Harding F. Bancroft Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Harding F. Bancroft

Harding Bancroft
Chief, Division of U. N. Political Affairs,
Dept. of State, 1945, later Director, Office of U. N. Political and Security Affairs; U.S. Deputy Representative U. N. Collective Measures Committee with personal rank of Minister, 1950-53. Served as an assistant to the U. N. commission that investigated the Greek
crisis in 1947.
New York, New York
June 25, 1974
by Richard D. McKinzie

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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.

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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 May, 1983
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | List of Subjects Discussed]

Oral History Interview with
Harding F. Bancroft

New York, New York
June 25, 1974
by Richard D. McKinzie



MCKINZIE: Mr. Bancroft, how did you happen to go into Government service in the first place?

BANCROFT: I was in the Navy in the years of 1943-45. During the fall of '45 I was in the Pentagon, in the Military Government Branch, where I was a lieutenant representing the Navy, on a committee called the Working Security Committee, the functions of which were to work on the documents which provided for the control machinery and surrender terms of Germany; JCS-1067, as I



remember the number. I was the representative of the Navy Department. The official member was the Secretary of the Navy, but I was the person who actually went to the meetings and reported to Mr. [Ralph A.] Bard, who was then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and occasionally to Mr. [James] Forrestal, but mostly to Mr. Bard. We worked on problems of JCS-1067 and the de-Nazification program, the control machinery to a lesser extent -- the surrender terms and the division of the German territory for the occupation by the victorious Allies.

I had known Professor Philip C. Jessup, who was later a judge of the International Court of Justice at The Hague, quite well, and I worked for UNRRA a little bit, prior to joining the Navy, at the first UNRRA Conference in Atlantic City in the autumn of 1943. I was the so-called drafting officer at the conference, assisting Abraham Feller, a delightful man who became the first General Counsel of the United




The experience on the Working Security Committee heightened my interest in foreign affairs, and brought me into active contact with Mr. Jessup, who then was in the State Department. He suggested to some of them that I would be a good candidate for some job over there, so I went over and saw Joseph E. Johnson, Chief of the Division of International Security Affairs (IS) in the Office of Special Political Affairs (SPA). He offered me a job in his division as assistant chief of I.S.

MCKINZIE: How did you happen to get involved in lend-lease?

BANCROFT: I joined the Office of Price Administration in 1941 before the war began. I went there in February, 1941 as a member of the legal staff. When the landings in North Africa took place and the Germans moved out in May 1943, they were



worried about the economy of North Africa. Three of us from the legal staff of OPA were attached to the North African Economic Board. Later I succeeded Lloyd Cutler as General Counsel of the Board. I was on loan from the Office of Price Administration to the Lend-Lease Administration. I stayed there a relatively short time, between April of 1943 into the fall of '43, when I decided I wanted active military duty and joined the Navy.

MCKINZIE: Can you recall what you expected out of lend-lease? Our postwar planning in the State Department envisioned not just a postwar world like the world which had existed before the war, but a better one, modeled after the views of Cordell Hull and more economically open.

BANCRAFT: I saw the postwar plans as a great potential to the future. At the same time, while the war was going on it was confined to more narrow terms. The object of the game for



lend-lease in North Africa was to be sure that the Allied forces had the materiel that they needed as well as the material for the civilian populations in the countries in which they were operating. Our particular job there was to be sure that the flow of materials coming into North Africa did not result in an inequitable distribution of the goods to the civilian populations or result in huge inflation, because of the great shortages of civilian consumer goods. That's what we were looking for. The lend-lease people were involved with goods coming to North Africa, and how they should be distributed internally. But it seemed to me less a conceptual thing at that time; that is, simply a good distribution method, the same way you distribute newspapers so they get around to the proper people at the proper time.

MCKINZIE: Did you share this -- if you want to call



it -- Hullian vision of the future

BANCROFT: Oh, yes. I think it was the precursor to the whole foreign aid programs following the war, the whole business in Germany and France, indeed the Marshall plan for Europe.

