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 26, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess
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Opened January, 1975
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
James W. Riddleberger
April 26, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Ambassador, in our last discussion, you mentioned being at
Potsdam. Let's go into that a little further. Tell me what you remember
about your trip to Potsdam during the summer of 1945.
RIDDLEBERGER: First of all, I remember the preparation for it and the
vast amount of material that had to be put together for the conference.
It was particularly difficult, as Roosevelt had died in April of 1945,
and Stettinius was still Secretary of State. However, several of the division
chiefs, who had been told they would go to Potsdam conference had been
commissioned to commence the briefing of Mr. Byrnes because it was anticipated
that he would be appointed Secretary of State as soon as the San
Francisco Conference on the UN was concluded. Therefore, a number of us
had to go out to the hotel where he was living and brief him at night,
because of course, it would have been rather awkward to have done it in
his office in those days. The decision had been to keep Mr. Stettinius
on until the conclusion of the United Nations Conference. This meant that
we had to brief, not only a prospective Secretary of State, but also prepare
as well as we could, the papers for the White House. They were completed
in good order, and I think in good time.
The real complication was naturally that President Truman had
only come into office a very short time before and it had not been Roosevelt's
practice to keep the Vice President very well-informed about the developments
on both the war front and the diplomatic front, so to speak. This made
it all the more necessary that we prepare the documents and do the preparation
in the form that would recite at least a sufficient background to be comprehensible.
Therefore, I spent many hours with Mr. Byrnes in his hotel, the Shoreham,
preparing him for the upcoming Potsdam meeting.
HESS: Did he absorb the material readily?
RIDDLEBERGER: I was just about to say he had a great capacity for absorption.
He would ask many questions, and it was largely through him that the State
Department views were transmitted to President Truman. The Secretary of
State, Stettinius, of course, was not in town, he was in San Francisco,
so therefore, the preparation was directed toward Mr. Byrnes with the
idea that he would then transmit it to the President. There may have been
a few meetings with the President before we went to Potsdam, but not very
many, he didn't have time.
HESS: Did you attend any of the meetings held with President Truman before
Potsdam? Who from the State Department met with President Truman besides
RIDDLEBERGER: Well, it was done mostly through Mr. Byrnes.
HESS: Mr. Byrnes himself.
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes. Now it may have been that several of the higher officials
went, but I don't recall being in any myself, because this system had
been set up through Byrnes and the President preferred to do it that way.
Now he was meeting constantly with Mr. Byrnes on a large number
of matters, domestic as well as foreign.
HESS: About how many of the higher officials went to Potsdam at the same
time that you did?
RIDDLEBERGER: Oh, there was a vast array. In the meantime General Clay
had been appointed Military Governor, not Commander in Chief, that came
later, but Military Governor. Eisenhower was still the Commander in Chief
of the U.S. forces.
HESS: How did you get over there?
RIDDLEBERGER: Well, I flew with Will Clayton, and there was a considerable
delegation from the State Department.
HESS: The President went over on the Augusta I believe.
RIDDLEBERGER: In the meantime, Byrnes had become Secretary of State,
he had taken his oath of office I think the night before he and the President
got aboard the cruiser to go to some Atlantic port in Europe. This was
also done, I think, for the purpose of giving some time to prepare the
President and go over a lot of these papers that were on board--I mean
that were sent with him on board.
HESS: Did you ever hear Secretary Byrnes give his impression about how
readily President Truman was absorbing the material that he was passing
on to him?
RIDDLEBERGER: No, I don't recall, but I think it was obvious in the Potsdam
meeting that he also had absorbed a vast amount in a very short time.
And Truman had in my opinion a very great advantage, he never pretended
to know something he didn't and had no hesitation in asking, you see.
HESS: If he didn't know it he would say so and ask.
RIDDLEBERGER: He'd say so, and ask. That of course, from the point of
those of us in the State Department was an admirable trait, because there
couldn't be confusion you see about something. If he weren't sure about
something, he'd just say, "I don't understand that, tell me more,'' and
so forth. He was very forthright in things like that.
HESS: Did you attend the meetings in Potsdam?
RIDDLEBERGER: Oh, I was in every meeting, yes.
RIDDLEBERGER: Except the very top...
HESS: Except the top level...
RIDDLEBERGER: ...the top three, yes.
HESS: When the Big Three would meet on matters.
RIDDLEBERGER: When they only had the Big Three, they had only...
HESS: Tell me about the meetings and how they were conducted, and your
opinion of Mr. Truman's handling of the meetings. Of course, he had been
asked to be the moderator, right?
RIDDLEBERGER: Because he was the only head of State there, he was in
one sense the chairman too.
HESS: That's right.
RIDDLEBERGER: You see, Stalin was technically at that point, not a head
of State and Churchill was not either, nor was Attlee when he replaced
Churchill after the British election.
HESS: That's right.
HESS: The Prime Minister is not the head of State.
RIDDLEBERGER: The Prime Minister is not the head of State, and Stalin
was not--whatever his title was...Chairman of the...
HESS: Chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.
RIDDLEBERGER: Not the President. Now I should make one correction. I
said I attended all of the meetings, I did not attend the military meetings.
That was confined to the top military people.
HESS: All right, now, briefly, just how were the meetings conducted and
how well did you think Mr. Truman handled them?
RIDDLEBERGER: The agenda had been worked out beforehand, and it was a
round table, and the President more or less opened the proceedings, he
did not necessarily make the first statement, he would turn either to
Stalin or to Churchill and ask if they wanted to open it up, and after
that they would all start. It was not in any sense an affair where the
Chairman had to more or less recognize people. There were only three who
would talk for the most part. Occasionally a foreign minister did. So,
therefore, the duties of chairman were not onerous and the foreign ministers--or
the deputies got together the night before and established the agenda
for the next day. But in addition to that there had been a general agenda
established before we left Washington as I recall.
HESS: Now at that meeting was the time that...
RIDDLEBERGER: This was a series of meetings.
HESS: That's right. I mean during those meetings was when the atomic
bomb was tested back at Alamogordo...
RIDDLEBERGER: That's right.
HESS: ...and it worked and Mr. Truman told Mr. Stalin that there was
a new weapon...
RIDDLEBERGER: That's right.
HESS: ...and perceived no great surprise on his part...
RIDDLEBERGER: That's right.
HESS: ...because he knew about it.
RIDDLEBERGER: But that was done at a military meeting, not at the other
HESS: Yes. I think this was done even informally, if I'm not mistaken.
RIDDLEBERGER: Informally, maybe it was.
HESS: If I'm not mistaken, I think this was just an informal discussion.
RIDDLEBERGER: With Stalin of course. The British knew all about it. Stalin
was told at Potsdam and who was with him or Truman, I don't remember.
HESS: It's in his Memoirs, but I'm really not clear on that.
RIDDLEBERGER: It's in his Memoirs I know.
HESS: But what did you know about the bomb? Did you know anything about
the bomb or our work on atomic energy?
RIDDLEBERGER: No, I didn't know anything about it in the sense of knowing
anything about it technically. I knew something big was up, but I did
not know the, let us say, the enormous possibilities of it. That secret
was very well kept, but at least some of us knew in the State Department
that there was something being prepared something of enormous scope and
HESS: Jumping ahead just a little, and we'll want to come back on Potsdam
a little more, but that bomb was used twice in the following month, on
August the 6th and on August the 9th. What is your general opinion, should
that bomb have been used?
