Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Oral History Interview with
James W. Riddleberger

Chief, Division of Central European Affairs, U.S. Dept. of State, 1944-47; counsellor of embassy, and chief, political section, American Military Government, Berlin, Germany, 1947-50; acting political adviser to commander-in-chief, U.S. Forces, Germany, 1949-50; political adviser to E.C.A., Paris, 1950-52; appointed a career minister, 1950; director, Bureau of German Affairs, U.S. Dept. of State, 1952-53; and subsequent to his service during the Truman Presidency served as an ambassador to various countries and as director of the Internationa1 Cooperation Administration.

Washington, D.C.
April 6, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Riddleberger 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.

As an electronic publication of the Truman Library, users should note that features of the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview, such as pagination and indexing, could not be replicated for the online version of the Riddleberger transcript.

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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 January, 1975
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Riddleberger Oral History Transcripts]

Oral History Interview with
James W. Riddleberger

Washington, D.C.
April 6, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess

HESS: All right to begin, Mr. Ambassador, let's advise historians to refer to your biographical data, which we will place in the Appendix, which will inform them about your background, and then move on to our other questions for this morning.

What are your earliest recollections of Mr. Truman?

RIDDLEGERGER: I never saw Mr. Truman, to the best of my recollection, and certainly did not know him, until after he became President. I was still in Germany until the spring of 1941, and then was assigned to Washington, but went to London in 1942, so therefore, I had read about him as the Chairman of the Senate Committee to Investigate the National Defense, but I had no...

HESS: No direct knowledge.

RIDDLEBERGER: No direct knowledge, or no personal contact with him.

HESS: Where were you when you heard of the death of President Roosevelt and what were your impressions?

RIDDLEBERGER: I was here in Washington when he died. In fact, I was in the hospital, I was sick. And I think like so many of us, was greatly distressed at the news. But it might be well if I told you frankly that I was not surprised. The last time I had seen the President I thought he looked fatally ill.

HESS: When did you see him last?

RIDDLEBERGER: You know that question is very difficult for me to answer for the simple reason that I would see him occasionally, officially, but I had seen him a great deal in the sense of looking at him. It so happened that in those years, my office in the Old State Department Building, which is right across...

HESS: State, War and Navy.

RIDDLE BERGER: State, War and Navy, the Old State, War and Navy Building was right across from the rear entrance to the White House, and from my office I could see the President coming out to get in his car, or being carried out. Of course, this was not something that could not be seen from the sidewalk below, but from my office I had a view of it. But of course, I was not close enough to have a very precise idea about his physical state, but I saw him I don't know how many times, and I don't know the last time I did. It must have been, of course, in '45.

HESS: What kind of a job did you think Mr. Truman was going to do? On April the 12th of 1945 when he took over, just what were your thoughts about the new man that was coming in? Just what did you know about him?

RIDDLEBERGER: I knew, in effect, nothing about him. I did know that Roosevelt had not kept him informed with the development, shall I say, in international fields. But that was rather common gossip in Washington. I think I knew it primarily from the fact that his name never appeared when it came to, let us say, distribution of very important or very secret documents. Now, of course, my experience in that case was limited to Germany and Austria. But of course, Germany and Austria were...

HESS: Pretty important.

RIDDLEBERGER: ...rather important countries and--at that time. And of course, I came back to Washington in 1944 when I took over the Division of Central European Affairs and therefore, was deeply engaged in all of the planning for the occupation of both Germany and Austria. In fact, that was the reason I was brought back from London, to become chairman of this State, War and Navy interdepartmental committee to which was given the task of--I guess the right word would be "backstopping" the work here for the negotiations in the European Advisory Commission in London, and I was the chairman of that committee, which had a cover name.

HESS: What was the name?

RIDDLEBERGER: It was called the Working Security Committee, which of course, meant nothing. But it had been set up in 1944 simultaneous with the establishment of the European Advisory Commission in London, which was to do the negotiations between the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and the United States on the occupation of Germany and Austria.

HESS: Good, we'll get into that further when we come up to it.

RIDDLEBERGER: We'll get into it further, yes.

HESS: But I want to go back and ask you some questions about what you observed in Europe, as you were in Geneva, Switzerland as Vice Counsul and Counsul from 1930 to '36...

RIDDLEBERGER: That's right.

HESS: ...and then you served as third and second secretary of the American Embassy in Berlin from '36 until '41.


HESS: And, of course, that time span covers the rise of Hitler. To lead into that subject, when did you first hear of Adolf Hitler? Do you recall?

RIDDLEBERGER: Oh, in the 1920s. But, of course, I don't recall exactly when. I traveled in Germany, I think, even before I entered the foreign service. It was always a country that interested me. And this is back, I would say, in the late 1920s. And of course, he was known then because of the attempted Putsch in Munich, and that on top of that of course, by the late '20s he was beginning to become a political force, not always taken seriously by a lot of people.

I went to Germany, on a number of occasions, after I was assigned to Geneva in 1930, I recall distinctly being there in 1932, I think in 1933. I recall making a rather extensive trip in Germany in 1934, and then of course, we went to Berlin on assignment to the Embassy in 1936. In the meantime Hitler had come to power in 1933. And I was actually in Geneva at the time he announced the German withdrawal from the League of Nations, which of course, created a great sensation in those days. And of course, because of the rise of Hitler and the possible effect upon the League of Nations, his power and his potential as a possible Chancellor of Germany, were under constant discussion in Geneva in the early '30s, That was only natural.

HESS: What were your impressions when you would visit Germany during those times, you mentioned in the '32, '33, and '34, could you see a progressive, totalitarian takeover?

RIDDLEBERGER: Hitler had come to power...

HESS: In '33.

RIDDLEBERGER: ...in January of '33...

HESS: That's right.

