Oral History Interview with
Thomas C. Blaisdell, Jr.
Economist with the United States Government, 1933-51, including service as Director, Bureau of Plans and Statistics, Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion, 1945; Chief, Mission for Economic Affairs (with rank of Minister), London, England, 1945-46; Director, Office of International Trade, Department of Commerce, 1947-49; and Assistant Secretary of Commerce, 1949-51.
Kansas City, Missouri
March 26, 1971
by Richard D. McKinzie and 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. ) 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 April, 1978
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
Oral History Interview with
Thomas C. Blaisdell, Jr.
Kansas City, Missouri
March 26, 1971
by Richard D. McKinzie and Theodore A. Wilson
WILSON: One of the things I know you will be able to help us on is to give us some idea of how things looked to you, at the time you were in London, about what was going on in Washington in the period late in the war and in the immediate postwar period. What did you feel they knew about the situation? How much awareness did you think Washington had about the problems?
MCKINZIE: Particularly of England's financial difficulties.
BLAISDELL: There were a number of problems here. I think that it's only fair to start this comment, really, in Washington before I went to London, because I'd been working in the War Production Board there as a member of the Planning Committee; and then after the big blowup with Nelson and Charlie Wilson, the Planning Committee was abolished, and the question was whether the individuals were going to be abolished too. I landed as chairman of an interdepartmental review committee and director of the Bureau of Orders and Regulations. I became one of the most violated bureaucrats of Washington, because I was responsible for industrial control orders.
But at the end of that period, just before the last few months of the war in Europe, people were beginning to talk about reconversion.
The Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion was appointed with Jimmy [James F.] Byrnes at the head. A number of people in the War Production Board were going to change positions and I was quickly shifted from the Chief of the Bureau of Orders and Regulations, which were beginning to be out of date then, to be head of the Bureau of Statistics.
Well, that had hardly started, maybe it was a month, when Byrnes and General [Lucius D.] Clay, who was deputy, whom I had worked with in the War Production Board said, "You've got to come over and work with us."
So, I went over there, but in less than 60 days there was another change. This was how fast things were moving. This is important, because many responsible people weren't clear what they were doing. During the Battle of the Bulge they blew hot as to
supply policy until that battle was over.
This was illustrated by my relation to it. I got up one morning, about the first of March, '45, and picked up the Washington Post and read that President Roosevelt had announced that I was appointed as the Chief of the Mission for Economic Affairs in London.
This was the first I had heard of it. I didn't know what was involved, and I had received no notice from the President's office. I called Ed Stettinius, who was the Secretary of State at the time, because this appointment had a certain international importance, though it was not in the Department of State. This was a position that originated with President Roosevelt's appointment of [Averell] Harriman in London, back at the beginning of lend lease. When Harriman was moved from London to Moscow as Ambassador,
Phil Reed was made Chief of the Mission for Economic Affairs.
The story, as I recall it, of Harriman was that he arrived in London as head of the mission and instead of consulting [John G.] Winant, he went directly to [Winston] Churchill. (Winant was the Ambassador.) And from then on the Mission for Economic Affairs dealt directly with the Government, not through the Ambassador on all non military or diplomatic problems.
Harriman, although he had the rank of Minister, which I had later, was the "Ambassador" for working purposes as far as supplies and many other problems were concerned. What the relationship between Harriman and Winant was I never quite knew. Both Harriman and Winant were friends of mine, and this relationship was on a strictly personal basis. We had worked together officially on various things, and
personally I had. great confidence in them. I had worked with Winant when he was Chairman of the Social Security Board and had been able to do a few things that were, I hope, important in that connection; but I felt that I was not going to London without at least Stettinius knowing what I was doing.
So, I called him on the phone and went to talk to him. Stettinius never had a firm hold on the Department of State, but he was a person of great integrity and did have a feel for a lot of things.
And he said, "Well, Tom, the story, briefly, was that we didn't have any intention that there should be another Chief of Mission; but apparently it has been decided that there is to be and if there's going to be there's nobody I would rather have than you, because I know you'll work with Winant and I know you'll
work with Harry Hawkins." Hawkins was the Economic Minister, and when Reed retired, the State Department had agreed with Reed that Hawkins would assume, in addition to his responsibilities as Economic Minister, the direction of the Mission for Economic Affairs.
As I look back on it over the years, that was the right thing to have done at the time. My appointment was a mistake; but I didn't know it then, and the assumption was that if the president said this is what he wanted me to do, well, let's go, and let's do what needs to be done under the circumstances. It's a war. There was another angle to it at the moment, because I had been put in a very difficult position. The UNRRA had recently been established and there's a whole series of other things
that were in the works at .the time.
My wife was an UNRRA officer, in personnel operations, and I watched this develop along with the other postwar agencies that centered around the United Nations, like the Bank, the Fund, and the Food and Agricultural Organization, the World Health Organization, and UNRRA. But the first of these was UNRRA, and it was very clear that there was to be an important operation in the Far East as well as Europe. The essence of this was that we were nearing the end, and [Herbert H.] Lehman, who was the first head of UNRRA, asked me to become the head of the China mission. He knew that I had had some Far Eastern experiences because in addition to three years spent in China, I had previously had three years experience in India. I was not a neophyte as far as the Far East was concerned,
but I certainly was no expert. I knew a little bit and I had a little feel for it. For reasons that are complicated, much too long winded for what we are interested in here, I was still considering this. The Chinese officials that were in Washington were so sure I was to be appointed that they were trying to get me to party this and party that, and I said, "We'll face that when we get to it."
