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 28, 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 indicate
the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened 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 28, 1986
by Robert Accinelli
ACCINELLI: Professor Melby, when did you leave the Foreign Service?
MELBY: Well, formally I was terminated, as I recall, on May 23, 1951. That was the final action in a security proceeding against me, which had been initiated by the Loyalty and Security Board. The whole of it is called the Loyalty and Security Board; the question of loyalty never arose in my case. It was from the very beginning, a question of security, and therefore, of my reliability as a Foreign Service officer.
It was a proceeding that started back in the summer, spring -- let's see, I've got to think now. I want to make sure of my dates here now. Well, I was terminated, I think, on May 23, 1953, very early in the Eisenhower Presidency. This was an action which had been a result of action taken against me by the Department's Loyalty and Security Board. In my case, despite that name Loyalty and Security, there was never any question of my loyalty raised even from the very beginning; it was a question of security, and therefore how reliable was I? It
started with an interrogatory that I received in the spring of 1950-51, I suppose partly as a result of changes that President Truman had made in the guidelines for the Government loyalty and security procedures, in which he tightened up the whole business.
The original interrogatory contained, as I recall, perhaps a dozen questions on it really, most of them of the nature of going back to my original entry into the Service. Why had I named Fred Schumann as one of my references when I was applying for the Foreign Service? I had been observed at one point when I was a student vice counsel in El Paso of reading a copy of the Daily Worker. How did I explain that? Things of that nature. Virtually nothing in it really had anything to do with China, and I had thought that my time in China might be a principal focus of the investigation. The questions ended up with a series involving my relationship with Lillian Hellman, which were pretty general in nature. Did I know her, what was the nature of our relationship, how often had I seen her, spell out the detail all of the times that you've seen her. What is your relationship now?
My answer to that first interrogatory, I decided to do myself, although I did take the thing around to Myron Cowen, who was back in Washington at the time. He sent me to New York to see a lawyer friend of his, just to get his general advice on how I should handle the matter. And said lawyer on Wall Street was inclined to believe, "Well, just there's no point in detailing every time you ever saw Miss Hellman; just give them a number of dates and references to give the general impression of how well you've known her and the relative frequency of seeing her." These were the questions that mainly he was concerned about.
The answers to all those pre-Hellman questions were just too easy to answer really. I mean they were things that I could do without too much trouble. The only one China was that it was reported that I had friends in the Democratic League in China. What was that all about, and why did I have these friends? Well, even that one was pretty easy to answer. I mean, Fred Schumann had been one of my professors at the University of Chicago and so on. The Daily Worker, of course I read it; you were expected to read everything and know what was going on and that was certainly one source of
information. As to the Democratic League, well, the Ambassador divided up contacts in China between those of us in the Political Section, and I drew the Democratic League because most of its members, certainly all its top officers, were mostly American educated. They all spoke English; I didn't speak Chinese. It was perfectly natural. Ray Ludden, who was a China-language officer, was assigned the Communists because he did speak Chinese, and very few of them spoke any English. So I mean that was a perfectly natural division.
My answers on the Hellman questions, I really did pretty much what the lawyer in New York suggested I do. That was I gave him a sampling of times. I told him I had met her in Moscow when she came out as a distinguished visiting cultural person at the invitation of the Soviet Government and had lived with us at the Ambassador's residence. That's where I got to know her. And then I sort of proceeded to forget the whole matter.
ACCINELLI: Did you reveal the personal relationship that you had had with her, the affair that you had had with her, or did you think that that was necessary?
MELBY: No. No, I did not. I just said that we had been very good, close friends. I didn't go into more details than that.
I got my second interrogatory in September of 1951, just before I was leaving to go out on the trip to the Far East, ostensibly to a meeting of the South Pacific Commission, but actually stopping off on my way back to be present for the Philippine elections. I checked with the security people as to whether there was any objection to my going abroad, having gotten the second interrogatory. They said, "No, none whatsoever, go right ahead." So I did.
The second interrogatory, however, was a very different kettle of fish. There it became quite apparent what it was that was bothering the security people, namely one Lillian Hellman, because there were only really two or three questions on that and they all concerned her. And there the whole tone was very different. They said, "It is alleged that you have maintained a relationship with one Lillian Hellman, who is alleged to be a Communist Party member." In the second one, which did kind of throw me for a loop, they said, "The Department has
information that you spent a weekend with her at her farm in Westchester County, which you did not mention in your answer to the first interrogatory. Is that true, and if so, what were the circumstances?"
Well, it was true. I had. I had really not been in touch with her after I got back from China in 1949 at all, except for a couple of casual phone calls. I had not seen her in 1949 at all. But in the meantime, I had gone out to the Philippines in the fall of 1949 on a military mission, just to the Philippines alone. I was only there for a couple of weeks. But coming back from Manila, I had written her a note saying I felt a little guilty that I hadn't seen her or been in touch with her, and we ought to do something about it. I forget whether it was a phone call or a note from her, when I got back to Washington, saying, "Well, come on up and see me some time. I'm usually at the farm on weekends anyway, and let's get caught up," and so on. So I had gone out there. No, rather I had gone to New York. I had been to New York on business and seen her once there. It was after that that she said, "Come on up sometime and we'll go out to the farm and we can have a pleasant weekend out there."
I did go out, which I had not mentioned in the interrogatory, the first one. The curious thing about it was, how did the Department know about this, because we saw nobody that weekend. She was living there alone. The servants, if she had any -- I've forgotten now if she did -- at least were not there. Her farmer was away; we didn't see him. It was just Lillian and myself there for a couple of days. The only thing that I could think of was that while we were there, one of my secretaries in China had come down with a case of tuberculosis and was in the Marine Corps hospital on Long Island. So I had called her from Lillian's to see if I could speak with her, see how she was, and was told no, she was not in any condition to answer the phone. Did I want to leave a message? I said, "Yes, just tell her that John Melby has called, and I will write her and be in touch with her." The only thing I could think of was that there had been a phone tap, because [Dashiell] Hammett had been living there off and on from time to time.
This is jumping ahead: having gotten my own FBI files finally from the Freedom of Information Act, there is only one piece of paper in that whole file, and it's a big file, that has any reference to Lillian. That
is an unnamed informant who says that he does not wish to testify, but that he is in a position to know that I had been out there that weekend. And he had the facts pretty straight. But I mean, who it was, who he was, why, why he was reporting this, that's all crossed out.
ACCINELLI: You have no idea who it might have been.
MELBY: I have never had any idea who it might have been, to this day.
I then did answer the second interrogatory. Well, in the meantime I decided, "Well, I have to have a lawyer now; I mean I can't go ahead this way. My guts told me I'd had it really, but I wasn't going to quit. I mean there is this intuitive feeling one has on things; still I was going to fight it out. I had several suggestions on whom to get as a lawyer; I didn't have any experience in this sort of thing. One friend of mine suggested that I get the well-known civil rights lawyer, particularly a man in Philadelphia. But others suggested, "No, what you really should do on something like this" -- and mind you this is very early in the McCarthy hearing days, and nobody had any experience with it, so you can't really blame anybody on it -- "What you need is to get a Washington
lawyer, the most conservative man you can find, and do exactly what he tells you to do. Then, once the thing is over and you win, because you'll be cleared that way, then you can go ahead and do as you please."
