Oral History Interview with
U.S. Foreign Service Officer, 1937-55, with assignments in Juarez, Mexico, 1937; Caracas, 1939-41; Moscow, 1943-45; Chungking and Nanking, 1945-48; and office of Philippine and Southeast Asian Affairs, 1949-55.
John F. Melby
November 14, 1986
by Robert Accinelli
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | Additional Melby Oral History Transcripts]
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 word.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript
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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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 October, 1988
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices
and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional
Melby Oral History Transcripts]
Oral History Interview with
John F. Melby
November 14, 1986
by Robert Accinelli
ACCINELLI: Professor Melby, can you tell me a little bit more about the day-to-day routine, or your daily life in Moscow?
MELBY: Well, I think the daily routine for most officers in the Embassy was pretty much what it is anyplace else, kind of a 9 to 5 routine and so on. My own schedule tended to be a little more erratic than that since I was living in Spaso with the Ambassador. His schedule was somewhat attuned to that of Stalin at that time, and Stalin, of course, was famous for not going to work before midnight. So Harriman could be called out at any point, mostly at night, on things, and those of us who were living with him in Spaso had to tailor our lives a little bit according to what he had to do too. But otherwise, it was, I say, pretty much the usual kind of life, a 9 to 5 kind of existence, in which unfortunately almost nobody in the Embassy really had enough to do. The Embassy had been grossly overstaffed, as I have mentioned, in anticipation of a possible German breakthrough at Stalingrad, in which case there was no
guarantee we could ever get more officers in, for who knows how long. So, we did sort of have an awful lot of time on our hands.
During my time there, food was never a problem. We had plenty of heat in the Embassy; we were comfortable enough, and the Russians saw to it that we had a lot more vodka available to us than really was good for us. So life, as I say, tended after 5 o'clock to sort of degenerate into kind of a long evening's brawl a little bit, which didn't do many people much good the next morning.
On the other hand, that was the way it was, and also you learn quickly enough that relationships tended to get pretty tense around there, despite a fairly steady parade of distinguished or interesting visitors coming through the Embassy. Really, for the most part we were pretty much on our own, and even though we still could see more Russians than was usually the case, still we were thrown back on ourselves and upon the rest of the diplomatic corps, which was generally fairly reduced in size at that time. The whole business became a little bit incestuous.
In terms of food and that sort of thing, I say we didn't suffer at all, although mostly it was imported stuff. We had our own commissary there. Harriman insisted that since we could get supplies sent in from abroad, that we make every effort not to use Russian supplies which, after all, were pretty much on a starvation level at this time, and would stay that way throughout the war. So, we ate an awful lot of Spam and that sort of stuff. We got where you could face it and it was all right, but otherwise, I say boredom really was pretty much the norm of life there, and all the attendant evils that go along with that.
ACCINELLI: What impression did you have of the ordinary life of Russians in Moscow at that time? The hardship was apparent, I take it.
MELBY: Yes, it was a tough life for them. It was almost a cliche that practically every Russian whom you knew, or would run into in any capacity, would tend to be the only survivor of an entire family. Everybody else had been killed off out in battle along the Russian fronts, or in the Ukraine where the Germans had wreaked their greatest havoc and so on. This was the tragic part of life there. Being able to know the Russians, you knew what they were suffering and you
knew that the casualties were pretty appalling. As to what they did, mostly, those who were still alive did about what Russians had always done; they did their jobs, and that was it.
ACCINELLI: Was the Embassy under surveillance? Did you have to take care in what you said in public, or who you made contact with?
MELBY: Oh, yes. We knew the NKVD -- as it was known then, that was the Secret Police at that time -- that they had their men stationed right outside the gates of the Embassy, the Chancery, and the Embassy itself. I say I was sort of the mess manager for Harriman. We had 35 Russian servants working in the Embassy for all of us, taking care of all of us, and far more than really we needed. But we didn't do anything about the actual number. We knew that we did pay them in Rubles, but to the Russians the advantage of the job was they knew they'd be fed. As part of my job, I used to buy potatoes and carrots and onions, and so on, and buy them by the ton. It makes one kind of bilious these days to think that much in terms of foodstuffs, but it took that much to
feed all those people. We could buy our supplies locally, that sort of thing, under control prices so there was no great expense involved. Actually, most of us had our hardship post allowances and so on, and we all, including the Ambassador, pretty much lived on our allowances. We didn't spend our salaries at all for anything; there wasn't anything to spend any money on.
Well, we knew that on the question of surveillance that undoubtedly -- we just took it for granted -- that all of the servants sooner or later were reporting to the NKVD, what was going on in the Embassy. So, yes, sure, you watched what you said, and our techniques of trying to detect surveillance devices, and so on, were pretty primitive in those days. So we weren't sure how much was bugged or where it was bugged. We just took it for granted that everything was. And if you had anything that you wanted to say that you really wanted the Russians not to know, you went outside to say it, or you didn't say it.
On the other hand, surveillance I suppose was a little less than it had been before I arrived there, or than it would be afterwards, mostly because of lack of
manpower. So many people had been killed, able-bodied people had been killed, that even the NKVD really was a little strapped for people to use to follow people around. On the other hand, anytime we left the Embassy, or left the Chancery or went anyplace, an NKVD car with a load of agents would follow up wherever we went. And where we went, they'd park wherever we did. We got where we just didn't pay much attention to it. In fact, since automobile maintenance was something of a premium in those days, it was kind of useful to have them along in case some car broke down. You always knew you had somebody who, at least, if nothing else, could get out and push. So it wasn't all one-sided by any means, particularly in the wintertime. It was nice to know that you weren't going to be abandoned anyplace out in those steppes.
ACCINELLI: Is there anything that you want to say about some of the interesting or distinguished visitors who came through Spaso House?
MELBY: Well, the one person in particular, who turned out to be of great interest and concern to me, was Ed Flynn. Flynn had gone to Yalta with President Roosevelt.
After Yalta [conference], Edward Stettinius, who was then Secretary of State, and Alger Hiss, and party, all came to Moscow for two or three days, and Flynn came along with them. Now the Stettinius group that came up really just wanted to see the Kremlin and do a little sightseeing and check in with a few Russian officials. Incidentally, years later, I would get visits from the FBI asking me what Alger Hiss had been up to, and had he gone secretly to see so and so and so and so, in the Kremlin. All I'd say was, "As far as I know, he didn't do anything differently from anybody else in the party." If he did see anybody, I was not aware of it, and actually Alger was staying at Spaso with us along with Stettinius and others. If he did see anybody, which I've always doubted very seriously, I didn't know anything about it. So after a while the FBI got tired of coming and seeing me on that old chestnut.
ACCINELLI: This was still while you were in the Foreign Service? Was it while Hiss was being tried?
MELBY: Oh, no, no, this was before San Francisco. He at this time was in the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs.
ACCINELLI: But when did the FBI question you about his activities?
MELBY: Oh, long after. It was after the trial and after he had been convicted.
ACCINELLI: Oh, really?
MELBY: They didn't come see me about him really before the trial or anything like that, no. But at this time he was in the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs and, I guess, it didn't occur to me at the time, but I guess that he probably had gone along as an advisor in connection with the Yalta agreements on the Far East. He was just another one of the members of the President's party.
They all left, with the exception of Ed Flynn who stayed on. Harriman at that point asked me if I would take on, as an additional chore, just keeping an eye on Flynn. He, as you know, had been political boss of the Bronx and he was chairman of the Democratic National Committee. He had been refused confirmation as Ambassador, or Minister to Australia, which was something Roosevelt wanted him to have to improve his image with the public. But Flynn also had a reputation for being a very heavy
drinker, and a man who liked the ladies very, very much. Although at this time he was on the wagon, as far as I know, and never fell off it, still one didn't know. So Averell asked me to keep an eye on him and see if he was drinking or not. The question of the ladies was a little bit out of the question, because there weren't any ladies around. Flynn knew perfectly well what I was doing, and he was vastly amused by it all. But out of it all, we became very good friends. He was a man of enormous charm. Finally, he told me why he had stayed on; namely, one of Roosevelt's little pet ideas had been eventually to get some kind of Kremlin-Vatican concordat, to end the feud between those two great power bases. Flynn, who was a very prominent Catholic layman, had been asked by the President to stay behind and go have a talk with Molotov about it. Well, it was kind of interesting. (Molotov has just died after all these years, age 96.)
Molotov was very much interested in the idea, and said he didn't see why something couldn't be worked out." He said, "After all, the Vatican and the Kremlin -- time doesn't mean anything to either of us; we've got all history ahead of us. Something can be worked out." He was intrigued by the idea, but he said, "I think you're going to have a little more trouble with the Vatican. You go ahead and talk to the Pope and see how he feels about it."
I suspect that Flynn had dropped some hints about this to the Pope already, because he seemed pretty confident that the Pope would, if not enthusiastically, still go along with the idea. In any event, Flynn finally said that he was pretty sure that something was going to be able to be worked out, and that Mr. Roosevelt would ask him to go back to Rome to be resident there to handle the negotiations on this whole deal. Flynn asked me if I would like to go with him as his assistant. I was certainly willing to do it. He said, "Now, I have to tell you, you cannot tell the State Department about this, because neither Stettinius, nor anybody else in the State Department knows anything about it. This is a straight White House operation." He said, "Of course, Harriman will know, but nobody else will."
So, I was in kind of an awkward position when I couldn't tell my own Department what I had in mind. Flynn finally left, and he did go see the Pope, who was interested. I say he was not as enthusiastic as Molotov, but he still told Flynn, "Go ahead and see what you can do. See what we can work out." Flynn then came back to New York, and shortly after that the President was dead. But Flynn still sent word that he thought he
was pretty sure that Mr. Truman, once he got used to the idea of being President and got caught up on his homework, was going to tell him to go ahead and do it, carry through with it. So he said, "What I suggested to you is still on."
Now, this was also the time when the opportunity to go to the U.N. Conference at San Francisco presented itself and that was fine with me too. Flynn said, "Get yourself an assignment someplace. I think something is going to work out within six months and when that happens, wherever you are, I'll send for you." That was the way matters were left then. Actually, I did keep in touch with him; actually I saw him in July after the San Francisco Conference. I saw him in New York and we went and had lunch, and he was still very confident that the thing was going on. By this time the idea of my going to China had come up and he asked me, "Have you ever been to China?" I said, "No, and I don't know anything about it." He said, "Well, why don't you go out and have a look at it. I can get you back from Chungking just as easily as I can from anyplace else. You don't know anything about Asia. You might just as well add that to your list of experiences too." So, I agreed to do that.
In the meantime, before he left Moscow, he and I had gone on a trip to Leningrad, where the seige had just been lifted. It was a terrible sight to see what had happened to that city. It was still wintry, but it was an interesting trip. Then he finally came back and, of course, as I say, Roosevelt was dead shortly but that didn't seem to bother Flynn at the time. However, within a year Flynn himself was dead.
In the meantime, there I was in China and not in any position at that point to say to Washington, "I want out of China," or "I want to go someplace else." I couldn't tell them why. I had been there less than a year, and it wouldn't look very good when the first thing you do is ask for a transfer, particularly when you cannot tell them the reason why you want it. It was very shortly after that that I really started getting interested in China as such. I guess all I knew about China when I arrived there was it was a big country, and a lot of people lived there. China got to me as it did to everybody else, and I've been at it ever since. The vagaries of the Foreign Service.
ACCINELLI: Was it, then, Flynn who arranged for you to be
sent to China, or was that already an opportunity that had been presented to you, that he recommended that you take?
MELBY: He didn't recommend China. Harriman had had this idea. This was even before I left Moscow. I left Moscow the night Roosevelt died. But before that, Harriman had been working on an idea that Foreign Service officers with some Russian experience, or background, who knew a little bit about the Soviet Union should be stationed in obvious key spots around the world. His first suggestion to me was, how would I like to go to Budapest. I don't remember why, particularly, but I didn't cotton to that idea very much. Then out of conversation, Chungking came up, was mentioned, and I said, "That sounds more interesting to me." He said, "Okay, I'll see what I can do." In the meantime, I discovered later, actually I had been transferred, as I was leaving Moscow, to Argentina. This was at a time when the Department was undergoing one of its perennial reorganizations and my orders transferring me to Buenos Aires were still in a typewriter when whoever was typing them out was being reorganized into something else. They sat there for I don't know how long, but
eventually Harriman either vetoed the thing, or changed, and I was sent to Chungking.
ACCINELLI: Did Harriman advise you that you had to be careful when you went to Chungking? It was obvious [by late 1945] that there were divisions between Hurley and some of the Foreign Service officers in China. Did he advise you to watch your step or tether your reporting?
MELBY: He did at one point. I saw him in San Francisco at the Conference and he did make a sort of a rather blunt suggestion that it would be a good idea if I would report what I thought the Department wanted to hear and not put my own ideas into it too much, which I did not like at all. In fact, when I saw him again a couple days later, he apologized for having said that, and he said he didn't really mean it that way. It sounded a little bit more brusque and abrupt and dictatorial than he really had in mind, and the kind of thing that he could do on occasion. I don't think he really meant it.
ACCINELLI: What would he have wanted you to report? What was the line that was in favor in the State Department at that time, do you recall?
MELBY: Oh, officially we were supporting the Nationalists, sure.
ACCINELLI: Now before you went to China, you spent some time in San Francisco, did you not, at the United Nations Conference?
ACCINELLI: How did you come to get that assignment?
MELBY: Well, I never really knew particularly. I was one of a group of junior officers who were known as special assistants on delegation liaison, which is about as meaningless a title as you can think of. The man that was in charge of us -- in charge of the group of officers -- was Newbold Walmsley, who had been on the Brazilian desk, whom I knew. Well, I had known him when I was in my Latin-American days; I knew him quite well. I guess I just assumed at the time that he was putting together a staff, after all. Somebody has got to put them together, and he was named to be in charge of the special assistants. It was his idea.
He looked over the list of who was in Moscow and he remembered me from my Latino days. "Aha, Melby, I
know him, good man," and so on and so on. "Let him be liaison officer with the" -- as it turned out -- "three Russian delegations." That had been one of the sticking points. Was the British commonwealth going to have all of these votes? After all, Canada, South Africa, all of the dominions -- all will have separate votes and the Russians the same. But after all, the Soviet Union is a federation of federated republics. Aren't we entitled to more than just one vote, which, of course, Washington was resisting. But in the end Mr. Roosevelt felt he had to make some compromise. So, he agreed that there would be the Soviet delegation; there would also be a delegation from the Ukraine and one from Byelorussia. There were three Russian delegations.
Well, I was the liaison officer with all three; actually there wasn't any job. What all of us were expected to do was sort of be waterboy, empty the wastebaskets, arrange social events, take the ladies on shopping tours. I mean just general factotum. Most of these delegations didn't know San Francisco or anything about it, or how to get around, and they needed somebody to whom they could go, an American, for advice on where to buy
California neckties or what have you. Was it all right to pay this much for that and so on. And it could be a very pleasant job. It could also be unpleasant, depending upon the nature of the delegation. Some of them were very demanding. Middle Easterners were outrageous as a rule; the Latin Americans, the officers who were liaison with them, had a wonderful time, a wonderful social time the whole time. They enjoyed it thoroughly. The Europeans sort of just considered them as office boys. So the experiences differed a great deal. But me, I didn't have anything to do because the Russians didn't want anyone to help.
Before we left for San Francisco, Molotov came to our Embassy. His coming turned out to be a consequence of Roosevelt's death. Harriman was giving a farewell party that night for General Deane and me. He was coming back to Washington, and I was too. So, Averell and Kathleen were giving a farewell party for the two of us when we got word around midnight that the President was dead; whereupon he immediately went to the phone and called Molotov. He said he had some news for him, and wanted to come over and see him right away. Well,
Molotov had already heard, so he said, "No, no, no, no, you stay where you are. I'm coming over to see you." So he showed up in a very few minutes at the Embassy and he spent the rest of the night there wandering up and down the halls, just like a wild man. "What does this thing mean? Who is this man Truman? Roosevelt we knew we could get along with. Sure, he thought he was going to con us, charm us and so on, and he was right, he could do it. We knew what we were dealing with," and so on. But, "Who is this man Truman? We've never heard of him," and so on. "What can we do?" Now, Averell picked that one up right away and he said, "Well, the first thing you can do is to go to San Francisco." Molotov had so far refused to do so. Molotov said, "I will leave tomorrow morning." And he did.
