Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened March, 1978
Oral History Interview with
July 1, 1974
by Richard D. McKinzie
MCKINZIE: Ambassador Parsons, I wonder if we might begin by having you explain how you came to be in the Foreign Service?
PARSONS: I'd be glad to. Back in 1929 when I graduated from Yale College, I became interested in the Foreign Service because I ran into an Englishman who was studying for the British Foreign Service. I knew very well that I didn't want to go to Wall Street where my father had spent his entire life. As you remember the stock market crash had taken place
by then, and it looked even less attractive.
At any rate, I agreed with my father that I would go there for two years. I'd managed to win a job by competition in my class at the NYU Business School, which paid $12.50 a week. By 1932 it paid $3.75 a week. Just at that moment, the head of my old boarding school, Groton School, in Massachusetts telephoned and said that the new ambassador to Japan wanted to take a Groton graduate with him as his private secretary. (That was as kind of a man Friday or whatever.) And he asked if I would be interested.
I said I was very interested because I'd played out my two year option. I hadn't been a financial success during the depression and I was always interested in the Foreign Service anyway. So I went out with Ambassador Joseph C. Grew to Tokyo and spent four years with him. It was a wonderful training ground. Three of
those years were awaiting the Government's holding of examinations for candidates for the Foreign Service. During the depression, that was put off, too. But I really got into the Service as a result of these developments.
I did my studying in Tokyo early in the morning, took the exams, and became an officer in 1936. Having started in the Far East, it was a large part of my life after that. But as we're going to see in the tape this morning I did become involved in other things, too.
MCKINZIE: Your first post was in Havana?
PARSONS: I went to Havana as a training post as a vice-consul and had a very interesting fifteen months there doing principally immigration visas. At that time many distinguished people were leaving Germany. These people were distinguished in various fields of science and technology or were outstanding businessmen
and people of that kind. We got so many talented and capable people from Germany in those years that I always thought it was a great advantage to our country and a great disadvantage to Germany that that type of population shift took place. Germany lost the elite among the people of Jewish background who would have been very valuable to the country had they remained.
MCKINZIE: There's a recent book concerning a number of Jews who were not allowed to come to the United States through Cuba. Had that reached a crisis stage when you were working?
PARSONS: I don't really recall. The numbers were limited by the quota, which was fairly large for Germany. But we had just been going through the depression and financial qualifications for would-be immigrants were very stringent. I think this probably resulted in an overall selection of those who were more prudent in the protection of their money (1)or
more successful in earning money or status in life in Germany. The result was that we probably got a good proportion of the elite and a good many others were disappointed. This is just a subjective opinion over these years, but that was the principle focus of my work in Havana.
Soon after that we found ourselves back in Mukden, Manchuria. When the war broke out in 1939, I was vice-consul there. One is always asked where one would like to go. In those days it was almost certain one would not go there, but would go someplace quite different.
I was asked, along with the rest of the young vice-consuls at the time. I said I wanted to go to a very small post in the Far East where there would be a chance to do political reporting and work that was more related to diplomatic than consular affairs.
They sent me to Mukden, Manchuria, which was a small post. It was the post from which whatever business we had with the unrecognized state of Manchukuo was done.
I used to go up from Mukden to Hsinking the capital and from time to time the consul general would go. We observed the industrialization of Manchuria and the early preparations of the Japanese for more extended warfare. The first factory that built the Zero fighter was right in Mukden. Had Foreign Service officers been a little bit better trained as observers of military intelligence, we probably would have been able to send back some useful reports to Washington about this particular fighter which was so lethal in the early stages of the war and so much better than anything we anticipated the Japanese would have.
MCKINZIE: Did you have the military counterpart in
PARSONS: No. The staff didn't have anybody on it except the consul general, who was a senior officer from the Japanese Service and a qualified Japanese linguist, myself, and an American clerk, who had some Japanese blood in him and later defected. He turned out to be a bad apple. He elected to stay in Japan after Pearl Harbor. I think we were justified in those days in being a little bit suspicious of him and of being very careful about what classified material we let him see. I have the feeling though, that much more was seen than should have been seen by this particular individual. But the secrets that we had in Mukden weren't terribly important to the welfare of the United States.
From there I went to Ottawa late in 1940. I had spent a summer in the State Department's Western European Division filling in for the
British desk officer in 1938 before I went to Mukden. This was a lucky break because it gave me a start in the European field. The then Minister to Canada, who was an outstanding officer, headed the European Division. He asked me to be political third secretary in the Legation.
Canada was of great potential importance because nobody knew what the outcome of the Battle of Britain would be or whether Britain would survive. If it did not survive, the capital of the Commonwealth would become Ottawa. So we sent a strong Minister to Canada at that time and had an unusually strong Legation, even though it was not a very large office.
I spent the first years of the war there. Then I came down to the Canadian desk in 1943 where I spent over four years. I wound up as assistant chief of the British Commonwealth Division
and the State Department member and secretary of the U.S.-Canada Permanent Joint Board on Defense, which did play a very important role in the war and the immediate postwar years in that limited sphere of the defense of the northern half of the continent and in planning for the defense of it.
MCKINZIE: Did that involve resource allocations?
PARSONS: Yes. In a sense it did because we were involved with Canada in the construction of the Alaska highway for instance. That required the staging of material on Canadian real estate. We had negotiations as to the terms, conditions, and the precise locations of what Canadian real estate and resources we would be allowed to use.
In those days, with a common interest of both Canada and the United States being the war, the relationship was both highly
cooperative and intimate. It was a question of what was the best way to do something and how best to assure that we didn't get too mixed up in Canadian sovereignty, because after the war we knew the circumstances would be different. If we knew this, the Canadians, being the small country next to the American giant, were even more concerned about how we could unscramble the eggs after the war. The Joint Defense Board was involved in planning for joint use of the North American Continent for the prosecution of the war -- largely a ferrying operation of planes and material across the Northeast and across the Northwest to Russia. There was a staging route which went to Greenland and Iceland, known as the "Crimson Route" -- at least in respect of the North American part of it. This was a very interesting and active field.
The first meeting of the Joint Board
following the conclusion of hostilities in Japan touched on President Truman's years. This meeting that I am referring to took place after the war as a whole was over, not after VE-Day, as I remember. At the end of 1945, the President's administration was already thinking of the future and what threats the continental United States might be under in future circumstances.
We, of course hoped for, and President Roosevelt had really banked on, a cooperative relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union in the postwar years. In the early Truman days I think there was still a strong desire to do everything possible to achieve a cooperative relationship with the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, there were many people, including senior officers in the State Department, who were most knowledgeable about the Soviet Union. People like Loy
Henderson, Chip Bohlen, and Tommy Thompson were already prominent in this field. They and others were concerned about the basic underlying drives of the Soviet Union, which were manifest in Eastern Europe already -- that drive which later continued right through the coup d'etat in Czechoslovakia and resulted in the Czechs joining the east.
There was, thus, the feeling that we should be prudent. We recognized that from the long term security planning point of view if there ever was trouble, it would most likely come from the Soviet Union. This was the only conceivable threat at that point in history. So, at the first postwar meeting of the Joint Board, I was instructed to foreshadow this line of thinking on the part of the American Government.
MCKINZIE: From whence did those instructions come?
PARSONS: They came to me through an officer by the name of Jack [John D.] Hickerson (my immediate superior, who had been "Mr. Canada" for many years). I think he was then the deputy chief of the European Division. He had been my predecessor and the first Secretary of the U.S. section of the Joint Defense Board. In fact, he was very instrumental in developing the concept that led to the Board which was created by Mackenzie King and President Roosevelt in Ogdensburg, New York by a simple joint declaration. I mean, it was by an announcement of the President and the Prime Minister rather than by a treaty or an executive agreement or anything like that. It reflected common interests and was a practical solution to working together when we, the United States, were still then neutral, and they, the Canadians, were already belligerent.
This mechanism was very effective in those
particular circumstances. That's why Fiorello LaGuardia was appointed the U.S. Chairman of the Board. He was a civilian outside the Government, but an influential American, and one who was well-known and popular in our country. This format with a civilian on top of the military members on both sides was very appropriate to these unusual circumstances -- the neutral and the belligerent working together on the defense of their homeland, so to speak.
Going back to this postwar planning. At a meeting in Quebec -- I have a picture of that board meeting up there on the wall. I can't read the date from here, but perhaps you can.