Well, the man who was recommended to me was Arthur Scharfeld, who was a very well-known lawyer in Washington, who practiced before the Federal Communications Commission. He had absolutely no experience in what we have come to call a "new branch of law, administrative law." It wasn't a court case or anything like that. [He had] absolutely none at all; he had no clues as to what he was doing. But I went to see him, and he agreed to take the case. Most of the work he turned over to his young associate, a young man named Ted Baron, who was a little more knowledgeable than Arthur was. But still he had no real experience in the business. So we worked up the case. Well, when I finally got charges -- have I mentioned that?
MELBY: Oh, well, it was when I got the charges that I decided that I needed a lawyer. Finally in April,
around April I think, or the early spring, I got formal charges which contained only one charge against me, "That you have maintained an association with one Lillian Hellman who is known to be a Communist." That was it. That's when I got the lawyer. The hearing dates were set for early July.
In the meantime, it had become a little more confused than that, because Lillian herself had a subpoena from the House Committee, the House Committee on Un-American Activities, to appear in May. She was obviously very upset about this. She called me, and said she wanted to talk to me sometime about it. What was bothering her particularly on this, her subpoena from HUAC did not have any charges connected with it, and therefore she had no idea what they might have in mind. But what she was afraid of was that perhaps they might know something about me and her, that this would come up, and how should she handle that. She was also fearful that they might bring up the question of Averell Harriman. After all, she had been his house guest when he was Ambassador in Moscow and he was at this point busily engaged in running for the Presidency. One can imagine
this would make a nice juicy headline, you know, "American Ambassador, Presidential candidate and so on, subverted by Communist agent who was his house guest," that sort of thing.
ACCINELLI: There was nothing other than that; she was simply a house guest?'
MELBY: Oh yes, that's all. He had insisted that she be a house guest; she had not been particularly anxious to do it. He had known her before and Kathleen, his daughter, had known her in New York also. And distinguished guests in Moscow normally stayed in Spaso. We had lots of room there, so there was nothing particularly unusual about that. But with the McCarthy fever building up, you never knew who was going to drag out what and to what end. She wondered if I could come to New York to see her and talk about it. Well, it happened to be at a time when I was terribly busy with a lot of things. It didn't seem particularly convenient at that time, but I had in the meantime accepted an invitation to go to Philadelphia to speak a couple of times at one of the regular meetings -- conferences, not meetings -- conferences
being put on by the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, talking about China. So I suggested that perhaps she could come to Philadelphia and we could meet there and talk because I would have some time there.
Well, she wanted an excuse to go to Philadelphia. She had friends there anyway -- other friends. So we did meet in Philadelphia. We just talked about this question of what she should do and so on, without reaching any real conclusions about it, because she really was just beginning to shake down with her lawyer in Washington. He was Joe Rauh, who was a very experienced man in the whole field of civil rights. So I was with her the better part of a couple of days. She was staying at the Barclay Hotel and I was at the Belleview Stratford, which has since gone through its apotheosis, you know, with veterans.
ACCINELLI: Oh, that was the Legionnaires' disease wasn't it?
MELBY: Legionnaires disease at the Belleview Stratford that ended that ancient hostelry; that of course came later.
In the meantime, Arthur Scharfeld had been drawing up the brief that we were going to submit to the Security
Board before we went into actual hearings. It included a list of all of the times, as far as I could remember them, that she and I had ever met. By now it was pretty clear, even without being so stated explicitly that it had been an affair, and there was no need to go into details about that. He had drawn up this list for the Board just before I had gone to Philadelphia. I knew that he had the list but it didn't occur to me that I had not put in meetings in Philadelphia into that, and consequently, it went to the Board without the Philadelphia meetings. It didn't take the Board very long to get around to saying, "Mr. Melby, are you sure that the list you have given us is complete, as far as you can remember?" I said, "Yes, I am, those are the only times," and just at that moment it hit me, "My God, it is not complete. I have not put in the Philadelphia meetings."
So I had to make a very fast decision on my own, because Scharfeld by this time was totally baffled in the hearing as to what this thing was all about because he had discovered we could not produce witnesses. We could not find out who had made charges, who knew what, so on. We had to accept the Board's word that thus and
so was true, which of course, is not what American law is all about. You are entitled to confront and rebut, if you can, charges made against you by someone. It would take many court cases later on to straighten that one out. But at this time, this was part of then administrative law as it was practiced. As I say, Scharfeld was just totally baffled by these restrictions on him as a lawyer, and on me as a defendant in the thing. So he wasn't being at all helpful, and in any event, I didn't have time. I couldn't even turn to him and ask him and say, "What should I say?" I had to make up my mind. I decided at that point, snap judgment, to say, "I'm sorry; I have left out something." I told them about the Philadelphia meeting. It was a calculated gamble on my part, that if they had been so insistent on this that they would know that I was not telling the truth, they had some information, and in those days, the paranoia was such you never knew who knew what. Of course, if I had stuck by saying that is complete, and so on, and they had evidence that I was not telling the truth, I would be just flat open to perjury and that would end everything, clearly. So I said, "I'm sorry, I cannot
explain this, how I forgot it, but I did." Somehow they never really believed anything I said after that.
ACCINELLI: Even though you had, in fact, told the whole truth.
MELBY: Yes. They thought, "Well, if he had forgotten that, what else did he forget?" And this they kept after me, after me, after me, in hearing after hearing. They went on; there were a number of sessions.
ACCINELLI: Did they question you about Lillian Hellman's views?
ACCINELLI: Did they try to use you to discover more about her?
MELBY: Their assumption was that she was a Communist, period. I had to accept that, period, and I was not permitted to challenge that at all. They said, "We're not interested; she is. You must accept it or else." No, they were not interested in what I thought. I had to accept that and I should have known it, according to them. They had the evidence on her, they said. But
they were not about to tell me or anybody else what that evidence was. They never did, and they never have. It just went on and on this way. They had obviously by this time made up their minds that I was not really reliable. We went through, oh, any number of hearings; it lasted over several days in early July and then it was reopened again in August with more evidence and other witnesses. I had certainly marshaled a list of "character witnesses," I suppose you'd call them, which perhaps were not quite as spectacularly good as those Alger Hiss had, but they didn't do me any more good in the end than Alger Hiss' did him. It was all discounted; nobody believed anything. It was I who was the one that was guilty; I had been guilty of concealing things and what else was I concealing?
ACCINELLI: Who testified on your behalf?
