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Richard M. Bissell Jr. Oral History Interview

Richard M. Bissell Jr.

Oral History Interview with
Richard M. Bissell Jr.

During the Truman administration served as economic adviser to the director of War Mobilization and Reconversion, 1945-46, dep. director, 1946; exec. secretary of the President's Committee on Foreign Aid (Harriman Committee), 1947-48; asst. administrator for program, E.C.A., 1948-51; and acting administrator, Sept.-Dec. 1951.

East Hartford, Connecticut
July 9, 1971
by Theodore A. Wilson and Richard D, McKinzie

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

 


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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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

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

 



Oral History Interview with
Richard M. Bissell Jr.

 

East Hartford, Connecticut
July 9, 1971
by Theodore A. Wilson and Richard D, McKinzie

[1]

WILSON: One of the topics that has engaged our attention has been the role of the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion in all this. It seems to be rather a crucial agency in postwar planning and in the immediate postwar period. You were involved in that. How did you happen to that agency?

BISSELL: I had been working in Washington during the war in the War Shipping Administration and in the fall of 1945 a neighbor of mine in Washington by the name of Hans Klagsbrun, a lawyer, was the deputy director of the Office of War Mobilization

[2]

and Reconversion under John Snyder. He approached me and asked if I would be interested in shifting from the War Shipping Administration which was clearly nearing the end of its activities to OWMR. I said I was and did so forthwith.

My predecessor was Robert Nathan who was a very well-known economist. I had known him personally -- not terribly well, but moderately well. And he had decided to leave. His position, I think, was really senior economist on the staff. Klagsbrun knew of my background in economics and in effect I became Bob Nathan's successor. I think it was about three months after I joined the agency that Klagsbrun himself resigned and John Snyder then asked me to take over his position. I joined the office in the autumn, possibly in September. My recollection is that Klagsbrun left in January, and I was in effect the deputy until the following summer, when I left to rejoin the faculty at MIT. My main concern while I was there was with the price stabilization program, most of the issues

[3]

which arose seemed to involve that in one way or another. As I'm sure you're more clearly aware than I (because I assume you're much fresher on the history), it was a period when wage controls had crumbled or legally had been abolished, but price controls still were being maintained, and this gave rise to a whole succession of official policy conflicts. The War Production Boards interest at that phase was to accelerate civilian production in every way possible; the price control agency was trying still to keep a lid on prices. And this meant that every major wage negotiation threatened in effect to shut down an industry. Employers couldn't grant wage increases without a change in price ceilings. The unions wouldn't accept wage stabilization imposed through price controls and through the employer. So all of these disputes ended up in Washington and a good many of them came to our office. It was a time when there were not only in effect these conflicting policy objectives of accelerating production on one hand and price control on the other,

[4]

but of vigorous personality conflicts as well.

I happened to know Chester Bowles well, had known him well before the war, and when I first joined OWMR, Bowles was director of Price Stabilization (he was the head of the OPA). Sometime that winter he became director of Economic Stabilization, a position that Vinson had held for a time. Because I had known Bowles very well, I was in contact with him and in effect found myself often having to be the only communications link between Snyder and Bowles. They got along very poorly. They disagreed on most major issues, and they disliked one another personally. When Bowles moved from OPA and became director of Economic Stabilization, he asked me if I would move over and join his staff.

I did not think that was wise, but with John Snyder's consent, I became one of Bowles' deputies. So I was a kind of personal interlocking directorate. I was working as Snyder's deputy part-time and part-time as Bowles' deputy. As they were hardly speaking to one another, this

[5]

was quite an interesting period in my life.

WILSON: What was your feeling about the President's position? Was he primarily concerned with the political effects?

BISSELL: I think so. Let me put it this way. I not only knew Bowles well, I came to know a lot of the men who worked for him, his close associates. I had a great deal of sympathy for their objectives at this point. I thought that as a group they were rather more idealistic and rather more dedicated than, for instance, the men remaining at that stage in the War Production Board. Very often the conflicts were between those two groups, with the War Production Board people acting as the spokesmen for avoiding strikes and accelerating production. This left the OPA and the Department of Labor in a kind of peculiar position because the WPB became to some extent the spokesman for the claims of the unions. The group around Bowles had become deeply dedicated to their goal of price stabilization, and when I say

[6]

deeply dedicated, I really mean emotionally involved in that goal. Rather more emotionally involved than I think any other similar group in the administration became in any other objective (although Wilson Wyatt and Coombs, who worked for him in housing, had a somewhat similar emotional involvement in their program). My feeling is that the President, although loyal to Bowles, appreciating Bowles' loyalty to him, and giving him a good deal of backing, fundamentally did not share the same emotional involvement in price stabilization as an end in itself. I think, therefore, that if one had got him to examine the issues and express his innermost views at that time, they would have been rather more on the other side than they were in back of Bowles.

