Leland Barrows Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Leland Barrows

During the Truman Administration served in the Office of Price Administration, the Federal Public Housing Authority, and the Department of State, 1944-48; Executive Assistant to the Special, Representative in Europe, Economic Cooperation Administration, 1948-53; Director, Mission to Greece, Foreign Operations Agency, 1952-54; and Mission to Vietnam, 1949-1958. Later Ambassador to the Republic of Cameroon.

Washington, D.C.
January 8, 1971
by Theodore A. Wilson

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 June, 1984
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri


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


Oral History Interview with
Leland Barrows


Washington, D.C.
January 8, 1971
by Theodore A. Wilson


WILSON: The comment you just made about Truman's support for foreign aid is interesting. Was he convinced of the potential of all sorts of aid programs, all the sorts of aid programs which were inaugurated during his administration? Was he convinced of this?

BARROWS: I really don't know. I never actually met Mr. Truman. I worked at a level where I could only see the effects of these decisions. No, I suppose mainly he just felt the United States had to play a role in the world, and foreign aid seemed to be another useful instrument. So far as I can remember, you could identify with him three major departures. One was the Greece-Turkey program, the next was the Marshall plan, the third was Point Four. From the purely technical point of view of how foreign aid is


administered, those all had antecedents, in their Inter-American Affairs Institute, in lend-lease and in some programs which preceded Inter-American Affairs. There was the so-called interdepartmental committee in the late forties. Actually, the Greece-Turkey program -- to a considerable degree -- started with people who had had experience in Latin America, so some of the methods, some of the procedures, were brought in from there. Similarly, the Marshall plan had a certain continuity with lend-lease, and with the Interim Aid program which came at the end of the while we were making ready for the Marshall plan.

WILSON: A good manly people from the War Production Board as well, I think, had that sort of experience.

BARROWS: Well, from the wartime programs, yes.

WILSON: And Point Four, where did they get the people for that?

BARROWS: I don’t know, I don't know who really originated that idea that was embodied in the fourth point in Truman's Inaugural Address. That would be very


interesting to trace down from a historical point of view.

WILSON: Yes. We had some evidence that George Elsey had something to do with it. He was a Truman staffer and speechwriter and just picked it up.

BARROWS: It reminds me a little bit of the origin of the food stamp program. That's another story which may or may not be true. But the story is that Henry Wallace, I think it was, was sort of thinking aloud at a press conference.

He said, "There ought to be some kind of a way of supplying our food surplus at a reduced price, or free, to people who need it." The press and public picked it up -- understood that he had an idea. So he had to deliver. So, the story is, he turned to Milo Perkins and said, "Here, work it out." Now that's the story I've heard.

Well, I have a feeling that somebody put this good idea into Truman's speech. He must have liked it. It caught on and then they had to implement it. I don't know whether that's right or not.


WILSON: Yes, I think you're correct.

BARROWS: You know what it does, however, in my view. It appeals to the secular missionary spirit which is always alive in our country, and it makes great appeal to people who would like to be missionaries but have lost their conventional faith. In the present generation the Peace Corps meets the same requirements.

WILSON: Does it appeal to the penury of Congress as well or did it so appeal?

BARROWS: Well, there was that side of it, of course. I remember -- this is Henry Bennett saying -- "giving a lot of money to a poor country is just an outrage, it will ruin them." There is probably some truth in that. When all they really needed were iron points on their wooden plows." You've heard that phrase, no doubt. That became sort of a catchword. There have been these two currents of thinking about aid. There still are.

I sat with the Peterson Commission in some of


its sessions because a member of this company, General Robert Wood, was on the commission. He used me as an assistant. Those same currents were present there in the discussion. There is a certain condescension about the notion that we have some superior knowledge or skill, which is so valuable that if we can only convey it to someone, he doesn't need anything to eat or any machines, or anything that costs money. Well, there's a certain amount of truth in all this.

WILSON: Yes. One of the issues that we haven't sorted out yet is whether there was any serious intention to provide capital outlays along with...

BARROWS: In Point Four?

WILSON: Yes. In Point Four.

BARROWS: Who knows? Very soon some of the countries who were -- you remember there was a division in the world when Point Four got started. Europe, through Greece and Turkey, were in the Marshall plan, and the Far East, that is to say Taiwan, Korea, and Indo-China


were with the Marshall plan agency.

WILSON: Right.

BARROWS: The rest of the world in between was given to this new Point Four. But the rest of the world included two countries with enough political attraction or pressure -- position in the United States -- not to be content with know-how, that is, Israel and India. Then, of course, there was Iran too.

WILSON: Right. They had struggles over both control of the TCA and these allocations to Israel. We had some private information about that. It is difficult to sort out.

BARROWS: Well, you know, subsequently. Maybe it would be just a little bit of help if I told you what my connection with this whole thing was.

I went to Europe in the summer of '48, as the administrative management man -- personnel, budget, that sort of thing. I had had no particular experience in international affairs, although from December 1947 until I went with the Marshall plan I was in the State Department in the information program.


WILSON: That was really my first question.

BARROWS: I got in there by accident. We'll come back to that if you want to; but, anyway, I went abroad to do this job, help set up the missions and so on. I wasn't supposed to be particularly concerned with the substance of things, but inevitably one has to be.