RIDDLEBERGER: Oh I think it was right to use it, yes. Given all the circumstances.
HESS: There are those that say it was not necessarily the last bomb of
the last war, but the first bomb of the next war. It was not used against
primarily Japan, we had already defeated them, it was used to show Russia
what we had. What do you think about that?
RIDDLEBERGER: Well, Russia had been told that, and it...
HESS: It was a demonstration though of power. I mean they knew we had
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes, but I don't agree with that.
HESS: It was a demonstration of power?
RIDDLEBERGER: I don't agree with that theory that Japan was defeated.
HESS: You do not agree with it?
RIDDLEBERGER: I think that Japan would have been defeated, but I think
it was a long, hard, rough road ahead before the final capitulation of
HESS: Do you think that it would have taken the invasion, the invasion
of the islands of Japan?
RIDDLEBERGER: I think so, yes.
HESS: Which were planned. The Olympic Coronet invasion was planned.
RIDDLEBERGER: It might well have taken that, I do indeed. I do think
it shortened the war, I don't know by how long, but I do think it did.
HESS: All right, now moving back to Potsdam. Is there anything of interest
you might say about just the physical surroundings, your housing, for
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes. The meetings were held in the Cecilienhof, which is
a palace, an ex-Hohenzollern palace in the vicinity of Potsdam. We did
not live in the Cecilienhof but we were housed in the vicinity, in requisitioned
places that had bean taken over. I mean requisitioned by the Soviet forces.
We were provided with food and that sort of thing by our armed forces.
They had already moved up and made those arrangements.
HESS: When the meeting opened, Winston Churchill, of course, was the
RIDDLEBERGER: Great Britain.
HESS: Great Britain, and when it closed it was Clement Attlee.
HESS: Did that come as a surprise to you?
RIDDLEBERGER: It did to me, very much so. I was amazed after being victorious
in such a long and bitter struggle, that he would be defeated. Yes, it
was a surprise, perhaps not entirely so as I had been in England during
the war too. I had left Germany in '41 and then came home for awhile and
then in '42 I went to London and stayed until '44, so therefore, I recognized
that some of the opposition to Churchill was increasing, but I did not
think it would reach the point where he would be defeated in the election.
HESS: There has been a good deal of criticism of our handling of both
the Yalta, and the Potsdam conferences. Perhaps more criticism regarding
the Yalta Conference than the one at Potsdam, but criticism of agreements
that we made with the Soviets that were not kept. That we placed too much
trust in them, and they didn't live up to their agreements. Did you personally
think that the Russians, the Soviets, could be trusted, and would live
up to the agreements that they were making?
HESS: What led you to that viewpoint?
RIDDLEBERGER: Well, the whole history of the relationship between the
Soviet Union and Germany and what I thought the real intentions of the
Soviet leaders were. Don't forget, I was still in Berlin for both the
Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact at the outbreak of the war and also for the famous
Molotov visit in the winter of 1939-40 when he came down to carve up Europe,
so I didn't have many illusions about it. And then also during the war
it didn't strike me that the Soviets are cooperative in a number of ways,
so I didn't anticipate that there would be a high degree of cooperation,
HESS: All right, now one of the things that the Soviets tried to do,
as I see it, was to try to surround their country with what they would
call a friendly or neutral zone.
HESS: Poland, Lithuania, and some of the other areas. Is that surprising
in international politics that a major country wants to have a buffer
zone around them?
RIDDLEBERGER: I don't say that it's surprising in international politics
for one moment, but of course, there had been the Moscow declaration of
1943 on liberated areas. Therefore, I think that the Soviets promptly
violated their own commitments as taken at that conference, and I think
that applies to Austria, I think it applies to Rumania, I think it applies
HESS: They had agreed to free elections in Poland which was one of the
main sore points that came up.
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes, and Poland. I'm not talking about Germany, I'm talking
about the victims of Germany.
HESS: Yes, that's right. The adjacent areas to the Soviet Union.
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes. And as these went on I had no reason to think that
they were going to get out. And of course, don't forget that I'd still
been in Germany at the time of the Katyn Massacre, too. And whatever...
HESS: The massacre of the officers in the forest, right?
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes, in the Polish army. And while I always discounted
the Goebbels propaganda, nonetheless, I think that there was a great deal
of evidence produced at that time respecting that massacre, which was
hard to contest, quite apart from the Nazi propaganda on it.
HESS: Do you think President Roosevelt and President Truman gave up too
much at the different conferences, as is quite often stated?
RIDDLEBERGER: I don't know that Truman did. I think that Roosevelt did,
but that's an opinion. I don't know that Truman did because I think he
was already faced with a fait accompli. I mean Yalta had been a fact.
And then I think that over and above that Truman had the enormous political
difficulty of changing the American policy because I think that he was
left with the legacy of Roosevelt, which was far from being a frank expose
given to the American people, therefore, he was faced with a very difficult
HESS: Was Mr. Roosevelt often less than frank with the American people,
in your opinion?
RIDDLEBERGER: I think he was much less than frank, but I'm talking now
about the relations with the Soviet Union. I think he was much less than
frank. I think that while a lot of us knew the true state of affairs,
I don't think the American public did. You know this is another whole
history in itself...
HESS: It really is. It really is.
RIDDLEBERGER: ...the U.S.-Soviet relations during the czar, but I wouldn't
undertake to go into that in a short time.
HESS: Yes, I know. Just one further question on that, but in your opinion
do you think President Roosevelt really expected the Soviets to abide
by their agreements?
RIDDLEBERGER: I often wonder if he did in the end. I think that he had
this enormous confidence in his own ability to influence the developments
of Soviet policy, a confidence which I personally did not share.
HESS: I have read that toward the end of his life his views were changing.
What's your opinion, do you think that he thought perhaps he had been
in error in trusting the Soviets to the degree that he had? Just as an
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes, I think there's some evidence to that effect. I don't
know how persuasive it is because I didn't see the President often enough
to know, myself. But I've heard various things that led me to think, well,
perhaps he had been overoptimistic about his power to influence Stalin,
because that became so evident towards the end of the war, particularly
in respect of Poland, and then the whole history of the other countries
there is nothing but one disappointment after the other, as far as living
up to the obligations of the Moscow conference were concerned.
HESS: Just a brief question about your opinion of some of the other advisers
who the President had at the Potsdam meeting. I believe Admiral Leahy
RIDDLEBERGER: Oh, yes, he was always with him at all these meetings.
HESS: What's your general opinion of Admiral Leahy and his advice?
RIDDLEBERGER: I never knew him very well, he also, at the Potsdam meeting
seemed to confine himself largely to the military side of it. I don't
know what went on. No, I'm talking about the Potsdam meeting, I wasn't
HESS: That's right, that's what I'm talking about.
HESS: He was at Potsdam, too.
RIDDLEBERGER: He was at Potsdam, too.
HESS: That's right.
RIDDLEBERGER: And there I had the impression that he--he didn't intervene
often on the political side of it. Now maybe he did privately with the
President, I don't know.
HESS: How about Charles Bohlen? He was along.
RIDDLEBERGER: Oh my yes, very much so: Yes, the State Department delegation
was James Dunn, H. Freeman Matthews; and Bohlen, and [Charles W.] Yost
and I and Tommy [Llewellyn E., Jr.] Thompson, who died recently, we were
all on the delegation. [Emilio G.] Collado, an economist, and Will Clayton,
who was Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs, was there.
