yes, that is his handwriting.
HESS: Rather small and precise type of handwriting.
ELSEY: Yes. His changes are shown in here.
I also have, in some of the drafts of the various chapters,
points where he questioned, asked further questions or questioned, as
I have noted here, one draft of the introduction, the advisability of
some of these statements that had appeared in my earliest version. He
was out of the country when much of it was written.
There is a sheet listing all of the various editions and
versions of it.
You will see that the report was based on data which came
both partly from the various departments and agencies in response to
a request from Clifford, and partly on documents already in our possession
at the White House, in the FDR files or in the files that had accumulated
subsequent to Mr. Truman's becoming President in April;
were in Admiral Leahy's or Harry Hopkins' office. I had access to all
HESS: Do you think that your views . . .
ELSEY: I might give you the background of how all this
HESS: All right.
ELSEY: The President, in July, talked with Clifford and
said he was concerned at the fact that the Russians couldn't be trusted
and didn't keep agreements that they had made, and he wanted a list
of the agreements that the Russians had violated or broken. Clifford
asked if I could obtain or work up such a list and, of course, the answer
was in the affirmative, yes.
We talked about it a good deal and I said that I thought
that that was entirely too narrow a question, that the President seemed
to be basing too much of his attitude towards the Russians at that point,
on this rather narrow point of whether they did or did not adhere to
agreements. I thought the whole question of our relations with the Soviet
Union at that point was a much
more comprehensive, much broader, matter
than this technicality of agreement breaking or agreement keeping, that
there were far more fundamental issues involved, that the nature of
these issues didn't seem to be clearly understood in large parts of
the executive branch (witness the fiasco of Henry Wallace) , I recommended,
and Clifford did then agree, that it would be much better if he, Clifford,
would do a report on the totality, if you will, of U.S.-Soviet relations,
and if the President found that report acceptable, it could be used,
judiciously, because it would necessarily be highly classified, it could
be used judiciously by the President, giving copies to individuals in
the executive branch or elsewhere, using it as a basis for discussion
with people so that we wouldn't have any more Henry Wallace kind of
That was the reason why this--that was the genesis
of the origin, and the rationale behind this report. I tackled it with
a real zeal because I felt very deeply the necessity of this kind of
thing. So, I went to work on it and did spend the latter few days of
July, all of August, and well into September in assembling material
from the departments, in writing the report and going over drafts with
Clifford, and then I had the report
printed by the graphic unit of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff in a limited, very limited, number of copies.
HESS: It's dated September 24, 1946. That is in the same
month that--wasn't Wallace's speech at Madison Square Garden in September
ELSEY: My recollection is that his speech had been a number
of weeks earlier than that.
To carry it another step further, when the report was
presented by Clifford to the President in September, the President felt
that it was much too explosive a document because it covered so comprehensively,
so many issues, and he told Clifford he did not think it advisable
to give copies to members of his Cabinet, or to have any distribution
of it. So, the President retained a limited number. I do not now recall
how many, perhaps two or three, of the printed copies himself, and Admiral
Leahy retained one, and Clifford, I guess, retained one. Obviously Krock
had access to one someplace. But there was no other distribution to
the best of my knowledge. I do not know whether the President handed
one or two copies to anyone else, but certainly there was no distribution
from Clifford's office or from me as you
HESS: Do you think that your report to the President helped
shape his views on our attitude and what we should--on our relations
ELSEY: Oh, in the first place, it was not my report,
it was Clifford's report to the President.
I think it's conceivable that having a synopsis like this,
a summary, available to him may have been useful to the President.
You see, it's important not to overemphasize the significance
of this. This was a consolidation, a summary of facts, data, opinions,
material already available to the President, most of which have had
at one time or another been called to his attention by the Secretary
of State, or the Secretary of War, or the Secretary of the Navy, or
other officials, or Admiral Leahy or Harry Hopkins, in the months before
he left the White House, but it's different to have things come to you
piecemeal over a period of time, or having them all presented in a consistent
form. The impact of having it all drawn together may have had some influence
on the President. Again, I don't think one can--you never
know and neither
the President or anyone else is ever able to say exactly what
all the influences are that help him make up his mind. The President
is getting data all the time orally or in written form from a wide variety
of people. As I say, the report had its origin in this fact that I thought--and
felt so keenly that the President's concern with the--that he was judging
Russia on too narrow a basis and that he had ought to look at the total
picture, and Clifford agreed with that.
HESS: Okay. I see some very important folder titles. I
don't have any specific questions about the material that's in them,
on "Atomic Energy," on "National Defense," "Strategic Bombing Survey
Reports," "Atomic Bomb Tests." As a general question, when did you first
become aware of the atomic bomb? Can you recall?
ELSEY: I can't really say. It would have been at least
as early as 1943 because of the exchanges of messages between President
Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill on the subject.
HESS: At the time that you were working in the Map Room.
ELSEY: In the Map Room at the White House, yes. So . . .
HESS: Do you see anything of interest . . .
ELSEY: Well, back in the war, two years as a minimum before
the test on July 16th at Alamogordo, New Mexico.
HESS: Okay. Now, there are several folders on Korea, we've
skipped a few folders here--several folders on Korea.
ELSEY: Including a number of items which are day by day
events in June '50 when the war broke out, memoranda of conferences,
records of individual meetings, notes of comments that President Truman
made to me.
HESS: Where were you at the time that you first heard
about the invasion?
ELSEY: The President was out in Missouri at that time.
I was here in Washington. Actually--yes, I was here in Washington that
HESS: Did you see him--he came back on Sunday evening
ELSEY: He came back on Sunday evening. I did not see him
until Monday morning.
HESS: At a staff conference?
ELSEY: At a staff conference.
HESS: What was his attitude at the staff conference?
ELSEY: I would hesitate to try and say at this point.
I would just have to be imagining what it must have been. I have
no specific recollection of attitude at that conference, but these folders
are almost hour by hour of those early events, phone calls, messages,
what the President was doing on an hour by hour basis through Saturday,
June 24, Sunday the 25th, Monday the 26th; messages that were coming
back and forth between the White House and the State Department, a minute
by minute chronology. Even the dinner that the President had on Sunday
evening with Acheson and Louis Johnson, Webb, Pace, etc.; copies of
memoranda of conversations that was prepared in the Department of State
subsequent to that too, are here.