ACCINELLI: Was this unlike Molotov to be so expressive?
MELBY: Yes, very unlike him. He was obviously beside himself. They were used to Roosevelt and knew that they could deal with him. They thought that he could deal with them. He was a known quantity.
ACCINELLI: I suppose also some of the deals that they struck
at Yalta depended, or seemed to depend, very much on Roosevelt's continuing in office.
MELBY: Of course.
ACCINELLI: So Molotov went off to San Francisco, just about the same time that you did then.
MELBY: Yes. I left very early that next morning, Russ and I. We spent the night in Naples and then to Algeria. Molotov left that same evening, and I don't know what his route was. But when he arrived in San Francisco he took over one whole floor on the St. Francis Hotel. He posted his NKVD guards there, and nobody got in or out of that floor unless you were escorted. The only person I was ever permitted to go and see on that floor was the secretary of the delegation, a very nice guy. He spoke good English. I would go see him occasionally. Well, it was not very often, because he didn't want anything. They didn't want to be entertained; they didn't want any social life. They had their own communications ship sitting out there inside the Golden Gate.
ACCINELLI: In the Bay.
MELBY: In the Bay, and none of their communications were handled through American or international facilities. They had their own transmitters and so on. Of course, everybody in northern California wanted to get on that ship. That's the only thing I had to do, really, to tell them "no," they couldn't. Eventually, on toward the end of the Conference, [I met] Manuilsky who was the head of the Ukrainian delegation, who was a very different kind of guy. He had been educated in France and spoke good French and very good English too. His delegation was there and they were much more European-oriented; they even dressed differently and so on. The only concession that they made on that ship was that on toward the end of the conference, they agreed that a very charming young lady, who had been sort of designated as San Francisco's hostess for them, and I could go out there and have lunch on the ship as guests of the captain. The secretary of the Ukrainian delegation also went along with us. It was one of those Russian experiences; they were out to get us both drunk, and on such occasions, there's only one thing to do and that's get drunk fast and pass out. You might just as well do it and relax. That's sad.
ACCINELLI: Was it information that they wanted?
MELBY: No. No, just to have a lark.
ACCINELLI: Just sociability?
MELBY: Oh sure, just Russian. I remember it used to be done on November 7th, the big bash they'd give. One year I remember they decided that "Archie" Clark Kerr, the British Ambassador was the one earmarked to get drunk, and he knew it was his time. Yes, special guests were always taken into a separate room with the higher ranking Russians. And Archie proceeded to get drunk, which turned out to be really not so funny, because as he passed out he fell into the punch bowl, his face forward, and it broke. His face was pretty badly cut. It was very interesting because his young secretaries who had been following what was going on -- they moved into that room so fast, and they had Archie out of that house in what couldn't have been more than about 20 seconds. Then the next year it was Averell's turn to get drunk. Well, San Francisco was my turn.
ACCINELLI: And you did your duty.
MELBY: And I did my duty.
ACCINELLI: You managed to get taken back to San Francisco. Do you have any memory of that?
MELBY: Oh, sure, the secretary of the Ukrainian delegation got me back all right, and I was very much embarrassed about it, and about the young lady particularly. She was, as I say, a very nice young lady, and so I sent her some flowers. She called me up the next day and said, "I appreciate the flowers, but did they have to be salmon-colored glads?"
Manuilsky is the one man in any of the Russian delegations I got to know at all. I mean he and I became pretty good friends. I took him out to the airport when he left at the end of the Conference. His plane was delayed and we walked up and down the tarmac waiting for it. He got to reminiscing about his days in Paris, and about early American diplomacy and so on, and the caliber of American diplomats like Franklin, and the Adamses and so on. "Why is it," he said, "that revolutionary periods produce such great diplomats?" Then he asked me if I could get him a copy of Carl Van Doren's biography of Franklin, which I
did and I sent it to him. I didn't know if he would ever receive it, but he did, and I got in return a whole shelf full of Ukrainian books he sent me. That ended that association.
ACCINELLI: Did you have any sense that the Russian delegation was isolating itself in part because of a growing anti-Russian mood on the Western side? Did you sense that there was an anti-Russian mood or trend, for example, in the American delegation or among the Latin American delegations?
MELBY: I don't think there really was. I think that, because the whole group of American Foreign Service officers who were so anti-Soviet were not involved in San Franciso at all. Only those were there who were inclined to be more understanding. Mind you, this was after all, May and June of 1945, and Mrs. Roosevelt had pretty well purged the Department of the entire Russian element. I mean she hadn't really purged them, but I mean they were neutralized.
ACCINELLI: How had she done that?
MELBY: Oh, she just had them transferred to other jobs where they had nothing to do with the Russians. The time it happened, I wasn't involved in Russian affairs, so I didn't particularly know much about it. Chip Bohlen, you see, was the President's translator and interpreter. The only one of that group whom I ever saw in Moscow was Elbridge Durbrow, who was as nasty a piece of business as I ever ran across. But the others were just not in the picture at all. It was still the great days of the Russian War Relief and so on.
I don't think the real anti-Russian feeling had cropped up at all. I remember, for example, that one of the members of the American delegation was Harold Stassen, of all people. He was still in Naval uniform. He was our representative on the new, or impending, trusteeship council. He came up with a suggestion -- well, today it would be a great horror around the world -- but his suggestion at that time was that the former Italian colonies in Africa, named Libya and Somaliland, not Ethiopia, of course, but Libya and Somaliland, should be given to the Russians. In other words, bring them into the Mediterranean. They were entitled to it; weren't they our allies and so on?
And good, honest Harold; he really believed this. In a funny kind of sense, I think he still does.
ACCINELLI: I think...
MELBY: Harold is a very interesting man.
MELBY: I remember, a very good friend of mine in Philadelphia, a lady, who knew him better than I did. This was after he had been fired by John Foster Dulles. He had been one of Dulles' representatives at disarmament talks in Europe, and he had gone against his instructions, which he shouldn't have done, but he did. He said, "I believed in what I was saying; I believed in cutting arms." He said, "In fact, of all the jobs I ever had in my life, the one that I loved the most, was to be a disarmament negotiator." He said, "I really believed in that, and I still do." A funny man.
ACCINELLI: Well, he's become a bit of a political eccentric now, hasn't he?
MELBY: He ran for Congress again last week.
ACCINELLI: That's right.
MELBY: Although it's kind of a joke.
ACCINELLI: If I'm not mistaken, he was also in the ECA in the early 1950s; this was still during the Truman administration. So he had a good run at Government service, but after he left our Government he seemed to have taken a kind of odd-ball turn...
MELBY: He started running for office, started out running for President, and began working his way down.
ACCINELLI: That's right.
MELBY: He was a terrible president of the University of Pennsylvania, which is before my time at Pennsylvania. And he still has his law office in Philadelphia, or he did anyway.
ACCINELLI: Did you mingle with any of the other members of the American delegation? Vandenberg was there, I think, and John Foster Dulles. Did you have any contact with them at all?
MELBY: Not with that group, no. Well, my job or what should
have been my job, didn't call for anything like that. No, I didn't. I just had a good time in San Francisco. San Francisco did the incredible. We had two months in which temperatures stayed between 60 and 80 day and night and not a cloud in the sky, the whole two months.
MELBY: San Francisco really laid itself out.
I was put on various committees; I was a member of Roger Lapham's hospitality committee, and a few jobs like that, but I didn't really do anything serious there.
ACCINELLI: So this was kind of a respite, wasn't it?
MELBY: It certainly was. It certainly was.
ACCINELLI: Was it considered a kind of a payoff for hardship duty in Moscow?
MELBY: No, it was just not considered that. Walmsley referred to my delegations as "Melby's peculiar delegations."
ACCINELLI: Now, you spent some additional time in the States before going off to China, did you not?
MELBY: Yes, I didn't leave for China until October. It was mainly because of transportation. See, the atomic bomb wasn't dropped until August, and the Pacific was in chaos, and there wasn't any way of getting across the Pacific for people going to Chungking. Incidentally, there was a telegram announcing that I was coming, being assigned there. Bob Smyth who was then Charge in Chungking -- [Patrick J.] Hurley had left -- had noted that the telegram said, "to arrive as soon as convenient," and Bob Smyth made a notation there saying, "Means probably never arriving."
ACCINELLI: When did you arrive in Chungking?
MELBY: The end of October of '45. I ended up not going across the Pacific, and I didn't have very much notice. Of course, the war was over in the Pacific but it was still pretty chaotic out in that area. When the Department finally got me a reservation to go by way of Europe, which I did, I stopped off a few days in Rome. My brother had spent the war years in Switzerland, and I hadn't seen him for almost ten years, I guess, so he came down from Switzerland and we had about a week in Rome. From Rome,
I went to Karachi, Pakistan; and Calcutta, where again I was held up for several days because of transportation. By this time the American Army in China had not been demobilized; it had just simply fallen to pieces. It was really kind of a shocking thing to see. One thing that had happened that I didn't know about at the time, and learned about later, was that there had been actual mutinies among American troops in the Philippines. Everybody wanted to get out, get back home. And what happened was that American troops in China, particularly, were just fed up with China. They were just getting up from wherever they were sitting, and starting to move westward. They were like a flood of lemmings across India, taking any transportation they could find. I know the man who later came back to China for the CIA; he actually was stationed with the Embassy, and he was in the political section, but...
ACCINELLI: Who was this?
MELBY: Fred Schultheis. He had been with the Army in Chungking, and he, above all else, wanted to get back home. He told me once he just locked the drawer in his
desk and went out to the airport and waited to find any way he could to get out of China and back home. He was a brilliant language officer, too. Of course, there was this whole flood of GIs crossing India -- they got as far as Karachi and the Indian Ocean, and the Arabian Sea, and found the troop ships were on strike. So they just backed up in India. The troop ships were on strike for weeks I think.
So it took me a little time to get out of Calcutta and over the Hump to Kunming. It was right at the tail end of the great Bengal famine, which was a pretty horrible thing to see. I finally did get to Kunming; then I had to wait several days to get from Kunming to Chungking. It was the weather. So it took me pretty close to a month to get there.
ACCINELLI: What was it like flying over the Hump?
MELBY: Beautiful day the day I did it. No problem.
ACCINELLI: Hurley was still Ambassador was he not, when you arrived?
MELBY: He was still Ambassador, but he had come back to Washington. I didn't see him in Chungking.
ACCINELLI: You didn't see him in Chungking?
MELBY: I had known him before, but I was just as happy not to tangle with him again.
ACCINELLI: Had you tangled with him before?
MELBY: No. He arrived in Moscow with some fool mission just as I was leaving there, and I had my own safe in Spaso. For some reason or other he managed to get the combination to this safe and lost it, which he was always doing. Incidentally, he had been in Teheran too where he managed to lose the original agreement, the Teheran Agreement, and they never did find it. Of course, I had known him originally when I was still in college. I was a delegate from the Sigma Chi fraternity to the national convention in New Orleans one year, my senior year in college, and he was the national president of Sigma Chi that year. That was my first meeting with him. Little did I know what the future would hold.
ACCINELLI: Was he as vain, as self-important then as he was...
MELBY: He was. He sat there and he pouted. He was a
terrible man. He had already left to come back. He was fed up with China himself, because he had this delusion that he was going to solve the Kuomintang-Communist problem, and he would do it on his own. He quickly found out that he wasn't going to do anything of the kind, although he had started out very pro-Communist. One of the first things he did when he arrived on that special mission, before he was Ambassador, was to go to Yenan where he proceeded to draft an agreement that he was sure that Chiang Kai-shek was going to buy. The Communists had drafted an agreement, and he said it wasn't good enough; he wanted to amend it. So he amended it to include the Bill of Rights from the American Constitution, very much to the astonishment of Mao [Tse-tung] and Chou En-lai, who didn't believe it either. But they said, "Well, if this guy thinks he can sell it to Chiang, okay, what's to be lost?" Well, he took it back to Chungking with him, and Chiang proceeded to throw a tantrum.
From then on out he became increasingly and rabidly pro-Nationalist. Well, part of the time was spent supporting the Nationalists and the other part of the time was brawling with Albert Wedemeyer who was then
commanding American troops there, having replaced Stilwell. They were fighting over who was going to have the good bed in a certain part of the dormitory we were all living in, there. Hurley by this time was Ambassador, and he had shipped to him an automobile in Chungking of all places, where he had no possible use for an automobile. I think one has to say, in extenuation of his behavior, that Hurley was beginning to have moments of senility. One of the evidences I had of this -- although I wasn't present, I didn't see it -- was a story that was current there. Annalee Jacoby was there as a Time correspondent, and he asked her at some party to be his hostess, or something. She now is Mrs. Clifton Fadiman. When she came into his office, he got up and started chasing her around the room. He kept at it and she kept backing away and so on, and so forth. Finally, he stopped and he sat down at his desk, and he put his head in his hands and started to cry. "I hope you can forgive me," he said, "but when you walked into that room, I could have sworn it was my wife, and I couldn't understand why you were running away from me. Please forgive me, I just don't know what happened." And I saw Annalee in
Scottsdale and I asked her if this was a true story, and she said, "Yes, it was; he did it."
ACCINELLI: What kind of a relationship did he have with Madame Chiang?
MELBY: I don't think he liked her. I hadn't really heard anything about that particularly.
ACCINELLI: Was he at all jealous of the close relationship that Wedemeyer had with Madame Chiang?
MELBY: I never heard that. This was before my time and I never heard that. No, I think he was more concerned with Chiang.
ACCINELLI: And they did hit it off?
MELBY: Oh yes.
ACCINELLI: Well, when you arrived in Chungking, you stepped right into a hornet's nest, did you not?
MELBY: Unbelievable. Everybody in that Embassy wanted to seek me out right away and give me his version of the horrors that were going on in that Embassy. Walter Robertson was Minister Counselor then; he would be head
of the Executive Headquarters in Peking later on, and was then and has remained most of the rest of his life very pro-Chiang. But it was sort of Walter against the field. Everybody had turned against Hurley; everybody had turned against Chiang; everybody had turned against the Nationalists, which, of course, would later be exploited as saying that the Embassy was all pro-Communist and so on. That simply wasn't so. It was simply the contrast between the visible corruption and venality of the Nationalists which was beyond description, and -- what the few of those who had been up to Yenan and had either seen it or had heard of it -- of the incorruptability of the Communists. [These were seen as] men who believed in something, or were dedicated to an idea, an ideal, and still not having gotten power, they were seen as a very attractive group. Nobody really ever put any credence in this idea that, "Oh, they're just a bunch of agrarian reformers; they're not real Communists." Everybody in the Embassy knew they were Communist; they said so. Chou En-lai used to get very annoyed with people who would say, "Oh, they're just agrarian reformers." He said, "We're nothing of the kind; we're Marxist; we believe it; we behave that way."
Years later, somebody tried to discover the origin of this term "agrarian reformers" as applied to the Communists, and discovered that the first man who used it, believe it or not -- and this was before the war -- was Stanley Hornbeck, of all people. Of course, he would deny it later on. But there it was in writing. He'd not only said it, he had written it: "The Communists are really just a bunch of agrarian reformers."
ACCINELLI: Who was in the Embassy when you arrived?
MELBY: Well, one of them, the man I knew the best, was Sol Adler, who was the Treasury attaché there. There was Bob Smyth who was an FSO; Phil Sprouse -- Phil was in Kunming, he was Consul in Kunming. Ralph Clough was there as a language officer. George Atcheson, of course, had just been transferred to Japan with MacArthur. I said Ralph Clough was there; he was a young language officer, and a very good one.
ACCINELLI: Had Raymond Ludden been transferred?
MELBY: Ray Ludden. Ray Ludden had not arrived; he would arrive not long after I got there. Knight Biggerstaff
was Chinese Secretary, from Cornell. Walter Robertson, of course, was Charge David Barrett was Military Attaché, or Assistant Military Attaché. Bill Kenney was Naval Attaché. The Embassy in Chungking was going through the sort of a period that the American Army was. Everybody was being transferred out who had been there at all during the war. Ellis Briggs, who was a Latin Americanist, had served time.
Then, also, Wilma Fairbank was there as Cultural Attaché; her husband, John Fairbank, was head of USIS. James O'Sullivan was there, although he would shortly be transferred to Hanoi to take over that office. Harold Gelwickes, who was a China-language officer, was one of the military attachés. I say it was a period when people were coming and going.
ACCINELLI: Who was running the Embassy in Hurley's absence? Who was the man in charge?
