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David K. E. Bruce Oral History Interview

 

Oral History Interview with
David K. E. Bruce

During the Truman Administration Ambassador David Bruce served as Assistant Secretary of Commerce, 1947-48; Chief of the Economic Cooperation Administration to France, May 1948-49; United States Ambassador to France, 1949-52; and Under Secretary of State, 1952-53.
Washington, D.C.
March 1, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess

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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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 May, 1974
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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

 



Oral History Interview with
David K. E. Bruce

 

Washington, D.C.
March 1, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess

 

[1]

HESS: Mr. Ambassador, to begin and for the record, would you relate a little of your personal background?

BRUCE: I was born in Baltimore, Maryland on February 12, 1898. I attended a primary school in Baltimore, was at Princeton University for a year and a half and left to join the Army. Then some years later, I spent one year at the University of Virginia Law School and the next year at the University of Maryland Law School. Afterwards I was admitted to the Maryland Bar. I practiced law in Baltimore from 1921 to 1925. Following that I went to Rome as a Vice Consul in the Foreign Service. I remained there a year, then spent another year in the State Department, resigning in 1928 and entering business. I was engaged in business and farming from 1928 to 1940. I became Chief Representative in Great Britain for the American Red Cross in 1940, then moved to the Office of

 

[2]

Strategic Services in 1941, where I remained for four years. During that period I was eventually Director of the European Theater of Operations of the Office of Strategic Services. My first entry into the Government, other than having worked for the State Department previously, was as Assistant Secretary of Commerce from 1947 to 1948. I went directly from the Department of Commerce to Paris to become Chief of the European Cooperation Administration to France. This lasted a year. At the end of it I was appointed Ambassador to France where I served for three years. I left Paris as Ambassador to become Under Secretary of State from 1952 to 1953.

In 1953, President Eisenhower appointed me Special United States Observer at the Interim Committee of the European Defense Community. I was also Special American Representative to the European High Authority for Coal and Steel. These appointments continued from 1953 to 1954.

In 1957 I went for a three-year tour of duty as United States Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany. I was appointed United States Ambassador to Great Britain by President Kennedy in 1961, and continued in office by President Johnson, staying altogether in England in that position from 1961 until 1969.

 

[3]

As Chief of the United States delegation to the Paris Peace Conference on Vietnam, I lived in Paris from 1970 to 1971, in all, a period of slightly over twelve months.

At various times I was in the United States Army: During the First World War from 1917 to 1920; during the Second World War from 1942 until 1945.

My only political occupation, if I can put it that way, as far as election to public office was concerned, was as a member of the Maryland House of Delegates from 1924 to 1926, and later a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from 1939 until 1942.

HESS: What led to your interest in foreign affairs and in the foreign service?

BRUCE: I think my interest in that respect was due to a curiosity about foreign countries stemming, perhaps in considerable part when I was young, from having been at the conclusion of the First World War, sent as an Army officer in what was then the Courier Service; and the Courier Service consisted of taking documents and various papers connected with the Peace Conference in Paris for delivery to American posts in countries throughout Europe. My own run was chiefly in the Balkans, and

 

[4]

it was at that time my curiosity about foreign affairs became stimulated.

HESS: What are your earliest recollections of Mr. Truman?

BRUCE: I never knew Mr. Truman until he became President. I knew of him, of course, because he was a well-known member of the United States Senate, and also as Vice President, but I had not attended the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1944, and it was only after he became President and after my return from Paris as Under Secretary of State that I had anything other than a most casual acquaintanceship with him.

HESS: As he was not a very well known individual in 1944, what was your reaction when he was selected as the vice-presidential nominee that year?

BRUCE: I had none because I was still in the Army and was serving in Europe.

HESS: When did you come back from Europe?

BRUCE: I came back in the beginning of 1945.

HESS: The beginning of 1945?

BRUCE: Yes.

 

[5]

HESS: Mr. Roosevelt, of course, was inaugurated on January 20, 1945, leaving soon thereafter for Yalta. Then when he came back from Yalta it was not too long until April 12th of 1945 and his death. Thinking back to that time when you came back from the war, what was your impression of President Roosevelt and the state of his health at this time, from photographs and from news pictures?

BRUCE: When I came back I continued to be in the Army, and also in the Office of Strategic Services in Washington. Also during that year I made one or more trips abroad in connection with the business of that office. My knowledge of the state of President Roosevelt's health was derived entirely from conversations, from newspaper articles and from photographs. I think it was evident to anyone who was close to him, and it was a matter of common knowledge in Washington certainly, that his health had distinctly failed. That's all I knew of it.

HESS: Where were you when you heard of the death of President Roosevelt and just what were your thoughts and impressions?

BRUCE: I was either in Paris or Germany at the time of his death, and there was a great deal of regret and mourning, of course, everywhere.

 

[6]

HESS: Had you gone back to Europe at that time?

BRUCE: Yes, on a trip. There was general consternation, if one can put it that way, especially amongst those people who knew little of Vice President Truman, about the new President Truman. From what I had heard of President Truman, I wasn't unduly disturbed because I thought that President Roosevelt's health had already failed so seriously, that it was simply a matter of time before there would be such a succession.

HESS: Did you have any impressions at that time of what kind of a job you thought Mr. Truman would do, or did you know that much about the man?

BRUCE: I didn't know enough about him to have any judgment on it.

HESS: Do you recall your first meeting with President Truman?

BRUCE: Yes, I don't recall meeting him, unless it happened to have been during an appearance before a Senate committee, which I did quite frequently when I was Assistant Secretary of Commerce, until after I came home to become Under Secretary of State.

HESS: I see. Since you were in Europe at the end of the war,

 

[7]

and then you had taken a trip back, just what were your impressions of the physical and economic conditions in continental Europe at the end of the war?