MELBY: Well, Lacy, Livy [Livingston] Merchant, Lewis Clark. Dr. Stuart testified the Ambassador. Walt Butterworth [testified]. Dean Rusk came down. He was now out of the Department; he came down from the Rockefeller Foundation. He testified. They were not at all interested in his
testimony. After all, he said, "If he had been unreliable would I have agreed to his going out to Southeast Asia on this mission?"
Myron Cowen -- I wasn't present for his testimony -- but he came back from Belgium at his own expense to testify. In retrospect, I think he handled it very badly, because what he did was to storm in and say, "What is all this thing about Melby?" and so on. "After all, he was the most confidential man I know; he even had access to top secret atomic energy information. I had never any question about his reliability on this. How can I say he isn't reliable?" Really, what he should have done, was just saunter in and say, "Now, what's all this foolishness about? Melby's worked with me for years arid I know he's a reliable guy. Sure, he went to bed with a woman, but so what, who doesn't. Now, come on fellows, let's stop kidding around about it."
But Myron's testimony just had the opposite effect, of course. You could just see them tense up, "My God, this man has access to atomic energy intelligence, and we know he's been sleeping with this Communist. What kind of a leak do we have on our hands here?" So it just went from bad to worse on this one.
You have to remember, if you can envision it -- you're a little bit too young really to remember this in the way that some of the rest of us can -- what the atmosphere was like. [There was the] downright fear that was so pervasive throughout Washington at the time.
One thing they did throw at me, that I've never been able to figure out, was -- they said, "The Department has information that Miss Hellman gave a dinner party the night that he escaped from the United States, Gerhardt Eisler." I don't know whether you remember the Eisler case.
ACCINELLI: No, I don't recall.
MELBY: He was a German Communist who had been convicted and was being deported formally, so one night he had made arrangements to be spirited out of New York on a Polish ship, The Batory. He went back and he lived for a number of years in East Germany, and then he finally died. Well, it was a headline case at the time. He had made monkeys out of the FBI; he slipped out of their hands. Here was this man they were going to deport, and he was just laughing at them. He had escaped his due punishment
at the hands of American justice. Howard Donovan was the one who brought out the charge; he was the chairman of my Board. He said, "Miss Hellman gave this dinner party that night that Eisler escaped from the FBI. Were you invited to the dinner party?" "No." "Well, did you know anything about it?" "Why didn't you know?" "I can't answer that; I don't know why I didn't know, because I never heard of it. I know nothing about it." Howard kept coming back to this dinner party, not only at this one hearing but at subsequent ones. Finally, in the last hearing in which he brought the matter up, he said, "Well, Mr. Melby, tell us, if Miss Hellman had been a friend of Eisler, would it have been in character for her to have given a dinner party for him that night?"
I said, "Well, that's a hypothetical question, but I have to say if you are assuming that she was a friend, of course it would have been in character with her to have given a dinner party for a friend." Howard lost his temper then and he just slammed his paper, and he said, "Well, goddamn it, the dinner party was a fact."
Well, in the meantime, I had told him that I had been in touch with Lillian. I asked her if she had ever
given such a dinner party. She claimed that she had never even met the guy. She said she might have at some large cocktail party met him in passing, but certainly she had never met him to know him, or know anything about him. No, she'd checked through her records, she'd asked her secretary and so on, and there was no record of her ever having given a dinner party for him. Well, this was left as a mystery, as to what the heck this was all about, and how did they ever know anything about this. Well, what did they think they had in the file.
I told Bob Newman this story, and so help me, he discovered that Eisler was dead, but that his widow was living in East Berlin. She had taken over the editorship of the newspaper that he had been editor of, and she was still living. So he wrote her, and I have a copy of her reply. Mrs. Eisler said, "I am sorry to say that neither Gerhardt nor I ever had the privilege of meeting Miss Hellman. We both were very sorry that we never did know her, but I'm afraid this is more FBI garbage because there never was any such thing that happened."
ACCINELLI: Where on earth they got the information, how they came to believe that such a dinner party occurred, is a
real mystery, isn't it?
MELBY: It is. But there were little tidbits like that. Unfortunately what has happened -- when finally I did get access to my files through Freedom of Information -- I discovered a few years ago that my transcript of the hearings and so on had been destroyed by the Department several years ago. That included the Board's rationale for its final action deciding that my continued employment was no longer clearly in the national interest. But the Department had gone to some trouble to instruct various people involved in handling Freedom of Information material, to get busy and reconstruct the file. They found a copy of the hearings over in the Civil Service Commission.
I got further confirmation that this really had happened when, in the fall of 1980 -- and I was just about to be reinstated -- the administrative officer in the [American] Embassy in Ottawa called me and asked me could I come to Toronto for an interview. This was to bring up to date my file really with whatever might have happened since with the RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police]. It was largely a pro forma matter to clear things. He told me that he had been the man who was in the Department at
the time, handling my case of reconstructing my file. He said, "It's true, we had instructions to do everything we could to rebuild that file as completely as possible." He said, "I was the one who got those transcripts from the Civil Service Commission. But," he said, "unfortunately, in the destruction of your file, the only copy left of the Board rationale, the Board's rationale for this action in recommending your dismissal, was destroyed and there is nowhere a copy of that."
And here is one very kind of sad thing. The secretary, a lawyer, a young lawyer named John Sipes, who had been pretty tough, but he was not unfriendly in a way, had left the Department and Bob Newman was trying to find him. He could not find him anyplace, in any legal record, or in any legal dictionary or anything like that. He did not know what had happened to Sipes. Joe Volpe would later be my lawyer when I decided to get rid of Scharfeld and get someone who had more experience in the business. Joe Volpe had been general counsel for the Atomic Energy Commission, so he had handled a lot of these cases, and he was one of the elder statesmen in this whole business. So he knew what he was doing and he did a superb job. But he didn't know what had happened to
Sipes either. Only about six months ago did Newman run across, someplace, and I don't know where he found it, but he found an obituary for John Sipes. He had been living in Arlington and we had never found him. This was our last hope really of seeing if he who had undoubtedly written the summary of the Board's findings -- did he remember what was in the Board's rationale. So we missed it by just months.
I pursued the matter through hearings; I appealed it, or Joe Volpe appealed it, and did a superb job on the thing. But it was quite clear by this time that it didn't matter what he did or what he said; they weren't going to believe anything. We spoke to Acheson on this matter. In the fall of 1952 Acheson, who of course knew of the case, had sent word to me through Brad Connors, who was the Public Affairs officer in the Far East, that I was to take the matter [further]. He said, "The Board is going to find against you; you take it on appeal to the Appeal Board and I'll reverse the Appeal Board."
ACCINELLI: He had that authority did he?
MELBY: Except that of course Eisenhower was elected President.
He did have the authority had he been Secretary, yes. He could have, sure, because it was an administrative matter. Everything that happened was at the discretion of the Secretary. Yes, he could have done it. But there it was, and I did finally get the word from one of the underlings to the Under Secretary for Administration, which simply said, "The Secretary has determined that your continued employment is no longer clearly in the national interest," period. "Please clean out your desk." This came, I say, in May, 1953.
