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.
April 6, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess
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Transcript | Additional Riddleberger Oral History
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Opened January, 1975
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
James W. Riddleberger
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.
RIDDLEBERGER: To '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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
RIDDLEBERGER: I beg your pardon, 1941, did I say '61?
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
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
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?
RIDDLEBERGER: No, the V-1s.
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
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...
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
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...
RIDDLEBERGER: Oh yes.
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,
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
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
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.
RIDDLEBERGER: Oh, yes.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
HESS: When did the possibility of a blockade first become evident to
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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