MCKINZIE: January 16, 1946.
PARSONS: That was the meeting at which I made quite a long presentation that was prepared
in Washington. I believe it was fully cleared up the line in the State Department and across the river with the Pentagon people and so on. No doubt it was also cleared by President Truman. It suggested that the threat to the continental United States in future years, if there was one, would come across the North.
During the war we'd been primarily concerned with a threat to the flanks -- the Japanese via Alaska or the Germans via Greenland and the Northeast. In the future we would be more concerned with the threat coming directly from the North across the heartland of the continent As a result, the presentation, which I was instructed to make, suggested that one of the first requisites in such circumstances would be early warning.
Missiles had not been developed to the point where intercontinental missiles were
even a gleam in the eye as far as I know. But radar was undergoing rapid development since the British first invented it. At that meeting, as early as 1946, there was first voiced the concept of what eventually became the dew line -- the early warning line.
That was an interesting little bit of history because it showed that the Truman administration early on was concerned with long-range planning in this field. Actually nothing came of the proposal at that time though both sides were very interested in it.
But both sides saw that it would be a highly expensive venture, and one that would be rather difficult to sell to the peoples of the two countries, or their Parliament, or our Congress. The countries had competing needs for uses of resources elsewhere, and this was a remote contingency. Nevertheless,
it became sufficiently less remote, and the dew line eventually was built. The origin of the concept, so far as I know, dates from the end of '45 and was first voiced to the Canadians in early '46.
MCKINZIE: In discussing Canadian-U.S. relations with other people, I gained the impression that the Canadians were very anxious to undertake cooperative projects. In the case of NATO or the U.N., the Canadians weren't terribly touchy about a loss of sovereignty over cooperative ventures. Is that a false impression?
PARSONS: I don't think it's a false impression. I think it needs to be qualified though. As I said a moment ago, during the war the Canadians were most cooperative. Both of us were in a "can do" frame of mind and were quite willing to be untouchy about matters that were close to
national sovereignty and the protection of all national prerogatives.
I think this concept still had great impetus in the early postwar years. The Canadian government remained filled with people who had been active during the war years. Prime Minister [Louis Stephen] St. Laurent, who succeeded Mackenzie King, had been prominent in the Canadian government. The wartime generation of military and political leaders were still in office. It was still a Liberal government as opposed to a Conservative government, and we continued to have a very cooperative relationship.
On the other hand, the Canadians were most anxious to protect themselves from the United States becoming more aggressive and seeking to preserve the privileged position we'd had in Canada as a result of our need to work together
within Canada for the common purpose of helping the Allies in Europe. They were very eager right after the war to regain control of all the airfields and other installations that they had permitted us to have in Canada during the war.
I remember we negotiated a settlement under which the Canadians paid us some sixty million dollars for their own real estate that we had used during the war. This was to evidence, in no uncertain terms, that these things went back to Canada, and Canada had treated us fairly in paying us for the installations that we had created at our expense. Canada was sort of wiping the books clean.
When this was negotiated I happened to be still in the Department. The Canadian Ambassador came in one day and handed over a check for sixty million dollars. I took it over
(under the instructions of Jack Hickerson my immediate superior in the State Department) by hand to the Treasury Department and gave it to the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, Harry White, who later ran afoul of Senator McCarthy's committee. Maybe it was even before McCarthy's committee because there were many rumors that he was too far to the left -- might even be a Communist and so on.
At any rate, Assistant Secretary White took this check. We joked about it a little bit. It's an unusual procedure to send this by hand rather than sending a formal communication across. As I was leaving the room I said, "Well, aren't you going to give me a receipt?"
He said, "Yes, sure." And he wrote out a receipt on Treasury stationery. I picked it up and left the room. Just as I left the
room I looked at it, and it said "fifty million dollars."
I rushed back in and said, "This is the quickest ten million dollars I've ever lost." He looked at the check and looked at the receipt, and we had a laugh over that.
Then I went back to the State Department with my piece of paper which preserved my situation. But this was a commentary on the times; the government was still small enough and informal enough so that occasionally business was done in a much more personal way, although all the documents were correct and so on.
MCKINZIE: In 1946 and early 1947, it was becoming pretty clear to everyone that what was supposed to happen after the end of the war was not going to happen. Not only was there the deterioration of U.S.-Soviet relations, but there was also
the failure of the British to resume their position in the world and Europe had failed to revive. The kind of integrated economy that Will Clayton and a number of other people had wanted, simply didn't transpire. That was a matter of concern as much to Canada as it was to the United States. I wonder if you have perceptions of what was going on? Some people have told me that the Canadians were important in getting the Marshall plan off the ground.
PARSONS: I don't have any clear recollections on this point. My sphere was much more limited. I was involved in the bilateral aspects of Canadian-American relations, for the most part. I was in a limited way involved at that time in things of broader importance. If we were consulting closely with the Canadians on something that eventually became the Marshall plan or was in this general field,
it would more likely have been something that went on between the Secretary of State or his immediate subordinates and the Canadian ambassador, or our ambassador in Ottawa and the key people in the Canadian government. Things of European-wide or global importance would have been handled at those higher levels.
I was, in those days, very free in Canadian-American relations because not too many people were involved or interested when there was so much else of importance going on. But on the economic side we did indeed have negotiations with the Canadians leading up to something which was known as the "Hyde Park Agreement." That was handled to a considerable extent at my level.
I think I developed the documents for this on our side and helped negotiate with the Canadians. I don't remember in great detail. At any rate, the Hyde Park Agreement was an
economic counterpart to the Ogdensburg Declaration setting up the Joint Defense Board which pointed the way for our relationships on the political-military side, let's say.
But the Hyde Park Agreement was intended to be a long-range declaration of policy and principle as to how we would deal with each other in utilizing the resources of the North American Continent -- how we would try to be mindful of the particular vulnerabilities and so on in our economic relationship, which was so intimate and so complex, and yet was characterized by the fact that one nation was very large and the other nation was very small in terms of population. One nation was buying the raw materials of the other nation to a very great extent and investing in the resources of the other nation. To a great extent the United States was becoming intimately
involved with Canada's economy.
MCKINZIE: At that time, did you sense that there was any Canadian fear that somehow this was going to result in U.S. economic domination? In many other countries in which the United States had large investments there was not a very kindly attitude toward the United States. I'm thinking now of small Latin-American countries.
PARSONS: I don't think the sensitivity was similar between those areas.(2) I think the Canadian government officials were farsighted and able people. I was always impressed with the caliber of the Canadian civil servants -- absolutely first class. They were concerned to take the proper precautions in everything that came up to assure that Canada's position would be protected vis-a-vis this very much
larger country -- which if you're a Canadian, seems to overshadow every aspect of life.
They couldn't get away from American radio, television, or publications. There was an inundation of American influence of all kinds. I think they were very careful to try to protect Canada's interests in these things. I don't remember any awareness on our part that circumstances would change to the degree that they have changed where Canadian nationalism today borders on virulent. The self-consciousness and concern of Canadians over the protection of their country from these predatory Americans has gone very much further than I think any of us at that time were anticipating.
I think we were aware that the general rule in Canadian-American relations was that in wartime when we were allies, relationships
were very easy and very cooperative and mutually very satisfactory. Whereas, in peacetime we didn't have this overriding common interest, and there was much more apt to be bickering, hard bargaining, misunderstandings, unjustified apprehensions, and concern that the Americans were forgetting that Canada was there. We knew to some degree, that this would be the normal pattern of peacetime relations. But I think the evolution of Canada's individuality and concern for its total sovereignty has gone further than we were aware it might at that time.
It would be much more difficult to be the Canadian desk officer today than it was when I had the job. Of course, today the Canadian desk officer wouldn't have quite the degree of freedom or autonomy that I felt I had at that time.
MCKINZIE: How did you happen to go from that kind of position to the Holy See? Could you say something about the transition between the two and then narrate your experiences?
PARSONS: Yes. At that time Foreign Service officers were not supposed to be assigned to the Department in Washington for more than four years. I think this was not a matter of law but administrative regulation. I had already gone over the four years but, because of my long and deep involvement with Canadian affairs, including the three years before that in Ottawa, I was asked to stay on, on almost a day to day basis for a little bit longer. But I was overripe for assignment abroad in the early part of 1947.
