Oral History Interview with
Secretary of the Treasury in the Truman Administration,
1946-53. Other Federal positions once held include Executive Vice-President
and Director, Defense Plant Corporation, 1940-43; Assistant to the Director
of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, 1940-44; Federal Loan Administrator,
1945; Director, Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion, 1945-46.
Secretary Snyder was a longtime close friend of Harry S. Truman beginning
with their service in the U.S. Army Reserves after World War I.
John W. Snyder
April 3, 1968
By Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview
Transcript | Additional Snyder Oral History
This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.
Opened September, 1970
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices
and Restrictions | Interview Transcript
| Additional Snyder Oral History Transcripts]
Oral History Interview with
John W. Snyder
April 3, 1968
By Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Our first topic for this morning has to do with the memorandum of July 6, 1945. Do you have your copy?
SNYDER: I don't believe so.
HESS: Here is a copy that I have. That particular memorandum was submitted to the President on July 6, 1945, the same day he left Washington, D.C. bound for the Potsdam Conference. It's initialled J.S., G.A., and S.I.R. Could you tell me a little bit about the background to that memorandum and perhaps we can discuss some of its provisions?
SNYDER: On July the 4th just before the President left for Potsdam he invited several of us to go down on his ship. I think it was called the
Potomac at that time. It was a ship that had been assigned to President Roosevelt and it was kept tied up in the Potomac down at the Navy yard. We took a little trip down the river. During the trip we discussed the oncoming meeting in Potsdam with Churchill and Stalin and tried to envision what the problems would be that would come up--the subjects that would have to be treated, the position that the President would desire to take on those various matters. Quite a number of rather difficult problems were going to have to be faced, such as the division of Germany for occupation, the lines of communication, the settlement of reparations, if any, and prisoners of war. There were quite a number of rather difficult, sticky subjects there because of the attitude that had been disclosed by Stalin at the Teheran conference. As a result of our discussions Sam Rosenman, George Allen and I, who were among those invited on the trip,
made certain suggestions that we thought would be very pertinent to the discussion and mentioned them to the President. He asked us to draw up a memorandum of them, which we did, and furnished him with a copy before he left on the 6th of July. One of the items that we thought very important to press at that time was the insistance that Russia should enter into the Japanese war to relieve part of the pressure on our troops in the Pacific. As it turned out that became less important and would probably have been better if we hadn't pressed it because, although we didn't know it at the time, there was imminent the dropping of the atomic bomb which shortened the war materially, but at that time, except for an inkling that Mr. Truman had, the rest of us knew nothing about that prospect. So, we felt that to relieve the pressure on our troops that it would be the most advisable to urge Russia into taking an action on the
Pacific side against Japan.
HESS: In his Memoirs Mr. Truman says that one of the concessions, so-called, that Roosevelt obtained from the Russians at Ya1ta was that they would enter the war against Japan within a three month period after the cessation of hostilities in Europe. Were you aware of this particular arrangement at that time, do you recall?
SNYDER: I don't think we were. Mr. Truman learned this, subsequently. It didn't come out at this discussion, and we just brought the matter up as in our opinion it was very important.
One of the things that demanded immediate attention was the economic stabilization of Europe. Europe had been devastated by a long, costly and destructive wax and many of the nations were paralyzed--Belgium, Holland, Prance, certainly Italy and Germany were in dire straits because of the great damage and big drain on their
population and on their resources. So, we felt that among the earlier things that ought to be discussed was how the countries were going to undertake to, go about getting back on their feet again. Particularly, coal was a great problem at that very moment because the British mines were running on limited production. The Saar basin was one of the great sources of coal, and so it was thought that that should be one of the requirements, to get the German coal mines in operation to help lift part of the scarcity in Western Europe. Food was a tremendous problem. Subsequently, it was so serious that Mr. Truman asked former President Hoover to go over and try to straighten out the food situation along the lines that he did after World War I. It was because of his rich experience and background knowledge that he was able to carry out the task so effectively. He knew the
habits of the people and their customs for hoarding food and hiding it out and how they hid it and where they hid it, that helped him break out a lot of the surplus food that had been stored away for dire times, but nevertheless the food situation was very, very critical and was a matter that should have been given early attention. Transportation was in very bad state of repair, particularly in Germany and Italy. The French railroads of the east were in pretty bad shape. The British roads were in fair shape but needed repair. They hadn't been destroyed, but the railroads of France, up around the northern ports that were used in the invasion area, were badly knocked out; and so it required early attention to re-establish those rail lines and rolling stock so as to aid in the distribution of food and coal, raw materials, clothing and people. There were quite a number of raw materials that were
in short supply that had to be balanced because of the terrific devastation of the bombing. It knocked out large areas of industry in England and in France, Belgium, and certainly in Italy and Germany.