HESS: Pretty high level group. I won't ask you to run down the entire
RIDDLEBERGER: It was more or less assistant secretaries and division
chiefs, or bureau chiefs then, but in those days they called them division,
you see. Oh, yes, I imagine Cavendish Cannon was there, he used to head
the Southern European Division.
HESS: Do you recall the statement that Stalin is supposed to have made
when they were talking about the Pope, and Stalin is supposed to have
said, "How many division does he have?"
RIDDLEBERGER: No, I wasn't there. I've heard it often but I don't know.
I don't recall whether it was Stalin.
HESS: Is that true, have you heard it from some of the other people who
may have been in the meeting?
RIDDLEBERGER: Oh, yes. Sure, I've heard it from people that were there,
but I don't know when it was said.
HESS: I've heard that the statement was made and that the statement was
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes, but I don't know, I never heard him say it. But there
were, you see, we must not forget that in addition to the formal meeting
there were dinners and informal get togethers and…
HESS: Many opportunities.
RIDDLEBERGER: Oh yes, so therefore…
HESS: Picture taking sessions and the like.
RIDDLEBERGER: That's correct, so you can't go entirely by the formal
meetings I mean, because often, as you well know, compromises may be arranged
informally and then merely registered by the formal meeting. Or informal
understandings might be arranged that are not included in any formal papers.
We were there several weeks, and it is possible that high-level understandings
were agreed upon, particularly on the military aspects.
HESS: What is your opinion of Mr. Truman's handling of the matters that
RIDDLEBERGER: I thought he did extraordinarily well. Given his lack of
background--having to make replies before others to people like Churchill
and Stalin who had been deep in the war from the outset. Although one
may be surrounded by advisers nonetheless it's not always easy in a meeting
of that kind for any head of State or any head of government to have to
give a public demonstration of his dependency on advisers, and I don't
blame them. I wouldn't want to do that either.
That's why the preparation for the conference for Mr. Truman was much
more complicated certainly than it was for either Churchill or Stalin,
of that I'm sure. But I thought given all the circumstances and the shortness
of time which he had, and all the responsibilities which evolved upon
him immediately after the death of Roosevelt, I thought he handled himself
in a remarkably capable and astute way.
HESS: Any other thoughts on Potsdam?
RIDDLEBERGER: I think that whatever criticism may be made of Truman,
as you mentioned earlier, the possible giving away too much at Potsdam,
I feel that he did not himself make concessions that were deleterious
to the American interests. I think he was caught in situations where he
felt obliged to go along with a certain decision or certain decisions,
because of commitments that had been made earlier, and this is not a position
that could be--on the part of the United States--be readily turned around.
I think he would have been subjected to very violent criticism if he had
tried to do it too fast. I think he was exceedingly astute in both his
understanding of what the Soviets were really after, and his great appreciation
of how far he could go in changing policy without drawing too much fire
within the United States. Now what I mean by all this I think was shown
later in the Wallace affair.
HESS: In September of '46 when Wallace left.
RIDDLEBERGER: '46, yes.
HESS: This is just asking for your opinion, but do you think that when
Mr. Truman first became President he had a greater suspicion of the Soviets’
motives than Roosevelt had had? Now what I'm leading to is Molotov stopped
by Washington on the way to the San Francisco Conference...
RIDDLEBERGER: The San Francisco Conference, yes.
HESS: ...and as has been very well recorded, was spoken to by Mr. Truman
in rather blunt terms.
RIDDLEBERGER: Because of Poland.
HESS: As I understand it, Molotov said he had never been spoken to in
that manner and Mr. Truman said something to the nature, "Well, if you
would live up to your agreements, you wouldn't have to be spoken to in
a manner like that." Just in your opinion, do you think that Mr. Truman
was coming in with an attitude of great suspicion of the Soviets’ motives?
RIDDLEBERGER: I don't know that he came in with an attitude of suspicion,
but I think that the facts were so early revealed to him, that I can well
understand his resentment about Poland in his conversation with Molotov,
but I think it was a question of facts by that time and a complete unwillingness
of the Soviets to go along with what they had agreed to.
HESS: And how did you get back, did you fly back from Potsdam?
RIDDLEBERGER: I flew back.
HESS: Do you recall conversations that you may have had with other State
Department officials and their reactions to the meetings? You mentioned
you flew over with Will Clayton.
RIDDLEBERGER: Will Clayton.
HESS: Who did you fly back with?
RIDDLEBERGER: Well, I said Will Clayton because we happened to share
the same seat going over, I remember that, and coming back I don't remember
HESS: Do you remember any...
RIDDLEBERGER: Oh, I beg your pardon, I must stop to say something. I
stopped off in Germany on my way back I think, yes, to go over a number
HESS: All right.
RIDDLEBERGER: In Berlin--no, of course, this wasn't Germany. I beg your
pardon. May I stop to think a moment?
HESS: You certainly may.
RIDDLEBERGER: No, I flew back. Now it comes back to me, I now remember
what happened. I shouldn't say I stopped over in Germany as we were in
HESS: You were in Germany.
RIDDLEBERGER: I stopped in Frankfort, that was it, and with Dunn and
Matthews and I went to see General Clay, to give him a complete fill-in
of what had happened at Potsdam. That's what happened. Then I flew back.
I don't know that I flew back with the entire delegation, but I flew back
with Dunn and Matthews. The three of us, I think flew back in an Army
HESS: What seemed to be the general opinion, consensus of opinion if
indeed there was one among the State Department officials, as to how things
had gone, after it was all over and you were leaving? And what did you
tell General Clay?
RIDDLEBERGER: I'll take the last question first, because General Clay
and I, who were great friends, and I worked under him for several years
in Germany after the war. I told him exactly what I thought the real Soviet
HESS: And what did you think they were?
RIDDLEBERGER: I thought they had no intention whatsoever of carrying
out a lot of these agreements that had been arrived at either in the European
Advisory Commission or at the Potsdam Conference, and I particularly thought
they did not intend to carry out the agreement to treat Germany as an
economic entity. Clay didn't like all this at the time, but I think later
on he got over it. But he said, "You're suggesting that I should deviate
from the line that has been laid down by our President at the conference
And I said, "Well, no, I'm not suggesting it, I'm merely telling you
what I think is going to happen."
HESS: And warning you what may come about.
RIDDLEBERGER: What may come about, what I think the real Soviet intentions
are. There was an acid disagreement at that point, but I don't think Clay
ever held it against me. Later on, of course, that's exactly what transpired,
and he had to struggle for over a year with this whole problem of us putting
things in through the West and the Soviets taking it out through the East.
I went over the major decisions, or Dunn and Matthews and I all did, I
in more detail because I worked directly on Germany all the time while
they had other responsibilities, and gave Clay what I thought was the
real meaning behind the Soviet words.
HESS: What did the other men seem to think at this time; Mr. Dunn and
RIDDLEBERGER: They were a little more hopeful than I was, a little bit,
and I don't know that any of the State Department people were very hopeful.
I think most of them foresaw it was going to be very rough going indeed.
Don't forget we had the great advantage of having to deal with the Soviets,
if you can call it that, during the war period, and there was too much
information within the State Department, which we knew about, but which
was never disclosed to the public, about the Soviet attitude.
HESS: Bringing things up to today, what do you think are the goals of
Communism today, have they changed?
RIDDLEBERGER: I don't think they have changed, no I think their methods
are somewhat different, but I don't think they've changed. I think they
still look forward to what they would call a world revolution, their form
of government will become standard so to speak.
HESS: World domination.