Then the problem became what do we do about it. Where do we go from here? It was, God knows, no time or place to look for a job or anything like that. By this time anybody who was connected with the State Department was persona non grata every place and any place. In talking around, it took me a couple of years before I finally found a job; that's when I went to Yale.
But one thing had happened. I had talked to Father McGuire, who was then with the National Catholic Welfare. He was a friend of mine, whom I had known in China. McGuire was pretty appalled by the whole thing. The National Catholic Welfare itself was pretty split in those days between those who were out to kill Commies
wherever they could find them, and those who were of more liberal persuasion of whom McGuire was one. McGuire said he was going to talk to Scott McLeod, who was then Security Director in the Department. McLeod gave him a very interesting answer. He said, "Look" -- McLeod being himself a good Scott Catholic -- "Look," he said, "my advice to you is to forget this matter. If you want to pursue it, we're going to turn it over to Senator McCarthy, who doesn't know anything about it. Now if you want that to happen, you go right ahead. If not, then forget it."
Well, McGuire left it up to me. He said, "What do you want to do?" I said, "Well, I don't want McCarthy to have it, good God, no. There's no percentage in that sort of thing." But it would continue to be on the record forever.
When Dean Rusk became Secretary of State I thought, "Well, we've had eight years of Eisenhower; you certainly couldn't do anything or get anywhere [with them]. Maybe Rusk, who after all, did testify for me, maybe he can get me reinstated." I went to see him, and he said, "Certainly, I'm going to take care of it. Just forget it, and I'll see what we can do about it." Nothing happened. I saw him a couple of times after that, and still nothing happened. Finally, I went to see Roger Jones who was
at this point the Under Secretary for Administration, who had himself once been chairman of the Civil Service Commission. Jones was very frank; he said, "I don't give a damn, because I'm probably going to be fired from this job pretty soon. But the last thing I did while I was still chairman of the Civil Service Commission was to order all files, all Loyalty and Security files in the Commission that were more than 10 years old, to be destroyed." He said, "They're going to get me for that one, and I know it." But he said, "So I don't care, but I'll tell you what has happened, and why you didn't hear anything from Rusk. That is that Senator Eastland, who is chairman of the Senate Committee, has served notice on Rusk to the effect that, 'If you dare promote anybody on our list, or if you try to bring back anybody who is out of the Department, also on our list, you are going to have real trouble with Department appropriations. It's up to you; if you want to have trouble with that, go ahead'." Well, Rusk was not about to get himself involved with that, but he wouldn't tell me that. Jones did and then, of course, I had some pretty real problems there where I had to make some pretty hard decisions as to what I would or not do. I guess I'm stubborn, and I
was still determined, and I remained determined that I was going to get back one day or another. I did not think that in my case I had done anything that was wrong, that I thought was wrong.
I had a couple of options. I could have gone to court, as Jack Service did. He finally won his case in the Supreme Court, and was actually reinstated. I decided not to do that, although Joe Rauh has since told me a couple of times that he thinks although it would have been very expensive, that I could probably have won my case, because he didn't think that Lillian was a Communist. He thought we could so prove it.
But I had a number of other factors that I had to take into account. Well, in the first place, Lillian was quite prepared to have me file suit on the thing, and was prepared to testify. But I was not prepared to ask her to testify. See, I don't think she really realized what it would have involved, that it would have been an open hearing, and as American law was then and still is, that would have involved a public hearing of a lot of private lives and private dealings that I was not about to put anybody through. I was particularly not prepared to put her through it, because basically, you see, what I
was fired on was they believed she was a Communist; I did not. What they wanted me to do, what they pushed me on, is what Bob Newman has come to call a degradation ceremony. Namely, I would swear that I would never again see her, have anything to do with her, I'm sorry that it happened, it was a weakness on my part, I will be strong now, and I will never have anything to do with her. I could not bring myself to do that. I will do a lot of things for a career, but there are some things I won't do. It was on that basis, I'm sure, that I was actually fired. But I was not prepared to put her through it, no matter, and I think if we had actually started something like that, she would have had reservations about what it would have meant when she started thinking about it, too.
It would have involved my children, too. I have two sons, both of whom had trouble because of me. Both of them had served the usual term in the military; both had their commissions in the Army held up for months because of me. I just could not really have seen putting them through that either, or my ex-wife, from whom I was then divorced, but still who had been a good sport about
it all, if you can call that sort of thing being a good sport. I couldn't see myself pillaring her too. And so in the end I just decided I wasn't going to go to court on this thing.
Those are basically the reasons why I decided I wasn't going to take legal action. You couldn't have ruined me any more financially in a legal action than I was ruined anyway, financially. I could have found a lawyer or someone who would take the case on speculation, and do as Jack Service did, and probably have won the case. But another thing, I had never had any publicity on it. I was on very good relations with the press, and I know that the Washington press knew what was happening, or knew something was wrong. But only one man, who was the AP man in Washington, whom I had known before in Manila, once asked me, "Are you in any kind of trouble?" I said, "Yes." He said, "Would you like a story about it?" I said, "No, please; I don't want anything." He said, "Okay, if you don't want anything, the rest of us won't write anything about it." And never was there any publicity on the thing, and that's the way I decided I wanted it.
ACCINELLI: That's really remarkable, considering the atmosphere.
MELBY: And considering I was the highest ranking officer in the Foreign Service to be fired. I can only explain it in terms of the general McCarthy approach to the thing, which was kind of a buckshot approach to life; you know, you fire off and somebody gets hit and you go after him. There was never anything very systematic in what McCarthy did, or much of anybody else, but once they did latch onto something, and if it looked as though there would be something, they went after it. I think also partly it was that Lillian and I at no point ever had any publicity either as having had an affair or being in an affair or anything. There was never any publicity on that either, although we made no attempt to make it secret. I mean we used to go around in New York and elsewhere in Washington, and see people and friends of hers and friends of mine. There was kind of an assumption, "So what? What kind of a story is there here?" So that never got any attention either.
ACCINELLI: She was not questioned about your relationship with her at the HUAC meeting?
MELBY: It never was mentioned; there was never anything raised. In fact, the hearing didn't last very long.
Her hearing lasted only an hour and seven minutes, I think she once wrote. Really, she had written the chairman of the committee and said, "I am prepared to talk about myself. Anything you want to know about me, or my activities, I will gladly tell you, but I will not name names. If you force me to do that, then I'm going to have to take the Fifth Amendment. I will not be a tattle-tale."
Early on in the hearing, they attempted to get her to name names and she wouldn't do it. She took the Fifth Amendment then, and got a standing ovation out of the crowd that was there. She was never again bothered openly about it. She thought there was always the possibility that the Senate Committee might call her. Shortly after that she went off to Europe to get out of the limelight a bit. My case has become one of those that one way or another pretty much everybody knows about, but nobody talks about. It's going to have the kind of publicity here that it hasn't had, this son of a gun in the...
