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Ben Hill Brown Oral History Interview

Ben Hill Brown

Oral History Interview
with
Ben Hill Brown

Assistant to legal adviser, Department of State, 1946-49; Deputy Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations, 1949-55; assigned National War College, 1955-56; Foreign Service officer, 1956---; director, U.S. Operations Mission to Iraq, 1956-58; U.S. Operations Mission to Libya, 1959-60; consul general Turkey, Istanbul, 1960-64; U.S. Ambassador to Liberia, 1964-69; retired, 1970; private consultant, 1971-- .

Attended the General Assembly, U.N., as advisor, 1947; member, survey mission to Germany, 1948; member, U.S. delegation to Intergovernmental Conference to draft agreement establishing International Authority for the Ruhr, 1948; vice chairman, U.S. delegation to U.N. Conference on Trade and Development, 1964.

Called to active duty as Reserve officer, 1941; served, military government Italy, Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces, in England, France, and Germany; deputy chief, acting chief, legal branch, Office of Military Government (U.S. Zone), Germany, 1945-46; inactive duty as Lieutenant Colonel, Judge Advocate General's Department, 1946.

Alexandria, Virginia
May 24, 1975
by Richard D. McKinzie

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Appendix | 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 July, 1979
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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



Oral History Interview with
Ben Hill Brown

Alexandria, Virginia
May 24, 1975
by Richard D. McKinzie

 

[1]

MCKINZIE: Ambassador Brown, a lot of historians are interested to know why people go into Government service in the first place. You got a law degree, but did you expect at that time that you would have a career in Government?

BROWN: No, I did not. As a matter of fact, after I got my degree I took the South Carolina bar and

 

[2]

started practicing in South Carolina. I practiced until October 1 of 1941, when I was called to active duty, and I never got back to the private practice of law.

MCKINZIE: How did you get involved in the military government?

BROWN: I had a Reserve commission in the infantry and when I was called to active duty, I took three months training at Fort Benning; the Basic Rifle and Heavy Weapons Course. There was every indication that I was going to be an infantry officer for the duration of the war.

Then I was assigned to Camp Croft after leaving Benning, and Camp Croft happened to be in my own town. The Military policy detachment there was having a little trouble with troops in town and in getting along with the local police force. So, they found out that I was both a lawyer and a resident of Spartanburg and

 

[3]

shifted me into the Military Police to have charge of the patrolling in the town and also to act as liaison with the local police.

Then so many things just happened that changed the whole course of my life. The Occupation Police School at Fort Custer, Michigan, had a course to train people for occupational police work, and Camp Croft drew one slot to send someone there. It required a college degree and I was the only officer in the Military Police detachment with a college degree, so I was sent to the Occupational Police School at Fort Custer.

About six weeks after that course was over, I was ordered overseas for Occupational Police duty. I was sent to North Africa, where they were staging for the invasion of Sicily, and later Italy.

When I got there I talked my way out of the police and into the legal side, and I spent almost

 

[4]

a year in North Africa and Italy. Then, with a group of other officers, I was switched out of there and up into England to prepare for the Northern European invasion. I was assigned to the legal branch of G-5 SHAEF. [Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces] G-5 was the military government branch of SHAEF. From then on the future course of my life was pretty well laid out.

After the war I stayed on for almost a year, because I had no children and very few points for getting out. During that time I became deputy to Charles Fahy, who is now a justice on the Federal appellate court. He was asked by Secretary [James F.] Byrnes to come into the State Department as his legal adviser. I was getting out of the service about that time and he asked me to come in for one year, said he hated to go into a job like that with nobody whom he knew on his staff.

So, I went in for one year and about 25

 

[5]

years later I retired.

MCKINZIE: There have been a few people who said that military government suffered because everybody wanted to get out and go home and they got a lot of people who were not terribly qualified that came in right after the end of the war and stayed on during the occupation period. Is there any validity to that?

BROWN: Yes, to some extent there is validity in that. There was a tremendous rush to get out. I remember seeing a letter from Eisenhower to McNarney in which he said, "You cannot imagine what the sentiment is here in the United States for bringing troops back from Europe. We've got to cut down on the staff there just as far as we possibly can." Well, at that point I could have gotten out and come home, but I've gotten interested in it and decided I would stay on. Still, a lot of people did come home, and as a

 

[6]

result they shifted people in who had no experience whatsoever in military government. The ones who knew the most about it had served three to four years before they actually got into the operational side of it, and they went home. But we still had a fairly competent staff in most of the key positions. I think where it suffered most was out in the small areas, in the Kreis [roughly equivalent to a township] areas in Germany, for example. I was in Frankfort at the headquarters of USFET as it was then called, U.S. Forces, European Theater, and I headed the Government Affairs Branch of the Office of Military Government for the U.S. Zone. I was responsible for legal problems, public safety, and four or five other operations. The staffs we had at the headquarters, Munich, Stuttgart and Weisbaden, were pretty competent people. Those who were under them, out in the field, sometimes didn't really measure up, but I still think the military government did a first-class job on the whole.