RIDDLEBERGER: Well, domination, not necessarily through a military conquest,
but through the evolution of Communism, and the development of Communism
throughout the world. I don't think they will get there, but I think that's
their desire. But it's all written down in their philosophy and their
HESS: They don't make any secret of it do they?
RIDDLEBERGER: No, I'm not revealing any secret on this at all.
HESS: One point I want to make, even after they have made clear what
their goals are, a lot of people say they don't really mean it, and they
now believe we can coexist.
HESS: But they have said full well they don't intend to coexist.
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes, you can coexist if you're strong enough.
RIDDLEBERGER: But of course, I mean Hitler said it all, too, in Mein
HESS: In Mein Kampf, that's right, and people didn't believe that
All right, everything on Potsdam?
RIDDLEBERGER: I don't think of anything else. The agreements have all
been published and the territorial issues as we know have never been resolved
and the German peace treaty has never emerged. All this was contemplated
as you know in the Potsdam agreement. I personally did not have much confidence
the Soviets were going to carry any of it out, and of course, they didn't.
HESS: Which they have not.
RIDDLEBERGER: And then the Austrian discussion was not very profound
at Potsdam, that was deferred more or less to another date and the Soviets
showed no intention of evacuating their troops from Austria even though
they had already recognized the Government there. So to my mind, I could
not see any evidence of the Soviet intentions to withdraw from Eastern
Europe in the immediate future and indeed they wanted to get a Ruhr Authority
in which they would be a full member, in which they could be a full member.
But that's for later, you know, that all shows up much later.
HESS: Yes, it does. All right, moving on to our second topic for the
morning, unfortunately Governor James Byrnes just died, I believe this
month in fact, and in the obituary that I cut out of the news, I would
like to read just a little bit, but it says in effect that General Lucius
Clay credited a speech Byrnes made in 1946 in Stuttgart, Germany as largely
responsible for the failure of Communism to take root in Western Europe
after World War II, and that was when Byrnes assured Europe that U. S.
military forces would remain as long as there was a Soviet threat. General
Clay said later that this was Mr. Byrnes' "most significant contribution
in a lifetime of service." What do you recall about Mr. Byrnes' views
and also of that very famous speech.
RIDDLEBERGER: The background of the Stuttgart speech was indeed very
interesting. By that time I think that both General Clay, and let us say
the higher echelons in the American government, were absolutely convinced
that there was no possibility of executing the decisions at Potsdam in
the way that we had hoped that would be done.
Now the preparation of the speech went over a considerable period of
time. I recall very well that we first discussed this during the peace
conference in Paris in the summer of 1946. I think to understand the background
of it we have to remember that the Byrnes proposal for the forty year
disarmament treaty with Germany had been brought forward at the Paris
peace conference, and this speech was not made until after that.
Secretary Byrnes had gone to Moscow I think it was late in 1945 in an
endeavor to find out what were the basic Soviet fears and see if there
was some way that they might be met. I think that he was persuaded that
the Soviets realized that the French and the British were far weaker than
perhaps even evident to the public at that time and that there were only
two great military powers, namely the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and that
Byrnes who had a great appreciation, I think, in many ways of the fears
of the Soviet Union wanted to find a key which would unlock the door to
some kind of a security system. Therefore, after a long private conversation
with Stalin, he decided that maybe the way to do it was to commit the
United States to a lengthy period of enforcing disarmament of Germany
and preventing the rise of any kind of German militarism for a very long
period of time until effective and fundamental political reforms within
Germany could be accomplished.
Now that was the real point of the forty year disarmament treaty. I speak
categorically on it, because I wrote the first draft and Mr. Byrnes would
not even permit me to discuss it. I was in a rather awkward position and
not being an authority on military matters, I finally pointed out to him
that at some point it seemed to me it must be vetted by someone in the
Pentagon. So with some reluctance, and after some hesitation he finally
took it directly to George Marshall. Before it was presented in Paris,
we had the approval of some of our own military people, but it was kept
a very close secret until it was unveiled at the session on Germany
in the Council of Foreign Ministers during the Italian Peace Treaty Conference
in Paris, as you may remember. We know this proposal got no kind of favorable
response whatsoever in spite of Byrnes' enthusiasm for it.
HESS: Why didn't it, what seemed to be the major opposition?
RIDDLEBERGER: Either because Stalin changed his mind, which I think perhaps
he did if he ever had really intended to go ahead with it, or that
the upper strata of the Soviet government decided that it was better to
hold onto what they had rather than go into a system that would in effect
enable them to carry out the commitments of the Potsdam conference. In
other words, hang on to their territory. By this time there had been a
lot of developments in what we now call the satellites, which reinforced
the power of the Soviet government within those countries.
But there was still a hope as early as the spring and summer of '46,
that there might be a way of diminishing some of this tension and still
meet the legitimate Soviet demands. Clay understood all this very well
and so did Murphy (Murphy was Clay's political adviser). I was the chief
of the division back here and the speech was worked out primarily by the
four of us in Paris. Even then Byrnes didn't deliver it until September.
But the broad outline of it had been determined, let us say, as a result
of Clay and Murphy's report on the actual situation in Germany; my report
on what I thought was the situation in Washington. Byrnes had been in
Paris for some weeks, and we undertook our joint work on the drafting
of it in Paris.
Clay came over with a draft, as I recall, and we all went to work on
it, and Murphy contributed substantially as he always does, and in the
meantime I had done the work on the forty years disarmament proposal.
The speech was in pretty good shape I would say, and ready for presidential
approval by the late summer of '46--and then it was decided that Mr. Byrnes
would go over to Stuttgart and give it on German soil.
Now that's roughly the background of it, and it was a great turning point
of course, in our whole policy. Up to that time Clay was still attempting
to ascertain if there were any possibility of coming to an understanding
with the Russians so that the Potsdam agreement could be implemented within
Germany. But the Control Council was in a constant stalemate and the Soviets
spent most of their time hurling accusations and little else. The speech
itself is history now, but it will show the distance which Truman and
Byrnes had come since Potsdam. In about a year.
The speech itself, I won't comment on that, because anyone can read it.
HESS: That's the background to it.
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes, that's the background of it.
HESS: In your opinion did Secretary Byrnes think that the Soviets might
live up to their agreements, or could be brought around to living up to
RIDDLEBERGER: He had a highly pragmatic mind. He thought that if some
of the Soviet suspicion could be removed, if some of their fears could
be removed, by a formal U.S. commitment, that that was worth trying. That
was one reason we didn't make any great changes in our German policy before
the speech, but by that time, it had become apparent to everyone that
the Control Council would be unable to agree on any important decisions
within Germany and that the Soviets were continuing to haul off anything
they wanted to. At the same time, they were still accusing us of the most
HESS: At the last of this obituary it says:
Mr. Truman and Mr. Byrnes haulted cordial communications after Mr.
Truman's Memoirs called Mr. Byrnes soft towards the Russians.
Would you think Mr. Byrnes was "soft towards the Russians?"
RIDDLEBERGER: No, I never thought that. No, I did not. I don't know what
caused the break, I think that partly it was the inclination of Byrnes
to go on without always telling the President.
HESS: Was that just the nature of his operation or did that express a
degree of dislike for Mr. Truman, or disrespect for Mr. Truman?
RIDDLEBERGER: No, I never had that impression. I think it was just his
way of doing things and he had been such a power, both in the Congress
and particularly in the Senate, and then on the Supreme Court. And he
really was sort of the organizer for war of American industry and that
sort of thing with Clay, and I think it was just his way of doing things.
