Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum


Oral History Interview with
John W. Snyder

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.

Washington, D.C.,
April 30, 1969
By Jerry N. Hess

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NOTICE
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. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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

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Oral History Interview with
John W. Snyder

Washington, D.C.,
April 30, 1969
By Jerry N. Hess

[1444]

HESS: Mr. Snyder, I'd like to ask a few questions concerning your conversations with General MacArthur in November of 1949. As you know, the Chinese Communists had just taken control of the mainland. Did the General think that we should lend support, military support, if the Communists invaded Formosa?

SNYDER: Well, we have to go back and put things in order. As you will recall, it was in August of 1949 that the Soviets, the Russians, first exploded their atomic bomb, and it caused quite -- while it was somewhat expected that they were moving along in atomic work, it caused quite a flurry. Then following that in October, just a few months later, October 1st, I believe it was, Mao Tse-tung declared that he had conquered

[1445]

the mainland of China, and that he had set up a Communist government governing Chinese Asia.

There were quite a number of us, at that time, who had some very interesting reactions as to the march of events. There were a great number of us who felt that the pressures on the Chinese, with the knowledge that the Russians now had an atomic weapon, that they had to force their development situation quickly in the establishment of a Communist government in China. Of course, that pressed the Generalissimo's group to retreat, and they chose to set up a government on the island of Formosa. The Nationalist Chinese government established headquarters in Taiwan. There were several who had a strong belief then that the Russians were actually more concerned about the Chinese Communists than they were about the Capitalist West. Their large concern about the West was

[1446]

that the knowledge of how things were going in the Western World would be disturbing to their people, in submitting to their type of dictatorship, as they had planned to build Russia up under a very tight band of dictatorship and shut out the Western World while doing it. They were more disturbed about what the Western World would do socially and economically than they were about any threat of attack or anything of that sort.

On the other hand, the great mass of people, the hundreds of millions of people who lived in China with no place to go, were a direct threat to the vast open plains of Asiatic Russia as an outlet for occupation. By occupation I mean to find space for not their troops but their people. That threat was very, very pronounced and open. There had been the invasion of Genghis Khan which brought Chinese rule to many of the states of Russia for nearly

[1447]

a thousand years, during which the Russian princes paid tribute to the Chinese rulers. So those things were all in the background of the thinking of a great many people at that time. So when the Generalissimo established his government and we were having the problems of getting Japan settled and the further problem of the attitude of the Soviets toward Korea, I must remind you of what happened there when the Japanese peace came. Korea was occupied by the Japanese up until the surrender, and so at the time of the surrender of Japan, it was determined, regarding the surrender of the Japanese troops in Korea, that those Japanese troops that were north of the 38th parallel, surrender to the Russians, and those south of that line to the allies. This line was chosen purely for convenience as it divided the country pretty well half in two, with no regard for the

[1448]

economic situation, the geographic situation, the amount of arable land -- none of that was really given any consideration. It was just a convenient line agreed upon. That was the agreement, and the surrender proceeded on that basis. But shortly thereafter, it was agreed that the U.N. would send missions into Korea and set up a plebiscite and vote on the type of governments that Korea as a whole would want to set up as a government. The south, south of the 38th parallel, immediately went right along with the mission. They set up elections, and they elected a President who set up the Republic of Korea, and started functioning. North of the 38th parallel the Soviets said, "No, you're not coming anywhere near here. We don't want the mission, we're not going to have you coming over here, we're not even going to let you send any inspectors. You have no business up here.

[1449]

This is ours." Well, from that time on, that's what it was. And though we knew nothing officially about what was going on, we began to hear rumors of cannibalization of industry, and that they were tearing down the plants in North Korea, as well as in Manchuria, and that they were taking all this equipment back to Russia; that they were turning those countries into agrarian countries again. The Japanese had done quite a bit of industrialization all up and down the west coast, particularly, on Formosa. Some of the industrialization there was well organized. The Nationalist Chinese took over those industries and kept on running them after they moved in on Formosa. There was evidence that there was a great deal of industrialization that had been established by the Japanese in Manchuria and in Korea. These rumors kept coming, and then, of course, we

[1450]

began to hear rumors that the Russians were training, organizing troops in North Korea, and that they were setting up a military machine there. Well, all of these facts were before us at the time, and it was the feeling that the United States, at that time, should take the attitude of neutrality towards Formosa, that we were not making any statements that would agitate or infuriate either the Chinese Communists to lend additional aid and force to the North Koreans. The Soviets had somewhat moved out of Korea and the Mao Tse-tung group had begun to be the motivating influence. They took over where the Russians left off, although both the Russians and the Communist Chinese worked with the Koreans in the matter of military supply and in training of their troops and aviators, and so forth. The Chinese, largely, as it was developed later, were furnishing

[1451]

the foodstuffs and cloth and things of that sort, while the Russians furnished the hardware for the equipping of the North Korean army.