MELBY: Well, the man who was really the ranking officer -- well, there were two -- Bob Smyth, who was a career officer, and, I guess, Walter Robertson. Of course, they were at odds on China completely.
ACCINELLI: What were your duties when you arrived?
MELBY: My first duties when I was sent there to China was to see what the Russians were up to. And as it turned out, the Embassy, the Russian Embassy, had a whole new staff and they all turned out to be mostly people I had known in the Press Section of the Foreign Office in Moscow. The Ambassador A. A. Petrov, a very nice guy, was a good friend of mine. He had a very competent Chinese language staff, especially Nicolai Federenko who could be nasty even when trying to be nice. His military attaché, who would later be Ambassador, was a very amiable guy. I quickly found out that I was supposed to keep track of all the devilment the Russians were up to, and I found they weren't up to anything. They were behaving more correctly than any Embassy in town, and they would continue to do so right up until the bitter end. Anything that they may have been doing, or up to, was being done not by the Embassy staff; it was being done by other people elsewhere. In fact, actually the Russians never really did very much in China during my time.
There was, we now know, a group of Tass men in Yenan, but they were held very much at arm's length by Mao and
Chou En-lai and the other Communists. They didn't know what was going on because Stalin had decided the Communists had no future. He made the famous remark that the Chinese Communists were radish Communists, red outside and white inside. And after all, he had decided to sign the Soviet treaty in which he recognized Chiang Kai-shek as the sole legitimate Government of China, very much to the bitterness of the Chinese Communists. It really wasn't until the end of the civil war that the Russians decided, well, that the Communists did have a future.
Remember that part of the deal at Yalta was that the Russians were coming in against Japan, on the basis of what our intelligence information was at the time. Which they did, finally, right after the atomic bomb had been dropped. They sent in a series of armies that had been mostly recruited from Central Asia. They had been in combat for three years without leave or anything. They proceeded to take Manchuria to pieces, and they had no opposition to it. We believed, as did the Russians, that the Japanese Army was a good army and still in being, and we were going, in the end, to have to fight the Japanese in Manchuria. Well, there wasn't any army left to speak
of or anything. So the Russians proceeded to dismantle Manchuria and they took the great Mukden Arsenal, and all the industrial establishment. Most of Chinese industry was located in Manchuria at the time. They shipped it all to Siberia, again very much to the bitter reaction of the Communists who thought they had been betrayed, which they had been. When the Russians moved out, which would have been in February or March of '46, all they did was to abandon the collected weapons of the Kwantung Army and they shipped the remnants of the Kwantung Army into Siberia, too. They've never been heard of since. All the help they ever gave to the Chinese Communists was the materiel that was left by the Kwantung Army.
ACCINELLI: At the same time, there was apprehension, certainly in the State Department, that a Communist Chinese victory might somehow increase the influence of Moscow in China. Wasn't there always a fear in spite of the lack of hard evidence, that Moscow was calling the shots or providing assistance, that a victory for the Communist Chinese would also be a victory for Moscow?
MELBY: I don't think any of us in the Embassy believed that,
and I don't think anybody in the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs believed it either. We had seen too much of Communist independence. We all believed that in the end there was going to be sort of a Tito-arrangement developed. Despite how this came out eventually in the Letter of Transmittal to the China White Paper, which is another story, the Communists were not going to be subservient to the Russians. In fact, in one of the last conversations that Chou En-Lai had with General Marshall, he said, "We would like to be friends with you. It's true we are Marxists; we are Communists, and of course, we're going to have an affinity of sorts with the Russians, with the Kremlin. But that doesn't mean we can't be friends with you. However, how far we lean toward the Russians is going to depend in no small measure on how hard you push us. If you push us hard enough, we're not going to have any choice except to lean on the Russians. We've got to have friends someplace. If you won't be friends, then who else is there?" I think that Chou En-lai meant it, and I think Marshall believed it too.
Marshall used to say the one Chinese he ever met who never lied to him, who always gave it to him straight, was Chou En-lai.
ACCINELLI: You had at least one meeting with Chou En-lai yourself.
MELBY: I knew him quite well. He was the first Chinese I met.
MELBY: I was taken to have lunch with him the first day I was in Chungking. I was impressed. I knew nothing about China at that time; I had everything to learn. It was a luncheon that had been arranged by a German Communist, Anna Wang, who was married to Wang Bing-nan at the time. She and Bing-nan are now divorced, and she is living in Germany again. She had arranged the luncheon. I was really astonished at how much Chou En-lai knew that was going on in Europe -- and around the world. He knew. There wasn't anything going on that I could tell him, and I was from that outside world. There was really nothing I could tell him that he didn't know. It was incredible.
ACCINELLI: Where would this information have been coming from? He was in Chungking and there were other Embassies there, I suppose, where he would pick up information, in
that way, but otherwise...
MELBY: I think the Communists, now we know, had sources of information all over the world. Yenan knew exactly what was going on everyplace.
ACCINELLI: So they weren't as isolated as one would think?
MELBY: Not as isolated as we thought at the time, no; they certainly were not. Nor were they as isolated internally either. That, I think, is one thing that comes out very clearly when the Communists took over the country. I think we thought they were going to have enormous problems and they did have them, and they had a country that was in ruins. But it was incredible how fast they put it together. I don't think anybody knew this at the time, but at the beginning with the Long March, they had been infiltrating their people all through the Kuomintang, in the Government. We'll never know how much of this Chiang Kai-shek himself knew. I cannot help but think that he had a pretty good idea, but I will never be able to prove it. The way they managed to put that country back on its feet -- and really it had just ceased to exist; in 18 months they had a going concern again. It was incredible.
I remember when I got back from the mission to Southeast Asia, which was October 1950. After all, the Communists hadn't been in power very long. I went to a meeting of the Policy Planning Staff. Paul Nitze by this time was chairman of it. I was asked to come in to give a briefing on what I'd found in Vietnam, and so on and so forth. But I stayed on through the rest of the meeting, and the rest of the meeting was devoted to the first rumors that were coming in of the Chinese volunteers crossing the Yalu. The Chinese language officers were just poo-poohing it. They said, "There is not the slightest chance that they can become involved in Korea; their problems are so enormous that it's not possible that they can do it for years." And yet they did it. Our own people, who should have known better, just didn't believe it. I don't think anybody in the American Government believed that the Chinese could pull themselves together that way.
Well, in looking back in retrospect, certainly I didn't know at the time what was happening. I think that they were able to do it because they had infiltrated people all throughout the Nationalist Government, who
suddenly emerged and took over. They must have been of incalculable help to them. We used to say, "Communists have never occupied a major city." On the board so it looked. Kalgan was the biggest city they had ever occupied until the final takeover. In another sense, they had had every city in China occupied for years.
ACCINELLI: With their infiltration.
MELBY: Yes. We might have avoided an awful lot of mistakes. I was arguing at the time in Washington, that the stories we were getting by way of Krishna Menon, the Indian Ambassador in Peking -- who was just automatically not believed about anything in Washington -- I was arguing you've got to pay attention to this man, no matter what you think of him. He's got good Chinese connections, and if he says, "Watch out for the Chinese. If you cross the parallel, the Chinese are going to intervene," you'd better be careful because that's what they'll do. And that is exactly what they did.
ACCINELLI: MacArthur was reluctant to believe it even after the initial intervention.
If I can get back to Chou En-lai for just a minute. He's a fascinating character; he impressed men such as
Henry Kissinger, with his charm and his knowledge, and so forth. What impressions did you have of the man? Obviously, he was very knowledgeable.
MELBY: Very knowledgeable, very worldly, very sophisticated. One thing I didn't know about him was that he was a Mandarin. He wasn't any ordinary peasant boy by any means. He didn't have to learn; he was born knowing these things. He had never been in the States, it's true. He never did get to the States, to his great regret, but he knew the world. He had been in France, and he had organized Communist brigades there. He knew European affairs, and he was very much a man of the world.
ACCINELLI: Was there a possibility, do you think, at this time, let's say to the end of the Marshall mission, that the Communists would have come to an agreement with the Nationalists, assuming that terms were acceptable to both sides.
MELBY: I think they would if you put in a very big if in there.
ACCINELLI: Yes, of course.
MELBY: You see, Marshall got his cease-fire very quickly,
which gave everybody kind of irrational hopes. He even got a political settlement going, although this was not within his terms of reference by any means. He got everything settled except for one item, that is, the composition of the State Council. It was to govern China until a new constitution had been drafted and ratified. I don't think Marshall realized the importance of it at the time; the composition of this State Council was that the Gimo (Generalissimo) was insisting that he have 51 percent of the vote on that Council. The Communists said, "No way, because with that 51 percent he can destroy us, and we're not going to put ourselves in a position of being destroyed. We will accept 50 percent;" and by 50 percent they meant themselves and the Democratic League. They were willing to compromise that far. But 51 percent, no. You say, "If the terms had been acceptable;" if they had been able to get that settlement on the State Council, yes, they would have made peace. I think that they would, then -- we know now historically -- they would have been in a very good position politically to take over.
ACCINELLI: Using that route rather than continuing with the civil war.
MELBY: Yes. Well they would have preferred to do it that way, of course.
ACCINELLI: Chiang realized that of course.
MELBY: Of course he did.
ACCINELLI: He was no fool.
MELBY: Oh no; he was a master politician himself. I don't think that Chiang really ever intended to make concessions which would put him in a position where he could lose.
ACCINELLI: Did Marshall realize that, when he first arrived, or did he come to realize it as apart of his experiences in trying to get these two sides together?
MELBY: I don't think he realized it when he arrived, no. Marshall didn't have much sense of history. His idea of history was the Indian wars out in the 1880s. I don't think it was until the end; his farewell statement to China was "a plague on both your houses. You're both doublecrossing me." Whether he ever to the end of his days understood the nuances of Chinese politics, I greatly doubt.
ACCINELLI: Did he rely at all for advice, or assistance, on the Embassy?
MELBY: No. He listened, but after the initial briefings we gave him, no, we had very little contact with him.
ACCINELLI: I take it he was fairly close-mouthed as well about his doings.
MELBY: Yes. We never knew really what he was reporting back to the President.
ACCINELLI: Do you recall what your own impressions were, at the time, of his chances of bringing off a deal between the two sides?
MELBY: Oh, I guess like everyone else, when he pulled off the cease fire which nobody really thought he could do, we suddenly had this kind of wild hope that maybe the great man can do it. Then when he made the progress he did, which was done in an incredibly short period of time, toward a political settlement, again, it was, "maybe he'll do it, maybe he really will." But when he decided to come back to the States to report to the President in March of '46, we all had a sense, the minute
he left, that this thing was going to blow up.
Even when he did come back -- oddly enough the Pentagon had advised him not to come back -- he never thought he could pull it off. We used to go over to see movies he had every night and eat ice cream, which he dearly loved, and listen to his lectures on smoking, which we paid no attention to. He'd given up smoking by this time. He once said to me, "This thing has blown up; it's probably my fault. But," he said, "I'm just now too old and too tired to go at it again. I cannot go through this again. I'll stick around for a while because the Generalissimo wants me to but I have no confidence in it." Actually, he stayed longer than he had planned.
ACCINELLI: There wasn't any thought on his part, was there, of dumping Chiang. Chiang was indispensable. I mean in the end if there was no agreement, the United States would stand by Chiang, perhaps not give everything by way of economic or military assistance that Chiang had demanded, but still not abandon him.
MELBY: You mean on Marshall's part?
ACCINELLI: Yes, on Marshall's part.
MELBY: I think Marshall, if given his druthers, would have, yes.
ACCINELLI: You think so?
MELBY: But I think he also was beginning to recognize the power of the China Lobby and realize that politically it was impossible at home. Why, I think he would have. I think he thought, "What's the idea of flogging a dead horse?"
ACCINELLI: He was never taken with the idea put forward by John Paten Davies, John Stuart Service and so forth, that the United States should work with the Communists, that the Nationalists had no future, that the future belonged to the Communists, and that the United States should recognize that and adjust its policy accordingly.
MELBY: You know I'm not even sure that he knew this. I doubt if he ever even heard of John Service or John Davies. I had never thought of it.
ACCINELLI: Was there anyone in the Embassy at that time who supported that viewpoint and who might have had Marshall's
ear? Or had those people all been, what's the phrase, "Hurleyed out of China" by then?
MELBY: I hadn't heard that expression before.
Well, they were all pretty well gone. Of course, Ray Ludden was there. Ludden never hesitated to speak his mind to Marshall. I don't know that Marshall heard him; I don't know that he listened. I don't think that Ludden thought that he listened very well, or understood what he was hearing. But one of the things, incidentally, that took up an awful lot of my time was on this business of everybody being transferred out all of a sudden. Not only was it the American Embassy, but it was every other Embassy, too, as replacements came in. By the time we had been in Nanking -- well, by early summer of '46 -- I was the only one left in the Embassy who had actually served in Chungking. Well, I hadn't been in Chungking all that long, but still I was the only voice who had been there. Everybody had to see me; they wanted to know what life was like in Chungking. It took an awful lot of my time.
ACCINELLI: What were you telling them about life in Chungking?
MELBY: Telling them what I thought, which was pretty well-known anyway by that time.
ACCINELLI: By the mid-part of 1946, you were disenchanted with Chiang; in fact your disenchantment began not long after you arrived in Chungking. It grew progressively worse. Did you make this public? I mean was it known through the Embassy that you felt this way, or did...
MELBY: Oh, sure.
ACCINELLI: So you had no fear then that expressing this viewpoint might get you "Hurleyed out of China."
MELBY: No. All those in the Foreign Service, who had trouble, were those who had been there during the Stilwell period. It was none of us who came after Stilwell, oddly enough. Most people think that my problems with security and so on were concerned with China, and that really isn't so because that never came up. It was the malign influence of General Hurley that did it. All, or most of us, were known as being anti-Nationalist and so on; still you were not painted with that brush for some reason.
ACCINELLI: Well, your duties when you first arrived, called for you to keep track of what the Russians were doing, and the Russians were not doing very much. Did your duties change?
MELBY: They sure did. I was assigned to the political section, doing political reporting. I very quickly became the Embassy Press Officer. I was also liaison with cultural relations, which meant liaison with Wilma Fairbank, and what she was doing. After John Fairbank left, which would have been mid-'46, I became liaison with the USIA. Brad Connors came out. He was always the acting director; he was never made full director. I was liaison with USIA, and also I negotiated the first Fulbright treaty. I negotiated it and it was put into effect. It was the first Fulbright program the United States had, and I was the first director of the Fulbright Foundation. So, I was really doing at least three jobs. Of course, very quickly I became, along with Ray Ludden, principal political officer.
ACCINELLI: What kind of sources did you have for your political reporting? For example, on whom did you depend for information on what was happening in the Kuomintang?
MELBY: Well, my contacts were primarily, in a sense, with the Democratic League. I did not speak Chinese. They all had been educated in the West; they were all American-educated mostly. So that was a very good source of information.
Eventually, through negotiating the Fulbright Treaty, I got to know people in the education field. Wilma Fairbank knew everybody in China too. I got to know those people; the people she knew I knew. My principal contact in the [Chinese] Foreign Service was George Yeh, who was a very savvy guy. I used to think that in the end he was going to defect to the Communists, but he never did. I was wrong about George.
ACCINELLI: Did he ever hint that that might be a possibility?
MELBY: No, just my wrong intuition about him. I knew the other Vice Ministers of Foreign Affairs. I knew them too. Wang Shih-Chieh was Foreign Minister; I knew him. Really, the inner workings of the Kuomintang, we never did know. We thought we knew a great deal more than actually we did know. At the end of '46 Fred Schultheis came, and he was assigned to the Political Section; it was no secret that he was CIA. They didn't have this fool
business that we have now. He had his own contacts and Fred could sit down and read Chinese vernacular and novels and that sort of thing; he was that good at Chinese. He and Dave Barrett used to go out and just sit around the marketplace and listen to what people were talking about and so on. They used to say it was kind of an exercise in futility, because 80 percent of what the Chinese peasants were talking about was money. But still it kept their ears going. Fred always shared everything with us. He didn't run his operations separately from ours at all.
So, we probably knew as much of what was going on as anybody did, any group of foreigners. Then, of course, when [John] Leighton Stuart became Ambassador, he too, really did know them all. You never knew whether the old gentleman was telling you everything he knew, but he was telling us a good deal of what he knew.