Then there are a number of folders on messages that went
to Congress on the Korean situation, radio addresses to the public,
of course they were radio in those days, not TV, drafts in toto
and here's one, his first major message to Congress on July 19th. It
starts from the beginning and works right on through from the very first
pencil scrawled notes of some of us on the staff. That I can recognize
right away as being David Bell's handwriting, in that version.
HESS: Do you think that it was a tough decision for Mr.
Truman to make to go into Korea?
ELSEY: No. Any decision to commit American men
to a military action is, of course, a tough decision, but the point
of view of his advisers was unanimous.
HESS: Now this folder is "Truman-MacArthur-Matthews Statements
August 1950," and this was the speech that Mr. Truman made on September
1, 1950 and on the top of the draft it says: "On Matthews see page 5.
On MacArthur see page 5." So, on page five, about MacArthur it mentions,
"Fifth: We do not want Formosa or any part of Asia for ourselves." This
was something that I believe that MacArthur gave the President a good
deal of trouble about.
ELSEY: Right. And I have marked here on the carbon, "Reply
to MacArthur." MacArthur had been making statements about Formosa, other
parts of Asia, and this was the President's
effort to make it very clear
that this was not United States Government policy, Secretary
of the Navy, and a little farther down on that page there's the longhand
annotation "Reply to Secretary Matthews." Of course, this was not publicly
identified by Truman as being a reply to MacArthur or to [Francis P.]
Matthews but it was. Secretary Matthews had spoken about the
possibility of preventive war, he had talked about the atom bomb,
and Truman was making it very clear here that that was not government
policy. He was disowning the Secretary of the Navy.
HESS: Not long after that Mr. Matthews left for--to be
Ambassador to Ireland. Is that correct?
ELSEY: That is correct.
HESS: Was this statement his exit ticket? Was that why
he was moved to Ireland?
ELSEY: That was part of it. He was not the most effective
Secretary of the Navy.
This folder has a number of clippings and various other
annotations about the White House reaction to both
the MacArthur and
Matthews statements. This really was the beginning of the period of
extreme tension, vis-a-vis General MacArthur, which culminated in the
General's dismissal the following spring. Some of these news clippings
you may wonder why they're here but--this is an interesting one here;
the Doris Fleeson story in the Evening Star of April 30, 1950.
The interesting part I think for--it is my comment in the margin. "This
is a full and accurate story based on much research," that is much research
by Doris Fleeson, "and on interviews with Steven Early," who was a Deputy
Secretary of Defense, "and Charles Ross," who was, of course, still
the President's Press Secretary, this was an effort to try and get the
Formosa-MacArthur statement put in its proper perspective. And it was
because these situations were so tense, and so fraught with potential
trouble, that I was keeping clippings, I was annotating them.
I was talking myself with correspondents when directed and when
HESS: At this time General MacArthur was writing several
articles for magazines, he wrote several Congressmen, with his views
on what should be done and not directly
sending his communications to
the Pentagon. Do you think he had a political motive in mind?
ELSEY: I would hesitate to answer. I would not attempt
to assess the General's motivations.
HESS: All right.
ELSEY: Here's a memorandum of October 2, 1950, that explains
the genesis of one of the Truman messages to MacArthur; why it was sent,
how it was sent.
HESS: We have several more questions on MacArthur, but
they come from a different folder. Now, to keep things in chronological
order, which -you have done very nicely here, in September Louis Johnson
was replaced as Secretary of Defense by General Marshall and that is
the next folder "Johnson's Resignation." What do you recall about that
and why did President Truman replace Louis Johnson?
ELSEY: I think it's better to let the notes and memoranda
in here speak for themselves. There are numerous contemporary memoranda
for this period, that is 1950, reporting the Johnson point of view,
the Johnson comments on other
men in the administration. The opinion . . .
HESS: Principally Acheson?
ELSEY: Acheson and the State Department, right.
There is a memorandum here that I dictated on September
13, 1950, of a lengthy report that Charles Ross gave me as to the circumstances
as he understood them.
HESS: Another article by Doris Fleeson.
ELSEY: And you will note that the memoranda of my conversation
(or Charlie Ross' really monologued me), on the circumstances, a copy
was given to the President. Then here on September 16th is my memorandum
for the files of President Truman's reaction to, and his okay, of this
memorandum with a verbatim quote of some of the President's language
HESS: The difficulty that he had had right at the time
of the resignation. He says, "Maybe if I get time I'll write down the
whole story." So, Johnson took it rather hard. Why was General Marshall
selected at this time?
ELSEY: Well, I think that story is pretty well a matter
public knowledge and record. The President had an enormous respect
for General Marshall, had had for many, many years.
HESS: All right, this folder is "Hawaii-Wake-San Francisco,
October 1950." Now ' I believe that you went to San Francisco during
this time, is that correct?
ELSEY: I went to Hawaii. I did not go on to Wake Island.
I went out in advance of the presidential party, a day or so, with a
contingent of Secret Service men and others to make arrangements with
Admiral [Arthur W.] Radford who was Commander in Chief of the Pacific
fleet, and with his staff, for the presidential party, for the stopover
at Hawaii and for the conferences which the President was to have with
Radford and others in Hawaii. I remained in Honolulu that day that the
President flew out to Wake and back and then I flew in the President's-with
the White House party to San Francisco and worked enroute as
the notes and files will show, enroute from Hawaii to San Francisco
on the speech that the President made in San Francisco about the Wake
HESS: When did you first find out that there was
going to be a meeting between President Truman and General
ELSEY: Well, my recollection is that this was decided
on a weekend cruise on the Williamsburg with a number of White
House staff members on the cruise. It was very shortly before, perhaps
not more than a week before the trip took place.
HESS: The meeting was on the 15th, October the 15th.
ELSEY: Yes, and here's a note which I drafted for
Charles Murphy to send to the President and which Charlie did on October
9 and you see the opening sentence, "It appears to me highly desirable
the following steps should be taken as soon as possible if the President
meets the schedule as discussed on the Williamsburg." We had been spending
that weekend, preceding weekend, on the Williamsburg talking
about this and here are the recommended Procedures to be followed. At
this point, you see, General MacArthur hadn't even been consulted yet.
ELSEY: He didn't even know about it. Well, no, MacArthur--
didn't even know, you see. Secretary of Defense General Marshall and
Acheson were to send a telegram, I was recommending, and Murphy recommended,
to the President that the telegram be sent to MacArthur expressing the
President's desire to meet MacArthur in Hawaii on Saturday the
14th, but MacArthur, as we know from later, in other reports, didn't
want to go as far as Hawaii, didn't like to fly at night, only wanted
to go fly as far as Wake because he could make a daytime journey.