ACCINELLI: In William Wright's biography of Lillian Hellman.*
*William Wright, Lillian Hellman: (New York, 1986)
MELBY: I'm sure there's something in it.
ACCINELLI: There you are [among the photographs in the biography]. Yes, indeed, it's a passport photo. Did you provide him with that?
ACCINELLI: Well, once Bob Newman's book is published as well…
MELBY: Oh, well, I'll have to leave town after that. He doesn't have a publisher yet either. No, I really will have to leave town after that.
That's basically why I did or did not do certain things, but the shadow has continued. It's so long gone now. I think for one thing there's almost nobody left in the Department who knows anything about it; they're all dead or retired of course. But it's surprising; every so often I run across somebody who knows about it. Jerome Chen up at York [University, Toronto], he knows all about it. I don't know where he got it. But it has been -- at least certainly until I came here, which was twenty years ago -- it was a shadow over
everything I tried to do. Nobody would give me a job while the McCarthy thing was still very hot. There was a point at which I was just about to get an appointment on the faculty of the Naval War College.
ACCINELLI: When was this?
MELBY: This was back in the late 1950s. Then, the Naval War College civilian faculty staff was provided by George Washington University. You got on the Naval War College faculty through George Washington University. Well, at this point, the acting president of George Washington was a retired admiral. When it came for his final approval for me to go to Newport, it just faded away. Nothing ever happened. And that happened on a great many things. It happened at one time when I was being seriously considered, and thought I had a job on the administrative staff of UNESCO. Just suddenly that faded away, because the State Department has a veto on all Americans who are appointed to the UNESCO staff.
What finally broke the pattern -- well, the pattern continued -- but finally I went to Yale.
ACCINELLI: When was that?
MELBY: I went to Yale in 1955 on the Southeast Asia program. Yale took me just on my say-so, and in the Southeast Asia program; it was only for one year because after that they ran out of money. After that, I then went to Philadelphia where a friend of mine and I set up the National Council on Asian Affairs, doing education at a secondary level on Asia. We operated that for about three years and then finally just gave up because we never succeeded in getting the money for it. The final coup de grace on that one really came from John D. Rockefeller III, who gave us money, incidentally. But as he handed me a check one day he said, "I just want to tell you I'm giving you this check, but I think that the only way we are going to break this McCarthy pattern on China, on Asia, is that all of you who have been involved in China, one way or another, just go away and do something else." The next day he announced the Asia Society, which was in direct competition with us. Well, that effectively killed us, but he gave us a very nice little sum of money just to sort of wind things up I guess.
Then I became Director of Foreign Students at the University of Pennsylvania. The way I got that job was that the lady I was running the Council on Asian Affairs with in Philadelphia, her father-in-law was a member of the Board of Trustees at Penn. He asked Elinor [K. Wolf] one day; he said, "We are thinking of hiring Melby. Is there anything wrong with him?" She said, "No, he's all right." He said, "All right, that's all I wanted to know. I don't want to know any details. If you say he's all right, he's all right." So that's the way I was hired there.
ACCINELLI: How long did you stay on there?
MELBY: I was at Penn for six years. I was Director of Foreign Students, and we built a very good program there, one of the best in the country. I finally in the end, there, ran a cropper of the vice president for student affairs who couldn't stand having any competition. He succeeded in firing everybody who worked for him, namely the Dean of Women and the Dean of Men, who happened to be his brother-in-law. And then [he fired] the Dean of Students, and he finally got me too.
But that had nothing to do with security or anything like that. It was just that Gene Gisburne couldn't stand having people who were better than he was on the job. Actually, he had inherited a very good staff there. Althea Hottel, who was Dean of Women, was one of the great Deans of Women in the United States, but he finally got her too.
ACCINELLI: Did you come to Guelph after that?
MELBY: No, I taught for a year at Penn, fulltime. I had been on the faculty teaching part-time all the time I was Director of Foreign Students. I taught fulltime. Then I went back to Washington briefly and worked more on Mandate of Heaven. Then I was asked to take a job as Deputy Director of the World Affairs Council in Philadelphia, which was kind of ironic, considering that that's where some of my troubles had started, which they didn't know. I had been on that job only about three or four months when Guelph came up, through John Holmes. I had come to Toronto to see Roxana, whom I since have married, at Christmas. I had lunch one day with John Holmes -- I had known John before -- and he asked
me if I ever had thought of a Canadian university. I told him, "No, I haven't, but make me an offer." I went back to Washington, and about ten days later I had a letter from Archie McIntyre, who was head of the social sciences here, asking me would I come back to Guelph and talk about a possibility of a job. I discovered that John Holmes was quietly recruiting for Guelph. He didn't tell me that was what he was doing. John wouldn't.
I got that letter from Archie, and the minute I got it I knew this is it. It sounded good; I liked it. So I quit the job in Philadelphia, and I came here and I expected to be here for, I say, about ten years maybe and then go back. But it didn't work out quite that way.
In the meantime, I have continued one way or another pushing the whole business of getting clearance again. Senator Joe Clark of Pennsylvania worked pretty hard on it, and he got nowhere. This was during the Kennedy Administration. There wasn't any point in trying to do anything when Nixon was President, obviously. But when Jimmy Carter became President, I thought, "Well, this is really the last chance." This is when I went
back to Averell, who said, "By God, we're going to do something about it now." He spent the next three years working on it. Richard Holbrook was a friend of his and Holbrook had never heard of me either, but he took Averell's word for it and then started pushing the thing. Ben Reed by this time was back in the Department. He had been head of the Secretariat in the Kennedy Administration. But he was back as Under Secretary for something or other, and he vaguely remembered me, but not particularly. It just sort of dragged on and on and on, and finally I could see we were coming up toward the end of the administration and something had to be done soon, or it wasn't ever going to be done. So, I went again to see Averell; he just blew his top. He said, "Well, we're going to get this thing and get it finished and done once and for all." He called Ben Reed, who was a friend of his. He said, "I want something done on this, and I want it done and done fast." That's when Ben told me, "You know the problem is that nobody here remembers Melby; doesn't know anything about him, and there's no files on him. We don't know what it is. The lawyers don't know how to handle it, or what to
do about it." He said, "I just don't know. Well, I'll tell you what I'll do though." Who's the executive director of the American Historical Association? Is it Sam...
ACCINELLI: I don't know.
MELBY: Well, he was the Ambassador to Mauritius, and of course, with Reagan coming in, he was out. He has become Executive Secretary of the Historical Association. Well, he was sitting around waiting for a new appointment; he was finished in Mauritius. This was in 1980. So Ben said, "You take this on and do something about it."
So Sam called me and he said, "Look, the lawyers here don't know what to do about it. Do you have a file on yourself?" I said, "Sure, I've got a very complete file, from Freedom of Information. I've got transcripts and correspondence with Clark and all sorts of things." He said, "Would you just send me the whole file?" Which I did.