I think they were very close in the beginning, that's the impression
I had, and I thought Truman had great confidence in him.
Byrnes, unlike George Marshall, was inclined to really go ahead, you
see, and without always making certain that the State Department and the
White House were informed. Now sometimes that has a great advantage, but
he went ahead on this, for example, this forty year disarmament treaty,
you know, and didn't tell anybody. And he gave me orders not to tell anybody.
I had to draft it at night in the State Department and he didn't let anybody,
even my chiefs were not allowed to know about it, which of course, was
embarrassing later on, but he had made up his mind that this was to be
held closely and by God, it was.
HESS: Did you or did you not at that time point out to him that something
of this nature should be checked with others?
RIDDLEBERGER: Oh, I certainly did. I used to do that every time I saw
HESS: What did he say?
RIDDLEBERGER: Oh, he just laughed. I said, "Well, we can do that later
Jimmy, don't worry." We have plenty of time on that.
HESS: One further question on Mr. Byrnes, concerning his resignation.
What do you recall of the background leading up to his resignation and
RIDDLEBERGER: I recall the resignation, in fact he told me during the
Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in New York in December of 1946 that
he was going to resign. He wasn't well and he was exhausted, literally
exhausted, and I remember after one of these very long and tiring sessions
he went back to the Waldorf where--back to his suite there, had a bourbon
and branchwater I guess he called it, and he told me that this was his
last meeting. Of course, I had worked so closely with him on all these
matters (on Germany and Austria). So when he told me I did not have the
impression even then that it was because of any particular break with
the President, but I did not necessarily know about that.
HESS: There was a time, I believe he was coming back from the foreign
ministers meeting in Paris, and on his way back, made the announcement
that he was going to request radio time to address the American people,
even before seeing Mr. Truman.
RIDDLEBERGER: Even before seeing Truman and...
HESS: And Mr. Truman informed him to cancel that and to come down to
see him on the Williamsburg, which was docked down at the Navy
RIDDLEBERGER: Docked down there, yes.
HESS: Was that after you had talked to him?
RIDDLEBERGER: No, no, this must have been after the Paris meeting.
RIDDLEBERGER: No, he was still Secretary of State during the December
HESS: I see.
RIDDLEBERGER: But he was there, I remember very well.
HESS: Did he ever say anything to you about that meeting with Mr. Truman
aboard the Williamsburg?
RIDDLEBERGER: Not to me, no.
HESS: But the impression that you obtained was that he was leaving for
reasons of health, is that right?
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes, that's what he said. He told me that he was completely
exhausted and that he decided that he had better resign, but of course,
there may have been other reasons too. Now, of course, there had been
rumors about the parting of the ways between the White House and the Secretary
of State, but I never knew personally exactly how serious they were, they
always have these ups and downs you know. I recall something of what you
said, but that's the way Jimmy Byrnes was. I think in many ways he regarded
himself as the mentor of Truman and was in a certain sense maybe more
experienced, which he had been up to the time Truman became President.
In other words, he had had more important positions and a wider variety
of experience than Truman had had.
HESS: He certainly had. Now as you recall he wanted the 1944 nomination
as Vice President, which Mr. Truman obtained.
RIDDLEBERGER: Which Truman got, yes he did.
HESS: There are those that say and I believe that Mr. Truman says so
in his Memoirs, that one of the reasons he appointed Mr. Byrnes
Secretary of State was as a consolation prize, to make up for the fact
RIDDLEBERGER: That he didn't get it.
HESS: ...that he didn't get it and if he had got it he would be in the
President's chair at that time.
RIDDLEBERGER: He would have been President, yes.
HESS: Did you ever hear of that?
RIDDLEBERGER: Oh yes, you know there's lots of talk about all this back
at the time, but that is typical Washington conversation.
HESS: What would be your general evaluation of Mr. Byrnes' handling of
the Department of State, administratively, etc., and how good a Secretary
of State did James Byrnes make?
RIDDLEBERGER: I think on the whole, he did pretty well when you look
at what was dumped on him almost without warning. You see, he inherited
all of these other war agencies and I think that the State Department,
which had up to that time been a very small organization, had one of the
worst cases of administrative indigestion that I've ever known. All these
wartime boards were just thrown in there, and Byrnes took them on and
got Don Russell to come up from Carolina to help him, but he was in tremendous
trouble to try to get all that sorted out.
HESS: Going back to 1945, but Mr. Stettinius would have liked to have
stayed on, would he not?
RIDDLEBERGER: Well, I think he would have liked to, but I don't think
he had any possibility of doing it.
HESS: What was the problem there, a lack of rapport with Mr. Truman or
too close association with the Roosevelt administration or what?
RIDDLEBERGER: Well, I suppose so, and then...
HESS: Mr. Truman wanted his own man.
RIDDLEBERGER: ...Truman wanted his own man as Secretary of State, particularly
as the war with Japan was still going on and the big international conferences
on Germany were coming up. And Stettinius, whatever his virtues may have
been, was no heavyweight, you know. At least he was not regarded as any
heavyweight within the State Department. It wasn't entirely his fault,
because don't forget that Roosevelt stuck him in there after Cordell Hull
was finally allowed to go. He tried to go much earlier, and Harry Hopkins
became in effect Secretary of State for the important matters.
Now Stettinius did do the preliminary work, the Dumbarton Oaks, on the
U.N. charter, and he really concentrated almost entirely upon that. I
recall very well towards the end of the war and on the whole struggle
of the Morgenthau plan I dealt directly with Harry Hopkins, so did Matthews,
Dunn and McCloy, who was down at the Pentagon.
HESS: All right, and then Mr. Byrnes resigned. Why was General Marshall
selected as the next Secretary of State, and were there others in consideration?
RIDDLEBERGER: I don't know, but I think that President Truman had a great
admiration for him and I think that was the deciding thing,. Of course,
he was still in China and came back and then had to prepare himself for
the Moscow meeting at the Council of Foreign Ministers in March, 1947.
HESS: Did you help him with that preparation?
RIDDLEBERGER: Poor fellow, he had to listen to me practically every day.
HESS: Would you tell me about that and tell me about...
RIDDLEBERGER: He was very patient.
HESS: ...working with General Marshall, what kind of a man was he, and
how readily did he assimilate information? What comes to mind when you
look back on those early days just after General Marshall came
into the State Department?
RIDDLEBERGER: He assimilated very fast, I'll take that question first.
Of course, he'd had a big background on Germany during the war, and that
sort of thing, but don't forget he had gone out and was off on completely
different matters, but with him it was a question of bringing him
up to date and, therefore, I knew perfectly well that on Germany and Austria
I only had to brief him from the time he left the Pentagon to date, that
was all we had to do.
HESS: He had been working on the China matter for quite some time.
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes, because don't forget this was early 1947 and he had
been out in China and he, of course, had not pretended to be informed
on everything that had gone on in Europe. Therefore, because we had both
Germany and Austria coming up at Moscow, and because they were major issues,
both of them, I spent hours with the Secretary.
He was a remarkable fellow you know, General Marshall was. He was not
a chummy type, who slapped you on the back, and he never called you by
your first name or anything of that sort, but I had an enormous respect
for him and his questions I thought were always very much to the point
and very good, very penetrating.
HESS: You mentioned that you attended some meetings with General Marshall
and Mr. Truman in preparation for several conferences.