HESS: Under your item number one it says:
If the President has not already told Secretary Acheson and General
Marshall of his intention to leave Washington at the end of this week
Does that mean that these men did not know about President
Truman's intention of meeting with MacArthur?
ELSEY: That's right. This was a White House staff conference
and a White House staff discussion on the Williamsburg. And when
I wrote this for Charlie I suspect that you will find that that's probably
a Monday, October 9 is probably Monday, that on a Monday morning when
my appointment was, if we didn't--if he
hadn't told them then that he
had ought to do so right away.
HESS: Do you recall their reactions?
ELSEY: I do not.
HESS: Okay. Now, also under number four you mention who
the President should take, or let's see, "The President should indicate
to Marshall and Acheson that he wished to be accompanied by a very small
number of advisers and that he has in mind the following persons as
principal members. Averell Harriman," who did go; "'Frank Pace," who
did go; "Dean Rusk," who did go. And then the recommendation for "the
Joint Chiefs of Staff." They did not go. Was this debated that the Joint
Chiefs of Staff should go?
ELSEY: I have no recollection now. I simply can't remember
at this point.
HESS: I thought that was an interesting point. And these
are your initials on the last page of the memo, correct?
HESS: All right.
Okay now, getting on a little further, after the time
of the replacement of General MacArthur, on April 21, 1951, Anthony
Leviero, writing in the New York Times has an article in which he has
quoted several documents. Do you know where he got those documents?
ELSEY: Excuse me just a moment, I'm looking through some
of the other items in the file here.
HESS: The photographs.
ELSEY: The photographs.
HESS: Is this the Ambassador?
ELSEY: That's the Governor of Hawaii, Governor [Ingram
ELSEY: Admiral Radford had not been scheduled to go. You
see, Bradley was chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Admiral Radford had not
been scheduled to go on to Wake Island. I personally felt, I guess that
was my Navy prejudice showing through, that it was unfortunate if the
in Chief of the Pacific were not to accompany the President,
since the President was there in Hawaii, and was going on to Wake, which
was a Dart of the jurisdiction of Admiral Radford, and that it would
be better in all respects; military relationships and everything else,
if the President were to include Admiral Radford in the party. Almost
from the moment that the presidential party did arrive in Hawaii (you
recall I said I had gotten out there early, I began lobbying, if you
will, with Harriman and Murphy, and probably others saying, "Shouldn't
the President invite Admiral Radford to accompany him?" he did and I
was gratified in that. I think it helped some in the relationships with
the military, with the Navy in particular, but that's just a minor footnote.
It does not have much significance.
HESS: Now, the article about Mr. Leviero. I believe he
won a Pulitzer Prize for that article on April 21, 1950-'51.
ELSEY: Yes, it had to be '51, it was several months later.
It was after the dismissal by the President of . . .
HESS: Where did he receive the information to use in that
article? Come on now.
ELSEY: I don't think I have any comment on that.
HESS: All right. One other thing that I did notice of
interest . . .
ELSEY: Turn that off.
HESS: All right.
ELSEY: Ask your question again.
HESS: All right. Where did Mr. Anthony Leviero receive
his information and the documents that he used in his article of April
ELSEY: I can't be precise on the exact time sequence here,
but within a few days prior to the publication, perhaps three or four
days prior to the publication, I returned to my apartment one evening
and found messages, two or three messages, which were reported to be
urgent, that I call Anthony Leviero. These had been taken by the apartment
house switchboard. This was a little unusual. White House correspondents
did not normally call me. They certainly did not call me at home very
often, nor did they allege that the purpose of their call was urgent.
I went ahead and returned the call to Leviero and Leviero
said that the purpose of the call was--had been overtaken by events
because he, in not being able to reach me had talked with John Steelman.
Leviero said he was doing a story for the Times on Wake Island
and all the background and circumstances of General MacArthur's relief
from command by President Truman and he was particularly trying to get
the full story of what had actually happened at Wake since there
were so many conflicting versions of what MacArthur had said, the promises
that MacArthur was alleged to have made to President Truman and so on
and so forth, but Leviero repeated he had talked with Steelman on the
subject, and that ended it so far as I was concerned.
The next morning I attended, as usual, the President's
morning staff conference. And as we were going in, John Steelman said
he would like me to remain behind, with him, to talk briefly with the
President after the conference was over. And I said, "Does this have
anything to do with the call that I got from Tony Leviero last night?"
And Steelman said, "Yes, that's it," or words to
effect. Of course, I can't quote and don't mean to be quoting as though
this is the exact phraseology.
So, as the morning staff conference broke up, Dr. Steelman
said to the President that he had a matter to take up and held like
me to remain behind. This was common. Various staff members would frequently
ask for the opportunity of staying behind and talking with the President
on a matter that would not necessarily involve the total staff. And
of course, the President assented. Steelman told the President that
Leviero was at work on this subject, this story, appeared to
have talked to a great many people, already knew a lot, and was exceedingly
eager to consult or see the--whatever written memorandum or record there
was of the Wake Island conference. And the President thought this over
briefly, and asked Steelman if Steelman had the record of the conference
and Steelman said no he didn't but that I either had, or had access
to things of that sort. The President asked if I had a copy in my files.
I said I did, and the President said, "Okay, go ahead and tell Tony
he can have it." So, this is what happened. I did thereupon talk to
Leviero and say he should come to my office later that
morning and he
could have access to the Wake Island minutes. That's all there is to
HESS: Sometime after that you were transferred to the
Mutual Security Agency, do you think that this had any part in that?
ELSEY: No. I went to Mutual Security when the--actually
it was Office of the Director for Mutual Security, Averell Harriman.
That was many, many months later and I had….
HESS: When was that, early November?
ELSEY: Oh, I guess so, November of '51 and I had been
working closely with Harriman from the time that Harriman returned to
Washington from his Marshall plan job at the end of June 1950. Harriman
came back to be on the President's staff with the outbreak of the Korean
war, and so Harriman had already been back in Washington close to a
year by then, by now, and I had been working with Harriman throughout
that period. No, I do not attribute a cause and effect, a causal relationship
here to carrying out a presidential directive. Needless to say, I did
not reveal at that time, and do not think--Jerry, I think I
a specific request here that this portion of the transcript of the interview
regarding the access to the Wake Island . . .
HESS: The Anthony Leviero . . .