I must say that I think our sights were lowered while we were in North Africa, certainly. We didn't see then the larger problems; we just saw the problem of whether the goods arrived and were properly distributed, and did not result in an inflationary situation. We tried to limit the inflationary forces that would work in such a short supply situation.

MCKINZIE: When you went to work for Joseph Johnson in the State Department, what kinds of early assignments did you receive?

BANCROFT: When I arrived there the San Francisco meeting had been completed and the U. N. Charter signed. The next stage of the development of



the United Nations was the Preparatory Commission then at work in London. They had gone over there soon after the meeting in San Francisco to prepare for the first meetings of the General Assembly and the Security Council of the U. N.

Adlai Stevenson was the head of the United States delegation to the Preparatory Commission. My work at that point was to prepare drafts of the constitutional documents flowing from the Charter; the rules of procedure for the General Assembly, the Security Council, and the other bodies. We dealt with such matters as how elections should be held, when the meeting should be held, how often, and their permanence. We spent a lot of time on the concepts of having permanent representatives of the states at the site of the Unified Nations, wherever that was going to be. We thought that was as a practical matter, a most important thing. We thought also it was terribly important to have regularity of meetings, even though there might



be nothing on the agenda, so that the Security Council did meet regularly. We didn't really specify, although we thought it was important to have at least monthly meetings. We had thought of the concept of General Assembly meetings, not only the regular meetings, but also special General Assembly meetings for something which might come up with urgency, which would require a meeting more often than the regular annual meeting provided for in the Charter.

MCKINZIE: Was this in any way anticipatory of Soviet-American difficulties?

BANCROFT: No, it really wasn't. It was based, 1 think, on the experience of the League, which was going on all its cylinders for quite a long time and then gradually started to deteriorate. People lost interest as they saw it become ineffectual. We thought that the postwar mood of the international community was such



that it would demand a more effective international organization. We felt it was important to have permanent representatives at the U. N. site and regular meetings, so that the Security Council would always be available for whatever crisis should arise. We figured that, in normal times, there would always be little crises and little fires that should be put out.

MCKINZIE: How much hope did you have for the U. N., personally, at that time?

BANCROFT: I had tremendous hope at that time; I was a tremendous enthusiast for it. I thought of it as an absolutely essential ingredient to maintain peace in the world, to provide for collective security, and to carry forward the momentum that had been created by the working relationships of the Allies during the war. This -- the Allied war effort -- was something which everybody recognized as a well-done job, and the objective -- and the problem -- was to continue



it in peacetime.

MCKINZIE: Arthur Vandenberg, I guess, said that the success of the U. N. would be directly proportional to the temperature of the U.S.-Soviet relations. Does that seem like a fair assessment to you?

BANCROFT: I think I would have put it another way. I thought it was not necessary that the U.S. and Soviet would always see eye-to-eye on every issue. What I thought was essential was that the U.S. and the Soviet would be willing to sit down and discuss the issues with their own interests obviously involved, but that they would not resort to the solution of those issues by war or something less than war. This was what was to be avoided.

MCKINZIE: A lot of people who had been students of international organizations contended that from the beginning the U. N. should have existed at



the expense of the member nations' sovereignty and it didn't; that it ought to have some power over national governments in order to be really effective, but that would have been politically impossible.

BANCROFT: Yes. That's what I think we thought at the time; that it would have been politically impossible, just in the nature of things. The governments would not give up their sovereignty to be dictated to by the great powers. At the same time they had to be, we felt, watched over. I was not a critic of the veto of the five great powers on the Security Council. I thought the veto could be a workable thing, even though it would mean that in certain cases some ideal action could not be taken. Therefore, the agreement of the permanent members should always be an essential thing, particularly the U.S. and the Soviets, of course, but the others too. The U. K. was then more of a great power than it



is today; it was a major force in the world. We thought of the U. K., France, and China, with the great resources that they had as being the people who would be intermediaries between the U.S. and the Soviets, who were then not the super powers they are regarded to be now. They were the potential super powers because of their emergence from the war with all the strength that they had.

MCKINZIE: Were you at all involved in the location of the U. N. in New York?