So, dropping back to your question. (I set a background to answer your question.) It was felt that the United States should take a position of neutrality and state that they had no intention of furnishing any aid in an invasion from Formosa or by subversive attack. That was the posture that we adopted for public exposure at the time, despite background thinking that was current, among some at least, that we had to bear in mind that we might have to be of some aid to the Formosans.

HESS: Do you think, sir, that we would have provided aid for Formosa after President Truman's pronouncement in his press conference of January 5th, 1950, that we would not provide such aid?

[1452]

SNYDER: I've tried to tell you just what was in the back of his mind at the time he made that statement in January. Remember the invasion of South Korea had not yet taken place. It was five months away before they actually invaded. So, he was taking a position of neutrality at that time. I am personally convinced that had there been any movement towards Formosa at the time of the invasion of South Korea or shortly thereafter, there's no question but what we would have had to take a very firm position. We did later as you know when it came to those two islands, Quemoy and Matsu. We did take a position then. Mr. Truman, in the announcement right at the time of the U.N. action against North Korea, made the statement that the Seventh Fleet would patrol the coast of China, to interrupt any movement either way, if the Nationalist Chinese tried to go back onto the

[1453]

coast, the mainland, or if the Communist Chinese tried to attack. The fleet was alerted to discourage any such movements on either side.

HESS: Perhaps it was too soon after the invasion, but at the time you were speaking to General MacArthur in November, did he say anything about supporting Chiang Kai-shek in a reinvasion of the mainland?

SNYDER: No. We discussed it but we had no notion that we should do such a thing. At least he didn't reveal it to me.

HESS: At the time of your trip, did you have any added information that General MacArthur may not have had about President Truman's thinking concerning not defending Formosa?

SNYDER: No, I am quite sure, thinking back to our

[1454]

discussions, that General MacArthur was fully advised of the general situation.

HESS: That covers that subject pretty well. What do you recall about the events surrounding the dismissal of General MacArthur in April, 1951?

SNYDER: General MacArthur had a way of causing quite a bit of uneasiness over in the Pentagon, and in the White House, with his attitude of feeling that he was an autonomous entity set up in Japan who should have full authority to make decisions regarding any activities, any policies, any general plans relating to that area. He felt that he was on the ground closer to the situation, and that he was the one who should make those decisions; and they shouldn't be coming from thousands of miles around the world

[1455]

from the Pentagon or the White House, and that he ought to make the decisions and let them know what his policies were, rather than to await policymaking here that was passed on to him. Regardless of whether he was consulted or not in the decisions, he thought that there was a time lag and an information deficiency that would badly hamper his work in re-establishing reconstruction in Japan in setting up a sound situation there in the new Japanese government. So, he began to do things, and take some steps. He had to be questioned by General Marshall and his staff repeatedly and that resulted in some friction. I must call to your attention that shortly after the fall of Japan, Mr. Truman, through General Marshall, sent a very, very cordial invitation to General MacArthur to come

[1456]

back to the States on a visit to receive the plaudits of a grateful nation. They went so far as to suggest plans for a tour of the country, for a speech before the joint session of Congress, for a national holiday for his arrival, and quite a number of attractive and interesting matters of recognition of what his place had been in World War II. He replied, and in declining stated that conditions were so serious in the Far East, and particularly in Japan, that he felt that he should not leave, that he should be present physically, and not off on a months or two month's, or six month's leave of absence, as was suggested.

So he said, "No," he felt he should stay there. Well, that was accepted. Some years later, the invitation was re-extended, and again he did not see fit to come. It was then that Mr. Truman suggested that they meet at a midway

[1457]

point and discuss things in general. And as it was the custom, in times of war, that the constitutional head of our armed forces should consult with the military, it was agreed that they would meet midway.