 

[7]

MCKINZIE: Is it safe to say that everyone in those positions that you classify as competent clearly understood what they were supposed to do in military government?

BROWN: Yes.

MCKINZIE: How did you feel about the Morgenthau plan?

BROWN: There was always some question as to how far you would go, but we certainly had the feeling that the Morgenthau plan was definitely out at this point, after the end of the war. We were beginning to assist in building things back to normal within a month after the surrender. Then we set up various LAND [State] headquarters in Munich, Weisbaden, and Stuttgart, where we got German participation at a level higher than the Kreis level, which had been the original top level of German participation. The people who passed the denazification test and had experience in public

 

[8]

life were given a certain amount of authority and certainly were consulted. It wasn't very long before some Germans were coming into the picture, and I don't think anybody ever felt that we were going too fast in this. Later I think the sentiment was that we hadn't gone fast enough, but that would have been after I left. I left in May of 1946.

MCKINZIE: Did you hear, at the time you were involved in these legal matters, any criticism that the denazification program you had was depriving Germany of leaders which it required for the restructuring of the...

BROWN: There was some of that, but I think it was probably more than countered by the feeling that if we were going to rebuild Germany, we'd have to do it with people who were as clean as we could possibly get. We could not put the same people back in.

 

[9]

MCKINZIE: You recall now your own feelings about how Germany was going to be in the future? Did you have any feelings about the future?

BROWN: If you are asking whether I foresaw what finally happened in Germany, the answer is no. I had no idea that an economic miracle would take place, and that Germany would become such a staunch friend of the United States. I thought they'd come back as an industrial nation, rather than a pastoral one, as Morgenthau proposed, but I never foresaw the rate at which they would come back and the levels that they would achieve.

I began to see it later when I was in the State Department, because my first three years in State were spent in the legal adviser's office and I was responsible for legal matters in the occupied areas. That is Germany, Austria, Japan, and Korea.

 

[10]

MCKINZIE: In that capacity, did you have to deal at all with the questions of the reparations, the tax problems that came up, on the patents?

BROWN: No. The German's patent problem was handled more by the Department of Justice than by State. I did get involved in both reparations and the reparations in kind, which was the principal form of reparations at that time. I'm trying to remember what the program was called where they pulled the machinery out of the factories in Germany and turned it over to the Russians, the British, and the French. At that time pressure was beginning to build up in Congress to cut back on that program, and that gave us a great deal of trouble with the British and the French, who did not want to cut back, who wanted the machinery themselves by way of reparations. We even had, I think, riders to various and sundry aid bills that came along, about the time of the

 

[11]

beginning of the Marshall plan, which would require that we cut back on the program of moving machinery from Germany. So, reparations died out a lot more quickly then the British and the French wished. You could understand the theory of the people in Congress. We were voting money to go into Germany to help to build it up, and at the same time we were taking machinery out of Germany that would ultimately have to be replaced by American money. In effect we were paying reparations to France and England.

MCKINZIE: I understand that the French were particularly adamant about getting their...

BROWN: More so than the British, but the British were pretty strong on it too.

MCKINZIE: How did that work at the legal office for you? Did you feel that you had an input on the policy decisions that were made, or was it more

 

[12]

of an executed fact which was passed down?

BROWN: I think we had some input, but not a great deal. Mostly the policy was decided elsewhere, but frequently we would have to give a legal basis for the policy and give them the limits within which, as a legal proposition, they could make decisions. That did affect policy decisions to some extent, but more from a standpoint of saying, "You can do this and you can't do that."

MCKINZIE: When you got back to the State Department in 1946, what did you do which ultimately led you to become adviser to the U.S. delegation to the General Assembly at the U.N. the next year?

BROWN: Frankly, I don't know why I got that job; I really don't. They wanted somebody from the legal adviser's office, and somebody put the

 

[13]

finger on me. By that time, the German work had cut down a certain amount, but it was still fairly heavy. I think part of the reason was that