WILSON: You remember saying that to the Chinese Government?
BLAISDELL: Yes. And at this minute, this announcement of what the President had done appeared in the Washington Post, and as I said, I called Stettinius, and he indicated that if he had been doing it he wouldn't have appointed anybody, but it was the other way around.
I said, "Well, now, who is responsible
for this appointment?"
I then learned that apparently it was the people in the Foreign Economic Administration and probably Oscar Cox, who was deputy, because Henry Wallace was out and . . .
WILSON: Leo Crowley.
BLAISDELL: Well, no, Leo Crowley was the head, but Oscar Cox was really running the show, and Stettinius said, "Why don't you call Oscar and he'll probably tell you."
So, I did, I called Oscar and he said, "Well hasn't the White House been in touch with you?"
I said, "No."
He said. "Well, that's surprising."
Anyhow, it was very clear at this time that President Roosevelt had had nothing to do with it, that the "White House" was approving but the President was not being consulted
except on the most important things, of which this was not one.
WILSON; Now, are you suggesting that he was trying to conserve his strength, that he was too ill?
BLAISDELL: That's my present belief; but at that time he was just we11, see, he had returned from Yalta. He'd gone up to the Congress and testified in a wheelchair, which was the first time he had ever done that, before the Congress. There were stories in the papers that the President's health was not good always denied of course but it was reasonably clear that this was the situation, and that was my conviction. So I made no further attempt to consult the "White House" but went directly to Oscar Cox, and said, "If I'm to do this, what am I supposed to do? What am I going over
there for, because I know something about the problem here of lend lease from this end, what's involved and what kinds of things are going, the whole military operation which is concerned with the shipment of all kinds of things," and this was all being taken care of. I didn't give two hoots and a hurrah about the accounting, because whatever the accounting was I was convinced at the time that this was the cheapest expenditure for the most return that the United States had ever gotten, because we got flesh and blood for raw materials.
Talk about saving American lives, the saving of American lives by the expenditure of British and Russian blood was the cheapest thing as a nation that we ever got.
WILSON: Can I ask a question, to try to reveal some of the bafflement that we have about
this problem? There is in this period, this difficulty about British use of lend lease, and the problems before that. People were saying, "The British are using us, using lend-lease to stockpile food and stockpile goods of all kinds, but that goes far beyond what had been the prewar arrangements for normal imports of those items. And other people from the liberated areas by early '45 were saying, "Let's cut into these British reserves and use some of these for Europe now." How should we approach that, all that business about it?
BLAISDELL: Well, I have little clear memory of this, in any form that I would say was authoritative, because I don't remember the data too well. I have a recollection, though, that to some extent there were stockpilings, more than would have been "normal" in peacetime;
however, one must remember this in terms of, "this is war." And while it was true that, from '43 on, there were great declines in the amount of shipping sunk, there were still serious questions of whether these supplies would be needed. Would we have another period when submarine warfare was going to be more effective? You've got to think about this, and I don't think that at any time during that period when you speak of British stockpiles or stockpiles in Britain, is a better way to put it, because this was stockpiles for Europe as well as Britain that the British people ever had access to foodstuffs, or other supplies anything like what would have been conceived as normal peacetime adequacies.
WILSON: There wasn't in your view any clear British effort to exploit something we might call a
"special relationship," that is to say, that they were attempting to argue that we have a particular kind of relationship with the United States, or you shouldn't be too concerned about the kinds of things that are coming into Britain, how we use them? One of the things that comes up in the correspondence that we've seen that has concerned Congress was the particular allocation of lend lease materials to be used for the war effort. Are we really providing the British with lumber and things like this to rebuild after the war, in a special way that we're not providing other places?
BLAISDELL: Well, I have quite strong feelings about this, because the feeling I got and this came from very shortly after I arrived of what the British were trying to do, and they tried to do it without much success, was to make available from British resources, to
the American troops and American services that were there, something .which they could contribute to us in response for what we were contributing to them.
MCKTNZIE: Reverse lend lease.
BLAISDELL: Reverse lend lease. And we were supplying our own troops so generously that the problem was one that was really in reverse in that the real problem was that here were American troops and American civilians working in Europe, being supplied through military channels, who were being supplied so well that the American GI and the American officer was the ideal to the British soldier. Why couldn't the British soldier get that kind of rations? Why couldn’t he get this kind of care from his government that the American soldier gets from his government? And this
wasn't something somebody told me. This was the feeling that I got from association with British troops and seeing the American troops in relationship with the British troops, and it was this kind of thing that gave one the feeling that, "Gee, here's a bunch of plutocrats that are concerned about the people that are on welfare," and whether the welfare people aren't living too well. That's a psychology that is not unknown today.
WILSON: How widespread was this?
BLAISDELL: I think it was very