ACCINELLI: Was there any support in the Embassy for reform of the Kuomintang as a way of increasing the chances for Chiang's survival? Any support, for example, for the "third force" option?
MELBY: No. Because we all knew that any group, I mean the
Democratic League, for example, wasn't going anyplace without an army. Nobody without an army was going anyplace in China. So, I mean, sure he gave lip service to it, and Marshall used to talk about building up the Democratic League as a viable alternative. It really wasn't; couldn't have been. Nor was there any slightest hope that the "Gimo" was going to listen to anybody who wasn't under his military control. No. We were really allied with sort of a hopeless situation.
ACCINELLI: Well, perhaps you can tell me something about Chiang. Did we have any contact with him at all?
MELBY: Not personally, no. I used to see him around; I didn't really...
ACCINELLI: What about Madame Chiang?
MELBY: I met her; didn't really have much to do with her, no.
ACCINELLI: You mentioned George Yeh?
MELBY: Well, I saw George a lot, you know. I had a good deal to do with him.
ACCINELLI: I take it you thought he was a very capable individual.
MELBY: He was. By the time he finally died, which was not really so long ago, he was senior advisor to the Nationalists on Taiwan.
ACCINELLI: Was he open, candid, about difficulties within the Kuomintang, about the weaknesses or deficiencies of Chiang's leadership?
MELBY: Well, he didn't talk about it. I think he assumed we knew; therefore, why talk about it. He didn't think it was his role to talk about it. After all, he was Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs. He did not participate much in Kuomintang affairs; I'm not even sure he was a member.
ACCINELLI: Did you know T.V. Soong at all?
MELBY: I used to see him occasionally, yes. T.V.'s principal contact was Walt Butterworth, who took him over. I used to see T.V. socially, occasionally, but in business terms, Walt considered that his field. And Walt, too, was quite open with us about what he knew. He didn't know much about China really, but...
ACCINELLI: Butterworth is a man you admired.
MELBY: Yes. I think he was miscast in China.
ACCINELLI: Well, he later went on to become Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, was he not?
MELBY: Yes, and there was a bitter fight over his confirmation. He was personally insulted by it. I don't think he wanted the job, but he wanted the confirmation once he had been named for it, and because Marshall wanted him on the job. But I think that once he had an opportunity of getting out, he got out, and he became Minister to Sweden.
ACCINELLI: Did he share Marshall's "a plague on both your houses?"
MELBY: I think the Communists probably may have made a mistake with Marshall. I don't think he blamed Chou En-lai for this. After Marshall came back from his trip to Washington, they started attacking him personally, and he didn't like that worth a damn. It was a mistake on their part. On the other hand, I guess in a way I can understand why they were doing it. We were continuing to
help the Nationalists, and we were not helping the Communists. After the summer of '46 when Chou En-lai left Nanking, we had no direct connections with them, beyond what Dr. Stuart had. That's one reason that Marshall named him as Ambassador, because he knew that Stuart not only had the connections, he had most of them as his students at Yenching University. There was, he felt, still that strong student-teacher relationship that he thought that maybe Stuart could make something out of, and Stuart thought so too. He never really gave up his hope on that, not to the very end. Stuart still hoped that somehow, some way, he could get through to them.
ACCINELLI: Apparently, there was a suggestion on the part of, I think, Chou En-lai in 1949 -- I'm not sure of the exact date -- that they met. The Communists at that time apparently were looking forward to talks about the normalization of relationships, and it was vetoed in Washington.
ACCINELLI: Who ran the Embassy? Was Stuart running the Embassy? Who was in charge?
MELBY: That's one of those weird, weird stories. Walt Butterworth was running the Embassy. Dr. Stuart never left his residence; he never left the Embassy. I don't think I saw him in the Chancery a half dozen times the whole time he was there. He saw the telegrams. Butterworth would take them over to him, and leave them with him, really up until early in '47 when Walt discovered that Dr. Stuart was just turning those telegrams over to Philip Fugh, his Chinese secretary. And the minute Philip saw the telegrams, he'd call for a car and he'd beetle over and turn them over to the Gimo. It was the perfect setup.
The way we discovered that he was doing that was that by this time Dr. Stuart's secretary, Hilda Hordern, had been Butterworth's secretary in Madrid. She saw what was going on, but she had made up her mind that she was going to get along with Philip. Still, she was a career secretary in the Foreign Service. She'd been with Walt in Madrid, and he had brought her with him to China. Finally, she got where she just said, "I cannot let this go on;" so she told Walt about it. She said, "This is the world's worst security leak anyplace." I'm sure Marshall knew that this was going on. After that, Walt would take
the telegrams over to Dr. Stuart and let him look at them, and then he'd take them back to the Embassy so Philip couldn't have them. Well, it was a hell of a way to run an Embassy.
This has puzzled so-called scholars of the period, and so on, because they don't understand what the initials mean on telegrams, as to who really wrote them, and whose views they really represent. You had to have been there to know that the "JLS" didn't necessarily mean that Stuart had ever had anything to do with them. Maybe he had never seen the outgoing telegram, and maybe he had, or maybe he'd sent it and sent it on his own and nobody else knew about it. I say, this has confused a lot of scholars, to know just what the hell was going on in that Embassy. That's a good question. Even up until the end Marshall said, "Just let it alone; what difference does it make really. Chiang knows what we're doing anyhow, and so if the old gentleman makes him happy, maybe he can pull something off. And so we don't want to make a change in Ambassadors now, and so on; just let it go."
ACCINELLI: After Marshall leaves, is policy in effect being
set in Washington? Does the Embassy have such influence at all, whether it's Butterworth or Stuart? Marshall becomes Secretary of State after all.
MELBY: It's set in Washington, I'm sure.
Then once Walt leaves, he goes back to be head of the Bureau. Then Lewis Clark became Minister Counselor. He was also originally a China-language officer, but a somewhat handicapped one. He had gotten a very bad case of trachoma in the days before you knew what to do about it. So he was almost blind. But on the other hand, he was a pretty shrewd operator about China. I never particularly liked him, but he was an honorable man.
ACCINELLI: Were there any officers or members of the Embassy with whom you had a fairly close relationship or friendships?
MELBY: Oh, I had Ray Ludden. Ray Ludden and I were old pals. Fred Schultheis. Well, both Fred and Ludden are both dead, but I kept up with both of them. Certainly Brad Connors, although he died many years ago. He died in his early 40s with cancer. He had come back as head of information for the Far East, and then finally went to
London, to the Embassy there, as head of information. He died very shortly after that with cancer, lung cancer. I never saw Brad without a cigarette in his mouth. I always suspected that he probably slept with a cigarette in his mouth. He must have smoked five or six packages a day, easily.
ACCINELLI: These were American cigarettes that were brought into China I take it.
Why is it that you stayed on in China for so long? Was that your choice? Did you ever make an effort to have yourself transferred?
MELBY: Well, yes. At one point I wanted to go to the National War College. I was turned down on that because they said I was too young; you had to be 35, and I wasn't quite 35. So that fell through. I remember there was some talk of my going back to Latin America, but what I have discovered since then was that Dr. Stuart intervened in that. He sent word back to Marshall, I guess, "Don't transfer Melby out of here. He's so valuable here, the Embassy can't run without him. He knows more about China than all the rest of us put together." I was
not transferred until November 1948, when the orders came out, and we were beginning to evacuate people out. Part of that evacuation order said that anybody who could be considered in any sense by the Communists as having been involved in clandestine activities has got to leave. And that got me. I was prepared to stay on and be occupied by the Communists, but Washington said no.
In the final job I had actually in Nanking, in the fall of 1948, there was awful arguing going on as to when we would evacuate, when should we give orders for Americans to leave, when should the Embassy staff leave, when should dependents go, and so on. This is an old story in China, you know, of getting the missionaries out and so on, and they're always objecting to going, and the minute they get captured by some warlord or somebody, they start screaming at the Embassy to save them and so on.
We set up a special committee in the Embassy to make those decisions. The committee was a rigged committee because it consisted of Lewis Clark, who was all in favor of getting all the Americans out like last month. He had been through the rape of Nanking. He had been an officer and he'd seen the horrors of that, and never
again did he want to see anything like that. So he was all devoted to getting people out. The second member was Fred Schultheis, who couldn't stand the idea of being separated from his wife and children. He had a real psychological block on it. He just started going to pieces on the thing, so he was always voting stay, stay, stay. And me, I was the chairman. I had no family there. Incidentally, I was married later to Hilda Hordern, the Ambassador's secretary, but we were not married then. I was presumed to be the impartial one, which meant that I had to make the decision on when we were going to evacuate.
We were under all kinds of pressures of missionaries who didn't want to leave until the last minute and of Army personnel who wanted to go now. There was Chiang Kai-shek who begged us, "Don't go. Don't abandon me because it's going to look bad with the Communists," and so on. There were business people that wanted this, that, or the other. It was a real nightmare fall. In the end, as I say, I had to make all the decisions on it.
The Army finally just decided on its own. General [Major General David] Barr, who was then commanding the
military, the MAAG, Military Advisory Group there, finally made the decision on letting out 800 officers and dependents there in Nanking who weren't doing a damn thing. One afternoon he made the decision that they were going to evacuate today, and the next morning the Military Advisory compound was deserted, and it was really a ghoulish experience.
ACCINELLI: He had the transportation to get them out?
MELBY: He had the transportation. He put them all on LSTs and floated them all down to Shanghai. We'd already issued the orders to the missionaries and the civilians to get out; some of them did and some of them didn't. You couldn't make them. But Embassy dependents -- I finally decided they've got to go. I made arrangements to have them all suddenly transported to the Philippines, to the old Japanese concentration camp at Baguio. They all left in October. They didn't like going but still...
I saw the group when I left. I knew I was going back to the Philippine Desk in the Department, so I stopped off in Manila on my way back. Then I went out to see my refugees there. And the one who was unhappiest
with it all was Mary Lou Clough, Ralph Clough's wife, who said she just couldn't stand it any longer to be separated from old Ralphie. The day after I left -- I don't know how she did it -- but she engineered something and she showed up back in Shanghai. Three days later she was dead with meningitis, leaving three little children for Ralphie to take care of. She was dead and of course since then Ralph has married again. But that was our one real tragedy, out of that particular evacuation. Meningitis was then epidemic in China; well, it still is. It still is, that and encephalitis and so on; I don't know quite why.
ACCINELLI: You were saying that you came out of the Marshall mission with a great admiration for Marshall.
MELBY: He's a man of such integrity. I had never met him before the China mission. My initial impression was a little startling in that when I first met him, he got out of a jeep down at the foot of the hill outside the Embassy, and he was a lot shorter than I thought he was. The second thing was -- we shook hands with him and it was a flabby handshake. Well, I happen to have a very strong
handshake, and I was a little startled. I didn't know quite what to make of that. It put me off a little bit, initially, but as I saw the man work and operate -- and I worked a little bit with him -- I came to have great admiration for him. I can't say that I was ever any great intimate of his although I think I knew him fairly well. He was known not to talk very much, but in China he opened up and talked in ways and about things that he never had before as Chief of Staff.
I remember just little items -- well not such little items at that. He said some things about the dropping of the atomic bomb. He said, "It isn't known generally" -- and I'm not sure that it's known even to this day -- "that at the time we dropped the first and second atomic bombs on Japan, that's all we had. If those hadn't worked," he said, "I don't know what we would have done. The Japanese would have caught us, in a sense, in a bluff, which we were. And," he said, "it took some time to make more in those days, so it had to work or else."
And he used to talk about Donald Nelson who had been head of the War Production Board. He said what a big blowhard that man was; he'd just walk around the Pentagon with his mouth wide open and anybody could have pushed
anything down it, and how he would come and regurgitate it or not. He said he was a hopeless character. You just couldn't tell about him. He sometimes would be reminiscing about Generals and he said, "If there is anything I hate in the Army, it's generals. Generals, in my experience, never know the enemy force or the enemy strength." He said, "Seldom enough do they even know what their own strength is, where their own armies are." He said, "We can be much better off without them."
Well, this was the kind of thing that he would talk about. He was feeling a let-down. After all, he had been pulled out of retirement after having been retired for a week, and Mr. Truman asked him to go to China and he, being a good soldier, said, "Yes sir, when do you want me to go?" And the President said, "Yesterday." He wrote his own instructions too; they were not written for him by anybody in the Department. He wrote his own. The President approved them on that basis.
ACCINELLI: Was he sent, do you think, in part at least, to offset the brouhaha that Hurley had caused?
MELBY: Well, absolutely. Absolutely. Furthermore, Mr.
Truman was a great hero worshipper, and to him Marshall was the greatest man alive. He figured here was this country going into civil war; obviously, that's the way it's going. If anybody can stop it, General Marshall can. He gave Marshall really a complete carte blanche to do anything he wanted to do, despite his instructions limiting him to good offices. He wasn't even a mediator. Well, he became a mediator on his own initiative and the President said, "General, if that's what you want to do, go right ahead and do it; just keep me informed." Well, Marshall knew enough to do that, because he was quite aware of the trouble that Jimmy Byrnes had gotten into as Secretary of State. Byrnes was trying to be Secretary of State and not tell Mr. Truman what he was doing. Mr. Truman didn't claim to know anything or everything, but he did want to be kept informed. Marshall knew that was very important to the President so he did keep him informed, and he kept him informed in detail. To Mr. Truman, that was another mark of confidence.
He stayed on, I think, as long as he did more out of some kind of sympathy for the predicament that Chiang was in. It got to be kind of a joke around the Embassy that the minute Chiang would go to the field
to take command of an operation, we knew there was another Kuomintang disaster in the making. Marshall knew that Chiang was no soldier, no General, and Chiang didn't know it. But Marshall also had enormous respect for the Communists. He once said, "The Communist general staff" -- and that began with Mao, and Chou En-lai, and Chu Teh, and all the rest -- "they would have been ornaments on any general staff in history." He said, "I don't care what it is; they would have been ornaments on it. They really knew what they were doing, and knew how to do it." But it was when they started to -- and I've already mentioned it -- to attack his integrity that he didn't like it. I think he even had a kind of sympathy for the Madame [Chiang Kai-shek]. I think he kind of liked her; she was a pretty woman, and Marshall was not insensitive to that sort of thing. But he said, "This woman is in an impossible situation. The Chinese don't trust her because she's too Westernized. The Westerners don't trust her because she's too much Chinese." But he said, "She does, in a funny kind of way, exercise a certain amount of restraint on Chiang. She keeps him from making more of a fool of himself than by inclination he would be." And for that he gave her a good deal of credit.
ACCINELLI: They maintained a friendship after he returned to Washington.
MELBY: Yes, unlike the Roosevelts who came to dislike her intensely, and for considerable reason. We all were delighted when he left and was immediately named Secretary of State. We thought this was great. And it was the end of the line for the Nationalists. There we were, of course, living in China where we were cut off from everything going on anyplace else; China was so absorbing in itself. And we pretty much lost touch with the political realities at home. We didn't fully appreciate that Marshall was going to find out pretty fast what those realities were. That, I think, accounts largely for the small amount of continuing aid that we gave.
ACCINELLI: Pressure from the China bloc primarily?
MELBY: That's right.
ACCINELLI: Was this recognized in the Embassy at that time, or is this a retrospective judgment? Were you aware at that time that the Department and the White House were under pressure?
MELBY: Oh yes, I think so, sure. Well, Marshall, for example, in his testimony early in '48 on the small China aid bill testified against the aid. He said, "Now, if in your judgment you're going to pass this bill, and you instruct me to administer it, of course, that's what I will do. But I want you to know now in advance that I'm telling you it's going to fail. Nothing can save this administration in China." They passed it, and he administered it, and it failed, and that was that.
ACCINELLI: I believe it was in July 1947 that Wedemeyer came to China.
ACCINELLI: What was your own reaction to that? After all, you knew Wedemeyer; you knew his views.
MELBY: We thought that it was kind of a sop to the China Lobby, to keep them quiet. People like Walter Judd had been yelling for a new appraisal of the situation. I think Marshall's reaction was, "Well, dammit, Wedemeyer can't do any harm, any damage. Let him go and have a look." Which he did. He came and we all briefed him.
All of us said some things that we were later sorry we had said.
ACCINELLI: Oh, really? Do you remember what you said?