HESS: On Wake Island.

SNYDER: On Wake, and that was agreed upon. That was a most gracious attitude on the part of the President that he would take the risk involved to fly to Wake Island, rather than that the military commander should fly in for consultations which, as you know, in recent years, they have been doing constantly. Mr. Truman said, "No, we'll just do that. I'll meet you halfway." And they met on Wake, and had a very satisfactory conference, as was reported when he came back. Mr. Truman told me that things had gone very well, and that he had had the

[1458]

assurance of full cooperation from General MacArthur, and that MacArthur would communicate with him promptly on any matters that ought to be discussed. Actually, I did not press for any details, because my interest was largely that they got along all right. When they said they did, I didn't press for any greater details. It actually came out much later that apparently General MacArthur's general attitude, and so forth, wasn't as cordial as it had been reported, and that although he made some very firm commitments, there was intimation that he maybe wasn't going to be as cooperative as had been reported. But that didn't come out until after he was recalled.

Then a very short time after that -- too soon after that -- things began to develop where General MacArthur would take stands, make

[1459]

statements regarding matters in Korea that had not been cleared with the Pentagon, and had not been authorized by the Pentagon. One thing led to another until finally General Marshall and his group of advisers, the chiefs of staff, drew up a policy plan for our future action and future plans for the Korean operation, and sent it over to General MacArthur for his study and comments and suggestions. He did not act on that paper, but shortly thereafter it leaked out that he had written a letter to a Congressman who was going to read it at the American Legion Convention in Chicago in which he stated that his plans for the future were somewhat along the lines that General Marshall had sent him, but that they were his plans, they were not the United States' plans, and added a number of things which he stated that he was going to do that were not included in

[1460]

the plans, the draft plan that was sent to him by General Marshall. Well, President Truman advised him through General Marshall that this letter was not to be read before the convention. However, as you know, it made no difference whether it was read or not read, it was leaked out. That, of course, let the cat out of the bag, and led to the recall of General MacArthur.

HESS: Were most of the leading military men in favor of that action?

SNYDER: Here?

HESS: Yes.

SNYDER: Yes. I know of no objection that was made known at the time.

HESS: Anthony Leviero writing in the New York Times on April 21, 1951, disclosed the context of

[1461]

several documents that were under a top secret classification until that time. He got a Pulitzer prize for that article. Do you know where he got his information?

SNYDER: I do not.

HESS: All right. Do you think that the MacArthur matter was handled in the correct manner?

SNYDER: I think it was. It was an unfortunate situation, an information denouement, but the commander in chief of the Nation cannot condone insubordination. And that's exactly the situation that was faced. That, I think, is generally accepted, as being a situation that cannot be countenanced.

HESS: Do you or don't you think that a number of the General's actions were politically motivated?

[1462]

SNYDER: Oh, there's no question about that. General MacArthur had in his heart that he was to return a national hero and that at the earliest possible time he was going to allow his name under draft possibly, to be submitted to a Republican convention, and that he would be unanimously chosen and would win without any problems. It may well be that that was why he was awaiting an appropriate time when he thought he could come for that purpose. MacArthur had built up a very strong feeling of antipathy toward President Roosevelt. He accused President Roosevelt of all sorts of abusive treatment that he had received claiming that Roosevelt isolated him over in the Philippines, because he wanted to get him out of the way in case we were involved in Europe. However, he never felt that he wanted to oppose Roosevelt. So, for that reason, he stayed away. Then

[1463]

after the victory and the United States came out on top, in spite of all the stories that are told of MacArthur's failure to requisition the necessary troops and equipment before the war before the Japanese invasion of the Philippines, many stories, you know, came out, that he had not properly kept us informed of the situation, and had not asked for the proper supplies and equipment, and material. He was, of course, somewhat subdued for a while, until after he came back, and he came out as a great, victorious hero. He was unquestionably awaiting the time when he thought it proper to come back and receive the plaudits on his terms, and not as an invitation from the then President.

HESS: Do you have anything else to add on the MacArthur matter?

[1464]

SNYDER: I don't think so, unless you have a question.

HESS: I believe this is all. Is this all for one morning?

SNYDER: I think so.

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