This may have been a form of wisdom. With hindsight, I think it's clear that the stabilization of the price level roughly at its wartime level couldn't be maintained indefinitely. The cost-push spring was coiled up by years of cost

[7]

increases, and there was going to be a significant price inflation at some point. I'm not at all clear, with hindsight, that much would have been gained by keeping that lid on any longer than it actually was. I think Paul Porter, Bowles' successor at the OPA, ultimately came to feel that himself, but at the time when I was deeply involved in it, this was still a very emotional issue in Washington.

WILSON: This is perhaps a minor issue, but was there involved in this emotional attachment a recognition that rapid rises in prices for American-produced goods would be very harmful to the positions of other nations who were dependent upon these goods?

BISSELL: Most of the debates I heard focused on the domestic issues and these were emphasized rather than the implications for the export situation.

MCKINZIE: Did you have any sense of OWMR's desire to continue into the postwar period as some sort of

[8]

modified agency, with a continuing role?

BISSELL: There were a number of its staff who believed (as I was inclined to believe) that it could have played for a considerable period a useful role. As a matter of fact, that is a view that I really haven't ever changed, with hindsight. It was then a mercifully small organization. I can see the danger that if it continued semi-permanently, it would have grown very greatly. To see it become a large organization I now feel would have been unfortunate and on the whole the better course may have been to abolish it. But as it did function at that time with about a dozen senior professional people, the whole variety of disputes, most of them on one aspect or another of domestic economic policy, could be staffed and resolved in most cases without requiring the President's personal attention or intervention.

When I was in the office, John Snyder was, of course, the head of it, and I believe he shared no part of the view that it ought to continue.

[9]

I think at the time, and subsequently, his feeling was that it should be wound up as an office just as soon as possible. Moreover, that feeling of his was not unrelated to his view as to his function while he was serving as director. He wished to make as few decisions in that position as he possibly could; he wished to interfere just as little as he could with the normal departmental machinery. I confess that I think the value of the office depended on the willingness of its director to take the responsibility and to make decisions without referring them openly or, in any except perhaps the most informal fashion, to the President. It seemed to me that its usefulness was as an organization which could take quite a lot of business off the President's desk or that of other parts of the White House staff.

Currently there is, of course, a much larger White House staff than there was in those days, and the staff I'm sure does perform many of the functions of the Departments. But the fact

[10]

that OWMR was a statutory organization with well-defined powers meant that, as with Mr. Vinson for instance, the President could place there a man of stature and distinction and could make a real delegation of authority to him. As a part of the White House staff, it seemed to me that it was well-designed for its purpose.

WILSON: That's very interesting. May I inject the issue of full employment into this? Did OWMR become deeply involved in the debate over the full employment program?

BISSELL: As I look back, I'm really not conscious of there having been much debate over this issue at the time. Remember, this was the immediate postwar. It was a period when there was considerable transitional unemployment, when the main preoccupations in the area of domestic economic affairs were inflation and production bottlenecks. There was plainly excess demand for almost everything, and so the problem was really to stimulate the expansion of production. And as of

[11]

that time at least, it was quite clear that the only acceptable way to reduce inflationary pressure was to expand production. It was clear that the very things that you did to increase the supplies of goods would at the same time take up the slack of unemployment; and so there were really not perceived conflicts of the sort that there are today between price stability as a goal and full employment as a goal. The perceived conflict of goals is the one I've already referred to - between the freeing of the economy, the acceleration of production, and the maintenance of price stability through direct controls.

MCKINZIE: There was apparently some concern in a long-term sense about the economy once this transitional period had ended, once this pent-up demand had been satisfied. How much emphasis should we give to this as a motive? I'm thinking about the search for markets, and so on. This is perhaps too general a question.