RIDDLEBERGER: So, from that point on he was running the Reich himself with his little coterie of intimates.

But I recall very well on earlier trips that I thought the political situation in Germany was potentially very dangerous because of the extraordinarily large number of unemployed, and that the economic situation in general was so distressing, that in my opinion, at least, I thought that something was bound to happen. I was not certain in those years that Hitler would necessarily win, and in effect, he never really got a majority in any free election. Hitler did not come to power as a result of a majority in a free election. Later on he had these so-called elections which were in my opinion completely rigged. But I think that a number of us that lived, let us say, in and around Germany, and who had some knowledge of the country, were very cognizant of the danger of Hitlerian takeover which indeed was what came to pass. Now, of course, part of that may be hindsight.

HESS: You went to Berlin in 1936. What were your first impressions when you got there as to Hitler's power?

RIDDLEBERGER: His power was in my opinion practically complete, but to give you what I think is an apt illustration of the way Germany was going, we had barely settled in an apartment in Dahlem before we got the notice (this was by that time the autumn of 1936), that there would be a blackout exercise within the next month, and that everyone was obliged to purchase and prepare dark curtains to be put before every window and door where from which light might show. And in the middle--I recall this very well--in the middle of trying to get unpacked and into this place, a typical old German house with high windows, we had to run out and buy meters and meters and meters...

HESS: Of black cloth.

RIDDLEBERGER: ...of black cloth, yes. But I always took the German rearmament very seriously, and I'll tell you why. For the simple reason that when you live in a country, as we did, it's quite impossible, in my opinion, to hide extensive military preparation. I think it can't be done, there are too many indicators. To take a very simple example. As we would drive outside of Berlin and in the countryside, you might see an airplane, let us say, coming down into what might look like a forest. There might be a fence around and signs up saying "Streng Verboten," nobody could drive through there, but we all knew that plane didn't come down and land in the trees, there must have been an airfield there, or an airstrip of some sort, and that was a rather frequent experience as time went on and I happened to travel a great deal in Germany.

In addition the economic indicators were so marked in showing that a constantly higher proportion of German production was obviously going to military purposes, to the Army, or the Air Force, or the Navy.

Take a very simple case, Germany even until very late continued to publish the statistical yearbook, and it was remarkably detailed. Furthermore big firms would publish their financial statements in the press, which would show that their consumption of raw materials was constantly increasing as their number of their employees was going up. But yet if it were an automobile factory, you could turn to the statistics on the automobile production and find that practically the same number of cars had gone to the civilian market. So it doesn't take any great mind to figure that one out. The Germans were not so inefficient that it took three times as many people and four times as much raw material and a financial turnover say three or four times as great to produce the same number of cars.

HESS: Now Germany suffered some very severe inflation following World War I, did you see evidence of their fight against inflation when you were there?

RIDDLEBERGER: Well, by the time we went, which don't forget was 1936...

HESS: That's right.

RIDDLEBERGER: ...the great post-World War I inflation of Germany was over, and the currency had been stabilized after the Dawes and Young loans.

HESS: That's right.

RIDDLEBERGER: ...and we went in a very different era. By the time we got there, of course, the Hitler controls under Dr. [Hjalmar] Schacht were already in effect. Now internally the currency was stable, and maintained at a fixed value, even if it may have been somewhat of a fiction. In other words the reichsmark was in those days, officially 24 cents, but tourists could buy it cheaper. Schacht put in effect a long series of currency control measures, but internally the mark was stable, there's no doubt about it.

HESS: The '36 Olympics was held in Berlin. Hitler made quite a show out of that. Were you there at the time?

RIDDLEBERGER: Oh, a tremendous show! No, I came in just after the Olympic games.

HESS: All right. Were there any contingency plans being drawn up by the State Department, with the help of the Embassy in Berlin, about matters that were going on in Germany at that time that you were there? It was in '38 that Hitler met [Neville] Chamberlain at Munich.


HESS: ...and in '39 came the invasion of Poland. Just how involved was our--how close a look, close a view, did our State Department and the Embassy keep on matters that were transpiring in Germany?

RIDDLEBERGER: I think that the reporting on German developments, both from the Embassy and consulates, and we happened to have a number of consulates in Germany, was both accurate and adequate. I don't think it had the effect that many of us hoped it would because of those of us who lived there (and this would apply that to a large majority of us I think), were absolutely persuaded that Hitler was preparing for war, and as I recited earlier, we held this opinion for very good reasons. All of this went forward to Washington, and in addition there was a really tremendous volume of reporting by the press on developments in Germany. And to me it was always a matter of not only concern but of surprise at the reaction to a lot of this was, "Oh, well, he doesn't mean it," or "make this concession and everything will be all right."

HESS: And it was not.

RIDDLEBERGER: And it was not. But of course, I can understand that neither governments nor peoples were inclined to take Germany's re-armament as seriously as those who lived under it were.

HESS: What time of the year in 1941 did you leave? Did you stay until the Embassy was pulled out?

RIDDLEBERGER: No, I was home when Pearl Harbor happened.

HESS: You were?

RIDDLEBERGER: I was not interned. George Kennan and I were both second secretaries and both of us were scheduled for leave in 1941. We hadn't seen our families for a couple of years and he went first. And then that held up my departure because we were two of the Embassy officers that could speak German--don't forget we had no Ambassador since November of '38 after Roosevelt pulled out Hugh Wilson during the Jewish riots in Berlin. George Kennan went and got back, and so I must have gone in the late spring of '41. I went to see my family, whom I had not seen for months. I was told to report to the State Department, at least temporarily, which I did. But by that time it must have been the summer of '41, and I was kept on the German desk—provisionally--although later formalized. You know how those things go sometimes, one thing after another came up, and since I had been in Berlin, they said, "Well, you just stay on for a while," and my family was already in this country. I don't think we set up a household here though until late in '41 when I knew I was going to stay on. Then came Pearl Harbor, and of course that took care of my return to Berlin.