Right after Mr. Truman was over there I went on a mission that I told you about--the surplus property problem--and if you will recall, I told you of visiting some fourteen bombed out industrial cities in Germany, which brought home to me later how vital it was that we highlight the restoration of the industry and the redistribution of raw materials for the essential things: iron, and synthetic rubber for tires--all the tires had been pretty well worn out; and parts for trucks, particularly. We had to get transportation available including railroads and rebuilding ships and river boats. Spare parts were very important items to be considered and for that reason we had to try to get the
industries reoperating and get raw materials flowing to them. We put this item in the memo although we realized that at that conference it could only be touched on and flagged as a potential long-range consideration, in the long-range reconstruction and rehabilitation of the devastated areas. We fully realized that that would take a great deal of planning and preparation, provision of where-withal to do it, and it did. It was some years later before the Marshall Plan was formulated and it was the most effective of the means of rehabilitating and reconstructing the war torn areas, although you must always give great credit to the drive and determination of the people them-selves. This aid just encouraged them to work harder.
The next matter that we discussed and decided was of importance to put in the memorandum concerned Great Britain. We felt that Great Britain, now that it was relieved of the
European threat, should give all the help that it could in the Pacific. They were, of course, somewhat reluctant. They, too, had their great problems; they had been carrying the heavy burden of the war for many years and had great damage at home, a great loss of manpower, and so it was going to require quite an effort to keep them steamed up and helping in the other sector of the war now that the European part had been settled.
HESS: I have a question on that--just an observation. Now, before the war they had had quite an area of influence in the area of southeast Asia, in Singapore and their long ties with Australia and things like that...
SNYDER: Oh, they had indeed, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Malaya...
HESS: ...that's right, weren't they anxious to
get back and re-establish their...
SNYDER: They were, but they were just as anxious and willing that the United States should do it, so it wasn't a matter of their not being anxious to get back in control. Of course, New Zealand and Australia had not been touched by the Japanese invasions but Singapore and Hong Kong had, and those were their two important trading points. They were most anxious to get back in control of those two centers and to re-establish their trade operations in that area, but when it came to the actual using of their armed forces and so forth, they were, at the same time somewhat anxious to have the United States take on as much of the burden as they could and would.
HESS: During the time of your trip to Europe in September of that year that we discussed last time, you mentioned that you were in England
and saw Mr. Churchill and several of the dignitaries there. Did the subject of England's former possessions or possessions in this area come up at that time?
SNYDER: Only casually, because as I said...
HESS: You were there for something else.
SNYDER: ...we were there for something else and not only that, Australia and New Zealand were pressing forward and it looked like they were not going to have a great problem with their rehabilitation and reconstruction. The two points that were mentioned particularly were the re-establishment of Singapore and of Hong Kong and to try to get help in Indonesia--help Holland to get their oil properties operating again and the rubber and the various items that were in short supply around the world that were controlled largely in
In regard to our policy towards Germany, we had, with the President's collaboration, discussion and approval, selected about five items that we thought had top priority and that should be brought up at the Potsdam Conference. The first was the demilitarization by reparations and otherwise. The Russians, of course, wanted to go in and take everything. There were some demands by the British and quite a bit by the French, but the Russians wanted to denude Germany to the greatest extent possible. An attempt was subsequently made to tone this attitude down at Potsdam, but the Russians did not wait. They moved in and just took out trainloads of equipment in the most profligate sort of manner; they uprooted and tore out the machinery from plants, breaking off the legs and supports of lathes and drill presses and things--just tore them out bodily from their
foundation and loaded them on trains and sent them back to Russia. I would venture to say that there was a relatively small percentage of that machinery that ever was actually put to use. But looking back it probably served in the long run as a good thing, because it made the Germans put in modernized machinery to replace the old worn-out equipment that the Russians had appropriated. As I touched on just casually a while ago, the geographical dismemberment of Germany into occupation sectors was a matter that had to be handled with a great deal of care and, of course, we had had an inkling from the Yalta meetings as to the ambitions of Stalin in regard to the occupation--not to the extent that it eventually turned out to be but we knew that they wanted to occupy large areas apparently until the peace was all settled. It was never fully appreciated at that time, that they intended to permanently occupy what later became known
as the Iron Curtain countries.