BISSELL: Well, you're certainly right, of course.

[12]

There was a great deal of concern, because at that juncture nobody had seen full employment or even reasonably full employment in the United States for fifteen years except in wartime; and there was, therefore, a great deal of concern as to whether the stagnation, which is the best you can say for the late thirties, would reappear and quite a widespread fear that it would in a relatively few years. I think one has to give emphasis to that as a state of mind which had a great deal to do with the full employment act. But my recollection is that it didn't have very much to do with day-to-day decisions for the reasons I've already given. As of that moment, the obvious way to attack unemployment was to expand production; inadequate demand was not as yet a limiting factor. I don't think anyone thought it would be for three or four years at least.

WILSON: John Steelman came in then as director and we've gathered that his role was to wrap up the

[13]

operation and he did that, I understand, with dispatch.

BISSELL: Yes, he did. I think that's true. I was still there when he took office but left fairly soon afterwards. I don't think I served actively for more than a few weeks after he was in office.

WILSON: His role in the Truman administration is a little confusing to us, partly because as historians we rely on records and his records are either closed, not available, though they are at the Truman Library, or they are not very complete. There is some suggestion that he played a very important role later as an economic adviser to the President. In practical ways. Is that correct?

BISSELL: My impression is that he did play quite an important role. My feeling is also that it was not really the role of an economic adviser, even though that might have been the way it would have been described as an official title. I have the impression that the President had come to know him well and that their relationship was a very

[14]

informal one, as the President's relationship with John Snyder had always been, a close and rather personal one. My surmise, and this is really only surmise, is that especially after the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion was effectively liquidated as a functioning group of people, as a staff, the President almost certainly used Steelman much more for delicate negotiations and for his advice on economic decisions with a large political content than he did as an economist. Steelman made no pretense of being an economist and I don't really think his objective judgment on issues of economic policy was particularly well-informed or particularly good. He was a person of very acute political sensitivity, and I am sure he was used much more for his political sensitivity, perhaps his negotiating skill, than for his substantive advice.

WILSON: If I may pursue that for a moment, there are suggestions from people who were involved,

[15]

Walter Salant for example -- the Salant Papers are out at the Truman Library -- that Steelman did push a particular line of policy. We are unclear as to exactly what role the Council of Economic Advisers played, and whether their views, recommendations were not heeded by the President, and whether Steelman may not have obstructed the transmittal of the CEA's views. This is in a later period, of course. What was the status of the CEA when you came back?

BISSELL: My recollection is -- and here I would have to rely on the record as to timing -- that the Council was very new in the year that I was in OWMR

MCKINZIE: It was, had just begun.

BISSELL: ...really had just been created, and that its role was till a very limited one. My impression of Steelman is that he would have been almost instinctively rather suspicious of a group of economists; that his philosophical

[16]

bent, reflected I'm sure in his advice to the President, would be a much more pragmatic one and much more political. That his instinct when an issue arose -- a pricing issue or a budgetary issue or an issue concerning the allocation of resources -- his instinct would have been to advise the President to seek a pragmatic, political solution and really to pay comparatively little attention to the advice of academic economists. So, I'm not in the least surprised at either the impressions you quote -- that is, that the President in those years was not paying much attention to the Council -- and that Steelman's influence would have been contrary to that of the Council.

WILSON: I don’t want to infer too much and put words in your mouth, but did that attitude play any part in your decision to go back into academic economic life?

BISSELL: No, it didn't. Speaking very frankly, personalities had a bit more to do with that, although that had always been my intention. I

[17]

came to like and respect John Snyder very much, but he was not an inspiring leader by any manner of means; I never knew Steelman nearly as well, but I did not find him a particularly inspiring leader. Both men in succession were intent on gradually or rapidly liquidating the operation. Neither of them seemed to me to have longer-run interests in economic policy. They not only were not interested in converting the office into a semi-permanent part of the White House staff, but they weren't particularly interested in the long-range policy issues. Both of them tended to be concerned with the problems of the day or the week and not to look very much further. They were both, as I have indicated, pragmatists and rather politically oriented and so they weren't deeply interested in issues like price stabilization or the future of unemployment in the country. I think my relationships especially with John Snyder, were always excellent, and I think he had confidence in me and generally supported me, although he thought I was too

[18]

activist. So it was less a personality clash than an unpromising future for the OWMR.

