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Harding F. Bancroft Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Harding F. 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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