MELBY: Oh, I think we were catering a little bit too much to what we thought were his anti-Communist views. We should have been ashamed of ourselves for doing it, because when finally he left, he had become as anti-Kuomintang as anybody. Of course, the minute he got back to Washington and got himself with another backdrop, he changed right back to what he had believed originally. But he was simply appalled at what he found. The reason that the famous so-called Wedemeyer Report on China was suppressed, for as long as it was, was that in it he recommended that China north of the Yangtze be made a U.N. trusteeship, as of course had been previously recommended for Korea. Marshall realized that this was going to infuriate Chiang, so he informed Chiang of his reasons for keeping the report secret. Chiang never objected to that. He never said a word. Of course, he was right; Chiang would have been furious with the whole thing. It was not until we came to the China White Paper that Walt Butterworth said, "Look, we're going to
document China. Let's put the Wedemeyer report in too and stop all the gossip about it."
ACCINELLI: You really couldn't leave it out, could you without subverting the credibility of the document?
MELBY: That's right. In any event, recommendations that Wedemeyer made apart from the trusteeship one were pretty much what everybody had been making over the years. There was nothing new or startling about it at all, really. It attracted no attention anyway.
ACCINELLI: He very much wanted Chiang to reform, didn't he? Wasn't that part of his approach to China, that somehow Chiang could be convinced to reform the Kuomintang, change his ways, and turn in a new direction?
MELBY: Well, I suppose. There was never the slightest chance of anything like that happening.
ACCINELLI: Did he let Chiang know, while he was in China how appalled he was by the conditions that he found?
MELBY: Yes, he did. He gave a so-called secret speech to the State Council, which was even stronger in his condemnation than what they put into his public
pronouncement when he left, yes. They were under no illusions. He later regretted having made that public statement, and he probably should not have made it. He could have put across his point in that speech to the State Council, and let them do with it as they pleased, because it was a secret report in the State Council and there was Chinese face involved. What did you think the Chinese were going to do when you came out publicly and say it? Of course, they're going to react against it; anybody would have, not just Chinese.
ACCINELLI: I wonder if Wedemeyer did not realize that only if he could convince Chiang to begin reforms was there any hope Washington would buy proposals for large-scale economic and military assistance.
MELBY: Well, I guess he thought that if he could persuade the Gimo to reform, or seem to reform, that his chances would be better of getting more help, but I don't know. He should have known that there was no chance really to get the Gimo to do that. Chiang always said yes, and then he was accused of having promised something and not carrying through with it. I think this is a little bit unfair to Chiang himself. I think Chiang's problem was simply
that he didn't understand what he was being asked to agree to. He had such a Confuscian-feudal mentality that he was incapable of thinking beyond what he did understand, mainly manipulating or maneuvering around with warlord cliques. This he understood to the full, and he was very good at it. Beyond that his mind didn't go. He had lost all touch with the people of China. The man was constitutionally incapable of the kind of reform we had in mind.
ACCINELLI: Do you think that he believed down to near the end that the United States would come to his rescue? That the United States could not afford to have his regime collapse?
MELBY: Sure. He believed that our anti-Communism was so strong that in the end we were going to fight the Russians in World War III, and he would come back on the American coattails. That is what had happened with Japan. He always believed that.
I think his own anti-Communism was an article of faith with him; it was something he really believed. He would never say it publicly, but we've since been
able to document it, that he always believed that the great menace in China was communism. As he said once, "The real cancer in the Chinese soul is Communism. Japan is simply a skin disease. Let us get rid of the cancer and the skin disease will take care of itself." Well, it was "Cloud-Coocoo land," really, but this is what he believed.
ACCINELLI: I would like to turn to your own views of the Chinese Communists. When you first came to Chungking I take it that you were impressed with the Chinese Communists. You've spoken about the general belief in the Embassy, with a few exceptions, that these were progressive men, vital and efficient in a way that the Nationalists obviously were not. Your view changed, did it not? By 1947, 1948, is it fair to say that you were much more anti-Communist, in a general sense, and also in the specific sense of anti-Chinese Communists?
MELBY: No, not that early. I think I did not really begin to change basically, or fundamentally change my views on the Chinese Communists, really until after the cultural revolution. This change became a part of the problem that I have been wrestling with ever since; namely, why is it that all revolutionaries seem so much more
attractive before they come to power than they do once they achieve power? Why is it that once coming to power they turn around and behave very much the way those whom they have displaced behaved.
I think that you can document for almost every revolution in the 20th century. I am old enough now that I have so far lived through, as observer or in some small way a participant, every revolution in the 20th century. Who knows what the next 15 years will bring?
They've all failed; all political beliefs that we've believed in all along have become suddenly irrelevant in the world we live in today. All the way from Communism to Socialism, to Libertarianism -- none of them seem to have the answers to the problems that confront the world today. What is it that's gone wrong? Where have we gone astray with this? What is it that happens to the revolutionary?
Well, I have partial answers on some of this. Revolutionaries inevitably -- this is true -- the longer they are struggling for power, inevitably they have to be secretive, they have to be distrustful. Somebody's got to betray them, and therefore they develop a conspiratorial
frame of mind. And once they've come to power, and I think we're seeing this right now in Nicaragua, they carry over this conspiratorial frame of mind into when they are in power. I can't say really that the Sandinistas are worse than Somoza. That's not saying that no progress has ever been made; that's hardly true. But they behave just about as badly as those they've dispossessed, and because they continue with this conspiratorial frame of mind, they sort of then force the opposition into a polarized situation where we have to react against them. We have to see the devil in them even more than we did, because they don't follow the usual norms that we would like to see them follow. In the case of Nicaragua, the longer this goes on with the Sandinistas the worse the blow-up is going to become -- the more polarized we and they become. A little more difficult it's going to be to find a solution, at least a solution short of another military upheaval. It's a hell of a way to end a lifetime, but...
ACCINELLI: Well, revolutionaries, often after they come to power, confront external enemies as well, which of course, reinforces this sense of encirclement, of threat. That
was the case with the Soviet revolution, the Chinese Communists, and so on down the line. They did have real enemies. The Nicaraguans certainly do today.
MELBY: But I think that had we not taken under Reagan -- or maybe this even goes back to the last days of the Carter Administration because he was beginning to turn against them -- if we had just left the Sandinista revolution alone, I don't think that the Russians ever would have paid the slightest bit of attention to them, and probably not the Cubans either, because the Russians are over-extended. They wish they could get out of this sort of thing, just as I'm sure they wish they could get out of Cuba. But we don't give them the opportunity to do it. The longer it goes on the way it is, the more difficult it becomes for them to disengage. If we would just let it alone, let them handle it their own way, let Central Americans fight it out there, not get "Big Brother" involved in domineering the way he does.
ACCINELLI: It's very difficult for the United States to stand apart from that kind of situation, for any number of reasons, including domestic politics.
If I can refer back to the China experience, I take
it that that was in fact your viewpoint as you left China. The country was about to fall to the Communists and it was best that the United States wash its hands.
MELBY: That's right. Absolutely. Well, I think that when the final complete take-over took place -- and Dean Acheson by that time was Secretary of State -- when he was asked what American policy was during the new regime, he said, "Let's wait and see what happens when the dust is settled." But he was prepared at that time, as were a lot of other people, including some of our Allies, the British primarily to recognize [the new regime]. This has been denied pretty consistently these days, but the fact is that at that time we were prepared to recognize and take a chance on it.
ACCINELLI: And what dust had to settle?
MELBY: Well, the dust that had to settle was that we thought it was only a matter of time before Formosa was going to be taken. Here, I think, the Communists themselves made a basic mistake, understandably so, but still they made a mistake. They had a choice; they had no experience in amphibious warfare. Their choice was that when once the
armies had crossed the Yangtze and taken Shanghai and so on, and they were driving down to Canton, they could either divert those armies westward, subdue the West China warlords, or they could call a halt on that and mount an amphibious operation against Taiwan. They could have done that and could have taken Formosa at that time with a corporal's guard and a band, because Chiang's forces were so disorganized at that time. Had they done that there never would have been a Formosa problem.
As it turned out, the West China warlords fell all over themselves making their accommodations with Peking. There was no problem about the West China warlords at all. At all. The only thing the Communists had to do was to see how long it took them to walk to Chengtu and Kunming. The warlords were out there, cap in hand, waiting for them. By that time, of course, Chiang was reconsolidating his forces on Taiwan. Also, let's face it, the Korean war was beginning to loom. Then, of course, with Korea, that was all over. We got the twenty-year freeze. But the tragedy of our China policy [is that] a lot of it could have been avoided if, as Acheson said, "Let the dust fall; Formosa is gone, and the Communists are in power. Now we've got to learn to live with them." Which he was prepared to do.
ACCINELLI: The Chinese Communists made it difficult for the United States to be accommodating in other ways. Well, [there was] the treatment for example, of Angus Ward, and the treatment of the American businessmen who had remained. Other foreigners were, in fact, also mistreated. There was a general pattern there of ethnocentrism, chauvinism, anti-foreignism, which is understandable, but still made it difficult for the United States to be more receptive.
MELBY: Well, none of that helped at all.
ACCINELLI: What about the Sino-Soviet treaty? Did that alter perceptions at all in the State Department about the relationship between Moscow and Peking?
MELBY: Oh, yes, there for a while it persuaded those who wanted to believe that, that China was simply a Russian dependency. That they, as Acheson said, in that unfortunate Letter of Transmittal, they were doing things that were not Chinese, that in time they would learn better and throw off the shackles of the Kremlin and so on. Sure, that doesn't help at all. But then the Chinese didn't have anyplace else to turn.
ACCINELLI: Do you think Acheson believed that?
MELBY: No, he didnít. He didnít believe a word of that Letter of Transmittal. The Letter of Transmittal was one of those products of a committee. The drafting, and the production of the China White Paper, which was turned out in about six months, had been kept really very secret, not only from the American public, but it had been kept pretty secret within the Department itself. At the time that I had just about finished it, word began to get around that something like this was in the works. Actually, I did the first draft on the letter of transmittal, at which point it was taken away from me and turned over to everybody in the Department who wanted to get in his nickelís worth of what it should look like. It came out looking like the usual report from a committee, which was nothing. It had all the inflammatory and stupid remarks in it that were immediately picked up by everybody in the United States. I mean everybody that was interested, and most people in the States didnít even know where China was even then.
Still, the letter of transmittal was all anybody ever read, and Acheson had signed it thinking that it
didn't make any difference. Who's going to read it anyhow? That was his mistake, because it was what people latched on to. The document came out. I'd still stand by it; I think it's still essentially correct.
ACCINELLI: Can you tell me what instructions Truman gave you regarding the preparation of the White Paper?
MELBY: Write the record and write it straight, no matter who is hurt; tell the truth. That's the best way to set the American public straight on this thing. We all believed this would call off the dogs, but of course it did nothing of the kind.
The genesis of the White Paper incidentally came out of conversations that John Davies and I had. He was then a member of the Policy Planning Staff. We originally had an idea of doing a "Mr. X" article on China, which actually I wrote. Having written it, I realized that China was much too big and difficult a subject for a mere article. It was out of this that the idea of a White Paper came. Kennan, who was then head of the Policy Planning Staff, approved. Butterworth was very skeptical; he didn't believe in publishing anything. Acheson liked the idea and took it to the President, who liked it. We put
together a staff that worked on it and turned it out, as I say, in six months. It was a mammoth undertaking.
Ironically enough, it came under attack in the [United] States by everybody, but even Mao Tse-tung took the trouble to read it apparently, because he wrote a series of articles on it attacking it as proving American imperialist intentions and so on. The payoff on the thing finally was that when it was all over, I bundled up all the final drafts of the thing and had them packaged up and sealed. Phil Jessup had done a final editorial review of the thing, in which he didn't change anything at all, really. We marked on them that these papers were to be opened only by Jessup or myself, and then we put them in the Archives of the Department.
Then, of course, came that unfortunate Eisenhower election, and Senator [William] Knowland ran across these documents in the Department and thought, "Ah, ha." He was determined to prove that the White Paper was a "con job." So he set up a special task force on the Foreign Relations Committee to do a rewrite on the White Paper. The only reason I ever put them together that way was that I thought that someday it might make an interesting dissertation topic for some ambitious graduate
student to study how a White Paper is put together; what you have to go through and what's involved. It was no more sinister than that. But this special group in the Foreign Relations Committee worked for four years on a rewrite of the White Paper and gave it up. They said, "There is nothing we can find that changes it in substance at all."
ACCINELLI: It didn't change Knowland's views at all, did it?
MELBY: Oh, no. Nothing could do that.
ACCINELLI: Well, you seemed to have been given an assignment which from one perspective was contradictory. You were to be as objective as possible, tell the story straight. Yet, in a sense, you're telling the story in order to justify the policy followed. I take it you didn't see any contradiction.
MELBY: No, because I believed that the policy that had been followed was the correct one. It was the only thing we could have done, yes.
ACCINELLI: So, you didn't see any mistakes, or blunders?
MELBY: Oh sure, there were plenty, and they are all in the
White Paper. Sure, we didn't conceal anything, the mistakes we made, no.
ACCINELLI: But nothing that would have in the end changed the outcome?
MELBY: That's right. The idea that we had no policy toward China in those days is something I don't buy. Maybe it's a policy that a lot of people disagree with, but to say there was no policy toward China -- unfortunately, there was a policy. Even in the pre-Dulles period there was a policy of sorts. The policy itself may have been a little contradictory in terms of divisions within the American Government. Those of us who know anything about China had one view toward China, and the great unwashed had another, and that includes the China Lobby. But that was a domestic difference of opinion. It didn't do the policy any good, but...
ACCINELLI: You used State Department materials exclusively. Was there any thought given to using materials from other departments or agencies of Government?
MELBY: Yes. And we did use others. I mean, what was published was largely from Department files, it's true.
But before we cleared the thing finally, Phil Sprouse, who had written the Marshall report -- a two-volume job -- went over to the Pentagon and we checked what he had written against Marshall's files, and Pentagon files. He came back and said, "There is no contradiction."
ACCINELLI: Did you do any of the writing of the White Paper yourself?
MELBY: Yes, I wrote several chapters of it. I wrote the historical background, and I think Phil Sprouse wrote the Marshall mission. Wally Stuart wrote the Hurley [mission]; Ben Bock wrote the Yalta chapter. I wrote the Leighton Stuart chapter. Somebody, whose name I forget now, did the one on economics. Somebody else did the military chapter. But I did the background historical part mostly. I edited the whole thing. It made a certain consistency in style to the extent possible in that short time.
ACCINELLI: Was there any resistance within the Department? I mean, after all you were publishing confidential documents, expressing personal views, relatively soon after the event. Was there any fear that this might impede
members of the Department in the future? Might they be hesitant to express their views candidly, for fear that they would in time be publicized?
MELBY: I don't think so, no. The only thing of that sort that I knew to happen -- this was when the McCarthy period was beginning. Phil Sprouse, who had been a tower of strength for everyone in trouble, was also a very cautious citizen. He had gone through all the files that he had drafted and cut his own initials off, which didn't save him from going through an investigation either. But, no, the only one really who expressed, as I recall, any opposition to the whole idea was Walt Butterworth, who just didn't believe in doing that sort of thing as a matter of principle. But Acheson thought it was a great idea. As a matter of fact, Dean was very helpful on it. On several Saturdays, Walt and I would truck the whole thing out to Acheson. He had a farm out in Maryland, when it was still farmland, and he also had a woodworking shop out there where he used to relax and try to keep from going crazy from the pressures that were on him. We'd take it all out, and Acheson would go over the whole thing himself and
make changes and suggestions and so on. He was very helpful with it; he got very much interested in it, and came to believe in it. He had believed in it before, but the more he saw it, the better he liked it.
ACCINELLI: Do you think that Truman ever read through the entire document?
MELBY: Oh, I have no idea. I kind of doubt it.
ACCINELLI: I doubt it as well.
MELBY: I mean, he can't read everything.
ACCINELLI: No, no. But I assume that Acheson showed him the document before it was published and briefed him on it.
MELBY: Oh, absolutely yes. He too believed that Mr. Truman should be kept fully informed on everything.
ACCINELLI: Was there any thought given to the effect that revelations in the White Paper would have on the Nationalist Government?
MELBY: Yes, of course, we thought a great deal about it,
and decided that they were finished anyway. Why let them hang around if this was going to hurt them; well that was just too bad. Get the thing over with.
ACCINELLI: What about the affect on the Communist Government? You said that Mao apparently read it in translation and it seemed to confirm his view that the United States had been up to no good. Yet, this was at a time when you've said Acheson was looking forward to an eventual accommodation with the Communist Chinese.