WILSON: You then spent a year and a half at MIT before being called to a difficult job. What were the circumstances of your being asked to be Executive Secretary of the Harriman Committee?

BISSELL: I had known Harriman during the war. My recollection is that during the winter after I returned to MIT he urged me to come back to Washington and take a position in the Department of Commerce, of which he was then Secretary. After a good deal of travail I decided not to do that and to stay at MIT. But I had a couple of contacts with him that winter. Then the Presidents Committee for Aid was formed, and as you know, Harriman was made its chairman. The first thing that I knew about this was a telephone call from Harriman -- toward the end of July, I believe -- asking me to take this position. It was an ad hoc, one-time, and rather short-term assignment. MIT was willing to give me some

[19]

additional leave of absence for it, so it didn't pose a difficult choice of career or didn't appear to, and I simply agreed to do it. I know he of course had had to talk this over with the committee. There weren't many of them that I knew personally, although there were one or two.

MCKINZIE: You had only known one or two members previously?

BISSELL: I had known one or two members of the Committee -- notably Granville Conway whom I'd worked for in War Shipping Administration -- but that's all. I think it was probably Harriman's suggestion.

WILSON: Perhaps this is not the proper time to raise this. You were associated with Harriman for the next few years. What was it like to work with Averell Harriman?

BISSELL: Well, I worked for him, as you know, on that committee assignment. Then in November, when most of that was cleaned up, I went back

[20]

to MIT. I had occasion to come down on follow-up assignments a bit during the winter and saw him a few times. Thereafter, in the spring when the Economic Cooperation Administration was established, I came down as you know, and worked for Paul Hoffman. I mention that because it was really only on the Harriman Committee that I felt I was directly working for Averell, that he was my immediate boss, but I did see a great deal of him in the next few years and in a sense on many occasions I regarded myself as working for him as well as for Paul.

To answer your question: I always very greatly liked and very greatly admired Averell and generally speaking I found that working for him was highly satisfying and a thoroughly pleasant relationship. He was, I think, an inspiring leader in a sense in which other gentlemen I've mentioned were not. Every man of strong personality is on occasion difficult to work with. I sometimes disagreed with Averell. I particularly disagreed with him and his colleagues in the Paris office of ECA

[21]

on jurisdictional matters, but these were not serious. On substantive matters I almost always agreed with Averell. He used his assistants on occasion in ways that don't fit the pattern of tidy administration, but I could say the same thing of most men that I worked for whom I've most admired. Averell would develop strong views on issues from time to time, and when he had developed them, he was very hard indeed to talk out of them. It was difficult to argue him out of a position, but, generally speaking, he was eager to be advised. He was receptive to what his assistants told him, and although he kept the final decision very clearly in his own hands, he nevertheless in effect did a lot of delegating. In the important and fundamental senses he was a good administrator. I think he knew what was going on in the organization that he administered. He placed due weight on the views of his subordinates in making up his own mind; and although on occasion he would override them and was very insistent that final decisions

[22]

were his, nevertheless he didn't carry this insistence to a point or express it in such a manner as to hamper his subordinates and deprive them of the freedom of action that they needed to be effective.

WILSON: He had a very strong group around him -- a remarkable group of people from the information we have.

BISSELL: It was a very extraordinary and very devoted group. By and large, Averell was a very good judge of people and I think the record shows that he has attracted to himself throughout, especially the whole latter part of his career, very able people who became his very dedicated followers.

WILSON: If we may go back for a moment to the President's Committee on Foreign Aid. At the time you were brought down, it's clear from the record, indeed from the material in the Harriman papers, that he gave you very large responsibility;

[23]

indeed, he gave you credit for the achievement, saying it was the only one of the reports that could be read by the general citizen. That, he says, was your doing. Were the conclusions perhaps foregone at the beginning? Is that fair to say that? At the time you began, was it certain that you were going to look into the situation and come up with a program which was manageable from the point of view of American resources, and which was absolutely necessary?

BISSELL: I think the honest answer to that is affirmative. Perhaps the one area in which the conclusions were not foregone was the capacity of the U.S. really to supply the goods and services that foreign aid funds would purchase. Another way of putting it, if you like, was the inflationary impact on the U.S. of the program. And quite a lot of attention went to that by the Committee of the whole and its various subcommittees. Basically, however, the decision that had to be made was the decision that a lot of money would be appropriated

[24]

for grants-in-aid to foreign countries.