In about two and a half weeks, clearance came through. I got a very nice letter from Edmund Muskie welcoming me back; the redress of a great injustice that
has been done. He hoped he understood that if I was offered a job in the Department, he hoped I would take it. Of course, I couldn't go back in the regular Foreign Service because I was over-age for that by then. But I went back as a consultant. I was back for about three months.
ACCINELLI: At the tailend of the Carter Administration.
MELBY: Yes. I was working on the Sino-Vietnamese war, trying to figure out what we did about that. Then, of course, Reagan came in, and he did something that needed to be done in a way. But he did it without thinking really what he was doing; maybe he did know what he was doing, I don't know. But anyway he fired all consultants in the Government across the board. Now there were not very many of us in the Department; there were only half a dozen or so of us in the Department. But there were some agencies like the Department of Energy where 80 percent of the work of the Department was being done by consultants. This was just completely out of line and out of control. So I mean they needed to be cleaned up, but everybody got caught in it. So I was fired again. That didn't do anything about my clearance;
that still stood.
Actually, in the spring or early summer of 1981 I went back and talked to Volpe about it again as to whether I could sue the Department for back pay. Joe's reaction was, "Why in the hell do you want to be bothered with this sort of thing anymore?" He said, "When you look back on it, the whole business with you and Hellman, it all seems so silly now, doesn't it?" I said, "Man, it may seem silly to you, but it doesn't seem silly to me." "Well," he said, "I've been going over that file again, and considering the tone and tenor of this administration, I would be afraid if you did." He said, "If you want to file suit, I'll go along with it, but I would be afraid that they would try to draw up charges of perjury on you, and I think this group could make them stick." And he said, "Do you want to do that?" I said, "No, I don't want to do that."
There were technicalities there in that hearing under Scharfeld. Volpe took over, you see, after I had been originally fired, and he took over the appeals part. He thought he had pretty well cleared up misunderstandings, but he said, "Technically, it's still going
to stand as perjury if somebody wants to make something of it." Of course, perjury is the one great crime in American law. You can be caught buggering the butler, but don't be caught lying about it.
Well, in a sense I don't mind having been fired by Reagan, because I couldn't in good conscience work for that foreign policy, good heavens. That's the greatest humiliation of all, to work with foreign policy with that crew now.
ACCINELLI: Can you talk at all about your work on the problem of the Sino-Vietnamese war?
MELBY: Not really, because I didn't get into it enough really to know about it. Furthermore, I think that some of the things I was suggesting, or recommending were probably being kind of stymied. The man, a young man, who was the actual desk officer for Cambodia, whose name I now do not remember, would show up very shortly after Reagan took office as the new Ambassador to Honduras, which makes him the great expert on how do we kill Sandinistas. He was a man whom I just really met, I had only one conversation with. But the fact of what
he has been doing these years is a pretty good indication of where his basic sympathies lie. So there really isn't anything to talk about on that one at all.
ACCINELLI: Going back to your security file, was there anything in there other than what you've already spoken about, which surprised you? Any revelations, information?
MELBY: In the security files?
ACCINELLI: In the security files which you received through Freedom of Information.
MELBY: Well, not only did I get my security file, you've got to understand, I got my whole file. There were some things that kind of amused me. One thing that startled me a little bit was that -- on the security end, no. On the security end, except for the one piece of paper on Lillian, it makes me God's original Eagle Scout. Except for somebody who made a crack when I was applying for the Foreign Service, who said, "He's a little bit conceited, but I guess he's all right." If you don't have anything any worse than that; and at that point I probably was.
I think I have some great reservations out of having seen my file about the way this whole Freedom of Information business is handled. For example, I got copies of all my efficiency reports. Now frankly, I don't think I have any business seeing those. George Kennan -- and I say it now, and it's kind of amusing to think back on it -- but I would not have liked it at the time, George Kennan was very patronizing about me. "He's a nice guy, he's intelligent, and he's a good officer. He isn't really proper Foreign Service material. He's more of a newspaperman than he is anything else, but I think he has enough else to offer the Service it's not worth getting rid of him."
One of my early efficiency reports out of Juarez, George Shaw had written in there. This is at a time when I was courting and about to marry my first wife, the lady in El Paso. But George knew that I had been keeping company with a gal in Chicago, and George wasn't particularly amused about this. He was my boss in El Paso. So on one of his trips to Washington, he stopped off in Chicago to see her, which I thought was a bloody outrage. He liked her too. But he also liked
Florence; he and Florence were good friends. There's some things I don't think one should see. I don't think that one is entitled really to see all letters of reference, because if you know that you have access to all letters of reference written on you, you know darn well the person who is writing those letters is not going to be telling the truth, sometimes. There are some things that should be kept confidential. I think this business of having to know everything that's around can be carried too far. Now, I don't know what the answer is, or how you handle it, but...
ACCINELLI: Just where the line is between what should be revealed and what should not be.
ACCINELLI: In the end you were fired. You decided not to resign.
MELBY: Yes, I was fired.
ACCINELLI: A resignation I suppose would have been the easier way out. Why did you decide not to?
MELBY: Because I had not been guilty of anything. So I
decided, "Well, I haven't done anything wrong. I'm not going to take the easy way out and just resign."
ACCINELLI: Did that affect the terms of your termination from the Department, in terms of pay or anything else?
MELBY: Not particularly in my case, because I had not been in long enough. Maybe if I had been eligible for retirement, I might have had second thoughts. But I had only been in the Foreign Service for 16 years. In order to get any kind of retirement pay, you had to have been in for 20 years, and be 50 years old. I couldn't qualify under either. I was only 40, and I had only been in 16 years. If you leave earlier, or are fired or whatever it is, earlier, what you get back is your contributions to the retirement fund, which I did manage to get back. I'm sorry to say that circumstances under which I got them back was that we had had a terrible accounting mess out in Nanking in the Embassy. It was so bad that finally the Department sent out one of its top accountants to straighten things out. It took him about 18 months to do it; it was so bad. Sy Levinson, when he got back to Washington finally, or after he had been back for a while, he heard what was happening to me. There was a
period there when those who were under charges, if you'd lost your case in the Department, you were not going to be eligible to get your contributions back. Well, Sy got wind of this, and he quickly put the papers through, and I got my contributions back just in time not to have them frozen or disappear, for which he was demoted three grades.
ACCINELLI: Oh, boy!
MELBY: So I've always been very fond of Sy Levinson, and he never said anything to me about it. It was a damn decent thing to have done because he knew the chances he was running on the thing. At least, they didn't fire him anyway. He was too good an accountant for that.
ACCINELLI: From the time that you received your first interrogatory to the time that you were fired, did you speak about your experiences, or your problems, with the Loyalty Board with any other member of the Department who was himself facing a similar problem? Clubb, for example, in Chinese Affairs?