In due course, I was assigned as Deputy Chief of Mission to our Legation in Bucharest,
My wife and I were getting adjusted to going behind the Iron Curtain and taking our family there. We hadn't got very far with the preparations when one day I was called to the office of the Director of the European Office. (I think we called it that at that stage. We were gradually inflating our bureaucratic titles and so forth.) James Clement Dunn was about to go to Italy as ambassador at that time, and he said that my assignment to Bucharest was cancelled, and I was being asked to take a very unusual assignment at the Vatican.
He explained that the then Assistant to the Personal Representative of the President to Pope Pius XII, Myron Taylor, was being transferred and that I was to take his place. He explained the routine functions of the job. But then he said that there was another unusual
aspect to it which had been cleared with Mr. Taylor. This was that we had an opportunity to be in touch with one of the Pope's more intimate collaborators -- Father Leiber, a Jesuit Priest who was a member of the great Jesuit college in Rome.
In a sense, Father Leiber was confidential secretary and advisor to the Pope. At least this was our understanding. In the future it would be part of my job to talk with this man and discuss anything of common interest or anything that Father Leiber was willing to tell us about what was going on in areas of the world that were of interest to the Church.
In other words, the opportunity to meet with Father Leiber was conceived as a source of information. Intelligence sounds too cloak and daggerish to fit what was our intention. We were just seeking another source of information and an understanding of what was going
on in the postwar world as seen through the eyes of a totally different type of organization. Because of this relationship with Father Leiber that they hoped I'd be able to develop, they selected an officer who had been involved in political matters rather than economic, consular, or administrative matters. In other words, an officer who was in the main stream of the conduct of our relations -- although at a very junior level.
MCKINZIE: Mr. Taylor was not a Catholic. Do you happen to be Catholic, sir?
PARSONS: Mr. Taylor was not a Catholic. In fact, I never knew quite what Mr. Taylor was. He was, I think, a Protestant. But I think that he was very much unconsciously influenced by the Holy Father, Pope Pius XII. I don't mean to say that the Pope endeavored to convert Mr. Taylor. To me that would never have been
anything that the Pope would try to do. But I think he became very much impressed with the Church and with the atmosphere of Rome and the Holy See and so on. He was never formally a Catholic to the best of my knowledge, but I think his Protestantism became less conspicuous as time went on.
I am also a Protestant. One of the first thoughts that crossed my mind when I was told that this was to be my assignment was why a Protestant? I didn't know anything about the Catholic Church. I discovered this was precisely why I'd been assigned.
It was later made explicit to me by Monsignor [Domenico] Tardini, one of the two Under Secretaries of State, that the Vatican much preferred to do business with a Protestant if he came from a Protestant country. This was true particularly in the case of the United
States. If the diplomat with whom the Vatican was in contact with was a Protestant, there would be far less likelihood of suspicions based on the fact that a Catholic official was dealing with the head of the Roman Catholic Church and, therefore, advantaging the Roman Catholic Church to the detriment of other churches in the United States. After all we do have the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.
Both the American Government and the Holy See from the standpoint of an enlightened awareness of where their best interests lay were very anxious not to get into complications of church and state. They didn't want to have Myron Taylor's office become the subject of bitter controversy in the United States or a divisive influence on the American people. It wasn't possible to keep Myron Taylor's office entirely out of this sort of situation. In fact,
Protestant groups agitated for the closing of the office beginning right after the war. They wondered why it was being kept on and if this wasn't indicative of a growing tendency on the part of the Truman administration to involve us with the Holy See, the head of the Catholic Church, rather than dealing with the organization at arms length, as one with common interests in the humanitarian field.
Trying to prevent the outbreak of the war was Franklin Roosevelt's original reason for sending Myron Taylor there. Whether this was a practical objective or even entirely the real objective, I don't know. I don't think it was a practical objective, but at any rate, it was certainly a laudable objective and praiseworthy thing to do.
I was selected as a Protestant, and this was in the best interest of the relationship, such as it was, between the Vatican and the
United States. This didn't make it any easier for me, because I knew nothing about the Church. I found when I went there I had to go, as did all the people who were in the diplomatic corps, to the great Vatican ceremonies -- the beatifications, canonizations, particular observances, and various landmarks of the cycle of the year as observed by the Church.
When at these occasions -- high masses and complicated ceremonial observances -- I never knew when to stand up or sit down, or kneel down, or what not. I soon discovered that the thing to do was to look for the Dutch Minister who was quite senior and who was a Protestant also. When he got up, I got up. That way I preserved proprieties as a Protestant and observed the amenities as a member of the diplomatic corps at the Holy See. He was a very protocol-minded man, so I felt sure that I was going to stay out of trouble. This is a rather superficial
point, but it was amusing.
That's how I came to be assigned to the Vatican in the spring of 1947. The job had this added dimension which my predecessor had not been involved with: I had the normal duties of the Assistant to Honorable Myron C. Taylor, and I kept in touch with Father Leiber, whom we had reason to believe would be willing to receive me from time to time.
We went to Rome in the spring of '47. We were allowed to go by ship, the old Saturnia, which had been a troopship during the war and was still a troopship practically, but passengers were taken. We went into the harbor of Genoa and saw all the terrible destruction there and the sunken ships all around. It was quite difficult getting in and out. We landed in Naples, and went up to Rome. My predecessor soon took me into the Vatican and to make my
initial call on Monsignor Domenico Tardini.
Monsignor Tardini was one of two Under Secretaries of State in the Vatican. The Secretariat of State was, in effect, the State Department or the Foreign Office at the Holy See. There were two Under Secretaries but no Secretary because Pope Pius XII had spent most of his life in the Vatican diplomatic service and had been papal nuncio in Germany before he was elevated. Instead of naming a Cardinal Secretary of State, he kept control of this aspect of the Church's affairs, collaborating with the two Under Secretaries, the members of the Roman Curia, and the other top members of the hierarchy. Tardini was one of these two men who handled the Church's foreign affairs.
I remember being announced. I was asked to explain my status. I told Monsignor Tardini
that the way the assignment was arranged (and we had understood that this was also understood in the Vatican) I was to be assigned as a First Secretary of the Embassy to Italy with no functions in that Embassy. I was to work only as Assistant to the Honorable Myron C. Taylor.
Monsignor Tardini questioned me very closely on this precise status. His very friendly initial manner became cooler and cooler. When he confirmed to his own satisfaction that I was to be a member of Ambassador Dunn's staff who was only doing work for Myron Taylor, he said that this was absolutely unsatisfactory. He said that I would not be received again at the Vatican unless my assignment became exactly the same as that of my predecessor who had no relationship to the Embassy and status only as Assistant to the Honorable Myron C. Taylor in his particular
office, which was an informal accreditation at least to the Holy See.
I soon found that the Vatican was extremely jealous of guarding the various indications of its temporal sovereignty as a civil state. In other words, the receiving and sending of diplomats, particularly the receiving of diplomats accredited to the Holy See, was one of the marks of temporal sovereignty.
Since the extinction of the Papal States around 1867, temporal sovereignty extended only to this little enclave in the center of Rome, the State of Vatican City, and a few properties outside. The receiving of diplomats was one indication of this and membership in the International Postal Union was another. At any rate, this was a principle that was never to be violated. They would receive no one locally on a dual accreditation basis. In
other words any diplomat accredited to Italy could not also be accredited to the Vatican. They would receive on a dual accreditation basis someone from a country which didn't have many representatives abroad if he were accredited at some European country that was quite distant from Italy. Protestant countries had ministers, and the Catholic countries had ambassadors. The Asian countries which were neither Protestant nor Catholic usually had ministers.
There I was, with no chance of doing any work. The State Department quickly changed this status to that of Assistant to Myron C. Taylor with no relation to the Embassy in Italy and with the rank of First Secretary at the Vatican. I was then received and all was forgotten and forgiven.
I really found it very satisfying to have
contact with Monsignor Tardini, Monsignor [Giovanni] Montini, and the other monsignori in the Vatican Secretariat of State. As time went on I found that there were many other senior Vatican officials in other parts of the Church government who also contributed to what one might call the foreign affairs segment of the life of the Church and were very knowledgeable about other areas.
For instance, the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (the ministries at the Vatican, the cabinet level jobs, were known as "Congregations'.) was the organization which dealt with the countries which were still in missionary status from the standpoint of the Church, and, therefore, the foreign affairs segment for these countries was largely in its hands. You could almost say this was a second foreign ministry for those areas of
the world -- Asia, Africa, and so on.