BANCROFT: No. Obviously, we followed that very closely as we were working on it. I had some doubts about New York to tell you the truth, simply on the ground that it was such a big city that I thought the U. N. might get swallowed up in the city life. In a place like Geneva, the U. N. could be as the League had been, the dominant force within the city and the main thing to see. New York has got



all that culture, industry, and so on; it would make it a less desirable spot. Moreover, I had doubts about it being in the United States. That would have been my first reaction; it shouldn't be in a territory of one of the great powers. I thought that would be a harmful thing, but I think I've been proved wrong on it.

Secondly, seeing that the United States was to be the place, I would have been more in favor of a smaller city in the United States where they could be sort of an international enclave and not subject to the rigors of New York City living, which are great. I must say it's all been proved to be satisfactory. Some complaints have come from some of the permanent representatives, but these have been minor.

MCKINZIE: You were on the front lines at the time of the Greek-Turkish crisis in 1947.

BANCROFT: Yes. I was on the Greek side of it entirely. In 1947, during the revolution in



Greece where the guerilla movement was very active at the time, the British said they were going to have to pull out of the area; they couldn't afford to stay there. There was substantial aid coming to the guerilla movement in Greece from its northern neighbors: Albania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia. The United Nations Security Council, after a long debate, decided unanimously (with the consent of the Soviets, which we did not expect to get at the time) that the Security Council should send over a commission to Greece to investigate the extent to which the northern neighbors of Greece were providing aid to the guerillas. A commission was established with one representative of each of the eleven members of the Security Council on the commission. The representative of the United States was Mark Ethridge, who went over with a small group of assistants: Cyril Black, a professor at Princeton; an Army officer; and a couple of administrative people.



I functioned, in my capacity in the State Department, as the man who briefed Mr. Ethridge before he went, to tell him about the situation, what the U. N. action had been, what the U. S. policies were supposed to be, and what the general situation was. Mr. Ethridge spent two or three weeks in Washington and we got out big briefing books for him and so on. After he had been over there for a little while, he asked if I would come over to join him, which I did in March of 1947. We were stationed in Salonika but the commission sent task forces out to other parts of Greece to interrogate the people, mostly village officials, who had in fact been witnesses of the aid coming from the three northern states.

We tried to see General Markos [Vaphiodis], who was the leader of the guerilla movement, and sent out a little group who spent two or three weeks in the mountain area trying to locate him. They never reached a rendezvous



with him, but we thought that it would be fair to get his point of view; and it was important not only to be fair but to give the appearance of fairness.

I think the main thing that the U. S. was trying to do in that mission was to make this a very fair investigation; to hear all sides, not particularly with the preconceived notion that the Greek Communists were being aided by the Albanians, Bulgarians and Yugoslavians, which in fact they were. We were not to assume that at the outset, but to get evidence of that fact to present back to the whole Security Council, so it could take what action was required.

MCKINZIE: At that time Mark Ethridge and Gordon MacVeagh, who was the Ambassador, were both sending back dispatches which were fairly alarmist about the situation in Greece.

BANCROFT: Oh, very much so. I didn't mean to say



that we didn't know that. What I was trying to say was that it was very important that the Security Council Commission should not only act with total impartiality and fairness, but that the proceedings should be carried out with total impartiality and fairness and perceived by the world to be so. When its report was submitted to the Security Council as a whole it would not be a totally biased report, which would reflect what the Russians used to call the "mathematical majority of the U. N."

We did write a report, which was a divided report, with Poland and the Soviet representatives dissenting from most of the conclusions. This was a precursor of the fact that when the United States and others attempted to introduce a resolution in the Security Council for the type of action (I must say I have forgotten what form it took) which would remedy the situation, the Soviet Union then vetoed the resolution and no action was taken.



MCKINZIE: At the time of the investigation were the relations between the members of the delegation and the Polish and Russians fairly cordial?

BANCROFT: They were very cordial, yes. The time of the writing of the report was the first time that tension was felt. Earlier there were things that the Soviet representative did not want us, as I remember, to see; certain witnesses who they would regard as "hostile" witnesses. They didn't want the commission to see them, but we insisted on that and they were overruled and accepted that. We didn't have, of course, the veto on the commission. It was just a kind of majority vote or non-vote situation on the commission.