BRUCE: Well, as a general remark, I would say that I was discouraged by the physical and economic conditions in continental Europe after the war. I think, like many others, I realized that only the massive introduction of American support in one form or another, could possibly bring about a rehabilitation of the economies of those countries within a reasonable time.

HESS: As a general opinion, what courses were available to American foreign policy makers following World War II, and perhaps with the benefit of hindsight, should we have followed different courses?

BRUCE: Personally I believe that the courses we followed for some years after World War II were enlightened, surprisingly imaginative and extremely effective.

HESS: You say "surprisingly imaginative." Is it surprising for the United States to come up with good foreign policy?

BRUCE: No, it's not what I meant. I would have thought by imaginative I was thinking chiefly of the Marshall plan,

 

[8]

its conception and its execution, because although it was soundly conceived, it required imagination to do so, and it certainly required great efficiency to carry it out successfully.

HESS: Mr. Ambassador, what do you recall about the conception of the Marshall plan?

BRUCE: I heard about it when I was Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Domestic and Foreign Affairs. Mr. Harriman, then Secretary of Commerce, was very active in connection with the proceedings that took place after the announcement of the Marshall plan by General Marshall, and some of the members of his staff were also deeply engaged when the planning commenced.

HESS: Who was instrumental in the conception of the Marshall plan, whose idea was it?

BRUCE: I have been told, although I cannot verify this, that those who were most publicly active about it at that period who were in Government, were, aside from the President and General Marshall, Dean Acheson and Mr. Will Clayton. Later, younger men were attached to them, and I have no doubt are entitled to a great deal of credit for the formulation of the Marshall plan proceedings.

 

[9]

HESS: Just in your opinion, how involved were President Truman and Secretary Marshall in the early formulation of the plan?

BRUCE: That I can't answer. I don't know. That's been pretty well documented, however.

HESS: Moving on, did you feel that the Soviets intended to live up to whatever agreements they may have entered into following World War II?

BRUCE: I thought that in general we in the United States were too optimistic in believing that the Soviets might alter what had been for a long time, as a matter of fact for centuries, fundamental Russian policies in respect to the rest of the world. I did not believe, myself, that they intended to live up to whatever agreements they may have made at Yalta or elsewhere.

HESS: In the July 1947 issue of Foreign Affairs, Mr. George Kennan published an article entitled, "The Sources of Soviet Conduct." In that article he expressed his ideas on containment. Do you recall if Mr. Kennan's ideas or his writings had any influence on your thinking during that period of time?

BRUCE: Well, everything that Mr. Kennan wrote, of course,

 

[10]

was followed with considerable attention, because not only was he an expert on the Soviet Union, including its historical background, its culture, its politics, its economy, its agriculture, but Mr. Kennan expressed himself with such facility and so gracefully that one was almost forced to read whatever he wrote. His ideas on the policy of containment were interesting. I didn't wholly agree with them, but it would take a long time to explain why one agreed or disagreed, but in general, I think it was a most interesting thesis.

HESS: He, of course, was the first director of the Policy Planning Staff. Now when you were Under Secretary -- this is jumping ahead just a bit -- but when you were Under Secretary, Mr. Paul Nitze was director of the Policy Planning Staff, is that correct?

BRUCE: I believe he was.

HESS: Did you work closely with him?

BRUCE: Oh yes, I not only worked closely with him, but he was a good friend of mine. A most accomplished fellow.

HESS: I know comparisons are an odious thing, but who do you think was the most effective in that position: George Kennan or Paul Nitze?

 

[11]

BRUCE: I wouldn't want to draw a comparison. They're both intellectually superior men.

HESS: At different times in our history of the country, we have had periods of isolationism. Just how great were the pressures for a return to isolationism and "America first" after World War II?

BRUCE: I think they were small compared with what they had been at any time previously. The country, in effect, had embarked after its venture into World War II on a course of foreign conduct entirely unprecedented in our history. I think the decision had been reached that we could never again afford to be, nor wish to be, isolationists in the extreme sense.

HESS: A "fortress America" type of thinking.

BRUCE: I would have thought it would be difficult ever to return to it.

HESS: In 1947 you became Assistant Secretary of Commerce. Why were you chosen for that position?

BRUCE: Well, first of all, I think because Mr. Harriman, who was Secretary of Commerce, had known me for many years, and he thought perhaps it would be a position that would not only interest me, but in which I might be able

 

[12]

to perform the duties satisfactorily.

HESS: Mr. Harriman served as Secretary from October 7, 1946 until April 22, 1948. He was replaced by Mr. Charles Sawyer. Were you there wholly during the administration of Mr. Harriman?

BRUCE: I was there entirely and during the administration of Mr. Harriman. Mr. Sawyer was a friend of mine. He lived next door to me here in Georgetown, but I never served with him.

HESS: What kind of a man is Mr. Harriman? He is well known for his views on foreign affairs and for his benefit to the Government, but just in your opinion, how would you characterize Averell Harriman?

BRUCE: I think Averell Harriman is in the true sense of the word an extraordinary man. He has an infallible memory, a ceaseless curiosity, a vitality which even today at the age of eighty is superior to that of many men, probably most men half his age; and he has always occupied a front row seat at the great events, international political events, of our time. I think in that respect his record is unique.

HESS: What were your principal duties as Assistant Secretary

 

[13]

of Commerce? Just what occupied most of your time?

BRUCE: Well, as you know, the Department of Commerce has a great many bureaus: The Weather Bureau, the Census Bureau, and when you take on the foreign affairs aspects as well as the domestic aspects of work in the Department of Commerce, your interests become multifarious and your duties equally so. A great deal of my time was taken up, of course, with testimony before the Senate or the House committees which dealt with the questions of the granting of licenses. Some materials, goo