HESS: One of the books that I'm reading now is George Kennan's Memoirs, and the few pages that I read last night were on his particular assignment in England after the war. And he mentions that the British and the Russians at that time both had a plan laid out for the division of Germany, and he was having a very difficult time getting something definite from the United States Government as to how Germany would be divided up after the war. But just one general question on this: At the time of your discussions with the President was it seen that there might be some difficulty with placing Berlin in the Russian sector and not having a corridor? During the time of the meeting on the U.S.S. Potomac, what was Mr. Truman's attitude concerning our relations with the Russians? Now this had been after the time that he had spoken to Molotov with
rather stern words.
SNYDER: I thought, and still do, that Mr. Truman had a more realistic view of what the Russians attitude would develop into than most of the other negotiators. Most of them were very anxious to get something settled and to start rebuilding the countries and so forth. Mr. Truman had taken a very firm position with Molotov when he was enroute to the San Francisco conference, and although at times he made joking remarks regarding Stalin and others in the Russian hierarchy, underneath it he had a pretty firm feeling and appraisal of how difficult they were going to be to get along with.
We discussed re-education in Germany, particularly the occupation area, because, I think, it was Rosenman who particularly felt that there was going to have to be considerable de-Nazification and realignment of the Prussian
military attitude that had been in existence since Bismarck, and that there had to be definite pacification of the German people. So re-education was put in as something that ought to be touched on and plans started, although we didn't expect a great deal to be accomplished at the Potsdam conference we felt it ought to be flagged as one of the very important matters that were to be worked out during occupation and during the reconstruction days.
A matter that we took up, although we didn't fully appreciate the depth and vastness of the problem, we were later pleased that we did give it some very serious thought and put it among the top priorities, was the distribution of the scientific minds in Germany that had been doing such remarkable work in the prewar and war days in design, in science and
development, and in engineering. Of course, by that time we did know something of their skills because the allies had knocked out several of the technical plants, we knew that they were working on some very new conceptions in missiles and we had blown up the heavy water plant in Norway, and we knew very well by the "whizz-bangs" that they had come up with some new thinking and new processes. But, as I said, we were not armed with the knowledge of what the Manhattan Project was. All of us there had some knowledge that something big was going on, I particularly because of my experience with the Defense Plant Corporation in supplying materials and priorities, manpower and technical knowledge that had constantly come up and, of course, Sam Rosenman had maybe some inkling. I never knew how much Sam really did know or did not know. He was so closely associated with the President that I've always felt that he
had more knowledge than, certainly, any of the rest of us had, and that helped to guide us to a great extent in putting some of these items on the agenda.
HESS: Did you refer to President Roosevelt?
SNYDER: President Roosevelt. You see, Sam Rosenman had been very close to him all during the war and certainly was taken into confidence by the President on grave matters.
HESS: How close were the Germans to construction of an atomic bomb?