ELSEY: The Anthony Leviero episode, I think that I have
to request that it be sealed and not made available to scholars in Truman's
HESS: All right.
ELSEY: I think the access to the--the turning over of
the minutes to Anthony Leviero was as a direct order or instruction
from the President to me. So far as I know he has never--this has never
been ascribed to him. It's been assumed that there was a leak some
place in Washington and I would not want to put the finger on President
Truman for this. So, for his lifetime, any interview or any of my comments
on this ought to remain under seal. After President Truman's death I
see no need for any restriction.
HESS: Okay. No problem at all.
One general question: Do you think that the dismissal
of General MacArthur was handled in the correct manner?
ELSEY: No, I think that, thought then, and I've always
thought, that the administration could have avoided a lot of the emotionalism
that arose over the dismissal of General MacArthur by giving a greater
attention to the details of the handling. I think that it--it looked
like panic on the part of the White House and the Pentagon and I think
that was unfortunate. It gave instead of--it was not handled in a dignified
manner as was befitting the action of the President and Commander in
There was a degree of panic, there was some
concern that MacArthur might get some wind of this and might make some
grandstand gesture of his own. There were rumors flying around that
he was going on a world-wide broadcast, network, and there was some
suspicion that maybe he was going to resign with a grandstand announcement.
And in effect, the White House was I'm afraid, I'm sorry to say it,
was panicked by fear that MacArthur might get the jump.
HESS: Wasn't there a rumor . . .
ELSEY: It still, I think, was badly handled and there
is such a concern on the part of Joe Short (the Press Secretary), to
give a lot of documents out to the newspapers, that--and
it just took hours to transcribe documents, and to mimeograph
them, actually to release them to the press. The press could have been
so informed some hours earlier if Joe Short hadn't been so concerned
about handing out a lot of documents and a lot of papers. This meant
that the press was called into the White House sometime after midnight.
I've now forgotten, what, 1 a.m. or something like that, and so they
accurately said that MacArthur was fired in the dead of night.
Well, it was in the dead of night in Washington, of course, it was the
middle of the afternoon out there in Tokyo, but there were just--it
was something of a panic reaction which chagrined me at the time and
has always embarrassed me, subsequently, that the White House sort of
lost control of itself at that point.
HESS: Even though it was handled rather poorly, do you
think it was necessary?
ELSEY: Oh, no question but what it was necessary. Oh,
I'm only addressing the - just the mechanics of it. As to the wisdom
of the decision, or the necessity for the decision, absolutely no question
in my mind. I think that President Truman's stature as President was
enhanced. It was necessary. He had to do it. No President could tolerate
that kind of behavior on the part of a subordinate military commander.
No, my criticism is only of just the mechanics and the
faulty mechanics were those of the press office, more than anything
HESS: Now, the last things in there are newspapers and
I think most of them have to do with--this of course is just about the
time that he was thinking of . . .
ELSEY: Wake Island.
HESS: Yes, Wake Island.
ELSEY: I don't know why those were--quite frankly I don't
(quickly glancing at them) , I don't see why those were saved.
HESS: Maybe background.
ELSEY: Probably background for the climate prevailing
at the time of the Wake Island matter.
HESS: Well, that finishes the box number three. What time
are you going to have to leave?
ELSEY: Oh, a half an hour from now.
ELSEY: We can always get together again.
HESS: Good. Now, I don't have anything specific in box
four as I noticed. What does our list show for box four?
ELSEY: Box four is a pretty important time period. It's
the Korean crisis, I call it that, from November to December 1950, that's
the time when the Chinese came in and a great many important actions
had to be taken, military decisions had to be taken, and because of
the greatly stepped-up pace of weapons procurement, armament, and so
on we had the whole problem of inflation and the questions relating
to wage, price controls, other economic measures of that sort, and at
the President's specific direction--and I tried to keep very careful
records and minutes of these meetings. I have minutes of the meetings
he held with Congressmen, with members of committees and congressional
leaders, with other officials of the executive branch, and drafts of
the radio addresses, the messages to Congress and so on, that took place
during this November-December period. It was also at this time that
Eisenhower had a long session with the President. Here is the full minutes
of the session, some fifteen pages, sixteen pages, of minutes of an
Eisenhower presidential meeting. Churchill came over, there are notes
here on the Churchill conference.
HESS: What do you recall about President Truman's reaction
when the Chinese entered the war and crossed the Yalu river? Anything
ELSEY: I would think here again, Jerry, I would hesitate
to try this many years after the event to remember a reaction. We'll
have to rely on contemporary documents to say how he felt. I think we
can imagine what the reaction was, but I'm afraid if I tried
now, it would be imagination rather than positive memory.
Here are the questions of the National Emergency
and speech of December 15, 1950. All of this brought about, as a result
of a crisis produced by the sudden entry of the Chinese into the war.
These drafts--these folders on the speeches, are - may
be of some interest simply in showing how presidential statements on
that subject were, in those days, were being put together, who did it,
what the genesis of ideas was. This one relates to MacArthur.
HESS: Do you recall who worked on that speech?
ELSEY: Oh, I think the folder will show the longhand notes.
Here it is. DDL is David D. Lloyd.
HESS: David D. Lloyd.
ELSEY: Here is draft three by Elsey and Lloyd. These are
all annotated, I think you will find.
There's a DB, David Bell. You'll find the drafts annotated
and I think the handwriting will be readily identifiable to anyone who
is familiar with that period.
Here's one for example, I can recognize, as you can, right
away, with Clifford comments on that one.
HESS: How good were David Lloyd and David Bell as speechwriters?
ELSEY: Excellent! They were by all odds the best that
had come on the scene up to that point, bar none.
HESS: Were the also involved in policy decisions?
ELSEY: Well, it's a little hard to say what is a policy
decision and what is not. If you're asking if they were involved in
decision making at the highest level of the President, no. In those
days they were not seeing the President, except perhaps in large staff
conferences, but insofar as their thinking was absorbed or would prevail
on Charlie Murphy, and Charlie in turn could affect a presidential decision,
yes. They were in the decision making line, in the machinery, in the
staff discussions and talks and conferences that went on.
There are here, as you have noted, a couple of Beverly
Smith folders. Folders labeled "Beverly Smith." Beverly Smith was the
Washington editor of the Saturday Evening Post and the stories
here torn out, were very accurate, as accurate as it was possible to
make them. I assisted, at the President's direction, Beverly Smith in
preparing, in assembling the material.
HESS: For these articles.