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes, and particularly the last one just before we left
HESS: Tell me about the meetings held between Secretary Marshall and
RIDDLEBERGER: We went over some of the latest issues we thought might
come up. These questions have by now been recounted and much published
about the Moscow conference, but I never have forgotten one thing that
Mr. Truman said that's always stuck in my memory as exemplifying his character.
At the end, we had finished going over the principal points, and the President
turned to General Marshall, "Now, General," he said, "you're going off
on a very difficult expedition," I think was the word he used, this was
not quoted, it's the way I remember it. "It's not going to be easy, and
I know perfectly well that you may run into some heavy weather because
of the political situation back here. Now," he said, "I know also at the
conference table how these things go and you would not always be able
to consult." He continued, "You keep me informed, but," he said, "situations
may arise where you'll have to make a decision right then and there, and
you have my complete authority to go ahead and do what you think is best
for the interests of the United States and for world peace." And he added,
"Pay no attention to Vandenberg's polls." That was a topical allusion,
but very good at that time. He concluded, "Do what you think is right
and best and let me deal with the political situation back here."
I think that's very close to what he said, I don't pretend the words
are precisely the same.
HESS: How would you evaluate his handling of the Department of State?
RIDDLEBERGER: Marshall had a very orderly mind, he really gave
us the structure that the State Department has today. He brought it up
to date, I believe because the State Department then had become a large
Don't forget that when I first took over the German desk, in 1941 I knew
practically everybody there, the officers in the State Department, and
it had the enormous advantage of being small and that the clearances were
almost automatic. The officials who dealt with these things knew perfectly
that if they were, let's say, drafting a telegram that might affect another
country, then they'd have to go around and clear it with their colleagues.
There was no elaborate organizational chart, but you knew what your duties
were, and what you had to do. And then questions moved up to the Assistant
Secretary and the Secretary if necessary. That you can do in a very small
organization in a very informal kind of way.
HESS: One of the major things that the Truman administration will be
remembered for is named for General Marshall, the Marshall plan.
RIDDLEBERGER: The Marshall plan, yes.
HESS: How much did General Marshall have to do with the formulation of
the plan that bears his name?
RIDDLEBERGER: He had a great deal to do with it because he bore the responsibility
for it. It had been forecast by the Dean Acheson speech in...
HESS: Cleveland, Mississippi.
RIDDLEBERGER: Cleveland, Mississippi, yes. But it had not been propounded
as a--well, I'll put it this way, as a real possibility, I think, that
the United States would go that far in aiding these countries, until Marshall
made the speech at Harvard.
HESS: Who contributed early ideas toward what later became the Marshall
plan? This is a subject that interests historians a great deal.
RIDDLEBERGER: Oh, I think it was almost entirely within the State Department,
primarily division chiefs there.
HESS: I'll throw out a name, Will Clayton gets a lot of credit.
RIDDLEBERGER: Oh, my yes, yes.
HESS: He took a trip to Europe and wrote a lengthy memo on conditions
he found, and measures he thought should be taken to alleviate those conditions,
do you recall that?
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes, certainly.
HESS: Would you call Will Clayton's memo one of the early ideas behind
the Marshall plan? Why I ask that is because it was not all that early.
General Marshall's speech was in June of '47, Acheson spoke at Cleveland,
Mississippi, I think, in March of '47.
RIDDLEBERGER: March '47 I think.
HESS: And the Clayton memo was not too long before that. In other words,
it seems like such a big operation would need more preparation, earlier
ideas, earlier formulation, than just the Will Clayton memo.
RIDDLEBERGER: Let me explain then how these things are generated, I guess
is the right word, and again here I speak from personal experience. Although
on the Marshall plan I did not have really very much to do with it. I'll
tell you later on what I did, but not very much, because I had Germany
and Austria you see.
But you see, the division chiefs would be meeting constantly with the
head of the European office, and with Dunn. So, these reports of the economic
conditions and the political dangers within all the European countries
were heard practically every morning and then we all read the sort of
the important telegrams that were distributed to all the division chiefs
in the European "Bureau" I guess it was called at that time. So, this
knowledge was being built up really from the end of the war on. The distressing
conditions were being constantly reported upon and the political changes
would be underlined at the same time.
So every division chief within the European Bureau, knew that and this
information was in turn being brought to the attention of the economic
people, of whom Will Clayton was the most important, and then to the Under
Secretaries and the Secretaries. So, the whole economic situation there
and the consequent political dangers were being discussed ever since the
end of the war, and the windup of UNRRA.
HESS: Really nothing new at all.
RIDDLEBERGER: Nothing new at all. Then came of course naturally what
can you do about it? Now, as I recall there were a number of people that
worked very hard on the Marshall plan. My contributions were really very
HESS: What were your contributions?
RIDDLEBERGER: Mostly they had been the situation in Germany and Austria.
It was not contemplated that Germany, at the outset, would be a recipient,
because we already had the GARIOA fund, which was administered through
the Army. But of course, Germany had later become recipient of the Marshall
plan. But at this particular phase, no, the aid, the economic aid that
we gave to Germany was through the Army, through the military government.
HESS: All right, and then on January the 21st of 1949, the day after
Mr. Truman was inaugurated, Dean Acheson was sworn in as his Secretary
of State and remained in that position through the remainder of the Truman
RIDDLEBERGER: Of the Truman administration.
HESS: How would you characterize Dean Acheson?
RIDDLEBERGER: I think he was one of the best Secretaries of State we
ever had, to put it in very simple terms. Maybe I'm prejudiced because
I was always very fond of him personally and we had worked together on
a number of questions. I, in the meantime, had gone to Germany in 1947,
and afterwards, therefore, I used to meet Secretary (of course, he had
been Assistant Secretary of State when I had been in Washington), primarily
at conferences, except at the end of his tenure I came back to Washington
as a result of his decision. He ordered me back in 1952 to become a director
of the German Bureau. So I served directly under him until Eisenhower
came in in 1953.
HESS: You say he ordered you back, were there any specific...
RIDDLEBERGER: Oh, I say he ordered me back, he was Secretary of State...
HESS: He requested that you come back.
RIDDLEBERGER: Well, no, he had me transferred, I'll put it that way.
HESS: Were there any particular problems that were coming up at this
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes. I had left Germany in 1950 and was on loan to the
Marshall plan in Paris. That was really the time when I got the most familiar
with the Marshall plan, and after I left Germany, the contractual agreements
had been negotiated and the big German external debt conference was going
on in London, it had been going on for over a year, I think, and practically
So, during a meeting in Paris, in 1952, probably a NATO meeting of some
sort, the Secretary told me that he was going to transfer Hank [Henry]
Byroade, and to become Assistant Secretary for the Near East and that
he wanted me to take his place as Director of the German Bureau. The Director
of the German Bureau was in effect an Assistant Secretary of State, but
since they had used all of the slots that were allotted, I would be called
Director, which was all right with me.
HESS: You were there between '52 and '53. What comes to mind when you
look back on that period of time? What were your principal duties?
RIDDLEBERGER: In my case it was very simple, I had the running of the
bureau for one thing, of course, but over and above that, Dean Acheson
had brought me back for two very specific reasons. He wanted the contractual
agreements with Germany put through the Senate which was the restoration
of at least a partial sovereignty to the West German state. And you know
they were very complicated documents. I said to the Secretary,
"Oh, my God, this was negotiated after I left Germany. I'm not really
familiar with the details. I know about the general terms."