Despite lend-lease, this was still a fairly novel notion. I think it can be said that one role the Committee was expected to play was to endorse a policy decision already made, and after all a policy decision had been made by the executive branch as expressed in General Marshall's speech.

But the Committee also had a further real function to perform which was that of having a rather conservative group of men, representing the major economic interests of the country, spend a number of months debating and discussing this concept of a costly, interventionist, if you like, activist, economic foreign policy. It did more than simply endorse other people's thinking. I think there emerged from those deliberations a kind of flavor that the policy wouldn't have had otherwise.

WILSON: Was the Committee as a whole, as it was constituted, fairly active in these deliberations?

[25]

BISSELL: Yes, it was. It broke up into its subcommittees as you know and they were moderately active and produced reports. But the sessions of the Committee as a whole were, as I remember them, quite lively. There were as you know some sharp disagreements within the Committee that came out at one time or another and many of which were not really related to the subject matter of its deliberations. Jim Carey, then of the CIO and a youngish labor representative, was very out-spoken. But the issues on which he and Jim Batchelor of Alleghany Steel would disagree were issues about labor policy in the steel industry. Each man separately (and both men jointly) would say, ''Oh, yes, we're for this program." And they did support it. But you nevertheless had different kinds of disagreements about American economic policy surfacing in that committee, which, if nothing else, made it quite lively and did on occasion, however, threaten to make the achievement of a consensus difficult.

[26]

WILSON: May I ask, you were brought in from outside, you had an opportunity to evaluate these 21 distinguished gentlemen, distinguished people, how did you rate them? Did you think, well, here is a representative group of Americans who have some sense of what is important, who have their priorities well in mind? Did they then in your view?

BISSELL: I think so, with one or two exceptions, very definitely. The most interesting impression I formed, and this applied particularly to the businessmen, is that the main reason for really extremely enlightened attitudes toward public policy generally was that almost all of them had had experience in governmental policy during the war. I had the feeling that if you had taken exactly the same group of men four years previously you'd have had a completely different situation, not only a different conclusion reached, but the whole tenor of the discussion would have been different. These men had all

[27]

had the experience of grappling with problems of public policy as real issues and as these issues truly presented themselves; they had therefore pretty well given up the habit of trying to solve problems with slogans (like "balance the budget" and "nothing should interfere with free enterprise"). They were way beyond the sloganesque level of thinking and talking.

WILSON: Had they also acquired certain prejudices, certain views, from their government service about the capacity of the Federal Government or particular agencies to do or not do certain things. I'm thinking here of the independent agency question, which was solved fairly soon but caused controversy. This idea that the ECA must be a "businesslike" operation and thus the State Department was never considered as a controlling agency for it.

BISSELL: I think this attitude did reflect in some measure wartime contacts, as well as others. The wartime tradition of the special agency, created to do a particular job and presumably to be

[28]

liquidated on the completion of that job, appealed to these men. It probably had a lot of appeal in other quarters as well.

MCKINZIE: At that time there were at least three, four active committees on this same subject. What was the relationship between these committees, including the Herter Committee up on Capitol Hill? Do you recall having any dealings with those people?

BISSELL: We did have some. There may have been a meeting when Herter sat with the Harriman Committee, but my memory is very vague on that. One would have to chase that down through the records. I do remember very definitely several long talks with Herter, myself, and with one or two members of his staff. I'm quite sure that he and Averell Harriman had some contacts likewise. The committee that was chaired by Bonesteel, appointed by Lovett, was an executive branch committee; with that we had constant contact. I attended I think almost all of the meetings of that whole group. Members of my

[29]

staff sat in on subcommittees of that group. And members of that executive branch committee several times made presentations to the Harriman Committee, including its final meetings when the report was virtually complete.

WILSON: Did you have any sense that the Bonesteel Committee was reflecting the views of the Department? Lovett had come in as Marshall's deputy and he had brought in immediately a number of people from the Defense Department. Because of the belief that they could get things done, I presume. Did they have authority, a clear mandate, or were they going to have to go back and fight this thing out?