Then, for the Near East Churches (the various sects of the Eastern Orthodox Church that recognized the primacy of the Pope of Rome), there was another Congregation for the Oriental Rites I think it was called. Cardinal [Eugene] Tisserant, the eminent French Cardinal, who was also a great expert on communism, was, I think, the head of the Oriental Rites. I may be wrong on that, but the point is that this was a separate organization which had another segment of the Church's foreign affairs.
The longer that I stayed in Rome, the more I found that the government of the Church was a very complex evolution from the time St. Peter came to the "rock of Rome." It had evolved and never been totally reorganized. (We are always reorganizing the State Department and the Foreign Service.) I found people
all over Rome who were knowledgeable and interesting to me and to our government.
It was a source of great regret that my time there didn't last longer than 16 or 17 months because I was learning a great deal about the knowledge and the wisdom of the Church in relation to the foreign affairs field. (It wasn't concentrated; it was dispersed actually.) The main foreign ministry was the Secretariat of State, and Monsignor Montini was the one who regularly received the foreign diplomats. The custom there was that ambassadors and ministers could come on stated days of the week and wait in Monsignor Montini's antechamber and be received and discuss their business with him or just have a general "tour d'horizon" and talk about whatever they wished or anything that Monsignor Montini wished to divulge or discuss.
Monsignor Montini was always very kind to me. He made it clear that an American representative was most welcome and much valued by the Church as a contact. He told me that I could come in either on the day reserved for ministers or the days reserved for ambassadors because the status of Mr. Taylor's office was not that of a regular Embassy. He was not an ambassador confirmed by the Senate. It was not a formal relationship, but one which the Vatican accepted as satisfactory. They put it on the diplomatic list as an intermediate between the embassies and the legations and so I could go in at anytime.
I've talked about Montini because even in that day he was marked as a person who might someday become the Pope. He was known to be very close to Pius XII and was thought perhaps to be his choice ultimately to become
the Pope when the time came. The Italian word for it was "papabile" or likely to become Pope. Today he is Paul VI.
MCKINZIE: There was considerable concern by the United States over what was going to happen in Italian and French elections. Did you ever discuss the fate of Italy and France and how disruptions could be avoided if there were Communist victories in the elections?
PARSONS: In the case of France, virtually not at all. In the case of Italy, much more. Everyone was aware that a very difficult situation would be created if the head of the Church of Rome found himself sitting on his tiny little island in the center of the city surrounded by a Red Sea of Communist Italy.
It sort of boggled the mind to conceive how the Church could conduct its affairs
satisfactorily if the Pope were not only a prisoner in the Vatican (as he was once referred to in the early days, after the Papal States were extinguished) but a prisoner of the Communist world. What influence would this have on the conduct of the Church's affairs? What freedom could the Church have? What would be the effect on the Catholic faith all around the world? This was a potentially very serious issue as conceived of at the time.
After I had developed what I like to think was a relationship of a certain confidence, I had some feeling that I was considered reliable and discreet. Not only Monsignor Tardini and Montini, but others at the Vatican were quite willing to talk about their estimate of how the Italian elections of April 1948 might come out, and the Vatican's concern. They didn't speak to me ever as a church. (3) They spoke to me as the representatives of the Vatican, at the Holy
See, with its temporal status.
I should make plain at some point in this tape that the Vatican was always correct as to the issues of church and state. They never raised with me any question of the status of the Church in the United States or any issue in which the Church's interests within the United States were involved. They kept completely away from anything of that kind at all. So there never was what you could call a relationship between Church and State, as it affected the United States.
They were meticulously correct about this, and they knew how embarrassing it would be to me and how damaging it would be to the viability of this office, to Mr. Taylor, and the relationship, if they took up religious matters, or a matter relating to the status of the Church in the United States, or the treatment
it was receiving in different jurisdictions in our country. So that's something I always want to make very clear anytime I talk about the Vatican.
MCKINZIE: We were concerned about the elections in April 1948. What kind of discussions did you have preceding the elections?
PARSONS: They were very useful. Partly through me and through many other sources, they became aware that the United States was deeply interested in the outcome of the Italian elections. They felt that the Government of Italy, and everyone who was interested in the future of Italy should do everything that they possibly could to assure that the Communists did not win this election, short, of course, of intervening improperly in domestic Italian affairs.
It wasn't very long before I came in contact, through the Irish ambassador who was an outstanding senior Irish diplomat, with a man by the name of Luigi Gedda, who was a prominent member of Catholic Action and who was reputed as the new head of the organization called the Comitato Civico. The Civic Committee organized local Comitati Civici throughout the country. They were arms of Catholic Action doing what they could to mobilize the Catholic vote for de Gasperi's party and the other non-Communist parties.
In a sense, the weight and influence of the Church was expressed through these organizations, as a perfectly frank and open Catholic Action arm. In many ways, contacts with Gedda and other people in the Comitato Civico were equivalent to contacts with people in the Vatican and prominent Italian laymen who were
associated with the Vatican nobility, the "black nobility"(4) so to speak. There was assured a high degree of parallelism in policy and action relating to the outcome of the elections of April 1948. This became a tremendous national effort in Italy, both for and against the Communists and it was a postwar landmark.
These elections determined the shape of Italian affairs for the subsequent 25 years. For a long time the handling of Italian national affairs by others than Communists was assured as a result of these elections.
This was one of the most time consuming and one of the most interesting and active aspects of my life at the Vatican. I cooperated in various ways. I was in liaison with Mr. Dunn in our Embassy and members of his staff. The American effort was very extensive, extensive enough so that the Communists
accused us of intervention, (5) both overt and clandestine, in Italy's affairs.
I think they thought we were very influential in the outcome. I was involved in this. I don't know to what degree I would have been disavowed had anything really improper occurred or been made the subject of public debate. At any rate, this was one of the things in which I was engaged.
MCKINZIE: The election of 1948 was preceded some months earlier by Secretary George C. Marshall's announcement of a European recovery program which had humanitarian as well as political and economic objectives. I wonder if you had occasion to discuss the implications of the Marshall plan with those interested in foreign affairs in the Vatican?
The State Department took the position that the deterioration of political conditions
was the result of poverty and misery and that communism could be stopped by raising living standards. I wondered if you had any discussions about that general idea with people in the Vatican?
PARSONS: I think in very broad terms such things were touched on. But it was really not necessary to sell anyone at the Vatican on the importance of the humanitarian or political endeavor of the Marshall plan.
The Vatican saw this immediately as an initiative of enormous importance for the future of Europe. They hoped for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of the national life of the European countries and an assurance of their future stability and prosperity -- not only the material well-being of the people but also their spiritual well-being. This was all very obvious to the Vatican from the outset. So
there never really was any need for me to discuss it particularly in those terms or to persuade them that this was a proposal which the Vatican in its own interests should take a favorable view of or lend its influence for.
As a matter of fact, at the time that I moved to Rome from Washington, President Truman had just made the Greek-Turkish decision. Our Government for the first time was serving notice that the Soviet Union was going too far in its endeavor to project the power of the communistic world -- taking over more and more areas under its total domination.
This decision was not lost on the Vatican. They saw the significance of this right away. They saw that the United States was serving notice that it was going to play a role in the world, hoping to assure the continuation of western civilization and democracy in terms
that were familiar and were in accordance with the evolution of European institutions and Western Christian institutions and so on.
I think this disposed the Holy See to look on the United States' initiatives at that time with particular interest and with great favor. I don't think it's too far to go in saying that most probably all the top people in the Vatican saw the United States as the only possible salvation of the values which they fundamentally stood for. It is very true that the Vatican's objectives were primarily spiritual and moral (in terms of social welfare, also); their interests were not temporal or material. I'm trying to make the distinction between the government of a country such as the United States or Germany and the government of a Church whose interests were primarily in the spiritual domain. The divergence is
very evident, the interests of one as opposed to the interests of the other.