HESS: Did you ever personally meet Hitler?

RIDDLEBERGER: Oh, my yes, certainly:

HESS: What was your impression?

RIDDLEBERGER: Well, I met him in a sense that a second secretary meets a chancellor.

HESS: At functions.

RIDDLEBERGER: At functions, yes, but of course, when Hugh Wilson came, as, the Ambassador he was accompanied by his staff for the formal presentation of credentials and I was included. And we all, after the exchange of courtesies was done, more or less, we all chatted a bit in the chancellory. I also met Hitler on a number of occasions, official occasions, when diplomats were invited to be there.

HESS: What was your impression of him at the times you met him?

RIDDLEBERGER: I could never understand his appeal to the German people, but he obviously had it.

HESS: He didn't appeal to you?

RIDDLEBERGER: He didn't appeal to me and of course, I heard him speak a great number of times. In my opinion he was not nearly as accomplished an orator as [Joseph Paul] Goebbels was, not nearly. I found him extremely repetitious and longwinded, but the Germans certainly didn't feel that way about him.

HESS: And then what were your duties before you left for London?

RIDDLEBERGER: I came here before London.

HESS: What were your duties here in Washington during that period of time?

RIDDLEBERGER: I had the German desk.

HESS: You had the German desk.

RIDDLEBERGER: Yes, I had the German desk, and whenever it was when I really took it over, in '41, I've forgotten the exact date of my assignment, then I was assigned to London, I think in the summer of '42. So, roughly speaking, I must have been home about a year, but part of that was not on a permanent assignment.

HESS: One of the things they had you working on at that time was as chairman of the Committee on Neutral Trade.

RIDDLEBERGER: After Pearl Harbor, after the war came. Yes, I had a double function then, I was appointed technically as liaison to the Board of Economic Warfare that had just been set up under Wallace. Actually organized and then became chief of the Neutral Trade Division, and got that going.

It was largely because of that that I was later assigned to London, because [Winfield William] Riefler, who had been appointed as the head of the section of Economic Warfare in our London Embassy demanded that some foreign service officer with German experience be sent over, I was chosen. So I, as soon as I could get this division really underway, I went to London and took over the, what they called the Blockade Division.

The Economic Warfare section of the Embassy was set up in what you might call two divisions. One was primarily intelligence and the other was blockade. And the decision had been taken several months before my departure to integrate the Economic Warfare Section of the Embassy completely with the British Ministry of Economic Warfare. In other words, it became an operation of not only cooperation, but of joint responsibility and joint decisions. We sat on the same committees (joint committees), our office was across Berkeley Square. That part of the Embassy, in effect, became part of the economic warfare operation. It was an interesting experiment because it was in effect the combining of officials of two governments in a joint operation.

HESS: Did you find it effective?

RIDDLEBERGER: Yes, I think it was effective.

HESS: Were those your principal duties during the war?

RIDDLEBERGER: In London, of course, but not in Germany. In Germany I had very different duties because I organized all of the representation of foreign interests in 1939, which the Embassy had taken over upon the outbreak of war. Before I left it was a large section for the simple reason that after the fall of France there were an enormous number of POWs (prisoners of war), brought to Germany and then later on a large number of civilian workers, for whom we were the protecting power for over two years from the outbreak of the war until Hitler declared war on us in December 1961.

HESS: 1941.

RIDDLEBERGER: I beg your pardon, 1941, did I say '61?

HESS: Yes.

RIDDLEBERGER: 1941. So, for over two years we had that work and you can imagine the extent of it. Of course, I relied upon a lot of local help as well, but when I left Germany in the spring of '41 I recall we had certainly thirty or thirty-five people in the accounting office alone. I remember making up the last budget for this particular work (because under the Geneva Convention there were certain duties that we performed and certain rights that we had, right of inspection, and there were certain payments to civilian internees and so forth), I think it was in six different countries and seven different currencies.

Because Hitler, as the war progressed and he conquered more and more countries, kept the local currency, but the Reichsbank forced us to do everything through Berlin. So you can see, it was a very large operation there...

HESS: Yes, it was.

RIDDLEBERGER: ...and complicated.

HESS: What are your main recollections, your principal recollections about the war years in England?

RIDDLEBERGER: Well, my principal recollection is it was an awful lot of work. It was hard to get around and I, except for occasional official travel, stayed in London. Once for example, I was asked to interview some captured German Consular official outside of London. For the most part, I was primarily in London with my nose to the grindstone day and night, seven days a week. It was a terrific job, you see, and as the war went on the extension of financial controls that sort of thing, made it vastly more than just operating a navicent system in shipping.

Then what became very important, was the control of trade with neutrals where we negotiated lengthy agreements with countries like Switzerland and Sweden. On top of that came the whole problem of pre-emptive buying in countries like Spain and Portugal. After all the British and we still had virtual control of the sea as far as trade was concerned, and so we had a certain leverage.

HESS: Did you meet Churchill during the war?

RIDDLEBERGER: Yes, I met him, but you know, only at some function, or something like that. I never knew him really.

HESS: What do you recall of the attitude of the British people towards the bombing?

RIDDLEBERGER: Well, I thought--I was not there during the Blitz, you see I came after that.

HESS: That's right.

RIDDLEBERGER: And I stayed until the...

HESS: The V-2s?


HESS: The V-1s.

RIDDLEBERGER: The V-1s. I always admired them greatly for their fortitude and courage in this. By the time I arrived in London, the daytime bombing was finished, the British by that time had control for the most part of the air space over Great Britain, but the nighttime bombing was still very heavy. And we had raids when there would be a hundred planes at a time over London and drop their loads of high explosive.