MELBY: I don't think we thought the Communists were going to react to it as they did. There were a lot of miscalculations on the whole thing all the way around. Might as well face it.
ACCINELLI: But you don't regret that it was published?
MELBY: No. I think historically it was the right thing to do. Yes. I don't know whether you know Robert Newman, from the University of Pittsburg.
ACCINELLI: Yes, you have mentioned his name to me.
MELBY: He has written a long article on the White Paper which was published, not in Diplomatic History, but in Prologue*.
*Robert P. Newman, "The Self-Inflicted Wound: The China White Paper of 1949." Prologue 14 (Fall, 1982): 141-156.
ACCINELLI: Oh yes.
MELBY: In which he claimed out and out that it was a mistake; it never should have been written. Well, Bob and I don't agree on that.
ACCINELLI: What reasons did he give?
MELBY: It didn't achieve its objective.
ACCINELLI: And may have made matters worse in some respects.
MELBY: Yes. I don't see how it could have made anything worse than it was.
ACCINELLI: Well, this is it.
MELBY: He, of all people, should know because he's been interested in the Witch Hunt; his interest is not China as such, it's McCarthyism. Well, because of his being in China and so on, he got interested in me and Lillian, and he's got the second draft on a book about the two of us and what happened in the McCarthy period. But his interest is not China. A year or so ago, he was in China. A friend of his, a Chinese friend of his at Pittsburgh, had it set up that he could have an
interview with Huang Hua, who was then, I guess, Foreign Minister. So Bob went to Peking, and as it turned out he never did see Huang Hua who hasn't been well for a long time. He did a little traveling around China, and what he saw he didn't like, and he didn't like Chinese food, and he didn't much like traveling anyway. The only thing he really wants to do in traveling is that he'd like to go back to Britain once again where he got his D. Phil at Oxford. He would like to see Oxford again, but beyond that, I don't think he cares whether he ever sees anything outside of Western Pennsylvania again.
ACCINELLI: I'd like to take a step backward if I can, back to China before you were reassigned to Washington. Is there anything more that you can add to your experiences?
MELBY: Well, I think the only thing I can say is that in a sense it was the highlight of my Foreign Service career. In a way those were terrible days and yet I cannot really regret having been an observer of, and in some small measure a participant in, a great transition period in not only Chinese history but world history too, because the Chinese revolution is perhaps the great
revolution of modern times. And to sit there and in some small measure have some participation in watching a whole civilization of two, three thousand years collapse, disintegrate, and a new one be born -- whatever shape it is beginning to take now -- I consider it a great privilege. I have no regrets for having [been there] whatever the price may have been on the thing. There were a lot of prices one paid for that in those days, and since. And also, [there was] my role in the Embassy. I went there as a relatively junior and certainly a very young officer, and I think that by the time I left some three years later, I pretty much, in terms of advice and whether anybody took it or not, I was pretty much of a key figure in the American participation and role and behavior in China. And I think I probably had a good deal of influence on it. That's always a satisfaction, even if it can be a kind of a negative one, in the sense of China being a negative experience in a sense. So, in a way I was a little sorry not to be there during the transition in Nanking over to Communist takeover, but I mean that's a small thing. Nothing would have happened, although there were those who were fearful that something might.
That was understandable. At a fairly early age, chronologically and so on, I was in a position, I think, to make a certain contribution.
ACCINELLI: During the period in which you did have influence, was your voice heard? Did you feel that the advice that you were offering was being heard within the Embassy and in Washington?
MELBY: Within the Embassy certainly. And once Walt Butterworth got back to Washington, certainly in Washington it was. That's not saying that it changed American policy at all. of course, it didn't, because nothing was going to change that. That's another topic altogether. But certainly we were given a very free hand to report whatever we saw and whatever we felt. American policy was captive to the China Lobby. Nothing was going to change that. So, I think it was a very valuable experience and I think I measured up to what my responsibilities were there.
ACCINELLI: If you had been in a position to make American foreign policy, what course would you have followed in China?
MELBY: I think now, and maybe this is partly hindsight, I don't know, but I think I would have been inclined to the view that we ought to keep our hands off. [We should] maintain the kind of role and position that the Russians Embassy did, of letting the Chinese themselves settle it. The idea that we sold China down the river, that the State Department did -- well we never had China; that's ridiculous. Nobody ever has China except the Chinese. If we had, at the end of the war, let it be known that we were going to maintain strictly correct formal diplomatic relations, period, and let it go at that, and it was up to the Chinese to settle their own internal problems in their own fashion, it couldn't have been any worse than it has been. A hands-off policy. You know, for a major power, the saying that doing nothing is no policy at all isn't true, because sometimes doing nothing is just as much policy for a major power as doing something.
ACCINELLI: But exercising that kind of self-restraint is enormously difficult for a major power, is it not?
MELBY: It is, but it is a sign of maturity I think. That we did not have at the time. I'm sure that we don't have it right now today. But, yes.
ACCINELLI: Is that lesson, the lesson of China, one that you
carried with you back to the State Department after you left China?
ACCINELLI: And how did it affect your later views of American policy, not just in China, but elsewhere, Southeast Asia for example?
MELBY: Very definitely it did on Southeast Asia. When I came back I was transferred back to Washington at my request. Walt knew I wanted a tour of duty in Washington. The China Desk was already filled; both Phil Sprouse and Tony Freeman were all that was called for there. So I was brought back on the Philippine desk, in charge of Philippine affairs. I was on that desk really only for a couple of weeks when the whole China White Paper thing came up, because when I got back I had a leave and so on, and so I didn't take over for a couple of months. It wasn't until September that actually I moved in and took charge of Philippine affairs. I had the one very definite and very specific instruction -- mission to accomplish with the Philippines, and that was that the Hukbalahap Rebellion in the Philippines had reached a stage where our best estimate at that time was that the Huks, although they didn't know it, had a military capability of overthrowing the Quirino government
and taking power. The Huks liked to think of themselves as kind of a Marxist regime. I mean they didn't really know much about what Marxism was all about, unlike the current Philippine Communist Party. But [our mission] was to do what had to be done to save the Philippines from its own follies. The Quirino government had run that country right into the ground and bankrupted the place. I was responsible for whatever had to be done there, and I was given carte blanche by the Secretary to do whatever had to be done. Mr. Acheson wanted to be kept informed. Like Mr. Truman he said, "Let me know what you're doing from time to time, but you go ahead and do it and don't bother me with too many details. I've got other things to do." NATO was coming on and so on and so forth.
So, I really did have a very free hand in what I was doing there. At this point, the Office of Philippine Affairs was reorganized out of existence. Dick Ely, who had been head of it, was really an employee of the Interior Department, which had been responsible for the Philippines until independence. It wasn't until he retired and the office was reorganized out of existence, or incorporated into the new Office of Philippine and
Southeast Asian Affairs, that I became Deputy Director of that office, with added responsibilities for the Islands. I mean Indonesia and Malaya. But I continued really, until the winter of 1950, concentrating largely on Philippine affairs. The Indonesian desk people knew perfectly well what they were doing; they had long experience there. Jim O'Sullivan, incidentally, was back on the Indonesian desk. He had gone from Hanoi to Jakarta. Wymberly Descours was also on that desk, so there wasn't anything much for me to do. They were quite capable of doing it. It wasn't until the idea of a Southeast Asia mission came up that I actually became involved more in mainland affairs. Out of the Philippine business, what Myron Cowen and I developed was the belief that the only salvation for the Philippines was going to be to get rid of Quirino. We selected [Ramon] Magsaysay as a logical successor. He had been one of the great guerrilla fighters, an incorruptible man, a man of enormous energy. He needed to be given an opportunity to take it over. Our job was, well -- how shall I say it -- not to assert American influence overtly over the Philippines but [to provide] a quiet reassertion of American influence in helping to create a situation in which Filipinos -- which at this
point oddly enough consisted largely of the Junior Chamber of Commerce in Manila, which was composed of younger, very active, politically conscious, able young men -- of putting them in a position of helping them to establish the climate in which they could challenge Quirino and get away with it. We had a certain amount of very useful assistance from Ed Lansdale. He was with the CIA. He was an Air Force officer, who was attached to Magsaysay's staff, and it was quite clear what the job was. What Magsaysay had to do was to clean out the corruption in the Philippine Army, to get the troops out of the barracks, out into the field to establish the credibility of the Philippine armed services, which they had always had before the war. [It was] to make the Army, in a sense, again the protectors of the people instead of the oppressors of the people as they had been. [We were] to help him with whatever kind of economic reform measures he needed in central Luzon, which is where the economic trouble was, in the rice-growing areas, and see that he got the help that he needed for that.
ACCINELLI: Did Quirino realize what was happening?
MELBY: He knew damn well what was happening. I think about
the last conversation I had with him, when I had to go because Myron was scared of telling him personally, was that he had to name Magsaysay as his Secretary of Defense. He looked at me and he said, "You know, you're asking me to commit political suicide." I said, "Yes, Mr. President, I know that." He shrugged. Well, at that point, what I didn't know at the time was that Quirino was mortally ill, and in two years he would be dead.
ACCINELLI: That's right. He had come to Washington, had he not, in the early part of 1950, as I recall?
MELBY: He came to Johns Hopkins.
ACCINELLI: For medical treatment.
MELBY: And he died at Johns Hopkins. I don't know whether he actually died there or whether he went back. In any event, he was a very ill man. The fight had gone out of him.
ACCINELLI: How did you come to choose Magsaysay?
MELBY: Remember, he was a Senator, and he was chairman of the [Philippine] Senate Committee on Internal Security or something of the sort, and he had made such a record
for himself, both in terms of energy and of ideas of what had to be done, that we picked him out as the obvious rising star. And he was more than willing to do it.
ACCINELLI: He had also been a guerrilla fighter, had he not?
MELBY: He had been the one guerrilla fighter who was not recognized by MacArthur at the end of the war either.
MELBY: MacArthur for some reason had taken a great dislike to him. So he held no brief for MacArthur.
ACCINELLI: And Magsaysay also came, as I recall, from a fairly ordinary background. He wasn't a member of the Filipino elite by any means, which I suppose worked to his advantage since he was trying to appeal to the peasantry.
MELBY: And then when he did become Secretary of Defense, he did get the troops out of the barracks, and he started holding arrests around the country, and somebody would be arrested for corruption or oppression
of the peasants and so on. He'd fly out to wherever it was, and he'd hold a drumhead courtmartial and execute the man on the spot.
Well, in the Philippines, word of that sort of thing gets around pretty fast.
ACCINELLI: Oh yes, yes, the famous, or infamous Colonel Lansdale.
MELBY: Yes, he did really a great job in the Philippines. And then the CIA later on transferred him to Vietnam, where he tried to do in Vietnam what he had done so well in the Philippines. It did not work in Vietnam. Ed should have known better. He was savvy enough he should have known you don't translate Philippine cultural experience to Vietnamese, which is China after all. He just made an awful mess out of Vietnam.
ACCINELLI: That's interesting. What were the differences do you think? Why was Magsaysay able to control the Huks, suppress them in fact, in a relatively short period of time?
MELBY: Because the Huks are Malays, of a strong Spanish background. In my day the most educated of the
Philippines for example still spoke as much Spanish as they did English. To this had been added 50 years of American tutelage, if you want to call it that. Well, it was tutelage, which had been really a very beneficent influence in the Philippines. Manuel Quezon once said to me in Washington, before I knew anything about the Filipinos, he said, "The trouble with you Americans in the Philippines is you don't brutalize us enough." By which he meant that an awful lot of Filipinos didn't want to be independent, that our rule had been on the whole, as colonial rule goes, pretty good. Even [Carlos] Romulo himself would say at one point to me -- I knew Rommy very well, he was one of my closest friends -- he said, "No, John, as a Filipino I have to say I would rather be badly ruled by a Filipino than well ruled by an American. And therefore, I've got to support them here, even though it's not for our own good, sometimes, in immediate terms. We've got to learn to stand on our own feet, and the only way to do that is to do it out of our own experience."
Well, Ed knew how to handle that. He tried to translate that into Vietnamese terms. It's very hard to differentiate the Vietnamese from the Chinese.
Southeast Asia, or Indochina, is divided between Laos and Cambodia, which come very definitely out of the Hindu tradition, the Indian tradition, and Vietnam which is right out of the Chinese tradition. They have spent 2,000 years fighting off the Chinese but fighting it off in Chinese terms. Ed never understood the Chinese mentality. He never understood the subtleties of that. The Filipinos, are anything but subtle, you know, and the Chinese are anything but obvious. The two just didn't go together.
ACCINELLI: Of course, the Huks were also isolated in the sense that there was no possibility of them getting external assistance.
MELBY: They never had a nickel's worth of help from anybody. Magsaysay represented the synthesis of all those three traditions: Malays, Spanish, and American. But he was also a peasant; he was a strong man, active, vigorous and so on. He could take action and take it quickly, which most Filipinos don't understand. They expect people to temporize around them, and he impressed the Filipinos with his decisiveness. They appreciated it,
and the great tragedy was his death. He died in a plane crash three years after he became President.
I'll always remember the first time I went back with a military mission there. The usual thing as head of the mission is that you have to spend half of your time reviewing troops. It gets to be an awful chore, and when I review troops I really review them. Magsaysay was tagging along after me on the thing and huffing and puffing, and he turned to Myron [Cowen] who was having trouble keeping up, because I, as I say, I really march along, and he said, "Myron, this guy Melby, doesn't he ever slow down? I can't keep up with him." But he was and remained always very much a man of the people. Malacanang was open to anybody who wanted to come and complain about anything. Maybe he did a little bit too much of that for his own good because you can't see everyone of 20 million people. But he did make a thing of that, and his house, Malacanang, was open to all of the Philippine people. It belonged to them all and he wanted to hear from them all.
As I say, fortunately, there was never any slightest suggestion of sabotage or anything like that, with his
death. It was just pure accident, running into that cloud with a hard-core mountain in it. And if I needed any evidence on the thing, it is that Romulo's son, Carlos, Jr., who was the apple of Rommy's eye was on that plane too. You can be sure that if there had been any suggestion of any foul play, and so on, Rommy would have torn the Philippines to pieces. But he was just devastated and he never got over it. He adored that boy.
ACCINELLI: You and Romulo, as you have just said, were close friends.
MELBY: Yes. Off and on he was Ambassador in Washington when I was there. Then when he went back, he was Foreign Minister off and on, and at one point he was President of the University of the Philippines. He was an old, old man when he died, but he was still Foreign Minister. In '73 I was out on the ship and I went down and had lunch with him one day. He was active and vigorous then; he must have been 80 at the time, early eighties, but you would never have known it.
ACCINELLI: Did you or Cowen, or both of you, have anything
to do with his appointment in 1950, to the position of Foreign Minister?
ACCINELLI: That was Quirino's doing then?
MELBY: He wasn't Foreign Minister in 1950; he was Ambassador to Washington.
ACCINELLI: Oh, I'm sorry.
MELBY: In '73 he was Foreign Minister. In a way it was kind of a sad conversation. It was just six months after [Ferdinand] Marcos had declared martial law, which was very popular at that time, because Marcos called for all Filipinos to turn in their arms. You would have thought the Philippine Islands was just one layer of American equipment that had been abandoned there because the Philippines was a staging area, the first staging area, for the invasion of Okinawa. And then Okinawa was a staging base for "Olympic" for the invasion of Kyushu.
Well, there had been a mutiny of American troops in Manila, which was kept entirely out of the press at the
time. I never saw a reference to it in an American paper. But all the weapons that were accumulated, the Filipinos had buried or dug down or whatever, so everybody was armed. Filipinos used to go around the streets of Manila, carrying arms -- revolvers and the muskets and so on. Marcos, to his initial credit, demanded they all be turned in. And most of them were; millions of them were turned in. After that he began to get delusions of grandeur, but at the time one of Marcos' platforms had been real agrarian reform. Rommy told me at this luncheon; he said, "I have made it clear to the President that I will stay on as Foreign Minister as long as he actually puts through agrarian reforms, without which nothing is going to happen in this country to improve anything." He said, "He has assured me that he will do it and I will stay on then." Well, of course, Marcos never did it. Rommy stayed on probably longer than he should have. Well, of course, he would have been pushing 90 by that time. Also, he got married again, believe it or not.
ACCINELLI: How old was he when he was married a second time?
MELBY: In his late eighties. He married an American newspaperwoman.
I've just seen a reference in the last New York Times Book Review section, last Sunday. She has written a book of memoirs about him.