Nevertheless, there was a very real convergence of interests in relation to this particular matter. I don't know how many hundreds of millions of Catholics there are in Western Europe, but the Vatican saw the Marshall plan as directly consonant with its own interests and the welfare of all those Catholics and the restoration of normal conditions of life and freedom to develop their life and their institutions and so on in a normal manner rather than in the traumatic manner that would have followed the conquest of Western Europe or the absorption of Western Europe by the Communists. So when the Marshall plan came along it was greeted with profound relief, satisfaction, and hope. It is a fact that, during the long period when the
Marshall plan was evolving and was being debated in the American Congress, large groups of Congressmen and Senators went overseas to see for themselves what the conditions were in Europe.
MCKINZIE: Christian Herter I think took a group of people over.
PARSONS: Yes, he did. One of the young Congressmen in that party was Richard Nixon. (It was the first time I ever met President Nixon.) It was a very distinguished group; and I took him to see the Pope.
As I was about to say, all these congressional groups came over. No less than 17 different groups of Congressmen and Senators came to Rome and saw the Pope. I arranged the audiences for all of these groups. This was one of the regular functions of Mr. Taylor's
office. No matter what his schedule was, or how tired he was (the Pope worked fantastic hours -- his life was made up of work), he always arranged his schedule so that it would fit the schedule of the Congressmen and the Senators. I don't think the Congressmen and the Senators were always this considerate of the Pope's time.
At any rate, the Pope never once hesitated to so arrange it that he could see the members of these different groups. He usually set a time that was entirely in accordance with their schedule. I took seventeen different groups of Congressmen and Senators to see the Pope -- and to each of these groups he made a little allocution (6) in English, which was not one of his easiest languages. He did speak English quite well but with a heavy Italian accent. He always prepared something special
and different to say to each one of these groups referring to the future of all the people of Europe who had suffered so much during the war and were in such great need now and who needed an opportunity to develop their lives.
However he phrased it, it was always significant in terms of the Pope's concern for the spiritual and social welfare of the people of Europe. By implication these were strong affirmations of hope and encouragement to the Congressmen to vote in favor of the Marshall plan. It was done with great finesse and great subtlety. But there's no question that the Pope was lobbying for the Marshall plan.
MCKINZIE: President Roosevelt appointed Mr. Taylor before World War II began so that the U.S. and the Holy See might prevent war. They had mutual peace objectives, and during the war they had mutual interests in helping the
victims of war. In the period that you were there, were there any efforts to work directly with the Holy See or to encourage the Holy See to undertake some initiative in connection with the United States on any political matter such as preventing Italy from going to war?
PARSONS: I don't recall anything specific in this regard, but there was a very evident parallelism of interests. It's one which really was entirely consistent with the original peace-preserving purposes of the Taylor office in the very beginning. I don't recall any collaborative effort or anything which would have linked us directly in any political sense.
I had many conversations in which persons at the Holy See told me of conditions in the Iron Curtain countries and what they feared for their future. It was evidently felt by the people who spoke to me that it was worthwhile for the
American Government to know what the Vatican people had observed, in other countries, particularly in the Communist countries. In my contacts with Father Leiber he was often in a position to divulge what people had told him who had come out from behind the Iron Curtain -- priests and others who were skilled observers of conditions.
MCKINZIE: Were you able to develop that relationship with Father Leiber when you did arrive?
PARSONS: Yes. He was apparently glad to receive me. He did receive me on quite a number of occasions. I don't recall now how often I saw him, but I think it was at least once a month for the entire time that I was there.
I once saw him more than I really wanted to see him. When he was taking me down in a little tiny coffin-like elevator in the Gregorian University, the power went off. We
were stuck. It was on a weekend when there was practically nobody in the building, and there were enormous, thick stone walls. Father Leiber was not in very good health. He had the kind of cough that I thought was consumptive. I don't know whether he had TB or not, but he and I were cooped up in this little upright coffin for several hours, in total darkness. Because of the condition of his chest and voice, he couldn't shout very loud, but I did. Eventually somebody hauled us out by hand with a rope.
I saw him quite often. He was willing to tell me information that he thought would be of interest to our Government. The fact that there was an opportunity to see him was not known to people generally in our Government or elsewhere. How really important the information was, I couldn't judge. I was not in a position to evaluate it. Most of it was
of a rather general nature. I came to feel in the end, that while this was a very valuable contact, the normal contacts that I was able to develop with other personages in the Vatican were probably at least as valuable, if not more valuable.
In other words, I thought the normal diplomatic contacts with different people in the Holy See were more valuable to our Government than this special relationship with one individual, helpful as he was. I didn't think there needed to be any particular fuss about an unusual relationship.
MCKINZIE: What about relationships with Mr. Dunn during this period? How often could you consult with him and was he concerned about what you were doing? Did you get instructions from him?
PARSONS: No, I never got instructions from Mr.
Dunn. He was very careful not to intrude in any way on Ambassador Taylor's office, and the lines were kept very clear indeed. If I had not known Mr. Dunn well and if I had not worked for him before as an officer of trust in the European Bureau, I'm not even sure that he would have been willing to see me very often or talk frankly with me. But since I did have a good relationship with Ambassador Dunn, I could go see him, really, whenever I wanted to on a moment's notice. Being a relatively junior officer, I often asked his advice, or his reactions. Sometimes he was willing to give me advice, provided that I didn't acknowledge that the advice came from him and didn't involve him in any way.
I had a very useful working relationship with Mr. Dunn, and an unusual one for an
officer who was only a middle-grade type. I was not yet 40 when I was there. This was very helpful. When one of the principal interests happened to be the Italian elections and the future of Italy, there was a very natural reason to work very closely with Mr. Dunn's Embassy and with Mr. Dunn himself.
As I say, he was very concerned not to become involved with Mr. Taylor or to cause any difficulties there, and he never did. I don't think I ever embarrassed either man in this respect. Mr. Taylor was quite jealous of his prerogatives and quite jealous of maintaining the status of this informal, personal office which he considered to be an emanation of the White House entirely, with nothing to do with the State Department. He kept it inviolate and separate from everything else, and avoided any embarrassment for the
President or for his office. So, that was an interesting aspect.
Dealing with the Vatican, I also very speedily became impressed with how the senior people there thought in terms of centuries, or long, long periods of time. They often say this about the Chinese. But certainly, the wisdom of the Church was applied over the long term. The United States, on the other hand like other governments of countries, had to be concerned with the issues and events of the day and dealt with things on a day-to-day basis. Then with the heat and the press of issues, it was often very difficult to stand back and take the longer view.
The Policy Planning Staff (it was created during the Truman administration; George Kennan was one of the first heads) was designed to do some of just this. I must say most serious
Foreign Service officers enjoyed this initiative. But when I was at the Vatican, I saw this carried to quite an extreme extent. The Church thought of its interests, through the ages, backwards 2,000 years and forwards for thousands of years to come; the Church eternal so to speak. In a sense I thought it was a very salutary influence to have an input from the Vatican people who thought in much longer terms and who were separate from the day-to-day temporal issues of the moment and whose objectives were not in terms of practical, materialistic politics, but were related to the life of the Church of Rome. It was a vehicle for thinking in longer terms about what was happening to the affairs of Europe and the world and the fate of mankind and so on. So, I thought this was an interesting aspect.
MCKINZIE: Were they optimistic in 1947 and '48,
PARSONS: I don't remember whether they were optimistic or pessimistic. (7) They certainly saw enormous difficulties in the situation at that time. Europeans were not very optimistic in the days before the Marshall plan, even in the early days of the Marshall plan, and of NATO. People were fearful and they were weak. They needed a spiritual uplift from whatever source it might come. The Marshall plan was a source of hope and faith for the future. The Vatican saw it in this context too.
MCKINZIE: At some point in your discussion, I wonder if you could say something about how you met Mr. Taylor and what kind of relationships you had with him during the year and a half that you were there?
PARSONS: I'm willing to talk about this, but in a
way it's a painful subject for me because I was fired by Mr. Taylor at the end of my assignment and replaced by the man he had fired when I was assigned. Mr. Taylor and I seemed at times to communicate at cross-purposes.
If I spoke really frankly, I might express myself too strongly about my view of some of Mr. Taylor's attitudes. He was a man of at least 75, I would think, at that time. This had been his baby for a long while. As he went towards a condition bordering on senility, it was quite natural for him to conceive of this baby in the terms that had originally been set up. He was imbued with the original instructions which he had from President Roosevelt that this was to be limited to a personal contact between himself and the Pope for the very specific and limited objectives
of peace-preservation and so on.