MCKINZIE: The Truman Doctrine and the aid by the U. S. of four hundred million dollars to Greece and Turkey eclipsed the commission's report. There was criticism at the time about by-passing the United Nations on that aid, arguing that in a



way it was weakening the U. N. and setting an important precedent for the future. Do you recall your feelings about that?

BANCROFT: My feelings were that the situation was so bad in Greece and the probabilities of the democratic Greek Government maintaining its position in Greece, of not being overthrown by the Communists, were very remote; it was going to fall. Therefore, if we wanted to save it from the Communists, it was essential that there be some unilateral aid, as well as international assistance or action. Not only was Greece involved, but it would have had a domino effect if the Greek Government fell; Italy was very precarious at the time and France was precarious at the time. We thought that it was a possibility, and I'm sure the President did, that if there wasn't aid to Greece and Turkey, these other democratic governments in Western Europe would fall.



In Greece it wasn’t the sore of communism which was a "will of the people" type of communism; it wasn’t a majority situation. It was a dictatorial communism, which General Markos and his adherents in the hills were trying to deal with. It wasn’t a popular movement of the majority of the population.

MCKINZIE: Of course, the monarchy wasn’t exactly beloved by the people either at that time.

BANCROFT: You couldn’t be more accurate. That was, of course, the problem. That was the same problem we had later on in Korea and other places. We were forced to back individuals who weren’t the greatest of men, as opposed to forms of government, in order to preserve what we regard as democracy as opposed to some form of dictatorship. We have seen too many recent dictatorships not to be unaware of that.

MCKINZIE: You were involved in the early days of



the nation of Indonesia and its evolution.

BANCROFT: Yes. That was comparable to the Greek situation, in the sense that the Security Council of the U. N. also sent out a commission to Indonesia in which the United States had a representative, Dr. Frank Graham. Here you had the problem of the interest of the Dutch, and this made it a different situation in a sense. The Indonesians really did want independence from the Dutch, and the Dutch were most reluctant to let them have it. The commission that Dr. Graham was on was a three-man commission, I remember -- Australia, the U. S., and a third country that I forget. Their objective, as developed by Dr. Graham, was to make the evolution from the colonial status in Indonesia to an independent Indonesia with the least possible effect on the Dutch who were out there and on the Dutch countrymen; to try to insure that the leaders of the insurrection movement



were the best leaders that he could find. I was not as closely involved with this, as I was a long way away, but it was our section in the State Department and members of my division which were the backstop for Dr. Frank Graham.

MCKINZIE: President Roosevelt was always concerned about the colonial holdings of the European powers, and at least at the end of the war the United States consistently took anti-colonial positions. Do you think, given the changing nature of the world, that that position was modified much by the time that Indonesia was separating from Holland?

BANCROFT: There was a real division in the State Department on Indonesia. It was not an open and shut policy, because of the way the State Department was organized. You had the European Division on the one hand, you had the Far Eastern Division on the other, and you had the United Nations Division sort of in the middle. Our



role there was to try to bring the two together. Now, the European Division used to think of the Dutch as their clients, and the Far Eastern Division would think of the Indonesians as their clients. Indonesia came up at that first meeting of the United Nations in London in January, 1946, as did Greece, for that matter. Those were the first two items on the agenda, as I remember, of that meeting. So you had a very mixed situation, and that mixed situation was never really resolved until the time when Secretary [General George] Marshall, in 1948-49, said that he felt that we had to live up to the policies of the U. N. Charter with respect to Indonesia, and to affirm -- call it anti-colonial, perhaps it was -- the need for the independence of Indonesia. I remember we had a whole lot of meetings in Paris during the General Assembly meeting there following the Berlin Blockade in the fall of '48. In early 1949, Dr. Jessup was the person who had to announce the



United States policies formulated by General Marshall. Then a lot of Dutch soldiers sent back to Phil Jessup the United States Army medals that they had earned as members of the United States Army or as members of the Dutch Army during the war. He got very nasty letters, because as representative of the United States in the U. N. Security Council he had come out in favor of Indonesian independence from the Dutch.

