Oral History Interview with
During the Truman administration, Ambassador Beam was a political officer in Headquarters, U.S. Forces in Germany, 1945-47; Chief, Central European Division, State Department, 1947-49; Consul General, Jakarta, Indonesia, 1950; Counselor of Embassy, Belgrade, Yugoslavia, 1951-52; and Counselor, U.S. Embassy in Moscow, USSR, 1952-53.
Jacob D. Beam
June 20, 1989
by Niel M. Johnson
[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. ) 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 February, 1991
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
Jacob D. Beam
June 20, 1989
by Niel M. Johnson
Summary Description: Topics discussed by Ambassador Beam include the Potsdam Conference, the currency problem in postwar Germany, the Berlin blockade, the Indonesian insurrection in the Netherlands East Indies, U.S. aid to Yugoslavia, the death of Stalin, the Policy Planning Staff of the State Department, U.S. talks with Chinese representatives in Warsaw, and the suppression by the Soviet Union of the Czechoslovak uprising in 1968.
Names mentioned include John Dyneley Prince, Robert Murphy, Lucius Clay, Bedell Smith, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Donald Heath, Harry S. Truman, Edwin Pauley, Joseph Stalin, Sukarno, Tito, Robert Bowie, Paul Nitze, George Kennan, John Foster Dulles, Robert Cutler, Charles D. Jackson, Jozsef Cardinal Mindszenty, Alexander Dubcek, Charles Bohlen, and Leonid Brezhnev.
JOHNSON: I'm going to begin, Ambassador Beam, by asking you where you were born, when you were born, and what your parents' names were.
BEAM: I'm Jacob D. Beam, born March 24, 1908.
JOHNSON: And whereabouts?
BEAM: Princeton, New Jersey. My father was a professor there.
JOHNSON: And what were your parents' names?
BEAM: Jacob and Mary.
JOHNSON: Your father's name you say was Jacob. And he was a professor there?
JOHNSON: Of history?
BEAM: Well, actually of languages. It was a long, long time. He quit just after the war.
JOHNSON: I see. Was it your father's influence that got you interested in foreign service?
BEAM: No, not a bit. Actually when I came in, it was the only job I could get.
JOHNSON: Well, let's catch up on your education then. Where were you educated?
BEAM: At Princeton.
JOHNSON: Were you in the public school?
BEAM: In the public school, and then in Kent School, yes.
JOHNSON: And then you went to the university there at Princeton?
BEAM: Yes, I did, yes. I had free admission, which was all right.
JOHNSON: Yes, free tuition. And so you got your bachelors; what was your major?
BEAM: It was history.
JOHNSON: Oh, it was a history major.
BEAM: Which was very useful.
JOHNSON: You got your bachelors at Princeton; then what did you do?
BEAM: I went over to England for one year, to Cambridge. When I came back I couldn't get a job then either. My uncle was in the Diplomatic Service and he said, "Well, the State Department is holding an examination in about two or three months; why don't you go after this thing, study up for it?" I did, and I got in.
JOHNSON: What was your uncle's name?
BEAM: Prince; John Dyneley Prince.
JOHNSON: A prince of a fellow, no doubt.
BEAM: Yes. He taught Russian actually at Columbia. He was the head of the Department.
JOHNSON: So your uncle is the one who...
BEAM: He just suggested it. He was a politician, actually. He was Deputy Governor in New Jersey, and he knew all these languages, particularly the Russian language.
And that helped him a great deal because he went around New Jersey getting votes for Harding.
JOHNSON: For Harding?
BEAM: For Harding yes. And Harding gave him a job as Minister to Denmark.
JOHNSON: Was this in the 1920s?
BEAM: Yes, 1924.
JOHNSON: Well, when did you take the exam and get into the Foreign Service?
BEAM: Well, I took the examination at the end of 1930, and I came into the Service in February 1931.
JOHNSON: This was in the Foreign Service.
BEAM: Yes, I have had 42 years of service.
JOHNSON: So, you have a bachelors from Princeton -- or do you have a masters now? You went to Cambridge.
BEAM: I have a bachelors, and then an honorary degree.
JOHNSON: From where?
BEAM: From Princeton, when I went to Moscow.
JOHNSON: So in '31 you are in the Foreign Service. What
was your first assignment?
BEAM: The first assignment was to Geneva, in the Consulate there.
JOHNSON: You were right near the League of Nations then?
BEAM: Well, you see, we were sort of semi-attached to the League of Nations because we had an office which followed all the work of the League of Nations, which was very useful to us. We weren't a member of the League of Nations.
JOHNSON: Did you attend some of the sessions there though?
BEAM: Yes, we did. It was our job to do it.
JOHNSON: How long did you do that? How long were you stationed there?
BEAM: Well, I guess about three years.
JOHNSON: So we're up to '34 now. What did you do then?
BEAM: And then I went to Germany as 3rd Secretary [in the American Embassy].
JOHNSON: As 3rd Secretary in Germany.
BEAM: In Berlin, yes.
JOHNSON: How long were you in Berlin?
BEAM: I was there five years.
JOHNSON: To '39.
JOHNSON: Did you meet Charles Thayer?
BEAM: Oh, I knew him very well, yes.
JOHNSON: Okay, you were in Berlin to '39. You're checking up on the Nazi movement there?
BEAM: Just reporting on what was going on.
JOHNSON: So from '34 to '39, what were you telling the State Department? What kind of information were you giving them? What were you saying about Hitler...
BEAM: Everything. Reporting the bad things they were doing, and the successes they were having, building up an army, and things like that. We just...