He became awfully impressed with the importance of this contact, although it may not have had as much substance as he thought it did. This can be judged by reading the papers, some of which he put into a book afterwards. They were couched in very noble terms, but for a pragmatic Foreign Service officer it didn't seem to me that there was all that much content.
By the time of postwar Europe the Office should have been used in the most practical way, consistent with avoiding involvement in church and state matters. I don't think Mr. Taylor conceived of it in those terms. I was informed very specifically that he had approved of my seeing Father Leiber. At a later date, he denied that he had ever approved this, or had understood that this was being done. He conceived of the relationship as always being
one to the White House, not to the State Department. He made periodic objection to my reporting to the Secretary of State.
After all I was a State Department Foreign Service Officer (8) of the United States. The State Department was too narrow a context in that sense, but I received my instructions from the Secretary of State, and his agents, usually the Italian desk officer. Mr. Taylor's communications to the White House found their way to the Italian desk officer, but Mr. Taylor never seemed to appreciate the practicalities of this relationship and was always fearful , that I would somehow involve his office in an embarrassing situation.
There were times when I felt that Mr. Taylor wanted an involvement of his office to be only by himself. The fact that he wasn't there at all didn't seem to make him realize
that if his office was there, an officer was sitting there and would inevitably have day-to-day contacts, if only to arrange audiences and so on. The situation made it very difficult not to have an ongoing relationship.
At any rate, Mr. Taylor was quite fearful of my activities. So I was led to believe.
MCKINZIE: How often did he come while you were there?
PARSONS: He came soon after I arrived, and he became very ill. He wouldn't allow me to send for his doctor. Fortunately, he had his long term secretary, Miss Bushwaller, with him. In the end, I took the responsibility of calling the Leahy Clinic by transatlantic telephone. As it happened the doctor who had dealt with Mr. Taylor's serious illnesses in the past, happened to be in Europe and came right down to Rome.
I didn't want Mr. Taylor's death on my
hands, (9) but this was a very difficult decision to make because he was adamant that he wasn't going to have any doctor. He was just going to lie there. I sent for the doctor rather than be put in the position of not having done anything while my boss was in real trouble.
He was very active socially, which was in some contrast to his injunction of extreme discretion never to be seen, never to do this, and so on. He had an enormous dinner -- a great many Cardinals and so on. He had the head of the Grand Order of the Knights of Malta, and we didn't recognize them as a government. His protocol arrangements were entirely contrary to what the Vatican thought was proper, but they let this pass.
MCKTNZTE: Was this done by his staff in Rome?
PARSONS: His secretary, myself, and one of the
Monsignors in the Secretariat of State helped us. They humored the old man in effect.
One never toasts the health of a Pope. This isn't done in the Vatican diplomatic corps Mr. Taylor was so informed, but he did it anyway. All kinds of things like that. He held himself on his own particular plane at all times.
MCKINZIE: Did any of your superiors in the State Department catch Mr. Taylor on his infrequent trips?
PARSONS: No. He just got a plane and came. Both the times he came he didn't send word to me that he was coming. I heard about it by good fortune each time.
One time Monsignor Montini was a little bit cross with me. He wondered if it was true that there would soon be a visit from
Mr. Taylor (this was the second of his two trips). I was rather noncommittal. Fortunately, through someone else, I was able to learn of this impending arrival. I was able to inform Monsignor Montini before the plane touched down.
This was the way he operated. He didn't go to the State Department in advance. He might call on President Truman. I don't know how often he saw the President. The President wasn't in a position to tell him what to do all the time. These visits were more in the nature of courtesy calls. He was certainly not instructed in detail -- at least not by the State Department.
MCKINZIE: During those three trips, did he do anything that was important?
PARSONS: I don't recall anything. I don't mean to sound disparaging. It was simply that his
concept of what there was to be done was quite different. He came for consultation at a very high level with the Pope. They discussed the future of Europe and the world. How much content these discussions had, I don't know.
MCKINZIE: You were not privy to that?
PARSONS: I was not privy to that. If they were committed to paper, I don't recall ever having seen any such paper. I'm not sure that they were committed to paper. There were letters between the Pope and Mr. Taylor. These have been collected and published.
The nature of that correspondence I think is a good indication of the nature of the kinds of discussions that Mr. Taylor had. I felt that some of these discussions from Mr. Taylor's point of view, took on quite a personal note. I said sometime ago that I thought he was
personally influenced by the atmosphere of the Holy See. But, I repeat again, that I am certain that the Pope would never have been the one to take an initiative in trying to influence Mr. Taylor's religious life. I think he would have ministered to him in any way that he could in this sense. The Pope, after all, was first and foremost a pastor and would minister to anyone in need. He would never have sought to convert Mr. Taylor to Catholicism.
MCKINZIE: Mr. Taylor must have known that you received instructions from the Department of State. Yet, if he perceived you to be his assistant, he must have felt at liberty to give you instructions himself. His instructions might or might not have been consistent with those you received from the Department. Could you comment on that delicate situation?
PARSONS: Your analysis is quite right. He did know that I received instructions from the State Department. He never was very happy about this. He wasn't happy my communicating the results to the State Department. He said my relationship was through him to the White House. Nevertheless, my business was done in the normal channel to the State Department.
I also was in contact with Mr. Taylor by letter. He would occasionally write me letters. I don't really remember that they had much content. I don't recall that he ever gave me written instructions, although the tenor of all his admonitions was to be extremely discreet and not show myself.
I was never to have my picture taken at the Vatican. I remember dodging behind pillars when I had Averell Harriman with me and Cabot Lodge with me. I didn't want to get myself
involved in a way which would incur Mr. Taylor's displeasure.
I tried to be loyal to what he wished. I tried to conform to what he wanted as long as it didn't conflict with the instructions that I had from my Washington superiors. Mr. Taylor was living in Long Island at the time, but I tried to make a point of writing to him periodically. Usually the letters were in general terms because he wasn't in a Government office where he could receive communications by pouch which might contain classified material. So I wrote him general letters. If he wanted to know more, he knew he could always go down to Washington, call at the White House, and summon the Italian desk officer with whom he was in contact.
It was a very awkward and delicate relationship. One which troubled me a great
deal at times. In the end, Mr. Taylor fired me very suddenly. He didn't admit that he'd fired me. But when I got back to the State Department, Jack Peurifoy, the Assistant Secretary for Administration said, "What's this, what have you been doing?" He showed me a communication from the White House that said, "Taylor wants Parsons removed at once." This is what happened, but I received a promotion the next year.
MCKINZIE: Did you ever understand why?
PARSONS: Only in the context of Mr. Taylor having become a very old man and having forgotten or refusing to admit that he'd agreed to a relationship to Father Leiber. Perhaps he became concerned, for whatever personal or official reasons, that I was becoming too active and meeting too many people and getting
too much done. He might have felt that I was a source of danger. He might have felt that he would like to be doing these things himself, but he couldn't.(10)
MCKINZIE: How much of your energy and time was consumed by rationalizing or discussing this most unusual relationship that the United States had with the Holy See? Almost every nation had a minister or ambassador. The United States had neither. I understand that this created some difficulties for the Holy See. Quite often they simply acted like there were normal diplomatic relations, and there weren't.
MCKINZIE: To what extent was this a matter of ongoing discussion?
PARSONS: Not at all between Mr. Taylor and myself.
He was concerned that I not overstep the bounds as he conceived them for his office. I don't recall any particular discussion on that point.
MCKINZIE: With the people in the Vatican?
PARSONS: With the people in the Vatican. At this distance, I don't know how specific they ever became. They certainly were aware of the difficulties from the domestic-political point of view of having an American office there. I doubt that they ever went so far as to say to me that they hoped that someday we could have a normal relationship as so many other countries had with the Vatican. Certainly it was my firm impression that they so hoped. But they were prepared to have a relationship on whatever terms it was practical for the United States to have it.
They were looking to the essence, to the practical results, and the interest in the relationship from the standpoint of their own interests. They weren't concerned with the externals of it, as long as it didn't breach this principle of not being involved with the Embassy to Italy or the Diplomatic Corps to Italy.
They would accept a relationship on almost any terms. They have been willing to receive Cabot Lodge as the President's representative. He just came from time to time to Rome. I think they would like to see this evolve further in the future. I would assume this based on the impressions I received long ago.
They didn't agitate with me or with anyone else for a more formal relationship or a changed relationship.(11) They gave every sign of really valuing the relationship with the United States through Mr. Taylor's office.