SNYDER: The knowledge was there, but working out the practical application was where they were behind. They had plutonium and they had the reactor plan worked out; they knew how to separate the atom in the reactor processes, and so forth. The formulas were pretty well in mind;
it was the practical matters that had to be worked out. You see, after we were sure it was going to work, we had quite a problem in controlling the device and stabilizing it. Working out a satisfactory system of triggering the bomb was most intricate. They had run into a great deal of difficulty with our bombing of their plants and their equipment was being constantly destroyed and, as I say, we had bombed the heavy water plant up in Norway. That was to have been one of their chief sources of supply. I visited the I.G. Farben plant when I was over later in the year and we found--I think I mentioned it--the tremendous work that they had been doing there under very, very difficult operations, because they'd be constantly bombed out and to devote much work to putting the plants back together. And many of their synthetic operations and quite a bit of their laboratory work was scattered all over
Germany and it was most difficult for them to get it all pulled together. I think Von Braun, as I remember, said that they were some little time away from actually having a workable bomb.
HESS: Was he in charge of the development of the V-2 at that time?
HESS: On the subject of obtaining the German scientists, just at the end of the war, Russia went in and took many of the scientists.
SNYDER: Russia knew where they were. They sent a mission there and they picked them up and took them back to Russia without saying anything to anybody about it.
HESS: Did you know that they had done that at this time, early in July?
SNYDER: I don't think that we knew it at that time.
HESS: I just wondered if this came up in the discussion.
SNYDER: Mr. Truman, I think, brought us the word back. He learned after the Potsdam meeting that they had taken a lot of scientists to Russia.
HESS: When he came back from Potsdam?
SNYDER: Yes. He learned it while he was over there.
And then the last item we discussed was what sort of public relations policy that the United States was going to adopt a deal with the German population. That is a subject about which we learned how greatly deficient we were in full knowledge of how to conduct occupation of enemy lands that had been taken over by
conquest. Since then we have conducted a continuing school in the Defense Department, in the Army particularly, on just exactly the processes, the monetary system, the educational system, the policing, the economy; it has now been given careful detailed study. It would have been marvelous if we could have spent three or four years on the subject before 1945, but nevertheless we did have great success. We didn't know just how this was going to work out at the time we were talking on the Potomac that day, but as it turned out, the cooperation of the German people was remarkable. Our relationship with the Germans couldn't have been finer. We, of course, had some experience back in World War I. I was in Germany for many months after the armistice. I was in the 32nd Division, which was one of the divisions in the Army of Occupation. As a matter of fact,
our division was the deepest into Germany of any of those sent up there, and we established a splendid relationship with the German population and found them very cooperative and anxious to get the war aftermath over with and get back to normal life. It has been a remarkable experience for me, through history and through actual observation, to see how time and again the militaristic Prussian influence has brought Germany into great disorder through military operations when at heart they are a peace-loving, family-loving, industrious people. That was demonstrated both in our occupation after World War I and to a much greater extent after World War II.
HESS: What is it in the German character that makes them follow along the militaristic line?
SNYDER: Their actual dependence through the years
on a leader. Their system even in peacetime, and it's still very much the same way today, the villages and towns have a burgermeister who makes all the major decisions regarding the industry, transportation, policing and so forth. They look to him, and he's a very important man. In the rural areas he decides on the crops division--how much land should be planted in turnips, and potatoes, and so on. They rely on him so as to keep the crops balanced, so they won't have a surplus of this and shortage of that, and it had worked very well for them. It also worked exceptionally well when Bismarck, the Kaiser, and Hitler took over. They had their financing operation all set up for them. It was the system they found the easiest, simplest and most efficient way to operate in peacetime, but it also fitted quickly into a militaristic domination because they had accustomed the people to look to a leader and
to guidance in their daily conduct of life.
We had a great idea which we never got very far with as Mr. Truman was not too enthusiastic about it. We thought it would be great if we had the peace conference in the United States. That was just a notion that it might have a greater influence on the decisions of the conferences and discussions were held in this country. We put that in just for a little horse trading. And then the question came up about whether or not we were going to definitely have to establish some permanent military and naval bases and we ought to get those traded into the operation. By and large that's about the substance of our memo which you and I found while going through my papers here. Our discussion on the Potomac led to that memo. As you can see we were groping, we were studying the things, trying to be helpful and, of course, Mr. Truman led a great deal of the discussions
because he had had much better contacts than most of us at that time.
HESS: Looking back, who do you recall as being at the meeting on the Potomac that time? Who do you recall being there?