HESS: Is that a disquieting feeling?

RIDDLEBERGER: I don't recommend it.

HESS: Don't recommend it?

RIDDLEBERGER: I don't recommend it. There are those who said it didn't bother them, I didn't believe it. I think that I wouldn't call it a pleasant vacation, and of course, it's very disruptive. It wasn't only the bombs themselves, but by that time London was ringed with anti-aircraft batteries, and one of them just happened to be behind the house where I lived, so you didn't get much sleep during this I can tell you.

HESS: You got the noise coming in and going out.

RIDDLEBERGER: And going out, yes.

HESS: All right, and then you came back in '44.

RIDDLEBERGER: I came back it must have been the beginning of '44, I forget just exactly.

HESS: Is that when you were working on the coordinating committee?

RIDDLEBERGER: That's when I became chief of the Central European Division which included Germany, Austria, and Czechslovakia too. Of course, Czechslovakia was occupied at the time, as Austria was.

HESS: At the end of the war did you pay a visit to Europe?

RIDDLEBERGER: I went almost immediately after the war.

HESS: What were your impressions? On your first trip back to Europe what were your impressions of the physical devastation, and the economic conditions?

RIDDLEBERGER: My first trip to Europe after the war was when I went with our delegation to the Potsdam Conference. And since I was the one in the delegation who knew Berlin best, I took a lot of the brass, so to speak, around with me. When I left Berlin I had experienced some bombing, but it wasn't to be compared with what came later. In this city where I had lived for five years and which really I knew very well, I was appalled to see the devastation.

I remember taking around some of the members and so many of the bridges over the Landwehr Canal had been blown up that there were only certain routes we could go. It's a very queer sensation to go into a city and find that so many landmarks are no longer there. I don't think one realizes it when you live in a place, but the background governs where you go. In a way you look up and you see a building and you know automatically that street and you know where you are. I don't think we go along the streets of Washington looking at every sign to know what street it is, once that you know a city. In Berlin not only were the street signs gone, but many of the landmarks were gone. Several times I had to get out of the car, to orient myself, to ascertain where we were exactly.

The Army had told me the bridges that were open, and of course, I knew them all and theoretically I knew how to get there, but it's a very queer sensation to go into a town that one knows so well and has been so destroyed.

HESS: What are your recollections of the economic conditions?

RIDDLEBERGER: They were just appalling, I don't know any other word to describe it. In the meantime the Army had gotten some food in, but--I went into Berlin shortly after this. I went into Berlin, Potsdam was in...

HESS: July.

RIDDLEBERGER: July. I went in June I guess, the end of June.

HESS: What is your general opinion of Mr. Truman's handling of the events at Potsdam?

RIDDLEBERGER: I thought that under all the circumstances that he did extraordinarily well. Here he was dealing with Stalin and Churchill, who had been deep, of course, in all the war issues for some years, while Truman in effect, really had to be briefed between April and the time we went to Potsdam. Stettinius, who had been Secretary of State, continued until after the conclusion of the San Francisco Conference to establish the U.N. We all knew that Byrnes was to be the next Secretary of State, in fact arrangements were made within the State Department for the principal chiefs of divisions to go out and brief him before he became Secretary of State, and he in turn was trying to keep Truman informed about the principal issues that would arise, but you know there was not a great deal of time and there was indeed a vast background. So several of the principal divisions chiefs in the State Department would go out to the what is now--what is now this hotel...

HESS: The Wardman Park?

RIDDLEBERGER: No, the Shoreham.

HESS: The Shoreham.

RIDDLEBERGER: The Shoreham, and we'd go out at night and we'd spend hours briefing Jimmy Byrnes on all the aspects of the current international situation. This is not the military, that was done a different way, but this was the what you might call the political situation, the foreign affairs situation, and of course, there had been an enormous history built up by that time. It was decided to do it that way. I think Truman never wanted to put Stettinius in an invidious position, but of course, technically it would have been his job to prepare the President for all of this, but he was still tied up. My recollection is that Byrnes did not take his oath as Secretary of State until the night before he and Truman got on the cruiser to set out for Potsdam.

HESS: What is your general opinion of Mr. Byrnes' ability to assimilate all of this information that you and the others were giving him?

RIDDLEBERGER: He assimilated very fast, he had to, but of course, it could not be expected that he would have always at his fingertips the precise information that might be required, either by him or by the President at the conference table. That's why we always had planted right behind them somebody who was conversant with a subject that might come up. And don't forget that in this case, from our point of view, the fact that there were no simultaneous translations was an advantage. There was Stalin who spoke Russian. Of course, Churchill who spoke English, and the French were not in on it. So, we only had two languages, and naturally understood everything that the British said.

HESS: Did you sit in on most of the meetings...


HESS: ...the joint meetings.

RIDDLEBERGER: Yes, I sat in on all of them except the few top level meetings just between (they had a couple of them that weren't at the conference table), between Truman and Stalin, or Truman and Churchill at dinner, for example.

HESS: I presume that Mr. Truman met with the American delegation before and after the joint meeting.

RIDDLEBERGER: Well, we'd had a...

HESS: Or is that correct?

RIDDLEBERGER: ...a very extensive preparation. That was just left more or less in Byrnes' hand as to how he wanted to do it.

HESS: How did he handle that?

RIDDLEBERGER: He usually handled it himself. By that time he had had at least a couple of months to get ready, either as the Secretary of State designate, or Secretary. He hadn't had much time to get ready as Secretary of State, but he was pretty well prepared. He would call meetings with the various staff members, sometimes he called the President and sometimes not depending on what the question was.

HESS: Did you ever sit in on any of the meetings where President Truman was in attendance? The preparation type of meetings?