In other words, through me and the people with whom they were in day-to-day contact.
Living in Rome and being in daily touch with the Vatican, I thought about the relationship and whether it was in the interest of the United States to have formal diplomatic relations with the Vatican or not. I've held the view that it would be in our interest to have diplomatic relations with the Vatican, but not at the expense of a truly divisive major political issue in the United States.
At the time, I didn't think it was practical to have any different form of relationship than what we did have. I was more concerned with the maintenance of that kind of relationship. In that respect I was just as concerned as Mr. Taylor was not to have his office get out of hand or become subject to public controversy. It's just that
I also had my responsibilities to my principals. I didn't think the Government sent an active officer of the Foreign Service to Rome to sit and do nothing but arrange occasional audiences with the Pope.
It seemed to me that it was valuable for the United States to have access to people in the Vatican -- a relationship of confidence with them, so that one could learn their point of view on the issues of the day, their estimate of the long-range future, their views and policies. We could learn, at least in the non-religious area, of their activity, what the attitudes, ideas, and policies were of the people at the very top -- the Pope himself.
I thought that it was far better that we learned how the Pope saw his stewardship of 500 million Catholics(12) from an American representative hearing it directly and
communicating it directly to his own Government, rather than hearing it from information filtered through Cardinal Spellman, the American hierarchy, visiting Cardinals, or members of the Italian hierarchy. I thought to hear directly what the Church wished to say was far better for the United States than to hear it through an intermediary who was himself a member of the Church or working in the interests of the Church. For that reason I thought the relationship was of value.
I tend to play down to a certain extent the value of the Vatican as an intelligence listening post. I think it is valuable. Any post is valuable if you find where the sources of information and intelligence are and tap them and evaluate them.
Certainly there was an enormous amount of information and intelligence of interest and value to the United States that was
available in Rome or in the Church government.(13) But I don't think this was as important to us as the communication of ideas, policies, and estimates of people in the Church, or the availability of a representative who could convey the views of the United States directly to the Secretariat of State or the Pope himself. This was far better than having such things go through Cardinal Spellman or through other Church sources.
I feel that the ability to speak directly to the Vatican was of more interest from our point of view than the gathering of intelligence information from the Vatican. The major reason was to have a contact with this influential body which affected the national life of many different countries. The Church is very influential.
MCKINZIE: Did the State Department believe that
it would have been a domestic-political issue to have tried to regularize relations? You said you favored it, but not at the expense of creating a domestic-political problem. Did you think it would have been a problem?
PARSONS: Oh, I think so. I think President Truman's nomination of Mark Clark to be Ambassador at the Vatican or whatever proved this point. I mean there was an immediate outcry and the nomination was dropped. I personally can't believe that the President made the nomination in ignorance of the fact it would cause quite a conflict. The President was too smart and too aware of political issues in the United States not to know this. It's always puzzled me a little bit as to why he did that, but by then I'd long since left the Vatican. I was operating out of India someplace. So this didn't concern me too much.
There's no question but what it would have been highly controversial. In fact, Protestant groups occasionally asked me what I was doing there. They said our Government shouldn't be in touch with the Catholic Church. I had to refer them to my superiors in Washington or to Mr. Taylor or anybody they wanted to see. I was there to do certain things such as to get them an audience.
It was a very delicate relationship, but it was a very worthwhile relationship and a fascinating experience for me. The Vatican never overstepped the bounds by taking up any issue which affected the status of the Church in the United States or issues which involved American jurisdiction.
Since I've left the Vatican, the record of Pope Pius XII as regards his attitude toward Hitler has come into question. There have been
very provocative books written, and his reputation has in some quarters been somewhat clouded, I think. I don't pretend to have any profound knowledge of where the Pope stood on all of these issues. But of all the VIPs that I've met in nearly 40 years in the Service, there have been very few who've impressed me as much as Pius XII did in terms of integrity and single mindedness of purpose. He was totally devoted to the leadership of the Church of Rome and the welfare of Catholics everywhere. This of course, was closely linked with humanitarian issues and social welfare issues.
I personally cannot believe these allegations that have been made against the Pope. It's true, of course, that he was in Germany for a long time as the papal nuncio and was in other positions of high importance. I don't, however, think that he was the type of man
who could become pro-German or pro-anything in a narrow sense, or compromise the Christian principles to which he'd devoted his life.
I just don't agree with the people who have made charges against him. I admired him very much. I think he was a great force for good. I think he had some influence on the Congressmen who came to him at the time of the Marshall plan consideration, and I think this was symptomatic of the kind of influence he exerted in many different affairs.
In other words, he was quite a wonderful man in my book and above politics in the ordinary sense. My feelings in this regard are very strong. This is one thing on which Myron Taylor and I agreed.
MCKINZIE: When you came back to Washington after this assignment, did you ask to go to New Delhi?
PARSONS: No, I didn't ask to go to New Delhi. I was appalled at the thought of leaving Rome, which we loved and were just getting to know well. I'd worked very hard on my Italian, become reasonably fluent, and was getting better everyday. It was just a terrible disappointment to have to give up after less than a year and a half of what was becoming a very productive, fascinating, intellectual, and practical job, to go to New Delhi, the center of the Hindu world.
I'd never had any aspirations to have any closer relationships with the Indians than I'd had before -- which was nil. But it happened that the President had just appointed a new ambassador to New Delhi, Loy Henderson. Mr. Henderson noted that I was moved out of Vatican City and immediately asked for me to go as the head of his political section in the Embassy
in New Delhi.
As a matter of fact, the very telegram which told me that I was being removed from the Vatican said that I should report to New Delhi as soon as possible.(14) So the assignment was made almost instantly. As soon as my name became available, I was picked up by a man whom I think was one of our outstanding career ambassadors of the last generation.
Actually, I had quite an amusing experience because the Chargé d' affaires (pending the arrival of Ambassador Henderson) was a man whom I had known in Japan years before, as a very crusty but able officer, by the name of [Howard] Donovan. He got a copy of the telegram assigning me to New Delhi. He immediately sent word that what we needed was two secretaries, not one political officer. I've joked with Donovan about that many times since then. It was
true, as he saw it.
At any rate, I went out with Loy Henderson. I had spent the rest of that summer and fall in the State Department and at the General Assembly of the United Nations in Paris on our delegation, pending the time that Ambassador Henderson could proceed to India. We went out together through the Suez Canal on the same ship. It was a day when people could still travel by ship -- although even then people were beginning to be transferred more by air than by ship. I spent close to two years in New Delhi on Ambassador Henderson's staff. I don't recall anything of any real interest from the standpoint of making this tape. At least I haven't given any particular thought to it.
I do remember that our Embassy, along with every other Embassy in the world, was asked what content we might see for the President's
Point IV announcement. We were getting instructions as to how to proceed in relation to Point IV in implementing the policies that it foreshadowed, about the time that I went back to Washington. But I was a political officer not an economic officer, and Point IV was more on that side.
The eventual aid mission that followed was separate from the main body of the Embassy. But I remember that the impact of the Point IV declaration in New Delhi was considerable. The Indians were attracted to it. It attracted their attention immediately. They wondered what it portended and what use it might have from their point of view. We wondered what was intended and what might come out of it, and saw possibilities. On the other hand we saw difficulties. Part of our job in the Foreign Service was to foresee difficulties and prevent the excesses of those
who don't see the difficulties. That's about all that I remember on Point IV.
I remember another time when we were asked what was our opinion on whether we should recognize Red China or not. Communist China had just consolidated its conquest of the mainland at that time, and all major Embassies were asked if they had an opinion to express on this matter. We debated this in our Embassy for some time and went on record as other Embassies did as to what we felt. My memory is too hazy to describe what the opinion of the Embassy in New Delhi was, but Ambassador Henderson, a vigorous and active political thinker and officer, was a very vigorous and active anti-Communist. I will leave it at that.
MCKINZIE: A number of people with whom I've talked and Charles Bohlen shortly before he died, in a public speech, said that Loy Henderson was,
I think he used the term "the teacher of us all" or something like that. That he was most influential in helping shape the thinking of a whole host of Foreign Service officers.
PARSONS: I think this is true. I think this is fair and most of us look up to Loy Henderson as a great man.
MCKINZIE: You mentioned that when you came back from the assignment, you became the Deputy Director of the Office of European Regional Affairs in which capacity you had some work with NATO.