"Well," he said, "you can learn it. You have to do it," he said. "You
have to do it, I don't have anybody else, and nobody has your background
on Germany that I have around there now, and you must come back and do
it." And then he said, "The debt conference in London has gone to pot,
and we've got to have somebody in that knows enough about the prewar financial
arrangements and is capable of running the Washington end of that."
So, I climbed aboard the Queen Mary, I think it was, and took
the contractual agreements with me and I really prepared myself for the...
HESS: So you really prepared yourself on the Queen Mary, that
RIDDLEBERGER: On the Queen Mary.
HESS: All right.
RIDDLEBERGER: Then I plunged directly into the hearings before the Senate
on the contractual relations agreements and they were both formal and
informal preparations for the hearings before the foreign relations committee.
That all took, I suppose, several months there before they were approved
by the Senate, but in the meantime I was very deep in the debt negotiations
that were going on in London. And those were not wound up until we came
to an agreement at the very end of the Truman administration. This was
the first time that I know of in modern times that the total external
debt of a major industrial country was negotiated in one conference.
However, it was the end of 1952 before those agreements were finally
concluded and signed, and that meant an enormous amount of work here,
both preparation on the Hill, but also going back and forth to New York
to deal with the American creditors. In the meantime, the bureau was going
on, there were lots of problems as usual here.
HESS: Here is a xerox copy of a page from the Official Register
listing the members of the Bureau of German Affairs, if you will just
take a glance over some of the men that you had working for you at that
time, anything in particular come to mind--for instance Mr. Geoffrey Lewis,
who was your deputy director?
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes, Geoffrey Lewis, he became Ambassador later on, I think
he is retired now.
HESS: Was he a valuable man?
RIDDLEBERGER: Very much so. Very much so. Well...
HESS: Anything else come to mind on some of the other gentlemen?
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes, [Arthur] Stevens retired, [Perry] Laukhuff I think
resigned, later went to New York. I haven't seen him recently. [John A.]
Calhoun became Ambassador; [Martin J.] Hillenbrand is going to go to Germany
now as Ambassador. [Daniel] Margolies is still here I think, he worked
on the economic side, dealt with German economic affairs. I don't see
the name of Reinstein, Jacques Reinstein, he was the one who did most
of the work on the...
HESS: I copied the page from the '52 volume, perhaps he's in the '53
volume, I don't really know.
RIDDLEGERGER: He should be in this one too, I'm surprised, yes. But he
and I did most of the German external debt settlement, I mean as far as
this government was concerned in Washington. I don't know why his name's
HESS: All right, just a few questions about the political events of 1952.
What were your views when Mr. Truman removed himself from the political
scene in March of 1952? Were you surprised?
RIDDLEBERGER: Well, I wasn't here, I was still in Paris.
HESS: When did you come back from Paris in '52?
RIDDLEBERGER: I came back in May or June of 1952.
HESS: And his announcement had been in March.
RIDDLEBERGER: March the 29th of 1952. Who did you think that the Democrats
had the best chance with after Mr. Truman took himself out of the race?
Anyone in particular?
RIDDLEBERGER: I don't remember.
HESS: Did you watch matters of that nature at all?
RIDDLEBERGER: Oh, my yes, from abroad, but of course, I wasn't here,
and I don't remember.
HESS: Of course, the election was between Governor Stevenson and General
Eisenhower. How did you foresee the outcome of that contest? Who did you
think would win?
RIDDLEBERGER: I thought Eisenhower would win. I thought his popularity
would carry him through.
HESS: A tough man to defeat.
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes, very much so. I don't take any great personal credit
for that perspicacity.
HESS: In the years following the Truman administration you held ambassadorial
positions in Yugoslavia, Greece, and Austria. What is your evaluation
of the effects of the actions taken during the time of the Truman administration
on those three countries? First Yugoslavia.
RIDDLEBERGER: I thought that one of the most courageous decisions that
Truman had taken was that of 1949, I guess, or late '48 to extend economic
aid to Tito. In saying that, let me hastily repeat that I had nothing
to do with it. I was in Berlin under the blockade and knew pretty well
what the military situation in Europe was, which of course, was not favorable
from our point of view, NATO had not been created and I think Truman showed
great courage in going ahead with that. And I think it turned out that
he was absolutely right. But I was not involved in it, I was still in
HESS: Should we have given greater support, perhaps earlier support to
Tito to try to split him further away from Soviet-Communist involvement?
RIDDLEBERGER: No, I think we gave it as soon as we saw there's a possibility
of it. That's why I say I think it took courage particularly, because
these were the days of the cold war and if you persuade any American Congress
to vote money for...
HESS: For a Communist.
RIDDLEBERGER: For a Communist dictator, you can imagine, it's a pretty
rough affair. As I found out later myself when I had to come back and
No, I think Truman was absolutely right and I think it showed, as is
customary with him, a lot of courage. You know, when he thought something
was the right thing to do, he would do it.
HESS: All right now, about Greece. What was the attitude of the Greek
people towards Mr. Truman and the Truman Doctrine?
RIDDLEBERGER: I went there long after that...
HESS: When did you go to Greece?
RIDDLEBERGER: I didn't get to Greece until 1958.
HESS: Was there still an attitude of appreciation for the actions Mr.
Truman had taken?
RIDDLEBERGER: Oh, my yes, an attitude of admiration, too, for Truman,
his willingness to go ahead with it. But don't forget that it was '58
before I went there.
HESS: That's right.
RIDDLEBERGER: I went there because of Cyprus, Dulles sent me there. You
see with Tommy Thompson, I had done the Trieste negotiation. I was in
Belgrade and he was in London, and between us we more or less maneuvered
that one. And then a couple of years later Secretary Dulles told me to
go to Greece, we were going to try the same sort of thing on Cyprus. It
finally worked in a way. That was during the Eisenhower administration.
HESS: Just a brief question about Secretary Dulles. How would you rate
him with the Secretaries of State during the Truman administration?
RIDDLEBERGER: He had a lot of guts when it came to deciding things and
I had obviously had to work with him very closely on Trieste and on Cyprus.
I'd be called back and forth and particularly on Yugoslavia where we had
so much trouble in Congress on the aid appropriation. He was very steadfast
in going ahead when he decided the policy was right.
HESS: Of course, everyone knows that Secretary Dulles traveled around
RIDDLEBERGER: Traveled all the time.
HESS: ...a great deal. I read at the time that that may have cut into
the responsibility of the man on the scene. Perhaps he did not give the
ambassadors enough responsibility, and tried to handle problems that arose.
around the world with a personal visit.
RIDDLEBERGER: I don't know, I never experienced that. He came once to
HESS: He came once.
RIDDLEBERGER: ...just once. But I never had to go through that. No, no
he traveled a great deal, but don't forget apart from the NATO meetings
which were something else again, he was usually in connection with some
alliance or setting up some alliance and sometimes in particular countries
where he had been urged to come.
HESS: They even named the airport after him, you know.
RIDDLEBERGER: Absolutely, I mean it wasn't really that he was there behind
the scene at the wrong time, at least I never noticed it. The NATO council
of course, saw a great deal of him because that was only normal, he came
to these meetings.
HESS: And you were Ambassador to Austria in 1962.
RIDDLE BERGER: '62 to '67.
HESS: That's right.
RIDDLEBERGER: Earlier I was director of the aid program from '59 to '61.
HESS: And chairman of the Development Assistance Group in Paris from
'61 to '62.