MELBY: Oh, sure. Edmund Clubb, sure. Edmund knew what I
was going through, because when he was going through this ordeal -- dear Edmund, who could be a very difficult character -- had decided that he was not going to have a lawyer. He went through all the hearings and he wasn't going to have a lawyer. But what he did was to ask me if I would sit in with him, as a friend of the court, or what have you, just to be there, because he knew that I wasn't involved in any of his period in China. I sat there, and, of course, Edmund being Edmund, had decided that he was going to take anything and everything he had ever written to the Department and read it into the record. [There is] what John Davies has called "Oliver Edmund Clubb's thirty years war with the English language." Edmund doesn't say anything in 100 words if 700 will do.
ACCINELLI: I've read his memoranda in the State Department.
MELBY: Oh well, okay. He would summarize a dispatch for the Secretary and his summary would be twice as long as what he was summarizing.
So, the Board pleaded with him, "Just give us the material and we promise you we will read every word of it." No, sir, Edmund wasn't going to have it that
way. So we sat there and we droned on day after day after day with that. Then Edmund, of course, made his cardinal mistake. One of the charges against him was that when he came back in 1932 on leave, he had brought back a message from Anna Louise Strong from Hankow to Whittaker Chambers who was then Managing Editor of the Daily Worker. Edmund swore that he had absolutely no recollection of that. He said, "I'm sure. I've never been in New York. Certainly I've never been in the office of the Daily Worker. I never heard of Whittaker Chambers."
He said, "Whittaker Chambers said I came in there, but he's got to be wrong, because I never met the man." He said, "Now, I'll tell you: I can prove this, that I'm right." He said, "I've got all my diaries," and of course, it turns out that Edmund keeps diaries. Everything he's ever thought or heard, or anything, goes into his diaries. He said, "I left them in Peking when I was evacuated out of Peking and Manchuria when the Communists took over. I left them with the British Chargé de Affairs. I didn't want to take a chance on their being picked up by the Communists." And he said, "If you will get in touch
with the British Foreign Office, they can write to the Chargé de Affairs and he will send them to you. Those diaries will show you that I was never in New York and I never met Whittaker Chambers." He said, "Of course, I knew Anna Louise Strong; everybody did in Hankow in those days. But I never met Whittaker Chambers."
The Department, so help me God, did just that. They got the diaries and they opened them up, and there it was. He had been in New York. They asked him to explain that and he said, "I have no recollection of that." Well, this was bad enough. But, of course, his diaries contained all sorts of details about his love life and this, that, and the other things. Somehow those diaries got into the hands of a committee on the Hill, and somebody leaked them, and they became dinner table gossip all over Washington.
Edmund just should have stood in bed. If he had stuck by that story that he had never met Whittaker Chambers, it never would have occurred to anybody to get the diaries.
ACCINELLI: He obviously wasn't lying. He thought .he was telling the truth.
MELBY: He thought he was telling the truth. But he was lying.
ACCINELLI: What about John Paton Davies, John Stewart Service? They were undergoing the same ordeal about the same time, were they not?
MELBY: Oh yes. Jack Service, his troubles had started back in the summer of 1945 when he was arrested in connection with the Amerasia case. His went on until God knows when. I guess it was in the late 1960s before he was finally cleared. No, it had to be in the Kennedy Administration. I don't know. He was ordered reinstated by the Supreme Court, and was sent as Consul to Liverpool. He sweated that out for a year and then he retired. He got a very handsome settlement out of the Department, not only back pay and compensation; I think he got $180,000 from the Department, of which the lawyers took half. Well, Ed Rhetts had handled his case for 15 years and hadn't been paid a cent for the whole time. He took it on speculation, so he didn't make any money on it really.
ACCINELLI: Cheap at the price I would say.
MELBY: Where Ed Rhetts made his money was that he had taken a patent infringement case from the SKF Ball Bearing Company in Sweden, which SKF had given up on. They thought they'd never get anything out of the American Government on this for patent infringement. Ed said, "Well, no; just let me keep working on it." So he kept after it, and at the end of 10 or 15 years, so help me God, he got it. He got a judgment. His fee on the thing was $2,000,000. So Ed Rhetts was one lawyer whose speculation worked out well. Then, unhappily he drank himself to death as Ambassador to Liberia and then Tanzania. He really did literally drink himself to death; very sad, a brilliant lawyer.
John Davies -- he never went to court or anything like that. He was finally fired when he was stationed in Lima in Peru. He stayed there in Lima.
ACCINELLI: Yes, he did; ran a furniture store as I recall.
MELBY: Furniture manufacturing business.
ACCINELLI: Oh, was it?
MELBY: He won several international awards. He was very
artistic, anyway. Took several international awards and then one day he discovered that his bookkeeper had embezzled the whole business. He was bankrupt. So he quit then and there. John's had a hard time since then I think. His wife, I think, had a little money. Patricia found one little gimmick finally in the law -- a wrinkle in the law. John was finally fired on a technicality, where you're fired for incompetence, and she discovered a wrinkle on the rules that said if you're fired for incompetence you're entitled to half pension. And he finally got half pension.
ACCINELLI: On the assumption that you couldn't have been completely incompetent.
MELBY: That's right. They went to Spain where they lived for a number of years on the Costa del Sol. They spent a year in England at Sussex. He was working with this historian, Christopher Thorne, on -- I've forgotten the name of the book. It is a very good book on British-American relations in China. Then Patricia inherited a house in Asheville, North Carolina, and that's where they're living now. Her father was, you know, Grandpa
[Henry F.] Grady, who was professor of economics at Berkeley and president of the American President Lines for a while, and Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs. Her mother, is one of the original Spanish families of San Francisco, Leticia. Patricia's father was also Ambassador to Greece at one point, I think. But I don't think he ever made any money. Patricia does newspaper work; she has been correspondent for a paper in Rome, an American paper in Rome, for some years. She worked for the Times-Herald in Washington at one time. She's quite a lady.
ACCINELLI: Could you tell me something about the effect that these Loyalty Board hearings had on morale within the Department?
MELBY: In effect they completely destroyed morale. It took years for that to be rebuilt. In fact, in a sense, it never has been entirely rebuilt. At the time, because of the nature of the whole McCarthy period, it got to the place where officers were simply not reporting anything that they thought the Department might not want to hear, if they reported anything at all. Also, it destroyed trust between officers. There was a time
when officers might disagree strongly, or even violently on very important matters, but there was never a question that you challenged a man's integrity. You took that for granted. You simply went on record, "I don't agree with this, for the following reasons," and you told him so. You told the Department both sides of the story. With the McCarthy period, that ended. People no longer trusted anybody, because you never knew who was spying on anybody, who was reporting what on anybody.