ELSEY: For these articles. I made arrangements for Smith
to see the President, and for Smith to see the senior officials at State
and Defense. I would personally call the Secretary of State or the Chairman
of the Joint Chiefs and say that Beverly Smith is doing this, and that
the President requested that an interview be granted to Smith. So, these
were authorized Government stories, as accurate as it was possible to
make them in those days. Because Beverly Smith did not have all the
top secret clearances, naturally, I did not turn over to him the documents,
but I would read or would cite facts in messages and memorandas for
him. Then the articles, the draft of his articles, were cleared for
security to make sure that there were no inadvertent security violations
affecting military matters.
HESS: The other day when I was going through the speech
at the time that he dismissed MacArthur, I noticed that in the speech
he had not mentioned Matthew Ridgway, the man who was going to take
over the job. I believe that you put that in at the last minute. Do
you recall that?
ELSEY: I do not recall that, Jerry. If you find an annotation
to that effect, that undoubtedly is what happened,
but I do not at this
stage of the game recall that.
HESS: I'm positive that it's in here but you know it's
like a needle in the haystack as thick as they are.
ELSEY: No, I have no recollection now, Jerry as to--I
think we'll simply have to let the file and the drafts speak for themselves.
HESS: They can find it very easily because I'm quite sure
that it is there, but right now my eye doesn't land on it. I believe
that that was right here.
Okay, that pretty well goes through box four? I'll get
ELSEY: I think these memoranda, these minutes of meetings,
will be fairly interesting and fairly significant, because I would doubt
that these are going to be available anyplace else.
HESS: May and June, this was just after the dismissal.
During the time of the MacArthur hearings up on the Hill, was there
any special effort by the White House staff to build the White House's
ELSEY: This was done. The burden was carried by State
Defense, not by the White House staff.
HESS: All right, box number five.
ELSEY: Well, now we're going back to a different time
period, aren't we?
HESS: We sure are.
ELSEY: We are now going more to domestic matters.
HESS: Yes, and the first one is the Truman Doctrine speech.
ELSEY: Yes, well this is March 12, 1947 with (I'm afraid
that it's been sort of scrambled up because various people have looked
at it from time to time), various drafts and versions of the speech,
drafts as they come over from the State Department and the changes that
were made at the White House with annotations, I guess, in the margin
pretty clearly as to who made what changes and why.
Such miscellaneous items as an article by a newspaper
or magazine writer, oh, many years later, 1964, Mr. [John Jay] Iselin,
went through and wrote a draft or a piece on the origin of the message.
HESS: I see he turned that in as a Ph.D. dissertation
ELSEY: I had no record of what he did with his article.
HESS: And I've been trying to get ahold of it, but I haven't
been able to, but that was his Ph.D. dissertation at Harvard.
ELSEY: I have a minor gripe about scholars and others
who come in to look through papers. You never heard from them again,
they never say "thank you," and you never know whether they ever do
anything with the interview or with all the pawing through of your papers
that they've done.
HESS: Well, now you know, you've helped this young man
ELSEY: You might put that in large letters emblazed in
gold in the reading room out there at the Independence library.
HESS: Show a little appreciation.
ELSEY: Show a little appreciation. For God's sake tell
people who go out of their way to help what you do with your . . .
HESS: Did you help in the writing of the Truman Doctrine?
ELSEY: Oh, yes, certainly. And Iselin, I think Iselin
was the writer who spotted these interesting sentences or what he thought
were interesting. The credo--the "I believe it must be." This is where
this appeared, it was not in what came over from the State Department.
It was what I did here in my, you know, Sunday the 9th of March where
I broke it down into short sentences and put in three "I believes" because
I thought it would have much more impact and much more meaning. Also,
it would be more helpful to the President.
For example, look Jerry, this matter of style. Now, I
know Joe [Joseph M.] Jones who then was of the State Department, wrote
a book later mostly for which he patted himself on the back for the
great speech he had written, and for his fine style that he thought
the White House staff had messed up. But look at his beautiful prose.
Here's a sentence:
It is essential to our security that we assist free peoples to work
out their own destiny in
their own way and our help must be primarily
in the form of that economic and financial aid which is essential
to economic stability and orderly political processes.
Now, I submit, is that the kind of a sentence that President
Truman could have delivered effectively, and with force, to the Congress?
No, it simply is not his style, it's not a good sentence for anybody,
not even a Dean Acheson could have done well with a sentence like that.
HESS: By the time you get to the end you've forgot what
was at the beginning.
ELSEY: If you can ever get to the end without collapsing.
That's the sort of thing that I would take on many occasions, and in
this instance did, and break down into short, sharp sentences with a
degree of punch to them and you can see how I rewrote it in that draft.
Well, this is the--these are the drafts of what was done
at the White House on that one.
HESS: Now, the background of the 1949 inaugural address.
ELSEY: The same sort of thing. I'm afraid this has been
pawed through by so many people so many times that it's sort of a hopeless
jumble, but I'm sure…
HESS: I think we pretty well covered that in our interview
when we were talking about speeches.
ELSEY: I think we did. I think we've done so.
HESS: Now, the next thing is this.
ELSEY: That's some more material on the '48 State of the
Union, actually all of these are out of chronological sequence.
HESS: All right, the next thing is the Jefferson speech
at the Library of Congress on May 17, of 1950. Tell me about the background
of that speech.
ELSEY: Well, we'd been out on the West Coast on a speaking
tour, and my recollection is that when we got back, just about the day
we got back, Charlie Ross called me over to the West Wing to his office,
and told me the President would be going up the next day to the Library
of Congress to a ceremony to accept Volume I of the Papers of Thomas
Jefferson which were being published by Princeton University, under
the editorship of Julian Boyd. Would I please think up some remarks
for the President to make on the occasion.
I had been vaguely aware of the fact that the President
would be going up, but I must say that I had forgotten all about
it because of the press of that trip out to the West. Yes, here's the
letter from Dr. [Harold W.] Dodds and the President to me, written a
number of months earlier, so I was aware of it, but I had forgotten
about it or hadn't been giving much thought to it.
Well, this was sort of grim, I was tired, everybody else
was, Charlie Ross' request was grim. The thought of having to do a speech.
But I went to work and as you can see from these absolutely illegible
longhand notes, did a short, ten minutes at most, kind of remarks that
I thought would be appropriate for the President on that occasion. I
did not know whether he would want to read a text or just use the outline
of the notes I'd given him for background for off-the-cuff.