SNYDER: Oh, there were five or six--I'm trying to think who the commander of the Potomac was at that time--he was there; General Vaughan was there; Vardaman was there; Charlie Ross, I think; and that's about it.
HESS: After the President left for the conference, who stayed behind to see to the operations of the Government? Who was in the White House?
SNYDER: The man in charge was Sam Rosenman. Later, of course, he went over for the last week and for the trip back with Mr. Truman, and he actually was in charge. Mr. Latta had charge of keeping all the records and the files, and
then Bill Hassett was there.
HESS: Was George Allen in the White House at that time?
SNYDER: I don't think so. He was in and out but I don't think he had...
HESS: He didn't have an official position at that time, but I just wondered if he was around.
SNYDER: Well, he was around, oh, yes.
HESS: Recalling back, were there any particular problems that came up at this time?
SNYDER: Well, there was just a tremendous number of problems--oh, yes, and by the way, Fred Vinson; I don't want to leave Fred out. He had his office over in the east wing, and he was head of OWMR at that time. Yes, we had a good many problems in regards to the OWMR's area of responsibility that had come up in
trying to straighten out some of the problems caused by the cessation of the war, contract cancellations, trying to reorient the troops. We were trying to move troops out of Germany and Europe back across the Atlantic with their equipment and so forth and send many of them on to the Pacific. So all those problems were before us. Then we had the economic problems, the political problems that were coming up in Congress, questions of procedure were coming up constantly. Part of that time I was Federal Loan Administrator and I was already beginning to undo some of the war setup by merging all of the various subsidiaries into the RFC. Mr. Vinson had started his staff working on a program for reconstruction and rehabilitation in the United States. There were constant conferences with leaders who were already having discussions with industrial and labor leaders about getting things back into operation.
HESS: In the foreword written by George Elsey of the President's trip to Berlin he mentions that Fred Vinson had been scheduled to make the trip to Potsdam but had dropped out of the party on the eve of the President's departure to become Secretary of the Treasury later that month.
SNYDER: Well, of course, that is not a factual statement. At the time, it had not been settled that Fred was going to become Secretary of the Treasury while the President was gone. It was generally understood that no decision or announcement or action would be taken until his return.
HESS: On Morgenthau's position, is that right?
SNYDER: That's right, on the Morgenthau position. There was a lot said, and although Mr. Vinson was tremendously anxious to go, as he thought that the fact that he did attend would be a great
symbol of prestige, Mr. Truman, however, did not ever seriously consider taking him.
HESS: He really didn't intend for him to go at all, is that right?
SNYDER: That's right, on the Morgenthau position. There was a lot said, and although Mr. Vinson was tremendously anxious to go, as he thought that the fact that he did attend would be a great symbol of prestige, Mr. Truman, however, did not ever seriously consider taking him.
HESS: He really didn't intend for him to go at all, is that right?
SNYDER: That's my recollection. But Mr. Truman could better tell that himself. There was at no time any real thought of Vinson going along, and I can tell you that the change in the Treasury only came about through the insistance of Mr.
Morgenthau to have a decision made while Mr. Truman was in Potsdam. Now it's been considerably kicked around in many different versions, but the facts remain that (1) it was generally understood that no change would be made until Mr. Truman got back, and that (2) Mr. Morgenthau insisted that he should know where he stood in regard to continuing as Secretary of the Treasury. I think I've covered that before.
HESS: We may have covered that but I can't remember if we have--we can edit this if it is duplication--but did you or anyone else try to dissuade Mr. Morgenthau from pressing for a decision at this time?
SNYDER: No. Well, I think Sam Rosenman said that he ought not to concern Mr. Truman with it, that he was busy with matters pertaining to the conference, but when Henry Morgenthau insisted
Sam and I decided that we would tell him that the only way to handle it was for him to write a letter to the President and it would be sent over in the pouch. This was done.
HESS: Does anything else come to your mind before the period of time that the President returned from Potsdam--which is my next question?
SNYDER: Not right this minute. We might amplify this later and come back to the calendar and see what all was happening at that time, but except for what I've just told you that was the principal preoccupation here until Vinson was named Secretary of the Treasury and I succeeded him in OWMR.