RIDDLEBERGER: I suppose I must have, yes, there was so many meetings.

HESS: What was your opinion of Mr. Truman's ability to fathom all of the information and the complex situation that he found himself in at that time?

RIDDLEBERGER: I thought he did very well. He could not be expected, of course, to know the intricacies of all the subjects that came up there, but I thought that he really had a good grasp of the essentials. Obviously he could not be regarded as an expert on many of these things, but there was no reason to assume that he would be, and that meant that we had to condense a very complicated background for him because the question of time was so very important. We would endeavor either through the Secretary of State, or with the President, to present in capsule form, what the main issues were, and what to watch out for. Naturally, Truman could not possibly have the background that Churchill and Stalin had on all of the very complicated, long, drawn-out interchanges between these governments, starting from the time we went into the war in 1941. And of course, starting with the British long before that.

HESS: What was your personal opinion at that time about the agreements the Russians had made? Did you think that the Russians would live up to those agreements?

RIDDLEBERGER: Did I think so?

HESS: Yes, did you think so.

RIDDLEBERGER: I thought they'd live up to them to the extent that they regarded them as in their interest. I never thought so beyond that, but then of course, in that respect don't forget that I may be highly prejudiced because I was in Berlin at the time of the [Joachim] Ribbentrop-[Vyacheslav] Molotov dispute. I was in Berlin at the time of the Soviet invasion of Poland, I was in Berlin when Molotov came during the winter of 1940 and '41--I beg your pardon, '39 and '40 to try to decide about how they are going to divide up Europe and so forth. So my skepticism of Soviet intentions was indeed very, very great, not only at Potsdam, but earlier as I'd seen so much of the day-to-day developments.

HESS: At another time it had been decided to divide Germany into the various sectors, and Berlin was placed in--of course, Berlin is in Eastern Germany, so it was placed in East Germany. Do you recall if thought was given at that time to access and corridors to Berlin? Later, as you know, there occurred the Berlin blockade when the Russians shut us off.


HESS: What do you recall about discussions as to whether or not we were providing ourselves with adequate access to Berlin?

RIDDLEBERGER: This is almost a subject for a separate history. There were very, very strong, and indeed violent feelings about this whole question of Berlin and the problem of putting the Control Council behind the Soviet lines. Now that goes back to the long and complicated, and sometimes rather bitter argument over these zones of occupation, and whether the Control Council would be situated in Berlin. But that's a subject that I'm afraid would take a number of hours...

HESS: A long time to go into.

RIDDLEBERGER: Yes. I happen to be very conversant with it, because I was chairman of this committee, but let me just indicate to you some of the complexities of it. For example, it turned out to be completely impossible to resolve between the U.K. and the U.S., the question of which government, which country, would occupy which western zone, the northern or the southern. And this was the subject matter of a long debate and discussion between Roosevelt and Churchill, which was not decided until the Quebec Conference of September of 1944. The outline of the three zones--the French again were not in it yet--seemed to be fairly well agreed upon in the European Advisory Council, let us say, by the spring or early summer of 1944. And the Soviets appeared to be reasonably well-satisfied with the what seemed to be an agreement, a possible agreement on the eastern zone. But the whole problem of Berlin complicated this because Roosevelt and Churchill could not settle the matter of western zones. Roosevelt was determined to have what was called the northwest zone, the Ruhr, and the British were equally determined to have it, and Berlin really got caught up in all that.

Now, on this subject we could go on for hours because…

HESS: It is a rather complicated subject.

RIDDLEBERGER: Oh, it's terribly complicated and we also got into domestic policy. In the end, the choice of the zones wound up being highly influenced by a fact that it had little to do with the subject matter itself, such as the Morgenthau plan and the postwar lend-lease.

The decision to put the Control Council in Berlin, I think, was very much influenced by the attitude of Winant, who was our Ambassador in London, and also the American member of the European Advisory Commission. But that proposal to go behind the Soviet lines in a distance of a hundred miles, roughly, of course led to a lot of opposition inside the State Department, particularly mine.

HESS: Particularly yours?

RIDDLEBERGER: Particularly mine, yes. I just couldn't believe it, and we fought that one up and down the streets of Washington practically for six months.

HESS: But you lost the fight.

RIDDLEBERGER: I lost it, yes.

HESS: All right, what are...

RIDDLEBERGER: ...but there were many, many ramifications of this, you see, it went on primarily from the time the first proposal on zones was made, to the powers of the Control Council, and then finally to the seat of the Control Council.

So, Mr. Hess, on this one I can answer a great many questions, but as I say, I'm afraid it would take us a long time, and I would have to go back and trace all the dates on it.

HESS: Fine. Fine. Let's move on then. What other activities did your coordinating committee have?

RIDDLEBERGER: We were basically set up to get out the coordinated instructions to Winant in London, but in addition to that, we were given the work of preparing at least what turned out to be the first draft of the directive to the commander in chief for the treatment of Germany. And that was the famous JCS-1067. I mean that's the way it finally came out, but that was worked on for a number of months in this committee.

Then we moved into the whole era of the intervention of Morgenthau into the picture.

HESS: What did you think of the Morgenthau plan?

RIDDLEBERGER: I thought he was cuckoo, to put it bluntly. I didn't think it would work, I thought it was silly, I thought that quite apart from Germany, or the effects on Germany. To me the mere idea that Germany could be turned into some kind of a pastoral country was just too ridiculous to be discussed, just as if we decided over here that we turn all of Pennsylvania back into...

HESS: Back to the Pennsylvania Dutch?

RIDDLEBERGER: Back to the Pennsylvania Dutch. I suppose that to me it seemed a very simple question. Europe was so dependent in those years on German coal and the almost immediate effect of the plan would be the flooding of the German coal mines. Unless we wanted to send over West Virginia coal at the landed price of $25 a ton. In those days $25 was a pretty hefty price, and we would pay for it.