ACCINELLI: Yes, I saw that. I clipped that out in fact.
MELBY: I never met her. He didn't get married for a long time. Virginia Romulo had died many years before. She was an incredibly beautiful woman. She was also a very smart real estate operator. Rommy who had never had two dimes to rub together in his life, liked it that she was making so much money in real estate that he got to the place where he wasn't a wealthy man, but he didn't have to have a job. That was her legacy to him. She was a Malay herself; she was a real Malay beauty.
ACCINELLI: In 1950-51 was Romulo aware of what you were trying to accomplish in the Philippines? Did he recognize that Quirino was a problem?
MELBY: Oh sure, sure. Romulo was a very shrewd little guy. Oh, yes.
ACCINELLI: And did you work together with him at all?
MELBY: Oh yes, sure, very closely. It was the first time
he was Foreign Minister, and I was still stationed in Washington. On toward the end of the day he would call me, late in the afternoon, telephone me. They were great telephoners and great see-ers-off at the airport. But it never occurred to him that 4 o'clock in the afternoon in Manila was 4 o'clock in the morning in Washington; so he'd get me out of bed then and sit there in his office, in the Foreign Office, and talk to me for an hour. He just wanted to talk. It was that kind of relationship, gossip and so on. It didn't do much for my sleep, but I was a lot younger then than I am now and it was okay.
ACCINELLI: Well, tell me something about Filipino politics.
MELBY: Oh, God. I wouldn't know where to start.
ACCINELLI: Well, obviously there was a problem of corruption, which I gather was endemic.
MELBY: Oh, yes, it was then, in Quirino's time. Oh, for example, it was the kind of thing where anybody could get an import license for anything. There was one ship that came in that had nothing on it but bird cages. Now, of all the damn fool things that the
Filipinos didn't need it was a shipload of bird cages. Also, there were more Cadillacs in Manila than there were in Manhattan in those days. Anybody could get a license for anything, and did, so that Philippine foreign exchange was just being depleted; it disappeared.
Well, even worse than that, really, were two things. One was the real grievance of the Huks, which was absentee landlords. A lot of that Luzon rice country was owned by men or families or women or whomever, who had never set foot on it. The absentee landlords' share of the crop could run as high as 70 percent per crop. Well, this is usury in the worse kind of sense. The other great drain on the Philippine economy was the sugar centrals, sugar being the great export crop. That is where we had made a mistake. The Japanese had destroyed all the sugar centrals, and we financed the rebuilding of them. But we not only financed them, we returned them to the original owners. Whoever owns the central, controls the Philippine sugar crop, and there were not more than 200 families or individuals who had an absolute strangle-hold on sugar. That was a terrible mistake on our part. They probably should have been nationalized or something of the sort.
On top of that -- and this is what made Philippine politics such fun in a way -- I was going to say there was freedom of the press. But it wasn't freedom of the press, it was license of the press. I mean the things that Philippine newspapers used to publish were really scandalous. It didn't matter whether they were true or not; nobody believed any of it anyway. But it made awfully good reading. As I say, they didn't hesitate to publish anything. There was a story about Quirino. Under the Japanese, he had been chief justice of the Philippine Supreme Court. One of the last actions of the Japanese when they were pulling out of Manila was that they dragged his wife and his six children into the public square and executed all seven of them, and they made Quirino watch it happen. He, after this, didn't give a damn about anything, and he never remarried.
ACCINELLI: Oh, I could see how that could just simply destroy a man.
MELBY: Oh, sure. But at this time he was sort of playing footsie with a very decorative and attractive nightclub singer. He had created a certain amount of scandal
by buying for his own use, at Malacanang, what was then considered a very expensive bed. He paid $5,000 for it in the days when $5,000 was a pretty fancy price. The comment of the editorial writer was, "We don't understand why he insists on having this bed to bring his girlfriend to, but his pudgy little fingers will do the job for him just as well." Well, everybody loved it, but nobody did anything about it. Well, this is the kind of thing that the press was publishing and even Quirino thought it was funny.
ACCINELLI: He was a very emotional man, was he not?
MELBY: He could be; normally he was rather impassive.
ACCINELLI: Was he? I've read that on occasion he would break down and cry.
MELBY: Oh yes, yes.
ACCINELLI: Which is not normal behavior for the President of a country.
MELBY: No. His great pal was Ruperto Kangleon, who was a Moro. He was the head of the Philippine constabulary.
Now, the Philippine constabulary in its day had been elite troops, absolutely above suspicion, beautifully disciplined. They were the forces that Americans relied on mostly to keep law and order in the Philippines. But under Quirino and under Kangleon, they had been allowed to disintegrate so they became holy terrors. I mean when the constabulary showed up, the peasants disappeared into the countryside. They wanted no part of them. One of Magsaysay's jobs was to put them back under discipline, and execute a few of them.
ACCINELLI: Which he did?
MELBY: Which he did.
ACCINELLI: Did you, and/or Cowen, intend that Magsaysay eventually would become President?
MELBY: That is absolutely true.
ACCINELLI: You had this in the back of your minds.
MELBY: Oh, not in the back of our mind.
ACCINELLI: That was the plan.
MELBY: It was definitely the plan. There was a first step
involved in the thing, which was the mid-term elections in 1951, and the Senate was up for grabs. I had rigged up an excuse to be there for the elections. My excuse was I had got myself named political advisor to the 7th session of the South Pacific Commission in New Caledonia. Then, of course, I just dropped into the Philippines on my way back to Washington, you know. Which, of course, didn't fool one single living Filipino newspaperman, who knew exactly what I was doing there. A horde of them were all there at the plane waiting for me when I arrived, and I just smiled and laughed, "Oh no, I'm just here to have a look at your elections on my way back to Washington. I don't care what happens." I mean, they went, "Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho, big joke Mr. Melby, big joke." "Yeah, big joke."
I arrived there about 6 o'clock that evening and Quirino was throwing one of his great pre-election bashes to which he had invited 5,000 of his most intimate friends for a sit-down black tie dinner in which the Manila Symphony Orchestra would play. I had been flying, by that time, for about 18 hours from Noumea because I had to go to Australia first and then up to Darwin, and so
on. I was exhausted, and I said to Myron, "I cannot go to that dinner." He said, "But the President insists that you must come." And I said, "Well, orders is orders; I guess I'll go," which I did. It was a pleasant enough evening; it didn't go on forever. But there was an unfortunate incident, and I guess I can only chalk it up to my own fatigue. I was talking, standing talking just before we broke up with Joe Yulo who was the Vice President. Joe said, "I take it you think you're going to look at the elections tomorrow." I said, "Sure, why not?" He said, "Well, I would advise you not to go, there could be trouble. If you get out on the streets there's no telling what will happen." And me, in my fatigue, I said, "Joe, no Filipino is going to tell me what to do." I knew the minute I said it that it was 1,000 percent the wrong thing to say. But he just laughed, and passed it off. The next morning I was up bright and early hung over and everything else, ready to go out and watch the election.
By this time Myron had lost his nerve. He was convinced that Quirino was going to rig those elections and that there was going to be trouble. Myron had arranged that he was going to leave at 4 o'clock that
afternoon. He wasn't going to stick around. And he said, "John, you're going to come with me." I said, "No, I'm not. I'm going to stay here and see these elections through." He said, "You've got to come," and I said, "No, I don't, and I'm not going to." He said, "Well, I'm not going to go out and look at the election with you." I said, "Well, that's up to you."
But he was up at 9 o'clock and we drove around, and he had the flag flying on the car. I said, "Myron, cover that flag. These are Filipino elections." He did; he knew better. We drove around from one polling place to another, and I'd get out and, absolute quiet, there was no trouble. I'd go up to whoever was running the particular election thing and I'd say, "I've come to vote; everybody can vote here." They'd laugh at me, "Ha, ha, no, no señor, you are Americano; you can't vote here." I'd say, "I can't?" He'd say, "No, no, just Filipinos." I'd say, "That's good, I'm glad to hear, that," and laughed and went on. Myron took off; he left on that 4 o'clock plane. By this time I was just exhausted, really exhausted and went into his office and sat dawn and pulled the curtains and there was no air-conditioning in those days. But it was
cool in there, and one of the Senators, Gil Puyat, who was up for election called me. He was full of despair; "We're going to lose if the President's going to steal everything and so on." I said, "Come on, you're not going to do anything of that kind. Come on over; let's talk about it," which he did. We sat there and we talked for a couple of hours. He left and finally I said, "Don't worry." The next morning when it was all over, every Quirino nominee had lost overwhelmingly, and my friend topped the list in everything.
ACCINELLI: How much had the United States had to do with that?
MELBY: We had financed the Junior Chamber of Commerce. We got them out doing electioneering and campaigning; gave them the money. The next day when I walked down the center of town, walked around, you could feel a difference. They knew they'd won. The results were all in, and they knew they'd won, and their whole attitude had changed. They had proven themselves. They could run an honest election, and they hadn't allowed Quirino to get away with anything. They'd swept in, and they paid no more attention to me than if I'd been a shadow on the
wall. And that was great; that was what I wanted. I wanted them to ignore me, and so I went back and went to bed and the next day thought about getting a plane to Washington. Then, of course, the presidential elections wouldn't come up for another two years, by which time, of course, I was off the Philippines desk. Conservatives with Magsaysay swept into the election and won it hands down. I think he got something like 70 or 80 percent of the vote. Three wonderful years, but...
ACCINELLI: Tell me something about your relationship with Myron Cowen. I take it you became very close friends.
MELBY: Very close friends. Really, intimate friends in a way. I liked him with all his foibles, and all the things that were wrong with him. He liked me, I guess with all the things that were wrong with me.
ACCINELLI: Can you tell me a little bit about his foibles?
MELBY: You talk about an emotional man; there was really an emotional man. His temper was famous. He could fly off the handle and dress people down, savage them, and then he could turn right around and be the most charming man in the world. He had driving energy; he
never stopped working. He had originally come from a small farming community in Iowa. I've forgotten where he went to college, but he went to law school in North Carolina. As a very young lawyer, he had had some grandiose ideas about trying to corner the wheat market in the United States. According to him, he damn near succeeded in it, but of course, it didn't work. He said, "Then I spent the next two years plying back the debts on that, and eating peanut butter sandwiches."
He practiced law for a number of years and was active in politics. I don't know whether it was during the Roosevelt or the first Truman administration, but he was judge of the Court of Customs, something of the sort, which eventually led to his appointment to Manila. He was also a man with beautiful aesthetic tastes. This was in the days before the great boom of Georgetown restoration. He would buy an old house and he'd restore it and furnish it and then sell it. He'd furnish it in original style, Federalist style. He had beautiful things himself. He made a fair amount of money that way. Then, of course, he finally got married and married quite a wealthy woman, Dorothy, who was one of the heirs of the
Strouck Woolen Mills. She had the aesthetic tastes of a billy goat. She was quite a handsome woman, and had a lot of energy herself. But Myron would have these beautiful old 400 year-old Chinese chow tables in his living room and Myron would scream; she didn't even know what her feet were up on. Oddly enough, they sort of got along pretty well together. She always was after him to get out and make some money. She had a son by a previous marriage who had made a great deal of money with oil leases out in Wyoming or Montana someplace. She used to taunt Myron about that, saying, "My Charlie makes more money on oil leases in one day than you make in a year. Why can't you get out and make some money?" Well, Myron wasn't interested in making money, oddly enough.
ACCINELLI: Was his appointment as Ambassador a political appointment?
MELBY: Oh yes.
ACCINELLI: So, he had been active then in the Democratic Party, in a position as Judge of Customs. It sounds as if it was a political plum as well.
MELBY: After Manila he was named Ambassador to Belgium. He was there for a couple of years. He came back to Washington and they bought two top floor apartments of a building on Massachusetts [Avenue], which he threw into one. He decorated it with beautiful Japanese things he had acquired. He became kind of a pal with Admiral Radford, who was then chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and this was a relationship that really didn't work out. He and "Radie" as we called him, came to blows over some joint investments that they had made, and each man accused the other of swindling him. There were lawsuits, and I don't know whatever happened to it. Finally, Myron developed a brain tumor and died.
ACCINELLI: When was this?
MELBY: Oh, 1960 some time.
ACCINELLI: You and he developed an informal method of communication through personal letters outside of State Department channels, did you not? Was there a purpose for that?
MELBY: Yes, he wanted to write things to me and he wanted me to write things to him that wouldn't be appropriate
in an official dispatch, personal things. Also he was involved in a variety of shenanigans with Filipino politicians that he wanted me to know about, but if he put those in official dispatches they would have rapped his knuckles.
ACCINELLI: So your superiors weren't aware of this at all; this was something between you and him?
MELBY: Yes. And Myron on occasion wasn't above a certain amount of skullduggery of one kind or another. Drew Pearson once got after him, accusing him of some kind of swindle involving liquor licenses. I never really knew what it was about. Myron was so upset about this that he seriously considered resigning; actually he decided to resign. I talked him out of it. I said, "Look, you never know whether he knows what he's talking about or not. Sometimes he has half the truth and the other half is pure invention on his part, and this would be forgotten pretty soon. You're doing too good a job here to do anything like resigning."
I once ran into Pearson on the elevator in the Department and he had some other stories, not involving Myron, but something else. I said, "Mr. Pearson,
that was a pretty interesting story you had yesterday in your column." And he said, "Yeah, you know, there turned out to be a surprising amount of truth in it too." This was Drew Pearson for you.
ACCINELLI: Even his half truths were always interesting.
MELBY: They sure were.
ACCINELLI: The Bell Mission. Were you at all responsible for that?
MELBY: I was totally responsible for it.
ACCINELLI: You were totally responsible for it.
MELBY: I didn't want to do it, and Danny [Daniel W.] Bell didn't want to do it. He said, "I could write that Bell mission report now sitting here at my desk as president of the Liberty National Bank, without ever going out there," I said, "I know that, and you know that, but the Filipinos think it would be a good idea. It would make them feel better, and it will make me feel better as an officer in charge of Philippine affairs if you'll agree to go out and do it."
Well, so he did. He went out and he made his report. He said exactly what he said he was going to say, and everything that I knew he was going to say, and the Filipinos felt better about it. But it was straight boondoggle, to keep them happy; and nothing changed, as things very seldom change from missions like that anyway.
ACCINELLI: Well, wasn't there an agreement between [William C.] Foster and ECA, and Quirino for economic reform in the Philippines? I thought that that was an off-shoot of the Bell Mission and the Bell Report; that the Filipinos were going to clean house, going to accept certain conditions for economic assistance from the United States.
MELBY: It may have been. It meant no more than a reform agreement with Chiang Kai-shek; nothing happened. I knew nothing would happen. Quirino wasn't capable of reform.
Well, I got some very good friends out of the Bell Mission anyway. [These included] two of my closest friends. One was Jameson Parker who was Information Officer. He later entered the Foreign Service; he was killed unfortunately in an automobile accident. He was probably the
closest friend I had in the Foreign Service. Michael Deutch, a petroleum engineer -- he was Jewish -- escaped out of Belgium when the Nazis came in. He has done very well in Washington. He went out as the consulting engineer on the mission, and Mike and I have remained very close friends ever since. Mike went out to Vietnam. He gave up his very lucrative practice because he thought that as a naturalized citizen he should return something to the country which took him in, saved his life and the life of his family. He thought, "I owe you something, and Iíll go out to Vietnam on my own." that was one of the unfortunate things, but his intentions were good. So, I got something out of the Bell Mission.
ACCINELLI: You went to Vietnam yourself, which brings me to the Melby-Erskine Mission, I think itís called. Did you know what you were going to find there? Was this a repetition of the Bell Mission?
MELBY: Oh, no.
ACCINELLI: Very different.
MELBY: This was a military mission. The Bell Mission was
economic entirely. The mission I was on to Southeast Asia arose out of a piece of blackmail that the French had pulled on us on Vietnam, as early as February of 1950, which involved a fight between the Far East and Europe, in which the European boys bought the French argument. Without American military help in Vietnam the Communists were going to win the next election in France, and it would require France to pull out of NATO. Of course, all the Far East was adamantly opposed to any such thing, but as usual in those days, Europe won. And therefore, Mr. Truman, in February, had issued an NSC document (68) saying the United States would help and fight against communism wherever it was expanding, and that therefore, the United States would help the French to contain the Communists in Indochina. The NSC document was just as vague as that.