JOHNSON: You warned the State Department that...
BEAM: Well, everybody was warning them.
JOHNSON: That this was a growing threat. Wasn't it Kennedy, Joseph Kennedy, in England who got into hot
water by reporting things a little differently, saying that the United States should stay out of the conflict, that Germany was going to take them over anyway?
BEAM: Yes. Yes, he was very unwelcome. I think he had to leave London because of that.
JOHNSON: Were you there when Charles Lindbergh came to Germany? You know, when he met with Goering, and saw the German airforce build-up?
BEAM: Oh yes.
JOHNSON: Did you meet him?
BEAM: Yes indeed. Yes. He was a very impressive man.
JOHNSON: How about his thinking? What did you think of his ideas?
BEAM: He was realistic. He said the British are terribly weak. The chances are you may get beaten.
JOHNSON: Were you there when the war started in September of '39, when they invaded Poland, or had you left by that time?
BEAM: I left in 1939, just after the invasion of Poland. Then I went back to the State Department for a while
and then I went to England, in 1941.
JOHNSON: You were in England then during the war?
JOHNSON: You were in on the blitz?
BEAM: No, not very much because that had stopped.
JOHNSON: You were there at the Embassy in London, in the Whitehall area?
BEAM: Well, yes it is.
JOHNSON: On D-Day, the invasion of Normandy, were you there then?
JOHNSON: Did you meet Eisenhower?
BEAM: No, not in those days.
JOHNSON: Then what did you do?
BEAM: Let's see. I was there when peace was declared, and then I was picked up by Bob Murphy. He was a traveling man after the war, traveled all over Europe.
JOHNSON: Were you in London on V-E Day, May 8, 1945?
BEAM: No, I was in Germany then. I was following Bob Murphy around. (Robert Murphy was appointed in September 1944 as political adviser on German affairs in Supreme Headquarters, A.E.F.)
JOHNSON: You and other civilian authorities were coordinating with the military?
BEAM: Yes we were.
JOHNSON: With [Lucius] Clay for instance?
BEAM: Oh yes, very close to Clay.
JOHNSON: Who were some of the other generals that you were in contact with?
BEAM: Well, Bedell Smith.
JOHNSON: In fact,...
BEAM: He had a terrible temper.
JOHNSON: Bedell did?
BEAM: Oh, yes. I got on the good side of him.
JOHNSON: He was Ambassador to the Soviet Union there for a while after the war.
BEAM: Yes, he was. Yes.
JOHNSON: And he was in London much of the time during the war wasn't he?
BEAM: Yes, he was; he was deputy.
JOHNSON: Deputy to Eisenhower, was he?
BEAM: Yes, he would have been deputy to Eisenhower, yes.
JOHNSON: Did you meet Patton, George Patton?
BEAM: Well, yes, I heard him speak. He wasn't very popular.
JOHNSON: Not very diplomatic?
BEAM: No, he wasn't. The British didn't like him.
JOHNSON: They saw his pearl-handled revolvers, I suppose.
BEAM: He was a good soldier though. He was terrific.
JOHNSON: So in 1945 you are with Bob Murphy, as a kind of a deputy to Bob Murphy, who is a political adviser to General Clay, the U.S. Military Governor in Germany.
BEAM: Well, yes, I was his secretary and everything; took care of everything.
JOHNSON: Was he kind of a roving Ambassador? Do you know what his title was?
BEAM: Well, he was a civil representative of the U.S. Government.
JOHNSON: Okay, the State Department.
JOHNSON: Well, that had to be interesting.
BEAM: Actually, people were above me, but I was his right-hand man.
JOHNSON: Who were some of those that worked with you there when you were with Bob Murphy?
BEAM: Don Heath, Donald Heath, he was there. He was the deputy.
JOHNSON: Well, I guess they had agreed on the occupation zones at Yalta.
JOHNSON: Were you at the Yalta Conference?
BEAM: No, I wasn't at Yalta.
JOHNSON: Did you know Truman, or had you any special interest or knowledge of Truman, before he became President?
BEAM: No. I didn’t, but Murphy did.
JOHNSON: Well, what did you think when Truman came in as President? Do you remember your reactions at the time, your impressions?
BEAM: Yes, I do. We were traveling around Germany when we got the news of the death of Roosevelt.
JOHNSON: I suppose that you expected Truman just to carry on his policies, Roosevelt policies.
BEAM: Which he did pretty much. Things had changed, of course.
JOHNSON: Of course, Truman did come over to Germany for the Potsdam Conference in July of 1945. Where were you then?
BEAM: I was at the conference.
JOHNSON: Is that when you first saw Truman, at Potsdam?
BEAM: He wasn’t very impressive, unfortunately.
JOHNSON: Who was that?
JOHNSON: You don’t think he was impressive at that
BEAM: He was awfully green, too. But he was damn good when it came to really common sense.
JOHNSON: Yes. Well, did you think that the terms of that conference were adequate, or were good, or do you think...
BEAM: We came out pretty well. The man who was really the best was an oil man; I forget his name.
JOHNSON: Was it Pauley, Edwin Pauley.
BEAM: Edwin Pauley, yes. Oh, he was superb, utterly superb. He did all the speaking for us.
JOHNSON: At Potsdam?
BEAM: Yes, knew his subject pretty well. And he was rough with the Russians. Stalin was there, and I was very much impressed with Stalin, really.
JOHNSON: You were very impressed with Stalin.
BEAM: Oh yes, terrific. I got it mostly by translation, things like that, but it really came through; there was an historic man.