BISSELL: No, I think they had authority to shape a plan, And it seemed clear that at the upper levels of the Administration the basic policy decisions with respect to a Marshall plan, a foreign aid program, had been made. Some policy conflicts, that began to be defined later, had hardly emerged

[30]

at that time; but insofar as they were visible at all, they involved the Treasury in some opposition to a program of this kind or at least having doubts about it, but to answer your question, the group that Lovett set up there did have the authority to shape up a plan.

WILSON: One of the themes of the entire period is of course the interest, pressure, for European economic integration. Union, if you like. Was this a thing which was considered and applauded by a majority of the members of the Harriman Committee?

BISSELL: As to the members of the Harriman Committee the answer is yes, although again my recollection is that as an issue (which indeed it became later) it didn't become well defined until after the adoption of the legislation, and probably going on into late in the first year and the second year of the Marshall plan.

WILSON: If you would, perhaps, we might trace that.

[31]

It seems to be -- well it is clearly -- one of the themes of our work and one which is confusing in a number of ways and complicated. You suggested the Treasury problem. We have the impression --and you may correct us on this -- that one problem that arose was Treasury support for what became GATT as opposed to the practical thing of getting Europe to work together, which was in opposition in principle to GATT. Was that a continuous thing, or did Treasury finally give up?

BISSELL: Exactly. No, I think that conflict of objectives persisted for a long time until well after the Marshall plan as such. It was interesting to reflect on who were the protagonists in this. The conflict, as seen in the National Advisory Council on Monetary Affairs, was -- as you have characterized it -- a conflict between regional and worldwide sets of rules and foci of monetary and commercial policy. The ECA became the strong proponent, not unnaturally, of a regional approach and a regional emphasis. The Treasury, but almost

[32]

always with the alliance of the Economic Affairs Bureau of the State Department, were always the supporters of GATT, and they were suspicious of regional monetary arrangements and of regionalism generally. Within the State Department, however, there was a parallel but not quite identical difference of views. I think that fundamentally Dean Acheson, as Secretary of State, and most of the political officers favored the emphasis on a greater degree of unification of Europe, that is, on a regional approach. But there was a good many, and one of them interestingly enough was Paul Nitze, who tended to disagree, not so much because he was a monetary purist or a defender of GATT, but because of his conviction that the difficult problems in Europe were primarily internal national problems (that is, internal to each nation); that efforts and energy and attention should be focused on those problems, and that only after they were solved should questions of integration of Europe be high on the agenda. Those of us who wanted to place great emphasis on integration

[33]

argued that it could be the means of ameliorating or solving the internal problems of low productivity growth, of inflation, and the like. Paul Nitze, as much the most intelligent and articulate spokesman of the other view, took the position that you had to have the German currency reform (which I think probably everyone would admit), you had to suppress inflation in France, you had to get a more liberal monetary and fiscal policy in Belgium and Italy, you had to get much more liberalization of foreign trade and relaxation of direct controls by the British, you had to accomplish these things nationally. To talk about integration was really to divert our attention and to make it easy for the European to divert their attention from making the difficult domestic policy choices that had to be made.

WILSON: Where did you stand?

BISSELL: I was very much the regionalist and integrationalist. And, interestingly enough, that was a doctrine, a position, that was shared by

[34]

virtually all elements in the ECA. The Washington office, especially the part of it that I presided over which was really concerned with policy issues at this time, and the Paris office, were very strongly in agreement on this. Working out the drawing rights plans and later the European Payments Union, was very much a collaborative effort between Washington and Paris. (Incidentally there was a very full agreement on this between Harriman and Hoffman.) So this was one area in which there was virtually complete accord between major parts of the ECA itself. Later, Acheson, I think, rather accepted this doctrine; but even after he had accepted it, Willard Thorp, for instance, not so much on the grounds I have attributed to Paul Nitze, but more as a GATT supporter and more orthodox economist, still objected strongly.

WILSON: Is it fair to say that some of the concern about this approach arose from the concern of some people in State that you just did not ask

[35]

other nations to do this sort of thing, that it was intervention, politically risky, and also not traditional?

BISSELL: Well, that may have been the case. But the two grounds of opposition that I at least was most exposed to are the ones I have already outlined. I don't remember encountering at that stage many fears in the Department that Europe could become a neutralist third force. One should mention, of course, one other powerful and influential argument in favor of the pressure for European integration. This, of course, was the desire to ensure that West Germany, when it came into existence as a single territory, in effect be integrated into Western Europe, and that there be minimum possibility of Germany becoming neutralist or ceasing to think of itself as part of Western Europe.