Now, quite apart, as I say, from the guilt of the Germans and Germany for their crimes and so forth, to me the whole idea was just so superficial and silly that I thought Morgenthau was crazy. I thought it was a triumph of vindictiveness over commonsense.

HESS: Did you ever discuss it with him?

RIDDLEBERGER: Oh my, yes. Oh, yes. They tell me that in the Roosevelt library--didn't he put his papers in the Hyde Park library?

HESS: I think so.

RIDDLEBERGER: Well, I think so, I'm not sure, but some professor came through here, when was it, some years ago and told me I should go up there sometime and read it. Morgenthau kept a tape recording you know...

HESS: So I understand.

RIDDLEBERGER: And I was the bete noire in the Treasury for a long time, because I thought this was all completely ridiculous. It had little to do with my feelings about the Germans, because...

HESS: Just completely impractical.

RIDDLEBERGER: Just completely impractical, and I thought it would be dismissed out of hand, but it wasn't, it took a battle royal.

This old question of flooding the German coal mines was not decided until very late and Morgenthau had great influence. I recall very well a meeting in Stettinius' office shortly before the armistice. We couldn't get agreement between State and Treasury over this issue. In the meantime Morgenthau muscled into this committee, or he set up another one, gave it another name, but it was essentially the same committee, and insisted upon writing directives that would have compelled the occupying powers to flood the German mines.

Unless one were in on the early days of the Morgenthau plan, it's hard to visualize now the scope of it. I was there at the original unveiling which was done by Harry White in Harry Hopkins' office in the White House and we had before us a map of Germany.

Just to give you one example of what the thinking was, Harry White had this map of Germany and he had line drawn a line, I would say from about Kiel to Basel, and he had some name attached, West Germany or something like that. Then across the middle of the eastern part he had drawn another line to split the rest of Germany. What was west of the Kiel-Basel line incorporated the principal industrial area of Germany, with exception of Silesia and Berlin itself, including all the Ruhr, and all the big industrial cities of West Germany.

In all of that region west of this line, the mines were to be flooded and put out of operation, the factories were to be leveled, and this territory was to be converted into what White called a "pastoral economy" whatever that means. Its population was to be expelled and pushed east of this line, to be settled in the eastern part of Germany, which would be carved into two states; one north German state and one south German state with a prohibition on uniting. At first I didn't take any of this very seriously, but it became apparent that White meantt it and he said Mr. Morgenthau was in favor of it.

I said, "Harry, my impression is, although I can't tell exactly as you have not followed any provincial boundaries, but at least 30 million to 35 million people live in this area that is to be completely pastoralized." And then I said, "You're going to push all of the Germans out, is that correct?"

And he said, "Yes," he said, "most of them in any case."

I said, "You know land is rather valuable in Europe. Do you think this area will remain empty with no population?"

"Oh," he said, "no, no, we realize something has to be done there. We thought we'd resettle Yugoslavs on it."

HESS: Do you know what President Roosevelt's attitude was when he first heard about the plan? What seemed to be his attitude?

RIDDLEBERGER: I think it's very hard to say what his real attitude was. He indignantly denied, subsequently, that he signed this memorandum, which he had approved at Quebec. Most of this story was written up in Cordell Hull's book.

The Secretary of State was Cordell Hull and he had just sent me the memorandum from the President telling him that he had approved the Morgenthau plan at Quebec. This paper was before me at the same time the press started to call to tell me the President denied signing it. Well, that was a rather awkward situation.

HESS: How did you get out of that?

RIDDLEBERGER: His denial, of course, had to stand, as Roosevell was President and so I had to deal with that as best I could.

HESS: All right, now moving on, Mr. Truman's message to Congress on Greece and Turkey, his Truman doctrine speech, came on March 12th of 1947. At what time in 1947 did you leave Washington for Berlin? Did you become involved in the Truman Doctrine, aid to Greece and Turkey matter before you left?


HESS: You were not.

RIDDLEBERGER: No. In fact, while I was still assigned to Washington at the time of the Truman speech, I think I was abroad on a trip to Europe, is my recollection. I can't be entirely certain about it, I was away a great deal. What date was the speech?

HESS: On March the 12th of 1947.

RIDDLEBERGER: It's possible that I was not only abroad but I was trying to remember when the Moscow Council of Foreign Ministers met. I think it was late March of '47, but I may have gone abroad somewhat earlier to talk to Clay and Murphy in Germany before going on to Moscow. I'd have to check that one. Of course, I knew about the preparations for it but as Germany was not particularly affected I was not involved in it.

HESS: Do you recall anything about the background of the Marshall plan and the people involved?

RIDDLEBERGER: Yes, I was there. You know I was there at the time of Acheson's speech, where was it, was it Mississippi, I've forgotten.

HESS: Cleveland, Mississippi.

RIDDLEBERGER: Cleveland, Mississippi, and that was in one sense the forerunner of it, but I was not involved with it. I was only involved with it in the sense that I was involved with the whole European situation, and because of Germany, and the importance of Germany.

HESS: What's your general opinion of the success of the Marshall plan and the Truman Doctrine?

RIDDLEBERGER: Speaking as one who later on worked for the Marshall plan in Paris, I think that it was an unmitigated success. You can see that today.

HESS: We'll get further into that a little bit later, but first I would like to cover another subject, and that deals with the resignation of Henry Wallace in 1946. In the Forrestal Diaries there is a memo starting on page 207 from the Under Secretary of the Navy, John R. Sullivan, describing the events of the meeting in the office of Acting Secretary of State, Will Clayton. The meeting was held on September the 12th, the day of Wallace's speech at Madison Square Garden in New York City, and was attended by Clayton, Sullivan, Captain Robert L. Dennison, who at that time was Assistant Chief of Naval Operations, Robert Patterson, Secretary of War, Loy Henderson…

RIDDLEBERGER: Loy Henderson.