HESS: According to the New York Times on August the 7th when the President returned from the Potsdam Conference you boarded the cruiser the U.S.S. Augusta when it docked in Newport News, Virginia
and accompanied the President on the train trip to Washington. The article went on to say that the members of the Cabinet were at the White House and conferred with the President until 11:45 p.m. that evening. What do you recall about that episode?
SNYDER: I had a message from the President that he would like to discuss with me what steps had been made and what plans were ready to be submitted in the way of recommendations for action on the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the United States. To get down to Newport News I had to drive from Washington to Norfolk. The connections were very bad at the time, so I drove down and was present on the dock when the Augusta docked. Truman's private Pullman car was down there and Admiral Leahy, Jim Byrnes, Vaughan, Sam Rosenman and Jake Vardaman all were in the car on the trip back up. We talked largely--of course,
the President had a great many things to tell me regarding the decision about the bomb and, of course there was a great deal that he wanted to say about Potsdam but he briefed that somewhat to get down to talking about the plans that were being generated by us for our own economy over here in our rehabilitation and reconversion from war to peace; and particularly he wanted to build up material for a speech to the Nation and that was his principal reason, I think, for asking me to meet him. I would like to think it was because of our great friendship, but I've got to be realistic about it; he had his mind on getting a message to the people. That was one angle that he wanted to get explored and give me ideas about what he would like to have so we could work on it promptly when we got back. Of course, he told me, he said, "I'm going to tell the whole Cabinet about what we did in
Potsdam and about the bomb and I'll just briefly tell you these things." He said, "Of course, I've got a problem here with Admiral Leahy." He said, "He was betting me right up to the last minute that the bomb wouldn't work," and we had a few little lighter moments like that, but it was mostly a pretty serious trip up from Norfolk.
HESS: Looking back on those days what were some of the points that he took up other than what you have mentioned and can you recall anything that he may have said? What were your impressions of his attitude?
SNYDER: Well, one of the things that was outstanding was that he was extremely annoyed at the British for having swapped Attlee for Churchill. That upset him and he thought that they had done a great disservice to themselves and to the world to lift Churchill right out of the conference and
substitute a man who had not been part of the whole picture. And he said, "Here we had Stalin, the one man who's gone all through it," and both Attlee and President Truman, being relative newcomers to the situation, matching wits and background against the man who had gone through it all. That was one of the things that the President was somewhat disturbed about: the very frigid attitude of Stalin in many areas and his lack of communication on many subjects. He particularly mentioned his complete refusal to discuss many of the relocation problems of the peoples of the country, the prisoners of war and things of that sort. He personally asked Stalin a question about what happened to all those Polish officers that just seemed to disappear. Stalin's answer was that he just kind of looked blandly around and said, "Oh, they just went away." The President said, of course, that you realized the type of mentality that you were dealing
with under those circumstances. He was, of course, constantly handicapped by limited knowledge of a great many things that had gone on. His briefing from Mr. Roosevelt had been pretty skimpy and he dug out what knowledge he had. Of course, Jimmy Byrnes, Sam Rosenman, and Harry Hopkins had been extremely helpful--and Averell Harriman--had all been most helpful in making available what they knew, but there were many things they too didn't know. Mr. Roosevelt kept many things to himself.
HESS: Did you as director of the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion sit in with the meeting of the President and his Cabinet when he returned?
SNYDER: Oh, yes. From that time on I was at all Cabinet meetings.
HESS: Did they discuss anything in that Cabinet
meeting that had not already been discussed on the trip back? Any other points that we are missing here, in other words?
SNYDER: Well, it was a long conference. The President was briefing us on all the things that went on.
HESS: There was an awful lot to cover at this time, wasn't there?