WILSON: There were two approaches adopted to pursue this goal -- the strengthening of the OEEC and also the establishment of the EPU. I think those

[36]

were the most important activities. I had a series of interviews in Europe last summer with a number of people on the European side, and a number of them said that if the United States had been willing at the beginning, in 1948 or perhaps even in 1949, to have exerted its power, to have adopted a policy of blackmailing Europe, and particularly Great Britain, into really taking steps toward integration, the OEEC could have become what the Common Market has become or perhaps something even stronger. Their argument was that we were all in the same boat, even Britain -- wages about the same, need for raw materials about the same (there weren't those problems about agricultural products) -- and if the United States had taken a stronger position than it did (they used the word "blackmail") much more might have been accomplished, What is your response to that?

BISSELL: Well, I suppose the U.S. could have pushed harder, but there was a very firm determination not to do so -- and for reasons that I must confess

[37]

were proper then and that I still think were proper. As you know, within the OEEC Harriman in particular took the position that the European members of the OEEC as a European group, with U.S. observers but with no U.S. officially active participation, would have to determine how aid would be divided up. In so doing his purpose was to force decision making on the Europeans and to preclude the possibility of the U.S. making, paternalistically, too many decisions for them. From almost the beginning of the Marshall plan, this policy, or this objective, prevailed and it set the tone for the actions and positions of the U.S. on a great many matters. Insistence always that we were there to provide help, that we would put a great deal of pressure on countries to do things that their own governments had determined to do or that the group collectively had determined were desirable, but that we would lean over backwards not to impose a U.S. position, as such, on the Europeans.

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WILSON: I see. One device, one approach used -- maybe you can correct us but I think this was a pet project of Harriman's office -- was to strengthen the representation in the OEEC. Particularly this question of Spaak's appointment as Director General, Secretary General of the OEEC. Were you unanimous about that in Washington and Paris? Harriman placed great emphasis on that.

BISSELL: That's true. I think it was more a Paris office than a Washington office initiative, but I think it was one that in the Washington office we agreed with. There really wasn’t any division there. I used to be a little impatient with Averell on occasion because he placed emphasis on the distinction between ministerial level and senior civil service level in Europe. In one sense, of course, he was perfectly right to do so, because this is a distinction which is much sharper in European governments than it is in our own. There, a man is either an official or he is a minister, and the distinction is very clear. In dealing

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with the permanent Paris representatives of the European governments one was dealing almost entirely, I think without exception, with officials. They didn't any of them have a ministerial rank, and Averell was very eager to have a Director General, or whatever he came to be called, who would have in effect ministerial rank -- either currently in his own government or who would have served as a minister.

WILSON: Yes. It was a British opposition, I gather, to Spaak that prevented his appointment.

BISSELL: That's right. The British really didn't want the OEEC strengthened and most of the continental countries did, as did we.

WILSON: Another point that came up repeatedly last summer was the statement that one major problem, major roadblock, preventing the strengthening of the OEEC was this so-called "special relationship" between Great Britain and the United States. The British, they said, could in the

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end trade on this and could be confident the United States would not push them too far. Did that exist?

BISSELL: I think that it undoubtedly did, and I'm sure it was one of the motives of the British. The special relationship was still very real, though in some ways it was less so in the workings of the Marshall plan than in most other areas of foreign policy at that juncture.

MCKINZIE: Perhaps we might return to your own career for a time. You soon after your service with the Harriman Committee became Assistant Administrator of ECA. Did this involve a major decision about MIT, for example?

BISSELL: Well, it turned out to, but it didn't appear to be at the time. I think the reasons this happened is that I had known Paul Hoffman somewhat before the Harriman Committee, as I remember, going back to the early part of the war. He and I became really very good friends

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during the Harriman Committee sessions. When Paul was appointed, he called me in Cambridge, one Wednesday morning I remember, and said he wanted me to come down. In those days air travel was a good deal less common and the rail journey was eight hours; so I said, "I'll tidy up my affairs and I'll come down tomorrow."

He said, "No, I want you here tonight." Rooms were almost impossible to get in Washington, and he said, "I can't get you a room here, so you can came and share my room, and we