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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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

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Oral History Interview with
Harding F. Bancroft

 

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

 

[1]

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

 

[2]

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

 

[3]

Nations.

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

 

[4]

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

 

[5]

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

 

[6]

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

 

[7]

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

 

[8]

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

 

[9]

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

 

[10]

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

 

[11]

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

 

[12]

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

 

[13]

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

 

[14]

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.

 

[15]

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