I saw Charlie and the President the first thing the next
morning, the day he was to go up, and outlined what I had in mind and
it sounded okay to them. We transcribed it, Ross decided that he would--the
President decided he would -read it and Ross decided that he would turn
it out as a full advance text. At first he said he would speak
from notes, and then later Ross changed his mind and gave out the full
The remarks about the National Historical Publications
Commission, and the request the President was making to the National
Historical Publications Commission to look into the matter of collecting
and publishing the writings of a wide variety of men and women who had
made contributions to our society, that was one of those spur
of the moment things when you're grasping for straws trying to get some
substance into a speech. And that struck me as being necessary and useful
and I had only time to--I was unable to reach Wayne Grover, who was
then the Archivist, until the speech was already being transcribed before
I got to Wayne and read it to him, and he made some suggestions, and
we thought those up, or incorporated those, his suggestions. And so
HESS: Now, is this your writing down at the bottom, "The
whole proposal was..."
ELSEY: "G. M. E."
HESS: G.M.E."...thought up in bed on the night of the
ELSEY: "...and cleared orally with the President at 0900
on the morning of the 17th, while the speech was still in pencil draft."
HESS: Now, what did Dr. Grover think of the idea of saying
something about the National Historical Publications Commission, was
he all for it?
ELSEY: Thought it was a great idea. The National Historical
Publications was dormant and had been doing practically nothing in those
days and he was completely in support, and as you undoubtedly know,
this turned into a major activity. It was a rejuvenation of the National
Historical Publications Commission, and the commission has done a superb
job in this area in the two decades since then.
HESS: What made you think of the National Historical Publications
Commission? What brought this to mind?
ELSEY: Well, I of course, knew Wayne Grover well. We had
talked over the years on many aspects of papers and presidential archives,
so I was vaguely aware that there was such a thing as the National Historical
Publications Commission, and I suppose at some prior time, Dr. Grover
must have mentioned its existence to me, and the fact that it wasn't
amounting to very much, and that someday, somebody had ought to do something
about it, and so this was a good occasion to do something about it.
HESS: You later served on the commission.
ELSEY: I served on the commission for a year, as it was
getting reorganized to be sure it started down this direction. I had
a great deal of kidding from my colleagues in the White House staff
who knew that I had had historical training and graduate work, and they
accused me of this being "Elsey's boondoggle." Bell and Lloyd and Ken
Hechler, Steve Spingarn, Roger Tubby and the others had a lot of fun
teasing me that this was a WPA for historians, thought up by Elsey.
This was a good gag, and I went along with this kidding.
HESS: Something for historians, by a historian.
ELSEY: Something for historians, by a historian. So, they
teased me for a long time, and that was just fine with me because I
believed in what we were doing.
I didn't want to serve more than the one year just
sort of help be sure that the thing got started, and I was named to
a one year term, and when the year was coming to an end, the President
said he would reappoint me and I asked not to be reappointed and recommended
instead a former professor of mine at Harvard, Arthur M. Schlesinger,
Sr. Dr. Schlesinger was appointed to a full three year term which was
HESS: How do you think that the National Historical Publications
Commission has worked out to this time?
ELSEY: Great! I think it's doing exactly--it's doing all
I hoped and a heck of a lot more than I had hoped would be possible.
I don't think that there's anything further to say on that, unless you
have some question.
HESS: No. That was it on this.
ELSEY: "Speech Clearance." There was a period, especially
in the White House (changing now subjects rather drastically), after
the problems of Louis Johnson, Secretary of the Navy Matthews, MacArthur
and so on, there was a period when we were requiring departments and
agencies to submit speeches that had anything to do with foreign or
military policy, to the White House for clearance. That's what this
folder on "Speech Clearance" is. A number of speeches to be given, or
proposed to be given, by various people came over and they usually ended
up on my desk for clearance.
I must say (backing up now a bit to MacArthur's dismissal),
the actual technicality on which he was dismissed was his violation
of a presidential order, edict, that speeches relating to foreign policy
be cleared in Washington. That was something that--that little memorandum,
and I'm sure you will find that in the files there someplace was a directive
that was concocted in Charlie Murphy's office at the White House and
my recollection is early in December 1950, shortly after the Chinese
had come in and there were all these multiple crises.
Ed Barrett (Edward W. Barrett), was then the Assistant
Secretary of State for Public Affairs. Barrett and I had worked closely
on many, many things and we were much concerned about the shooting off
of the mouth by so many people in the Government on the implications
of the Chinese entry into the war, what our foreign policy and military
developments were likely to be. So, Ed and I prepared, drafted, and
it was very
quickly cleared, all in a matter of an hour or more, a directive
from the White House which required clearances on speeches dealing with
military and foreign policy. It was primarily intended to keep the military
from talking about foreign policy, but so that it wouldn't appear to
be aimed solely at the military, we double-barreled it and said that
diplomatic and State Department people couldn't talk about military
events without Pentagon clearance, and military people couldn't talk
about foreign matters without State Department clearance. The aim was
solely at the military, but so that it wouldn't appear to be so critical
of them, we as I say, we tried to balance it.
Months later when people were trying to find something
to accuse MacArthur of violating, that was the only piece of paper that
you could show that he actually violated, a presidential order. It might
be interesting to try and track that down in my December '50 papers.
HESS: What about the meeting between Truman and Eisenhower
after the election of 1952? It's in the folder "Truman and Eisenhower
Meeting November 18, 1952." Do you recall offhand very much about the
meeting? Was it cordial,
ELSEY: No, I do not really recall very much about that
HESS: Do you recall what aides Eisenhower brought?
ELSEY: I'm sorry to say I do not now recall. I can't,
no. This folder actually has a few other things in it too, it's the
transition and most of what I see in here really relates to--or much
of it I see in here relates to Harriman's turning over the responsibility
for the Mutual Security Program to Governor [Harold] Stassen.
I do have--well, you'll find here a draft of a memorandum
on notes of the meeting of the President and General Eisenhower, which
were dictated by Averell Harriman and then I see changes in the draft
both in Harriman's handwriting and in my handwriting. I don't have a
final draft of it, and other -papers relating to it such as the press
-release which came out.
HESS: How did the transition go? Did it go smoothly in
the Mutual Security Agency?
ELSEY: In the Mutual Security Agency it went very smoothly.