Incidentally, I got to be head of the mission partly because nobody who outranked me wanted the job. [Secondly], somebody thought that maybe my China experience would be useful in Vietnam, and indeed it was, but not quite what they expected. My instructions were very simple; to go out and make recommendations as to how the President's decision to help the French should be implemented. It
was as narrow as that. And the third thing, the third reason why I was head of the mission, was that Acheson, whose relationships with the Congress were never very good, had been complaining that military missions which had a good deal of diplomatic content in them were being sent out by the Pentagon without any State Department participation in them. He was complaining about this, and finally some Congressman got fed up with it and said, "All right, Mr. Secretary, henceforth every military mission to go out will have a State Department officer as chief of the mission." And that's the way I got the first one, which kind of nonplussed Bobby [Graves B.] Erskine no end, because he was at that time a lieutenant general in the Marines and I was all of about 36 years old. But Bobby and I worked it out, and we got to be great friends and remained that. The scope of the mission was expanded into all Southeast Asia, although the real focus was Indochina or Vietnam specifically. But we were going to include all of Southeast Asia in it.
ACCINELLI: Was there a reason for that?
MELBY: Including those, yes; to make it look better.
ACCINELLI: It was more cosmetic.
MELBY: Yes, sure. We thought it was going to be a leisurely kind of thing. But then came June 25, 6 a.m., and North Korean troops crossed into the South, and suddenly it became a matter of the greatest urgency. That mission was put together in a very great hurry, and we were told to get going and get going fast, and to come back fast. Well, we didn't come back fast because we were gone for four months. But we did cover all of Southeast Asia except Burma, which wouldn't let us in. The Burmese weren't letting anybody in in those days...
ACCINELLI: U Nu, yes.
MELBY: The only person I had that they did let in was a Coast Guard captain. They said, "Well, he can come in because we do need some riverboats." He went in and I guess had a good time; I forget whether we ever sold them riverboats or not. But otherwise, we did cover every part of Southeast Asia.
ACCINELLI: How much time did you actually spend in Indochina?
MELBY: Well, in Vietnam itself we spent most of the summer
there. We really covered the country pretty thoroughly. Cambodia, I went there with a reduced mission just for a few days. Cambodians were so unaware of what was going on that their military requirements were [this]: full equipment for one division and a helicopter for His Majesty. All of this was in French, and I was the only one along who spoke any French. I've never been able to speak French since. Then I went up with Don Heath, who was presenting his credentials in Laos. We didn't do any military business there. The Laotians didn't want any military business. We did spend most of our time in Vietnam, and quite a bit of time, too much time as it turned out, in Thailand. We spent a week in Malaya, at Singapore and Kualalumpur, and a couple of weeks in Jakarta, and Bali. I wanted to see Bali; not that there was anything military going on, I just wanted to see Bali. Then we came back by way of Europe. I had my own plane from the Air Force so I could do as I pleased with it. We came back by way of India and stopped off to see Loy Henderson, who was then Ambassador there. We went to Greece to see my brother, who was stationed there at the time; then went on to Paris and London, and Portugal, and back. We got back the
end of October. We'd been out four months.
ACCINELLI: How large of an entourage did you have?
MELBY: Eighteen officers, including three from the State Department and one man from ECA; the rest were military.
ACCINELLI: Yes. What were your impressions in Vietnam? What conclusions did you come away with?
MELBY: Well, I didn't have to be in Vietnam for very long before realizing that we were making a terrible mistake. There was not one single [Foreign Service] Officer in that Embassy who spoke a word of Vietnamese. Don Heath, I must say, was taking lessons and trying to learn, but nobody else did. To me it was China all over again; change names, dates and places, and you were right back in China. It was the first step toward intervention and we'd been through all of that in China. I felt there was no turning back from intervention.
In the first step we'd say we're just going to provide a certain amount of military equipment, whatever it may be, whatever we decide on, and that's it. Well, it doesn't work that way. There is no turning back; you've got to take the second step, and if that doesn't work, then
you've got to take that third, and pretty soon, you're involved in it. We had absolutely no expertise in this year of grace, 1950, about Vietnam. There was nobody in an American university who spoke any Vietnamese, let alone the American Government. What are we talking about? What do we know about Vietnam? Nothing. Now, I have to admit I did not foresee the magnitude of the disaster that Vietnam would turn into, but I was sure it was going to be a disaster one way or another.
After hours upon hours of arguing within the Embassy and with Don Heath who was inclined to go along with the French, I finally drafted my telegram to Washington saying, "Please take this up with the President again. Ask him to review his decision to help the French; it is not going to work. We are making this terrible mistake for all these reasons...." I mean it's long, long; it was a long ten-page single-spaced telegram. I must say, in those days, this was still the way things worked. Don Heath sent the telegram off and he drafted his reply to it, his objections to it, which he showed to me for my clearance. As it would turn out -- I would discover later -- obviously in the Department nobody paid much attention to it. Korea was preempting everybody's
attention really. It was easier just to go along with what the President had said. [They would] take my recommendations, because we did make our recommendations and they were mammoth recommendations, and very detailed because the working stiffs on the mission had gotten along very well with the French, who showed them everything they wanted to see, told them everything they wanted to know. There was no problem there; the problem was only at the top with me, and the High Commissioner, and the commanding general, and Don Heath, and Erskine. We just didn't see eye-to-eye on anything.
In the Department as I say, nobody paid any attention except a few people who had read the telegrams and they would then thereafter label me as a person who was soft on communism, which would be the beginning of my problems. There was another thing that was unfortunate. Dean Rusk by this time was Assistant Secretary for the Far East. He had asked me to do my own strictly confidential appraisal of the quality and caliber of our intelligence operations in Southeast Asia, which I did. I had marked my telegram "Eyes Only Bill Lacy" who was chief of the Division, and "Eyes Only Rusk," and some clown in the code room distributed that telegram all over
the Department. Unfortunately, Walter Bedell Smith got a copy too, and he was outraged because I had damned the quality of our intelligence. I had even labeled it -- I said, "The performance is so bad that it approaches misfeasance." After I got back, Acheson called me in one day and said, "Bedell Smith is livid with you. You had better go over to the CIA and make your peace with him." I went over but I didn't make much peace with him. His final sally to me -- with Allan Dulles sitting in the corner, and who would succeed him as head of the CIA listening in -- was, "Young man, you are destined either for a brilliant career in the Foreign Service or you are going to be fired." And that ended that conversation.
ACCINELLI: Prophetic words.
MELBY: Yes, wasn't it.
ACCINELLI: I suppose that he wasn't especially enchanted to have the State Department butting its nose in the CIA's business as well.
MELBY: What he was afraid of, I'm pretty sure, is that the telegram was going to fall into the hands of a by-this-time
hostile Congress, which was out to get the CIA anyway. There would be all hell to pay for that. He didn't want that. And he had a phone call while I was there from some major general, who was head of G-2, who was saying, "We've got to do something about this guy." Bedell Smith was [saying], "We'll take care of that." And this I think is when they started looking into my record to see what they could find. What they found was Miss Hellman.
ACCINELLI: Did you at all in your telegram to the State Department from Vietnam question what I guess was the common assumption at that time, that the Vietminh were the instruments of Moscow. Or am I wrong? Was this a common assumption?
MELBY: No, it was not.
ACCINELLI: It wasn't.
MELBY: No. Well, my line of argument in the Department was that [regardless of] whatever political persuasion they are, all Vietnamese so hate the French that they will follow anyone who gives any sign of ability to throw them out, to throw the French out. That man quite clearly,
as they all admit, even reactionary Vietnamese admit, is Ho Chi Minh. Therefore, in the end we are going to be tainted with that same thing. We are after all white, and if we get involved too much in this, we are going to be put in the same category with the French, who are, as I say, despised. There is only one salvation for us here, and that is going to be an ironclad guarantee, hopefully supervised by the United Nations, guaranteed by the United Nations, on an agreed-upon time schedule for French withdrawal from Vietnam over a period of years. It doesn't really make an awful lot of difference how long it takes, so long as there is no question, and the Vietnamese believe it, that the French will leave. Otherwise, we have no business being here. It's just going to end up a disaster for us too.
ACCINELLI: Well, of course, the French found themselves much in the same predicament that the United States would later. They had intervened and once in it, found it very difficult to pull out.
MELBY: The only way they'd pull out would be what Mendes France did at Geneva -- just a catalytic wrenching, surgery, which almost destroyed France. By this time, of course,
Mendes France wasn't around. Vietnam by now, you see, was costing France. See, France has always had a system of traditional military families, ever since the days of Napoleon. More young French officers were being killed in Vietnam; they were commanding colonial troops, mostly Algerians. More young French officers were being killed than the total output of all French military academies, and the economic costs were greater than the total of American contributions to France under the Marshall Plan. Vietnam was bleeding France to death, and Mendes France said, "This has got to stop. No matter what we have to do, it can't go on." It was the same sort of decision that DeGaulle had to make on Algeria; "no matter what," DeGaulle said, "We've got to cut our losses."
ACCINELLI: In 1950, however, the French were even reluctant to accept, what was it called, the Bao Dai solution?
MELBY: Bao Dai spent most of his time on the Riviera, fat bastard that he was; he was hopeless.
ACCINELLI: I take it it was recognized in the Department at that time that this was a facade, that this was cosmetic.
MELBY: Oh, yes.
ACCINELLI: When you came back to Washington, from Southeast Asia, in your report to the State Department, you did recommend military assistance did you not?
MELBY: Oh, sure, that's why we went over there. I've forgotten what we recommended; I don't think I ever really knew. I mean all the technical stuff: so much transportation, so much artillery, so much in the way of Naval equipment and so on and so forth. That was something that just sort of went right over to the Pentagon. I wouldn't have recognized it anyway, even if I had read it. I am a very unmilitary sort of person.
ACCINELLI: Did you have anything more to do with Vietnam after the end of that mission?
MELBY: No. There really wasn't much time. By this time Myron was coming back. He had been transferred to Brussels. By this time, you see, I had my first interrogatory. He wanted me to go with him to Brussels. But it didn't seem like the appropriate time to suggest it, although my four years in the Department were up.
You are limited to four years on a Washington assignment. [It didn't seem appropriate] to broach the subject until the security thing had been played out. See, this was getting into the winter of 1950-51. I had had my first interrogatory which came just before I went out to see the Philippine elections in 1951. Then I got the second one, which was narrowed down really to Lillian, right after the first of the year. In the meantime, I had been taken out of Southeast Asia and assigned to Harriman's staff in NDAP as liaison between the Department and Harriman on the Marshall Plan bit, and for a particular reason.
ACCINELLI: And you were saying for a particular reason.
MELBY: There had been a good deal of friction between the Department and Harriman's staff on the Marshall Plan. Acheson asked me to be the liaison between the Department and Harriman, because he knew that I had been in Moscow with Averell and he and I got along. His idea was that if I said something in Harriman's staff meetings, that Harriman would listen to me, which indeed he did. If I said, "Well, the Secretary feels thus and so," Averell's reaction always was, "Well, if John says this
is what the Secretary wants, that's it; that does it; that's what we'll do." But this didn't last for more than really a couple of weeks, because, as I say, a second interrogatory came along. So I just sort of faded out of the picture there until we saw how that was going to work out.
ACCINELLI: Well, before we talk about your resignation from the Department, I think we should probably get back and talk a little more about the Philippine issues that we haven't discussed. One of them is the signing of a mutual defense treaty with the Philippines. You had a hand in that, did you not? Do you recall what your role was, and what the reasons were for this treaty?
MELBY: Yes. It came about as an off-shoot of the Japanese peace treaty where [John Foster] Dulles had negotiated the peace treaty with the Japanese entirely on his own and not as a member of the Department. He had been asked to do it and he did it on his own, I say, without any help from anybody. But in the process of doing it, he had made a lot of shady deals. He wanted that treaty so badly. As far as the Philippines were concerned, the Filipinos who had been pretty completely destroyed by the
Japanese very much wanted an enormous amount of reparations. They wanted something written into the treaty about that, and the Japanese didn't want to agree to it. Dulles so much wanted the treaty, he agreed with the Japanese reluctance. So he told the Filipinos; he told Romulo, "Look, don't worry about the fact that it's not in the treaty. I will see to it that you get your reparations." He told the Japanese, "Don't worry about it; I will see to it that you don't have to pay them anything." I mean word of this sort of thing got around. As a matter of fact, in actual practice, the Filipinos never got anything out of the Japanese, except the Japanese did clean out Manila Harbor, which is a very big harbor you know. It was littered with Japanese shipping that had been sunk. But the payoff was an alliance with the Philippines and the United States which was to reassure the Filipinos that we would protect them against aggression.
ACCINELLI: Was there any military need for this alliance, in a military sense?
MELBY: Not really. Psychological for the Philippines. I mean we meant it; we undoubtedly would have defended the Philippines if there had been trouble there, in our
own self-interest if nothing else. But they felt better having the alliance.
ACCINELLI: Weren't they confident that the United States would protect them in the event of an attack?
MELBY: They felt better if it was in writing.
ACCINELLI: Did the fact that the United States was about to sign a mutual defense treaty with New Zealand and Australia have any bearing on the Filipinos' desire to have a mutual defense treaty of their own?
MELBY: Yes, that was part of it, sure. It all worked together.
ACCINELLI: How did you and other American officials perceive Filipino nationalism?
MELBY: It's the sort of thing we wanted to encourage. We've always been trying to wean the Filipinos away from their dependence on us. They ought to be an Asian power. Sometimes we felt they were more Latin-American than they were Asian. Sometimes they felt that way themselves. But anytime there was any sign of Philippine nationalism, we thought it was a good idea. Sometimes it took on
anti-American overtones. So what, everybody doesn't have to love us all the time. We know there's enough residue of goodwill toward the United States in the Philippines that Philippine nationalism is never in the predictable future going to be any threat to the United States. How can it? Mrs. Aquino talks about when the bases' agreement expires and is up for renewal -- what is it, 1990 or something like that -- and they'll have to reconsider the matter. Well, she knows damn well that those base agreements are going to be renewed. They're going to probably try to get more money for them. Why shouldn't they? We pay for everything else; why shouldn't we pay for the bases? There will be a certain amount of hassle about it at the time, but we'll keep those bases. I cannot conceive that there is going to be real trouble with that one.
ACCINELLI: Well, if Mrs. Aquino plays her cards right she'll extract a price.
MELBY: Sure, why shouldn't she?
ACCINELLI: Well, she should; that's right. Why shouldn't she? She wouldn't be doing her job if she did not.
MELBY: Well, of course.
ACCINELLI: Did you know Jose Laurel and Recto?
MELBY: I have met Recto. He was so bitter about the U.S. that I never got to know him very well. I knew Laurel. Yes, I knew young Laurel, sure. They were not among my 5,000 most intimate friends, but yes, I knew them. I knew almost everybody in the Philippines in those days.
ACCINELLI: So they were not perceived as a threat. What about a nuisance; were they a nuisance?
MELBY: I don't think so. No, I never thought so.
ACCINELLI: Well, the word neo-colonialism is bandied about by some, with respect to the Philippines and some other areas in which the United States has been involved. Would you describe the relationship that the United States had with the Philippines, during that period, as neo-colonial? The Philippines really had not yet broken away, truly; and they were still very much economically, psychologically and militarily dependent on the United States?
MELBY: Well, that had been my theory that they really needed a lot of help. The War Claims Commission, and so on, still had a lot of money to spend. Frank Murphy, who was head of that commission, did a superb job with it. The Filipinos from time to time used to hand us bills. They said every Filipino who was killed is worth $2,000 Well, two million people killed; that's four billion dollars you owe us and so on. Well, nobody took that seriously. But we really built all the infrastructure of the Philippines: bridges and roads, power plants, and sugar mills. We rebuilt that country. And why shouldn't we? They had nothing to go on, and we had responsibility for them for 50 years and we had an obligation to them. I think the Congress recognized it too. We never had much trouble with the Congress getting money for Philippine reparations or rebuilding, rehabilitation and so on. The Philippines at one time had the best public health service in Asia, entirely built by American Public Health officers. We rebuilt that, one result being the Philippine population has tripled since my time there, but it has happened in other places too.
ACCINELLI: Myron Cowen once referred to the Filipinos as
"Precocious children," a phrase that I mentioned to you over lunch. Would you agree with that?
MELBY: Oh, I think this is Myron being a little bit patronizing, which he could be at times. No. They were precocious, yes; children, no. I think they were pretty sophisticated. I think they still are. I don't think they were children at all.
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