RIDDLEBERGER: '61 to '62, it was called "committee" by that time. I was
the last chairman of the Development Assistance Group, but then it became
a part of the new OECD after the treaty was ratified in 1961, then I went
to Paris. The last meeting of the group was in Japan and later I went
to Paris and was the first chairman of the DAC as they called it, get
it started, for over a year.
HESS: Well, as you were in Austria many years after the Truman administration,
of course, what are your views on how we handled events in Austria?
RIDDLEBERGER: Earlier you mean.
HESS: Earlier, during the Truman administration.
RIDDLEBERGER: On this, I must explain that while I worked directly upon
the Austrian problems right after the war for two years including the--with
Francis Williamson--the drafting of the first American proposal for the
Austrian treaty. It took ten years, so these are very early proposals.
After I went back to Germany in 1947, and I was no longer competent for
Austria. So my direct connection with the Austrian treaty was from 1944...roughly
'44 to '47, In Moscow in 1947, Marshall had appointed me the American
deputy for the Austrian treaty, but I never served because when I got
back to Washington (I'd stopped over in Germany after the Moscow Council
of Foreign Ministers meeting) to help out on the negotiations for Bizonia,
as they called it, the (amalgamation of the British and American zones).
I came back to Washington, Marshall told me that he was terribly sorry,
but I had to go back to Germany, that Clay had asked that I come back
there and that he had agreed. He said he knew it wasn't fair, but I had
to do that. I had been on Germany so long, you see. Therefore, instead
of becoming the Deputy for the Austrian treaty, I went back to Germany
for three more years.
But to come back to your earlier question, Sam Reber and Tommy Thompson
did do most of the work during the long negotiations, Tommy at the end.
He was the Ambassador in Vienna, and I was not at all involved in the
negotiations after 1947.
HESS: All right, now just some general questions. As you know, Mr. Truman
had a number of Republican people in fairly high office, Paul Hoffman
RIDDLEBERGER: Paul Hoffman.
HESS: John Foster Dulles was special assistant in the State Department
during a good deal of the Truman administration.
RIDDLEBERGER: And basically did the negotiation on the Japanese peace
HESS: He certainly did.
RIDDLEBERGER: ...with Allison.
HESS: So, Mr. Truman had several Republicans in high office. What is
your opinion on Mr. Truman's understanding of the value of having members
of the opposition party in positions of responsibility?
RIDDLEBERGER: He had more than that, he had Vandenberg on the delegation.
HESS: He certainly did.
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes indeed.
HESS: I didn't mean to name all of the Republicans in high office...
RIDDLEBERGER: Yes, I see.
HESS: ...by any means. My question is, in your opinion, how good of an
understanding did Mr. Truman have of the value of having members of the
opposition in positions of responsibility?
RIDDLEBERGER: I thought he saw very clearly the possible advantages of
it. It sometimes had disadvantages too, particularly when it came to discussions,
internal discussions within an American delegation, and it's always more
complicated to have a member of the opposition party, more or less within
the councils there, but I think Mr. Truman understood that very well.
HESS: One of the risks that must be run.
RIDDLEBERGER: One of the risks that must be run, but I, myself, did not
have very much direct contact because while I knew John Foster Dulles
(who came to Moscow with us in 1947, for the Council of Foreign Ministers),
and I remember talking frequently with him there, I had nothing to do
with the Japanese treaty. As for Vandenberg, I think he was at the Paris
peace conference in '46, but I was there primarily on Germany and Austria,
and not for the Italian peace treaty. I came over several weeks after
the others as I remember. So. I didn't myself have much personal or direct
contact with Vandenberg. I think Senator [Tom] Connally was also on the
delegation, but I had little contact with him.
HESS: I think so.
RIDDLEBERGER: He was a Democrat, and I didn't have a great deal of direct
relations with him.
HESS: Approximately how many times did you meet with President Truman
during the Truman administration? Not necessarily by yourself, but in
a group. Of course, you were in meetings with him at Potsdam.
RIDDLEBERGER: That's just it. I mean how do you count it? At Potsdam
I saw him every day practically. I usually sat right behind him when Germany
and Austria came up for discussion. I saw him at practically all of the
parties and that sort of thing. I just...
HESS: So you saw him a good number of times.
RIDDLEBERGER: But I was not then an Ambassador, I was a division chief
in the State Department. It's one thing to see him, to be in the same
room, it's another thing to be in touch officially.
HESS: How would you rate Mr. Truman's general handling of the office?
RIDDLEBERGER: I thought he did remarkably well. Of course, I think Truman
was a great President in spite of his, to put it bluntly, lack of background
on European matters. I think he had the insight and determination when
they were both needed.
I can't pretend I knew the President well, I didn't. I found a picture
the other day of Will Clayton and General Hilldreth and me coming out
of the White House after we had seen the President on some question.
You asked me the number of times, I don't even know, I'd go back and
forth telling him what was coming up and so forth.
HESS: In your opinion, how good of a grasp of conditions did Mr. Truman
have of foreign affairs. How good a grasp of matters pertaining to foreign
affairs did Mr. Truman come to have, say in 1952 and '53?
RIDDLEBERGER: I think in the end he had a very comprehensive grasp. But
don't forget he had two Secretaries of State in whom he had complete confidence
and who made it a point to keep him fully informed, and also all the reasons
why they thought that a certain policy was right for him (Marshall and
HESS: In your opinion what were Mr. Truman's major accomplishments during
his administration and what were his major failings? What did he do right
and what did he do wrong?
RIDDLEBERGER: There you asked me a very difficult question because that
covers the waterfront and--don't forget I wasn't always there.
HESS: Would you think that he was somewhat more successful on the foreign
field then he was on the domestic field? Will he be known, more or less,
for the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall plan...
RIDDLEBERGER: He would be better known for them, yes, but I think he
was successful from what I know, but again, I repeat I wasn't in...
HESS: You were out of the country.
RIDDLEBERGER: ...out of the country.
HESS: You were busy.
RIDDLEBERGER: And didn't come back until the end of his administration.
I was about to say the same thing, the Truman Doctrine, the Point IV,
the whole direction of American policy for which he took responsibility
for after the war, the major decisions on Germany and so forth. Truman
had a lot of tough issues and I think he made the right kind of decisions.
HESS: In your estimation, what is his place in history...
RIDDLEBERGER: And then comes the Korean war.
HESS: That's right.
RIDDLEBERGER: Of which I won't...
HESS: That's a different subject isn't it?
RIDDLEBERGER: That's a different subject, yes. But I admire him and I
think his place in history, to put it simply, is very much assured.
HESS: All right, do you have anything else to add on your role in the
Truman administration, your duties, on Mr. Truman as a man, anything else
that you would like to add?
RIDDLEBERGER: No, maybe I will think of something later on, but of course,
don't forget that I was in Washington during his first administration,
but only for about two years, and there I was dealing entirely with Germany
and Austria. Then I came back only at the end of his second term
really, when I took over the German bureau again. I left in '47 and came
back in '52, so I was away five years you see, in fact only came back
at the end of the Truman administration, and there I had very specific
things to do. They were things that were underway and did not require
constant consultation with the White House, so I didn't see the President
very often even when I had higher position as director of the German Bureau,
because he had this great confidence in Acheson. I saw the Secretary practically
every day. I was dealing with things that had to be done, but they were
not things that required White House approval. I think that's the best
way to describe it. But as for Truman in general, I have a great admiration
HESS: All right, thank you very much, Ambassador.
RIDDLEBERGER: Not at all.
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