Harriman phoned Stassen within minutes after Stassen's appointment was
announced from General Eisenhower's office in NewYork; pledged all support
to him. Governor Stassen came down quite early, Harriman introduced
him to all the senior members of his staff. I was designated to be the
liaison with Governor Stassen and we prepared briefing books for Stassen.
He came down quite often from Philadelphia. (He was then president of
the University of Pennsylvania). He spent a lot of time with us and
went at his work very seriously and very diligently. There were very
cordial relationships between Harriman and Stassen and they would dine
together in the evening. It was Harriman's intent to make every scrap
of information available to Governor Stassen that he was interested
in seeing and also making all people available to him. This was a model,
I think, of transition. It was rare because, you see, this really was
the first time in our modern history that there had been any serious
effort at transition preparation. Now, it's a well-accepted practice,
but it was not then, and I think Harriman's pioneering efforts with
Stassen were about--were among the best.
HESS: It's getting pretty close to twelve and we're about
to run out of tape.
ELSEY: Clippings and speeches, that's all. I think the
rest of this particular box number . . .
ELSEY: . . . five, is largely public material, unclassified
material, which I doubt if it has any great significance that can't
be readily--isn't readily apparent just by looking at the folders of
Okay Jerry, will that do it for now?
HESS: We have boxes six and seven that look fairly self-explanatory.
Want me to drag them out?
ELSEY: No, I don't think it's necessary. Box six--I think
these are all self-explanatory.
There was this very serious question which was in the
minds of lawyers and FDR's family and the U.S. Government in 1945, at
the time of his death, all kinds of matters had to be taken up regarding
the transfer of his papers to the FDR Library. There were legal questions
about whether they were the property of the FDR estate, or the property
of the United States Government. There were questions about access to
them, security, and so
on and so forth, and these manila envelopes which
are labeled by me "Roosevelt, FDR Library," have memoranda, letters,
notes of conversations on those topics.
There is this whole question of figuring out what kind
of regulations would be promulgated by the Government for the use of
presidential papers, this had not been done before. You will recall
that by the time we got around to this, when the papers were up there
at Hyde Park, we were already in a hot political climate. The 80th Congress
was controlled by the opposition party; there was concern on
the part of some people that the Republicans might engage in "fishing
expeditions" in the Roosevelt Library to see what they could dig out
that would be embarrassing to the Democratic administration. All these
facts and factors came into play in the drafting of regulations.
In the Archives the professional staff of the Archives
was, of course, very concerned that everything be done in a professional
manner and that they, that the Archives, which had responsibility for
these papers, not be caught in the middle of partisan political fights
and feuds. They regarded themselves as scholars
and archivists, librarians,
and they wanted to treat these papers with the highest of professional
standards. So, this was terribly important and this, incidentally, was
the way that Harry, President Truman, felt. He was very keen on this
matter that he wanted to make sure that neither FDR's nor any other
President's or political figure's papers that came into the possession
of the Government were treated with any other than a professional manner
with the highest ethical and archival and historical standards.
HESS: After Mr. Truman left office did he think that the
Republicans were going to go into a "fishing expedition" in his
papers if they were opened forthwith?
ELSEY: I'm not conscious of that feeling on his part.
I think we recognized in the regulation both drafted by Justice and
published in the Federal Register that those regulations regarding
FDR papers, would very likely set a precedent and there had been no
effort by the Republicans or others to raid the FDR Library. There was
a recognition by responsible people on the Hill that these papers were
official U.S. Government records and ought to be treated as such, and
I think by the time
President Truman left office, this kind of fear
had pretty much subsided all the way around. I'm not conscious of any
worry on his part.
There are other folders here, background on various questions
of responses, requests of congressional committees, and others, regarding
not only papers of FDR, but of the Truman administration. I think you'll
find those self-explanatory.
Do you have any questions regarding Forrestal? Why I happened
to have some--a folder on James Forrestal?
HESS: What was your involvement there?
ELSEY: Forrestal, you know, left office a pretty distraught
man at the beginning of 1949. He had no confidence in Louis Johnson,
his successor as Secretary of Defense, and was particularly concerned
at the prospect of Secretary Johnson's having access to Forrestall's
most personal and private memoranda of conversations, personal
papers and so on. So, Forrestal sent one four or five drawer file safe
with his "diary," which was not really a diary, but it was called that,
over to the office of the Naval Aide to the President, Rear Admiral
Dennison, for safekeeping. This was frankly to prevent any
fishing expedition by Louis Johnson in his personal papers. He didn't
take them with him to his home because much of the material was very
highly classified, and he did not want to run any security risks by
taking that material out of the hands of the Government.
Then, as we recall, Forrestal died very suddenly and totally
unexpectedly in, I think it was, mid-April 1949. So, the papers remained
in the Naval Aide's office at the White House for some time thereafter
while Mrs. Forrestal and Forrestal's attorneys considered what to do
Quite a while later, and I would have to look at the file
to refresh my memory on the dates, Mrs. Forrestal and the estate arranged
for the publication of the so called Forrestal Diary. This meant
that they wanted access, or they wanted the writer to have access, to,
among other things, the material there at the White House. Because of
the concern for security matters, it was agreed that before we released
these papers to Walter Millis, who was to be the editor, they would
be reviewed by a representative of the Department of
Defense and by
a representative of the White House. I think by this time Louis Johnson
was gone and General Marshall was the Secretary of Defense. Marshall
designated Mr. Marx Leva to be his representative, and I was designated
to be the White House representative.
In company with Walter Millis and Eugene Duffield who
had worked in the Pentagon with Forrestal and who was I think
by now an attorney in private practice representing the estate, Duffield
and Millis, Leva and I went through the Forrestal papers that were at
the White House. Leva's and my concern were solely security. We felt
that we had no basis for making any judgments other than on a security
basis. The propriety of personal comments and so on, this was not in
our concern. Marx found some papers, which in his judgment, to release
would clearly endanger national security, and there was no argument
on any of those. There were a few papers I found that had foreign policy
implications, or that affected, or where President Truman was quoted
by Forrestal in memoranda or letters he wrote as having certain views
and I thought and expressed the opinions that some of these would be
prejudicial to the President
if they were to be printed and published
at that time.
It all boiled down to a very, very few cases where perhaps,
not more than eight or ten, where there was some question amongst the
group of us as to the propriety of releasing. These issues were all
resolved amicably after a thorough discussion. The result was the printing
of the book Forrestal Diary which did no harm to national security,
caused no embarrassment to the President in his relations with foreign
nations or others. But that's just the background of why the devil I
had anything to do with the Forrestal papers.