HESS: Loy Henderson, head of the Division of Near and Middle Eastern Affairs, and yourself. What do you recall of that meeting?

RIDDLEBERGER: My recollection is that the account given in the Forrestal Diaries is substantially correct.

The night before I had been playing bridge with some old friends, including a Washington columnist named Constantine Brown, whose column often included a comment on foreign affairs. And late in the evening he asked me if I had heard of or seen the Wallace speech that was to be delivered that night?

And I said, "No," I'd neither seen it nor heard about it. And he indicated that it might be well if somebody looked at it before it was delivered, by which he meant somebody in the State Department.

I recalled this when I got to the office the next morning and immediately tried to find out about the speech, but we had no copy in the State Department, and of course, not having seen the speech, I was totally unaware of the implications of it. Later on we found out about that. However, I thought it might be well to tell Will Clayton, who was Acting Secretary of State what I had heard. But he was tied up. I think it's mentioned in the Forrestal Diaries that I left a message for him as I recall and said I thought I had better come and talk to him just as soon as he was free, which I did. I then told him the story.

In the meantime, I suppose as a result of my efforts, we had gotten a copy in the State Department and as soon as I read it, I was absolutely appalled at some of the statements that Wallace had made, and particularly that sentence where he indicated the President had approved the totality of the speech.

It had not been cleared in the State Department. In fact, I don't think that anyone had seen it until I came down and asked to get a copy. But of course, since he had White House clearance perhaps he thought he didn't have to worry about the State Department. And then we got busy as is recounted in the Forrestal book, and I think what happened after that is substantially as described.

HESS: In the Forrestal's Diaries it is mentioned that the people who were at the meeting were in communication with Charles Ross at the White House, but they weren't sure if Mr. Ross was communicating their feelings to the President. Do you recall that?

RIDDLEBERGER: My recollection is that Ross said he would get in touch with the President. I was not on the telephone, Will Clayton was on the telephone, but he could not reach the President right away. The President either had somebody in his office or was--I think Ross said busy on something else. There were several telephone conversations back and forth.

HESS: I believe at that time James Byrnes was out of the country, he was in Paris at that time.

RIDDLEBERGER: He was in Paris, yes, he was in Paris and...

HESS: And became a little upset over the speech when he read it.

RIDDLEBERGER: He became upset all right. We foresaw that one correctly. Oh yes, very much so, because the speech was in effect a denunciation of a policy that Byrnes had been pursuing with the full approval of the White House. And this is by another Cabinet member.

HESS: Creates problems for one department, does it not, when other departments start infringing on their territory?

RIDDLEBERGER: On their territory, especially without an attempt to clear it. Of course, the State Department is rather accustomed to that.

HESS: And then in 1947 you returned to Germany as counselor of Embassy and Chief Political Secretary for the American Military Government, correct?

RIDDLEBERGER: Well, I became the chief of the political section in what was called OMGUS, O-M-G-U-S, Office of Military Government U.S., you see, and then in 1949 I succeeded Bob Murphy as political adviser to Clay. I stayed on until the end of military government and then I spent another year as political adviser to McCloy, the high commissioner.

HESS: All right, just a couple of questions about those two gentlemen, first General Clay. What's your evaluation of his handling of the position as commander in chief of the U.S. forces over there?

RIDDLEBERGER: I have a great respect and admiration for Lucius Clay. As you may have heard, he had his difficulties with the State Department, and because he had the enormous responsibility of the overall command in Germany, with all of the negotiations prior to the blockade with the Soviets, with the British and with the French under the Control Council arrangement. In 1948 came the blockade, and I think he was not only a remarkably astute and intelligent man, but also a very strong and courageous man, I say this having worked very closely with him for approximately two years.

HESS: And then in 1949 and '50 you were political adviser to John McCloy.

RIDDLEBERGER: To John McCloy, yes. He wanted me to stay on, in fact that that was one stipulation at the time McCloy accepted the appointment as the American High Commissioner. He wanted some continuity and there were so many changes that were coming up during this transition that I, who had rather hoped to be transferred from Germany, agreed to stay on, and so I spent another year, or more than a year with McCloy as political adviser.

But that assignment included the operation of considerable part of what was called HICOM, the Office of the High Commissioner in Germany. I had not only the political section, but displaced persons, combined travel board, the Civil Aviation Board, etc., as well. There were a number of operating responsibilities conferred upon that particular segment of the high commission.

HESS: I believe that the Berlin Blockade took place just before you went over with Mr. McCloy. That started in the midsummer of 1948.

RIDDLEBERGER: '48--no, that came after--I mean Clay stayed through the blockade.

HESS: That's right, yes.

RIDDLEBERGER: And McCloy came just after the blockade was lifted.

HESS: Let's see, the blockade started in midsummer of '48 and lasted until May of '49.

RIDDLEBERGER: May of '49, that's right.

HESS: Just what was your involvement in countering that blockade and what actions did you take? Did you have any particular involvement with the blockade?

RIDDLEBERGER: Well, I had all kinds of involvement.

HESS: You had them all?

RIDDLEBERGER: No, the basic responsibility was with Clay during this period. I'm not sure I understand the question. I was there, and deeply involved in the blockade in the sense that things were coming up all the time. But the whole question of the airlift and so forth, was run by the military.

HESS: When did the possibility of a blockade first become evident to you?

RIDDLEBERGER: General Clay and Ambassador Murphy and I had all attended the last session of the Council of Foreign Ministers in London at the very end of '47, in December 1947, and I think all of us left there feeling that something was going to happen. But we were certainly not informed as to what the nature of the Soviet pressure would be. In other words, we anticipated something, but didn't know quite what.