One consequence was that recruitment for the Foreign Service just dropped off to nothing. There was one year -- I can't tell you exactly what year it was, it was shortly after I got out -- when literally nobody applied for the Foreign Service. Nobody wanted anything to do with it. It took quite some time to rebuild that. When they did start getting to the point where they could get people to apply again, the standards became much more conservative. The kind of officer you started getting in was basically a much more conservative type of officer. That shows up even now. People not only didn't trust each other, they didn't speak to each other. If you thought somebody was in trouble, you crossed the other
side of the street rather than run into him. Some people you knew were in trouble, and you went around the block rather than to have to speak to him.
There was one kind of foolish incident that happened to me, at some point during one of my hearings. Somebody said, "It's been reported that you have been seen spending a good deal of time in hotel lobbies in Washington. While this is going on, do you think it is proper for you to be seen in public?" I just had no answer, no reply to a thing like that.
In the old days, all the messengers in the Department used to be old Negro retainers. I remember the Secretary's principal messenger -- this was in Cordell Hull's day or sometime thereafter -- stopped me on the street. It was a man whom I knew fairly well, and he said, "Mr. Melby, I'm just going to tell you we know about your trouble. We're awfully sorry we can't do anything about it, but all us messengers are awfully sorry it's happened to you."
ACCINELLI: Very generous gesture was it not?
ACCINELLI: Did these Loyalty Board hearings -- and I suppose the answer is obvious, but perhaps you can provide me with some examples -- have an effect on policymaking? For example, on policy towards China or Southeast Asia?
MELBY: Oh, of course, it strengthened the pro-China Lobby group in the Department. All those who knew anything about China by the time I finally left -- there was nobody left in the Foreign Service who had any experience in China prior to 1949. You had a lot of other people being brought in, the Walter Robertsons of this world, who were just out and out pro-Chiang Kai--hek. Sure, this contributed enormously to the freezing of American policy. Of course, Southeast Asia didn't figure very much in policy in those days. It was not until the 1960s when we started getting involved in the war in Vietnam more that -- oh, whether it was liberal or not -- among the top echelon anyway, it was the old Munich syndrome, "You've got to fight communism wherever it shows up." That's what the war in Vietnam was really all about.
This did not, however, filter down to the working level, the desk officers. So they were not consulted at all on what happened, and one by one a lot of those people just dropped out. Young people like Paul Katzenbach who was in the Philippines and Vietnam -- he just quit finally in disgust over his disagreement with policy in thinking that what we were doing in Indochina was wrong. A lot of the younger officers did that finally. I mean even a man like Bill Moyers, although he never said anything publicly about it, quit in disgust with what he perceived with President Johnson's lying about things. He just couldn't take it anymore. So any kind of liberalism at all was just frozen out entirely.
ACCINELLI: Of course, the memory of what happened during the McCarthy period lingered on and probably contributed to Johnson's determination to stay the course in Vietnam. He wouldn't have wanted to pull out and to be subject to the same kinds of accusations that Truman and Acheson were about "losing" China, for instance.
MELBY: No, of course not. He didn't know anything about foreign policy. He just didn't want to go through
that. Of course, the advice he was getting from people like Dean Rusk, who was a prime example of the Munich syndrome, I think, was that we had to fight communism wherever it was. Well, to them it had become a moral question. There was never any real discussion as to what was the morality involved in the whole thing.
ACCINELLI: I would like to turn now to The Mandate of Heaven. When did you start writing that book, and why did you decide to write it?
MELBY: Well, I started actually writing on the thing shortly after I was fired. I decided at that point that I had lived through what seemed to me a very important period in history, not only of China, but also of American relations with China, and there should be a record kept of it somehow, published. I had an awful lot of the raw material, of course. I got out the letters that I wrote to Lillian, so I adapted that and worked at it. I tried selling it, getting it published in the States, all through the 1960s. But in that; period, literally nothing could be published in the States that was not the official John Foster Dulles line. It is amazing
how little did come out in that period that wasn't that line. People were not writing about it. Anybody that knew anything about it couldn't get it published, so why write it. So it's a period on which there isn't very much. A lot more is being done now, of course, but at that time, no.
ACCINELLI: So you submitted the book to publishers in the States.
MELBY: They just turned it down; that was all. It wasn't until I came here that finally I made the contact with the University of Toronto Press. Roxana knew the then editor of the Press, who showed an interest in it, and encouraged me to go ahead and do it. She assigned an editor to work with me, Jan Shriver, who turned out to be a superb editor. He really made the book, I think, his suggestions and so on. It finally came out in the fall of 1968.
One classic example, I think, of what could or could not be published was that you may remember Henri Cartier-Bresson had done a superb photographic album, a book on art treasures in the Kremlin, and Russian treasures. It was really a great collection, and
sold very well indeed. Well, he did a comparable book on China in the 1960s, and was told that there wasn't any point. He probably better not try to publish it, because there wouldn't be any market for it. You don't do that with China. Well, he insisted on going ahead with it, and he got a publisher. The story I heard was they sold exactly five copies.
His photographs on China, some of them, are in Mandate. They're not used in the paperback because they were too expensive. They charged us $5,000 per photograph.
ACCINELLI: Were you pleased with the reception that The Mandate of Heaven got?
MELBY: Oh, yes. I think Toronto badly botched the promotion on the thing. Hillary Marshall, the business manager, decided to try to make a trade book out of it. But Hillary, who was an expatriate Englishman, didn't have a clue as to what the North American market was. So it didn't sell nearly as many copies as it should have. It did very well considering the circumstances, but Hillary never got a review of the book in the New York Times, for example. I arranged that. Harrison Salisbury
I happened to run across one day in New York, and I asked him when they were going to review it. He said, "Well, I thought it had been." I said, "No, it hasn't." And he said, "Well, I'll see that it's done right away," which he did. It got very good response. I later asked Hillary, why didn't you get it reviewed in the Washington Post instead of putting it in the Washington Times-Herald. After all, nobody who reads the Times-Herald has been known to read a book. He said, "Oh, I never heard of the Washington Post.
So that was the very unfortunate kind of thing that happened on it. I think every newspaper in Canada reviewed the thing, and it sold very well. The British edition sold well. Cheathame Windus put it out there, and the whole first edition was sold out before it even went on display.
ACCINELLI: -Did you write it at all with Vietnam in mind?
MELBY: Oh sure. The last page is in direct reference to Vietnam, sure.
ACCINELLI: Did the reviewers pick up on that?
MELBY: No, because I don't think most reviewers ever get to the last page of a book, you know. No, my theme in the book, which is really stated in the last page is, "It doesn't matter what pressure you bring to bear on a country to do something, if they are determined they are not going to do it, there is no way that you can force them to do it, if they're prepared to pay the price for not doing it." I don't remember now really whether I mentioned Vietnam or not, but clearly North Vietnam was prepared to fight to extinction if necessary. There was no way we could do it without extinguishing them. Not even the most rabid believers in the Munich syndrome were prepared to face up to the use of atomic energy against North Vietnam. They knew they couldn't get away with it, and furthermore the price would be one that we wouldn't care to pay.
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