MCKINZIE: What about the problem in the State Department of the European Division -- Jack Hickersan's division -- and the Asian division. Diplomatic historians are inclined to say that the Truman years were years of "Europe first" with foreign policy. Did you have to keep that constantly in mind when you were dealing with U. N. affairs?

BANCROFT: Yes. The European Division was the dominant division in the State Department for



quite a long while, because of James Dunn, "Doc" Matthews and Jack Hickerson. It was a very able and strong division. The Far Eastern Division was not anywhere nearly as strong. [W. Walton, Jr.] Butterworth was in charge of that at the time. Although he was a strong and able Foreign Service officer, the preponderance within the State Department of power, prestige, and influence lay in the European side of things. They were not as anti-colonial as many thought President Roosevelt's policy had been. They were not ready to see the colonial powers give up their colonies as quickly as they in fact have.

MCKINZE: To what extent were votes controllable in the U. N. in those years? This is not to say that the U. N. was by any means a mirror or a puppet of the U. S. policy, but there were methods and evidently occasions when things could be managed -- at least more so than they can now.



BANCROFT: At the General Assembly meetings, and I think I went to all of them until I left the Department, the U.S. delegation had a system whereby we had what we called "liaison officers" with the different regions of the world. They were in touch on an hourly basis and certainly a daily basis with each of the representatives of the other states that we wanted to support the resolutions which we supported. They used to do a lot of talking about "arm twisting," but I never believed especially that this had very much effect. After all, the states whose arms were being twisted had their own national interest to think about. There were some states, which carried no weight at all, who said, "Well, we'll vote whichever way the U. S. votes," but I don't think there were so many of those. The policies which we were advocating in the immediate postwar years were policies which in general coincided with the national interests of these other states. Mr. [Andrei Y.]



Vishinsky used to shout about the "mechanical majorities" which were available to the United States and the U. K. It wasn't a mechanical thing at all, nor was it in my view due to the persuasive powers of these liaison officers of the United States or the fact that these states were willing, with some exceptions, to vote any way the U. S. did. They were looking to their own national interests. They were not in favor of the chaos of the world; they were not in favor of widespread, involuntary communism in states which didn't want to be Communist.

MCKINZIE: What about the implicit threat of withdrawal of aid, which was a very large part of U. S. foreign policy by that time?

BANCROFT: I suppose they always took that into account. But I would doubt that that was the dominant force which determined their votes. In this period when the Russians were in the



minority, they were being awfully difficult. They were not advocating causes which supported a strong international organization at that tine. We were, in general, advocating policies which supported the strong international organization, and they knew that. We were in general supporting anti-colonialism, or a good evolution from a colonial situation to an independent situation. I think that the merits of the cases have much more to do with it than the fact that U. S. aid was or was not going to be forthcoming, or that "arms were being twisted" for any other implicit or explicit reason.

MCKINZIE: At the time of the Indonesian independence problem, did you or the people with whom you dealt in the State Department have any clear idea of how Asia was going to evolve, and where those emerging nations like Indonesia would eventually fit in a large scheme?

BANCROFT: Well, we saw what had happened in Communist



China. We saw the way that China went. It was all happening at about the same time. At that time, either rightly or wrongly, most people thought it was a very bad thing for China to become a Communist state. We felt, as I remember, the dominant conceptual feeling that if you could have democratic states in Asia other than China, that would be a helpful rather than a harmful thing to the United States interests. This was just as easy as that. We thought that if, for example in the Indonesian situation, the Dutch insisted on their colonial status, the likelihood of Indonesia becoming a democratic state would be most remote. I'm looking, obviously, back at that after twenty-five years.

MCKINZIE: You mentioned that you did some backstopping on the Kashmir...