Then, as you know, this blockade developed over a number of months. There were pressure tactics and for example, there would be an announcement in the Control Council by the Soviet Commander-in-Chief, that there would be ground-to-air firing in the corridors at a certain time on a certain day. And General Clay's response to that was that he had to go to Frankfort that day, at just that time, it so happened. And we went too at the announced time.

This went on over a period of months and finally in the Control Council came what was a very vigorous denunciation of the whole western policy by the Soviet commander, and after that we more or less anticipated that something would happen. Then the blockade came down gradually. There'd be an announcement that this bridge had to be repaired, and in driving to the US zone, we'd have to go off the Autobahn and go over and cross on another bridge which would seem to me to have some kind of work going on, and one-way traffic. We would be held up for a couple of hours and that sort of thing. Then the announcement that there had to be repairs along the railroad and so forth.

So, the imposition of the blockade, as I recall, really came on as a sort of a slow tightening over a period of maybe six weeks, two months. Then a complete cessation of all traffic. Oh yes, there would be announcements that barge traffic along the canals would be delayed, but the Soviets couldn't delay the air traffic unless they shot at it. But there would be buzzings in the corridor and that sort of thing, yes.

HESS: And it was broken with the airlift.

RIDDLEBERGER: With the airlift, yes, which was a story in itself, and a fascinating one. You know there were times after it was completely organized when we had planes landing every four minutes at Tempelhof. This went on day and night, weather permitting. Those of us who had to go frequently to Frankfort had a special card and we would go to Tempelhof and get aboard the first plane that came along. Coming back to Berlin, because the scheduling was so tight, every plane was allowed one pass at Tempelhof, if you didn't make it the first time, back you went to Frankfort, to get into the pattern again. So, our wives all knew that if we were in the zone on business, and that if we weren't there for dinner, it just meant that we hadn't made it and had returned to Frankfort. The flight took an hour and a half in those days and that meant to return to Frankfort, get into the pattern, get up again, required at least another three or four hours. That's sort of a sidelight on life during the blockade.

HESS: During that period of time came the political events in 1948 and Mr. Truman's re-election. Did you think Mr. Truman was going to win re-election in 1948?

RIDDLEBERGER: Like so many people abroad, and like so many people here for that matter, from reading the press you'd think not. But I had a great friend in the State Department, he's dead now, but in any critical judgment I had great confidence in him. He used to write me about the progress of the campaign and I recall vividly one letter he sent me, saying, "Pay no attention to all of this poll business and newspaper accounts and so forth, Truman is doing fine, and his chances of re-election are really pretty good."

HESS: Who was the gentleman?

RIDDLEBERGER: Francis Williamson, who was later on counselor in Rome, he died a couple of years ago I believe.

And then my father, who traveled a great deal in this country, also wrote me and said about the same thing, he said, "Don't think that Truman isn't going to make it, he is." My father had a sort of a great feel for the American middle class reaction and that sort of thing. He had traveled so much in this country and his feeling was that all the talk about Dewey being in was just a lot of nonsense. After reading these letters I wasn't so sure.

I remember one day at one of these centers in Berlin talking about it and everyone was saying, "Well, he's finished."

And I said, "No, I don't think so," and told them why and I got quite a reputation as a political prophet which I didn't deserve at all on that one.

HESS: What seemed to be the reaction among the German people to Mr. Truman's victory? Do you recall anything in particular?

RIDDLEBERGER: Well, I think by and large they were very, very happy about it, because Truman was so identified with the blockade and the airlift I mean the attempt to break the blockade.

HESS: All right, and then in 1950 you went to Paris with the Economic Cooperation Administration.

RIDDLEBERGER: That's right, with the Marshall plan.

HESS: That's right. What were your principal duties there?

RIDDLEBERGER: I went as political adviser. It had been arranged that I was to go as political adviser to Averell Harriman, and he and I had talked about it and the State Department agreed to it. In the summer of 1950, I stopped by Paris, I was enroute to the United States for some reason, we more or less arranged what my duties would be. However, before I got back from the States to go to Paris--I mean to finish in Berlin and take my family to Paris--he had been appointed the head of the Marshall plan in Washington. So, actually, I worked in Paris with Milton Katz, who succeeded Harriman. This was our central office in Europe. I think it was called the Office of the Special Representative, SRE, and I worked there.

HESS: Office of the Special Representative-Europe.

RIDDLEBERGER: Office of the Special Representative-Europe, is that right?

HESS: Yes, according to the Official Register.

RIDDLEBERGER: Special Representative in Paris. Well, I was originally attached to him as political adviser.

Therefore, I worked with Milton Katz who is now, I think, a professor in the Harvard Law School. I was there for two years.

Now my principal occupation for the first year I was there was again on Germany. I had no sooner gotten to Paris than I was assigned to this terribly difficult negotiation, what was known commonly as the German Deficit in the European Payments Union, and since I had come straight from Germany, Katz turned that over to me after the first preliminary attempt had failed. And for about a year, I think, or at least eight months, I did little else but work on that.

Meanwhile, David Bruce had been appointed as the U.S. observer (he was our Ambassador in Paris) to the European army negotiations and he wanted an alternate who knew both German and French and who knew both France and Germany. I worked with him on that, but shortly after I did some work on it, and I was used largely as a liaison with the Germans, because I knew so many of them, Ambassador Wood, Tyler Wood, who was number two in Paris, had been recalled to Washington to work on the Marshall plan in Congress and I had to take over his job as well as my own, on top of the European army negotiations. That got to be too much as I couldn't properly do all three. Bruce got somebody else after about four or five months and I could drop that part of it.

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