HESS: One general question concerning Secretary Forrestal.
Before his suicide did you see any evidence of mental degeneration on
ELSEY: I think the last time I saw him was early January
'49 when I participated in a meeting regarding the proposed amendments
to the National Security Act. I'm not conscious of having noted then
any change in his manner or behavior. A book has been written,
I think, by a psychiatrist on Forrestal. Lots of other people have
comments about it, but I was not aware the last time I saw him of any
significant change in his--well, delete the word "significant"--of any
change in his manner or conduct. Others who were intimately associated
with him almost on an around the clock basis, have had different views
and have written them and so on. I don't deny that they may be accurate,
I just say I don't have any information of that sort.
HESS: Do you know why he was picked as the first Secretary
ELSEY: Oh, yes. His views on the "merger" of the Army
and the Navy (as a word that was widely used), were well known. He was
a strong opponent of any thought of merging the Army and the
Navy to have a single unified armed force as some people were advocating.
Secretary of War Patterson felt that a "merged" military force was the
answer. (We're now back at the closing months of World War II, in the
first few months of peace, '45, '46.)
Forrestal was quick to admit that there had been many
inadequacies in the coordination of Army and Navy
during the war, and
more particularly coordination of the military effort with the
State Department with foreign policy objectives. He was very quick to
recognize that and admit it, but his remedy was not a merger of the
Army and Navy but rather devising much more effective and sophisticated
machinery than the informal working committees. SWNCC was one of them
(State, War, and Navy Coordinating Committee).
Forrestal thought devices like this were utterly inadequate
and that we needed what in due course was to be called the National
Security Council. We also needed something that ultimately became the
NSRB (National Security Resources Board), so that all the civilian aspects
of our economy which are necessary to support the armed forces were
organized in a coordinated fashion.
Forrestal's views, in other words, rose above the mere
question of how the Army and Navy got along, to the much more important
question of how the military effort was related to the rest of the United
States Government. And so, because Forrestal had negative reactions
to actual "merger," but very positive and constructive attitudes on
other issues, he was naturally thought
about by the President as a strong possibility.
Furthermore, if you will, perhaps he was "bought off"
in his opposition to any kind of unification because the President said
in effect, "You come along with our plan for reorganization of the armed
forces and I'll make you the first Secretary of Defense." Forrestal
certainly couldn't object to that, nor could Forrestal have any views
that the Navy would be sabotaged or done away with
HESS: Not while he was there.
ELSEY:. . . or that it would lose the Marine Corps to
the Army, or lose Naval Aviation to the newly proposed United States
Air Force as long as he were Secretary of Defense. This was a case of
everybody's interests being served. He could see to it that the Navy
and the Marine Corps and the Naval Air Forces, to which he was passionately
devoted, and for which he had unbounded admiration, he could ensure
that their attributes and assets were properly recognized and properly
protected. At the same time he could work for these other things in
which he so strongly believed. I can't think of another man who would
have been a better choice, or nearly as good a choice, as Forrestal
for the first Secretary of Defense. And when I say his opposition was
"bought off" by the offer of the job, I don't mean that to sound that
there was any--I don't mean it to imply that there was anything cheap
or sinister about this. Not at all. The whole thing was a positive,
constructive approach to the situation by President Truman and by Forrestal.
HESS: Did there seem to be, during the Truman administration,
an undue rivalry between the State Department and the Department of
Defense as to who would be the President's prime adviser?
ELSEY: Well, there never was in President Truman's mind!
To President Truman, the Secretary of State was number one. The State
Department was the senior department. There may have been in Louis Johnson's
mind, or a few other people's minds, but there sure was never any doubt
in President Truman's mind on that score.
And President Truman and Johnson and just anybody who
had anything to do with the Government knew that the State Department
had been sadly neglected, badly left out of things in especially the
latter part of World War II,
that President Roosevelt by leaving Cordell
Hull there, a tired, elderly man. By downgrading State, by not having
State participants in most of his most important conferences, the State
Department suffered in prestige and influence and, I think, the United
States Government suffered because many decisions were made without
foreign policy consideration having come into play. And I think that
was very short-sighted and damned unfortunate, and Truman believed this.
I might mention (this is an incidental footnote), that
Admiral William D. Leahy, who was as crusty an old sailor as ever existed,
and was President Roosevelt's chief of staff from July 1942 on, personally
believed this very strongly. Instead of being an anti-State Department
man, as some people assumed that an old sailor automatically would be,
Admiral Leahy was the one man around the White House who kept
constantly saying, "But the State Department ought to be consulted."
As the war went further and further along and as decisions began to
be more and more political and less and less military, it was Leahy
who insisted that there be a relationship with the State Department.
It was Leahy who arranged to have "Chip" Bohlen (Charles E. Bohlen),
named as his, Leahy's, personal liaison with the State Department. So,
in the last year of the Roosevelt administration, Bohlen would come
over to the White House every day to see Admiral Leahy and Leahv would
bring Bohlen up to date on the Roosevelt-Churchill, Roosevelt-Stalin
messages, what the thinking of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were. This
We're off the point of what you were talking about, Jerry,
but I feel very keenly that this is an aspect of things that is not
widely recognized, perhaps not recognized at all, and anyone--and occasionally
I have seen or been conscious of, or had questions asked, "Wasn't Leahy
detrimental? Didn't he exaggerate the military influence?" And my answer
is, of course, precisely the reverse, "Not at all." Admiral Leahy was
perhaps the one strong man in the White House during the war
who was trying to keep political and foreign policy matters in
some sort of perspective with President Roosevelt.
HESS: Very good. Box number seven.
HESS: Oh, now!
ELSEY: Some of it purely incidental, personal correspondence,
or so on, that . . .
HESS: Files on individuals.
ELSEY: General files on individuals. I think mostly personal
correspondence. I don't know that there's much there of great value
to anybody. There are a couple of folders on "White House Social Seasons,
'45, '46, '47," somebody might find some tidbits of information.
HESS: And four loose-leaf notebooks.
ELSEY: Well, those four loose-leaf notebooks of President
Truman's messages to Congress, were steady working documents and working
files for me at the time. There was no publication, as there is now,
of the weekly presidential documents. There was no ready or convenient
access to the President's messages of even a few months earlier, and
so those were constant working papers on my part. They have no Special
value now because, of course, the Archives has very admirably edited
the Truman papers.
HESS: Is that all for one morning?
ELSEY: That's all I have.
HESS: Thank you very much.
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