SNYDER: Yes, there was a great deal to cover and, of course, everybody was anxious to talk about the bomb. I don't recall in detail the various things, but it was pretty well the President telling the story of their conferences and their frustrations and their problems--it wasn't a completely smooth operation. Stalin took for absolutely non-negotiable all the discussions at Yalta and that was his guideline and he stuck to it and he had embellished it and given his own interpretation to many of the agreements. And, of course,
Eisenhower was at the Potsdam meetings as a military adviser in the background, and he told a great deal about what he had learned in those last days of our holding back our troops while the Russians rushed on to Berlin, and there seemed to have been an understanding somewhere in the background that the Russians would come into Berlin first, which they actually did.
HESS: Where did that develop, do you know?
SNYDER: I'd rather stay away from that because there are people that are more accurately informed on that subject.
HESS: On the question of the dropping of the bomb, were there any other things that the President might have said at that time that might show his attitude regarding the bomb, other than what you have already said about it?
SNYDER: Mr. Truman had discussed at great length
the effect of dropping the bomb on bringing the war to a close. That was the one motivating influence. To him, it was going to be instrumental in quickly stopping the war, stopping the destruction and the loss of lives. The loss of lives was particularly plaguing him, because we were having some tremendous losses. And he had been told--General Marshall was extremely helpful to him in giving him information regarding what the situation would be, pro and con, by dropping the bomb. He had been told that if the bomb was going to accomplish what they thought it was going to do that there was very little doubt but that it would bring about an early cessation of the war, and without it that the Japanese were going to put up a last ditch stand and would fight to the loss of every man in the armed forces of Japan to keep our troops off the Japanese islands. It was
going to be a very terrific holocaust of losses without any question, because of the shoreline and composition of defenses that the Japanese could put up a tremendous resistance and so it was those points that finally convinced Mr. Truman. Also he had conferred with Churchill, he conferred with Stalin on this and they were all in agreement that the proper thing, the moral thing, was to drop the bomb. It was my privilege on several occasions afterwards, to hear the matter reviewed even on the last meeting in the White House between Mr. Churchill and Mr. Truman, just before Mr. Truman went out of office, that subject came up and I recall Churchill saying to Mr. Truman, "I know we did the right thing." So, they were still apparently thinking about it because he said, "I know we did the right thing."
HESS: The next question I have on my list deals with
the day of the announcement of the surrender of Japan on August the 14th. I believe you were present at the White House at that date. Can you tell me what you recall of that time?
SNYDER: Yes, that was quite a day. Of course, we had had reports back and forth as normal. You get reports and then they are followed by, "Well, it's not ready quite yet," and so forth and finally when it did come through, it was a sort of great let down, don't you know, that you just say, "Well, we've been talking about this and planning for it, and has it really happened?" Of course, Mr. Truman immediately made plans to make a statement. And pandemonium broke out in the streets. I recall that that whole block in front of the White House...
HESS: In Lafayette Square.
SNYDER: Lafayette Square was just packed and loaded.
The two side streets were blocked off then--one of them still is. It goes down between the White House and the Executive Office Building, that's still blocked off. They never did remove that barrier, but on V-E Day the street between the Treasury and the White House was closed. They had been closed for security reasons all during the war, and were still closed. It was some months later before I lifted the ban on East Executive Place--it was not until I got in the Treasury that we opened up that street for traffic use.
To get back, we immediately started to work then on final plans. That accelerated the preparation of the speech that Mr. Truman made subsequently on the plans for reconversion. It was largely--you asked about the events of the day--receiving congratulations and making quick decisions on things that had to be done promptly.
Congress was pressing for more intimate information. There were demands that immediately arose. No sooner than the announcement had been made--"When are we going to bring the troops home," and when are we going to do this, that and the other. It unfortunately developed into a debacle. Because of our people and of our Congress--I think I mentioned this before--our troops were not brought home in an orderly fashion and it caused unnecessary confusion in our whole transportation, readjustment and rehabilitation program.
HESS: What was Mr. Truman's attitude on August the 14th?
SNYDER: It was one of great calm, and my recollection is that it appeared to me that a tremendous burden had been lifted from his shoulders, and at the same time he faced the fact that a
great burden lay ahead for him to pick up in repairing all the damage that had been done.
HESS: Do you recall anything that he may have said at that time?
HESS: That's a long time ago. You want to quit for the day?
SNYDER: I think so.
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