PARSONS: Yes, that's true. Those were very active, formative years in the NATO organization and in the whole fabric of postwar European regional organizations, OECD and many others. Our office was concerned with all these, but I seemed to be much more on the NATO side than
One specific recollection, which I would like to mention, occurred toward the end of my time -- at the end of the Truman administration actually. I was by then the acting director of this office and the meeting of the NATO council was scheduled for late December, as usual just before Christmas. Naturally it was to be the last meeting for Dean Acheson and the other Truman Cabinet ministers who had been in "at the creation." I'd worked quite closely with Dean Acheson. I was one of those who went to this particular NATO council meeting. It will remain forever in my memory, although I've been to quite a number of other NATO council meetings through the years (most recently in connection with SALT consultations when I was deputy chairman of the SALT delegation).
This meeting was memorable for the fact that Dean Acheson spoke so eloquently and received such extraordinary tributes as one of the fathers of NATO and as one of the principal architects of the postwar reconstruction of the political and economic fabric of Europe and the director of the Western world into channels where it had some future, some hope. Robert Schumann I remember, really everybody, became quite emotional after he spoke at this council meeting in tribute to Dean. De Gasperi, the Italian also spoke there, and any number of others whose names were household words in those days. I don't think any man in an international gathering ever received a more moving tribute than Dean did at that time. It is an emotional experience even now to think of it.
More important perhaps than just recording what a wonderful meeting that was (memorable meeting that is from this standpoint) it
brought home to me one thing that I've always valued. That was the realization of how real and how personal the relationship was between Dean Acheson as Secretary of State and President Truman. In later years I read of this relationship. You can read it in Dean's book Present at the Creation, and in many other things, too. I think it's reflected in Margaret Truman's book which I read recently. One of my jobs was to write at the end of the day (the conference was a three or four day affair) the report that Dean would send to the President through direct channels to him and not through the State Department or anyone else.
At the end of the first day when I was supposed to write this document, I composed something which I suppose bore a very remarkable relationship to an ordinary State Department
telegram or a dispatch -- rather dry, factual, and highly summarized -- as to what had happened that day, what positions we'd taken, what we apprehended for the following day, and what policies and positions we would take on those pursuant to the instructions that the delegation had received from the President. This bureaucratic draft of mine went up to Dean and it came back with blue pencils all over it. In effect the admonition was: "No, no, no I don't want this sort of thing. This is a personal message from me to the President. I want it written in a very informal style. I want it very full, I don't want any detail left out that could conceivably be of interest to him."
Through the experience of learning how to write Dean Acheson's report to the President, I learned the reality of the relationship, of
the devotion of Dean to the President. His concern was to keep Truman meticulously informed and to do so on a basis of an easy personal informal relationship which made it very clear at every possible point that the Secretary was conducting himself as the agent of the President whom he so greatly respected.
It was quite moving. As somebody who was a middle-rank officer at that time, it was one of the first times that I had ever been able to see what the relationship was between a Secretary of State and a President. I hadn't met the President of the United States all that often at that stage in my career. It was part of my education. It was, as I look back on it, practically the ideal relationship in my concept of how things should be between the two officers who had most to do with the conduct of our Nation's foreign affairs; the Secretary who
carried out such a great share of them and the President who was responsible for not letting the buck go anyplace else.
MCKINZIE: Thank you very much, sir.
(by J. Graham Parsons)
2. There was, however, an increasingly vocal element, mostly in the political opposition parties, which sought to end what is considered dangerous intimacy with the United States and to avoid any commitment on continental economic or resource collaboration.
3. Not "speak to me ever as a Church" could be misleading and should be clarified. My contacts in relation to the April 1948 Italian election are not a good or clear example in the foregoing regard. These contacts were, of course, concerned with the preservation of the Church of Rome whatever other motivations the lay Catholics may also have had. The point I was trying to make orally is elaborated in the next paragraph. It is that they never misused the Office of Mr. Taylor to seek some advantage for the Catholic Church over other Churches in the United States. They dealt with his Office, as, in effect, one government dealing with the representative of another government, although, to be sure, the Vatican's interests were primarily spiritual rather than material. In this example the two governments had an obvious common interest in the survival of a non-Communist Italy.
4. The "black nobility" derived their titles from the Popes, and many families had been active at the Papal Court for generations. The other nobility derived their titles from the former Italian monarchy or other sovereigns of parts of Italy before unification. The two sets of nobility were quite distinct and tended not to become involved in each other's social life or spheres of interest.
6. The Pope's brief allocutions on these occasions were typed by him on the white portable typewriter on his desk -- or so it was evident to me. On several occasions, apparently feeling confident of my discretion, he called me back after the congressional group had left his presence to show me the written text and ask if there were errors of grammar or punctuation which should be corrected before giving the text to the Vatican newspaper "L'Osservatore Romano" for publication. At least once he asked me if I thought the text would be sufficiently significant to American readers to warrant publication.
7. "Optimistic or pessimistic." What I do remember is that they had faith and I should have said so in order to explain that optimism or pessimism in ordinary terms was not really relevant to their attitude. Whatever their forebodings, they had faith and dedication to their mission.
8. As an officer thus assigned, I clearly understood that I was at the Vatican to carry out such instructions as I might receive from the Department also and to make myself useful as an observer and reporter at the least. I also understood it was up to me to deal as best I could with the ambiguities of my situation and, in effect, to serve more than one master successfully. It is perhaps not surprising that Mr. Taylor had me removed after sixteen or seventeen months only, but I remained convinced that had he been younger and more reasonable, he would have acted differently.
man to take such action as I could to try to preserve his life.
10. To be fair to Mr. Taylor he probably also had genuine concern that my activities might involve his office and himself in some embarrassing way or cause it to become again a subject of public controversy in the United States. I was aware that Mr. Taylor's secretary, who had ultimately been assigned as code clerk and thus was resident in Rome during the final months of my tour there, was reporting on me to Mr. Taylor. I was so informally advised from Washington but I was of course ignorant of what she wrote him.
11. The Vatican's interest in a more formal relationship was no doubt discussed from time to time with Cardinal Spellman and by him at political levels in the United States. Spellman, of course, was close to the Pope and his powerful position at home made him an active channel for the pursuit of the Church's interests as such in the United States. I, for my part, was glad to have such matters dealt with quite apart from Mr. Taylor's office.
12. "Stewardship of 500 million Catholics" was an unfortunate choice of phrase. What I had in mind was not the Pope's doctrinal or religious leadership of his immense flock but his defense of the Church's interests in the temporal world, that is to say how he saw his role as his own Secretary of State in charge of the Vatican's "foreign affairs."
Canada sovereignty and U.S. relations, 10, 17-21,
Europe and the Marshall plan, 67
Parsons, J. Graham:
Canada, U.S. economic domination of, opinion on, 25-27
Communist China, recognition of, comment on, 95
and conference reports, writing of, 99-100
and Dunn, James C., 62-64
and Father Leiber, 60-62
and the Foreign Service, interest in, 1-3
France, post-war elections, opinion on, 45
Havana, Cuba, posted to, 3-5
and the Holy See, 28-45, 54
"Hyde Park Agreement", mentions of, 23-24
Italy, post-war elections, comments on, 45, 48-51
Jews, entering U.S. through Cuba, problem with, 4-5
and the Marshall plan, implications of, 51-53
Mukden, Manchuria, Vice-consul in, 5-7
NATO, comments on, 96-98
New Delhi, India, assignment to, 90-94
Office of European Regional Affairs, Deputy Director of, 96
and SALT, mentions of, 97
and State Department, U.S., Foreign Service, Officer of, 70
Western European Division, Ottawa, Canada, position in, 7-9
Taylor, Myron, 67-80
and U.S.-Canadian relations, opinion of, 17-21, 22
and the Vatican, comments on, 65-66
U.S.-Canada Permanent, Joint Board, members of, 9, 10-17
U.S. and Holy See, diplomatic relationship between, opinion of, 80-86, 88
and White, Harry, 20-21
Policy Planning Staff, U.S. State Department, 65
Point IV, 94-95
Pope, Congressional groups, audiences with, 56-58
Pope Pius XII, 29, 31-32, 37, 88-90
Tardini, Monsignor Domenico. 32, 37-38,
White, Harry Dexter, 20-21