At the end of a couple years I said, "Well, I've got to make a choice. If I'm going to be an administrative management type the future lies in Washington. If I'm going to be a foreign aid person the future lies in getting into the substance of things and into a country mission." So I went around to Milt [Milton] Katz, who was then Special Representative, and explained this to him.

He said, "Well, that seems to make sense. When you've decided what you want to do, let me know."

Then one day Katz called me in and said, "How would you like to go to Rome?" That precipitated the decision. I went to Rome as Deputy Mission Director, and stayed there a year and a half. Then I went to


Greece as Deputy Mission Director under Roger Lapham. After six months, he left and I was named Director of the mission. That more or less cast the die that I was going to stay with foreign aid.

The aid program which I administered in Greece was a part of the Marshall plan. Greece was never a Point Four country, but the programs and procedures established there under the Greek-Turkish aid program, and continued under the Marshall plan were similar to those in Point Four. I forgot to mention that in dividing the world, the Latin American programs, as you know, went into Point Four. So, in effect, the philosophy and procedures of the Marshall plan and the European Recovery Program were superimposed upon the project agreement approach derived initially from the Latin American experience.

My job in Greece was essentially to participate in the stabilization of the economy, and enable it to face a reduction in American aid. The initial goals of physical reconstruction and recovery had been reached. In the two years I served as Mission


Director the economy was stabilized and the currency devalued to a level which was maintained for many years. American aid was reduced from $175,000,000 to $35,000,000, and could have been reduced still further.

Because of the double background of the program and the satisfaction of helping the country achieve financial stability after a decade of runaway inflation, the experience in Greece was extremely interesting and valuable for me.

Then I went to Vietnam, and that became another story.

WILSON: I'd like to go over some of these bits and pieces of your career. I wonder, though, while we're still on this, while you were in Rome -- there's some indication that some people liked to think of, or wished to think of, Southern Italy as a point Four type situation and they even wished to approach development of Southern Italy in that way. The normal sort of procedure was to try to get American development teams in training and these sorts of things. Was that important at all?


BARROWS: Well, clearly, Southern Italy has many economic and social problems like those in Greece and the rest of the Mediterranean littoral. In the Italian program we were dealing with Marshall plan procedures and resources and organization, and there were certain fundamental differences. There were no such things as projects and project agreements in the Marshall plan. The term "project," if I remember correctly, was reserved for any investment requiring the use of a million dollars worth of dollar-financed imports, or more. In other words it had to be a major thing. Then we would look at those import requirements as a whole and try to evaluate the project. Otherwise, the resources that came in through the Marshall plan were entirely commodities or services, but mainly commodities, which moved through the normal channels of trade, paid customs duties, import taxes and the rest, and were distributed by sale. This gave rise, therefore, to a counter-part fund. The use of the counterpart fund might be negotiated to serve some social purpose like building housing. But it was only in that secondary


stage that the Americans got into the question of what went on within the country in detail. Now, in Italy, as a matter of fact, the government was always responsive to the use of the counterpart funds fox social purposes. Some of the money -- counterpart money, a good bit of it -- went into the Cassa per il Mezzogiorno, which was a special fund for the south, where the Italians themselves were doing the kind of development thing with technical assistance and everything else that Point Four would undertake to do. But our role was never as detailed as it is in the underdeveloped countries. We were dealing with a developed country that happened to have a backward region.

WILSON: Yes, yes.

BARROWS: Because of the potential inflationary effect of counterpart expenditures, their use in Marshall plan countries was carefully controlled and required prior Washington approval. And in Italy, which, I believe, had been badly burned by inflation in 1948, there was a relatively conservative economist as


President, and another conservative as Prime Minister, at least a part of the time I was there. They were not going to be pushed into what they considered to be a reckless monetary policy. So in supporting the use of counterpart funds for projects, we were pushing for a more adventuresome financial policy than the Italian government was willing to follow.

WILSON: What about the land reforms that came in…

BARROWS Well, I don't remember that very well. My impression is there was land reform and we did support it, but I couldn't be specific.

WILSON: Yes. I do recall it at some stage, but this may have been before the time you came there. Was [Lee] Dayton the…

BARROWS: Dayton -- I was there under Dayton. As a matter of fact, although, well, I suppose it's a matter of history, if you want to go into it. I was sent down there partly because Dayton, in pushing the Italians, made a couple of speeches which were a little colorful. He had an extremely eloquent writing man working with him named Frank Gervasi. Dayton


made the same speech a couple of times at least. The first time he made it -- not a ripple; but the second time he made it, something happened locally which caused the speech to reverberate politically. There was some phrase in it about how, if they continued to save their lire, that in this way they might end up hanging from a filling station, you know, like [Benito] Mussolini.


BARROWS: Well, it was this kind of strong language which apparently provoked some pressure -- I never knew the inside story -- from the Embassy, that Dayton was being indiscreet. The position I think that the Marshall plan people took, is that it was a bit pugnacious, that Dayton was just a little bit overworked right now and didn't give the speech enough attention. They believed he should be given a little more help because he didn't have a deputy right then. So, I was sent down there more or less to handle the administrative end of things. I wouldn't have gone had Vincent Bennett,


who had previously assisted Dayton, been willing to go back there at the time. Well, after I had been there about seven or eight months, Vince did come back, and although he took what was normally a subordinate job to mine, in fact I knew that Lee liked him very well. He is a very fine and able man. I soon concluded, wh