BANCROFT: Now, that came in a little earlier, 1947



or '48. One day, just all of a sudden without any preliminaries, the British brought over Mr. [Sir Girja Shanker] Bajpai. I've forgotten his title, but he was a very important figure there. He came to see us, and said that the situation in India and Pakistan was likely to erupt into a religious war which would have no stopping. But somehow or other it had to be stopped. We tried to think of some role the United Nations could play and moved on from there. It was obviously not a huge success, except in the sense that war did not occur in any large degree. The problem with Kashmir is still undecided; I don't know when it's going to be decided. At least the U. N. did succeed in avoiding a total horrible war that could have taken place, because the feelings were running terribly high at the time. The U. N. sent over the Kashmir Commission, and in this, as in the Indonesian case and in the Greek case, our people from our division did go over



and support the individual representatives on the spot. The men in our division were extremely able people, and we were able to support these missions in a way that I think was extremely effective at the time.

MCKINZIE: At the same time they were on the scene were you dealing with the Indian and the Pakistani delegations in Washington?

BANCROFT: Yes. There was Sheikh [Mohammad] Abdullah, who was a major force there. He was a difficult person to work with. The Indians and the Pakistanis both, of course, didn't want to have a war there, and each of them, I think, really wanted to have the Kashmir situation resolved peacefully. The Pakistanis felt that the Indians were less willing to have a peaceful solution than they were, because they thought that Mr. [Pandit] Nehru, being a Kashmiri himself, was really not an unbiased, nonpartisan figure in any sense. The Pakistanis thought



of themselves as being much more unbiased than the Indians did. My own feeling was that the Pakistanis had a little bit more on their side than the Indians did in the Kashmir case. They were more rational and more willing to have a peaceful solution.

MCKINZIE: Do you remember how your work changed or what happened when, in June of 1950, the Korean war broke out?

BANCROFT: Well, the Korean war was, of course, the great example. I was on vacation in Canada at the moment the war broke out. I think that the United States did about as good a job as they could under the circumstances, and my criterion of "good" is being supportive of an effective international organization. I think the President was very wise in that case in having the matter taken immediately to the United Nations. The fact that the Russians were absent from the Security Council at the time



enabled the Security Council and the General Assembly to take action. It gave U. N. support and blessing to the measures, which the United States thought were essential to be taken. We were acting in form at least not unilaterally, but multilaterally, and our big job then was to try to get other states to support the action we were taking, to contribute to the action and make it truly an international U. N. force. In all candor, we used the U. N. as a device to support what we probably would have done -- what we had to do -- anyway, which differentiated to such a large extent from Vietnam ten years later,

MCKINZIE: What kind of difficulty did you have in getting support for these actions?

BANCROFT: At this time, Mr. John Hickerson was the Assistant Secretary in charge of United Nations Affairs. He had moved from his job



in the European Division to that, which was a deliberate move by Secretary [Dean] Acheson. I don't know exactly how to state it, but I talked to the Secretary personally about this. I felt that Mr. Hickerson thought so much in European terms that he would not be the ideal man to be in charge of the United Nations. Dean Rusk, who had been his predecessor, went over to the Ear Eastern Division, and Mr. Acheson told me, I think in candor, that he thought it was a very helpful intra-State Department maneuver to put Mr. Hickerson in charge of the United Nations, in order to make him more aware of it and to think more about it as an important element of United States foreign policy. He did not believe that Mr. Hickerson would in any way downgrade the United Nations or fail to support it in accordance with the pronounced policies of President Truman and the Secretary of State. The president, you remember, repeatedly stated that the U. N. was "the cornerstone of U.S. foreign




I think this was a wise move that Secretary Acheson took. Mr. Hickerson wasn't a great proponent of the U. N. before he came to his new job, but I think he did become a proponent of the U. N. and realized its importance. Going back to Korea now, Mr. Hickerson was the man who used to hold weekly meetings with those nations which were contributing to the Korean war on our side -- the U. N. force there. He was the one who dealt with them, and he dealt very effectively with them to try to get them to provide military assistance and aid of various sorts for the U. N. force in Korea.

MCKINZIE: Did you perceive at the time that a lot of things were wrecked as a result of the outbreak of the war in Korea? The Marshall plan had gone into effect in 1948 and was supposed to run for four years, to 1952. With the outbreak of the war it was necessary to convert a lot of



economic development programs into rearmament kind of things, thereby creating some difficulties. Did you at all get involved in this kind of relations?

BANCROFT: No. Although, obviously, one was aware of that, I did not get into these questions myself. My o