Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the Butterworth oral history interview.
Opened May, 1983
Oral History Interview with
July 6, 1971
by Richard D. McKinzie and Theodore A. Wilson
WILSON: Perhaps we might begin in a straightforward way by asking how you came to receive the appointment as counselor in the Embassy in Madrid, and what you might remember about your experience in Spain.
BUTTERWORTH: Well, when 1 returned from the Embassy in London, after the Battle of Britain, in May of 1941, I was lent by the Department of State to Mr. [Jesse H.] Jones, who was Secretary of Commerce and head of the RFC.
After we got into the war I was asked to go to Spain to be in charge of our economic warfare. There was organized a corporation
called United States Commercial Company, which was the counterpart of the British corporation, both Government owned, called the United Kingdom Commercial Corporation. Both corporations were to be used to engage in the supply and preclusive or pre-emptive buying of strategic materials. And at the time we entered the war the British were still buying for supply reasons; but they did not control enough of the strategic materials which were surplus to their own needs, so they did not have very much leverage with the Spaniards and the Portuguese in the terms of pre-emptive or preclusive buying. And so I became First Secretary in the Embassy in Madrid and in the Legation in Lisbon as it was then, and the Director General for the Iberian Peninsula of the United States Commercial Corporation. I acted in this capacity until the pattern of our economic warfare had been established. When the bombing by the American and British Air Forces of the lines of communication through
France and into Germany had become very intense, very little moved from the Iberian Peninsula to Germany or German-occupied territory. Then Willard Beaulac, who was the number two in Madrid at that time, was assigned to be the .Ambassador in one of the South American countries.
WILSON: Colombia or Venezuela, I think?
BUTTERWORTH: I thought Paraguay, if I remember it right. Maybe Uruguay. But at any rate I replaced Beaulac and became the number two in Spain some little time before the invasion. I was on the spot and I had been operating there, and I suppose Washington in its infinite wisdom thought that would be the easiest thing to do.
WILSON: What was the attitude of Washington towards the United States position in Spain during the war? How would you sum that up? There was some confusion about it, it seems to us.
BUTTERWORTH: Well, I don't think there was any confusion at the operative top level, with the possible exception of Harold Ickes. But there were quite a few people whose actions were such that they laid themselves open to the accusation that they preferred to fight the Spanish Civil War all over again rather than World War II. And this, of course, at varying times posed some difficulty. I know when I was recruiting people before I went to Spain and Portugal in June of 1942, one of the people that I proposed to hire was a man who had good relations with General [Francisco] Franco during the Civil War, and had helped sell him oil on credit. Not only the New Republic and the Nation had got hold of this...and wrote acid articles about how he engaged in promoting Fascism -- but even the FBI was reluctant to clear him. So there was this hangover from the Spanish Civil War. It made it more difficult at times -- but
it did not change our purpose nor our pursuing the policy that we intended to and did pursue.
MCKINZIE: When you were doing that kind of work did you have any kind of awareness of how the American people were reacting to that kind of thing? I have the impression that the American public didn't quite understand preclusive buying and the business of economic warfare, but they pretty much thought it was a matter of battlefields and fighting.
BUTTERWORTH: I suppose that's true. But, you know, in the wartime atmosphere the idea that public opinion was going to understand every operation you undertake, and especially a lot of the technical operations, is not one that preoccupies you very much at that time. If you have the money, and you have the backing of your superiors, and you have the policy laid out firm and clear, then you go ahead and do it. You don't expect rousing cheers, and if there are
hisses, which very seldom there are, you don't pay much attention.
WILSON: Was it the assumption that the operations of U.S. Commercial Company were solely for the duration of the war, and that this sort of operation would cease with peacetime? Was that your assumption and also the assumption of the Spanish Government?
BUTTERWORTH: The British counterpart, a reflection of which the USCC was, was organized long before the war. .And, as I recall it, perhaps began life helping to guarantee Government transactions from Russia and certain other countries where the credit problem was difficult and so on. It was termed as a suitable existing instrument to engage in supply as well as pre-emptive buying, because the British were important importers of certain necessary things such as minerals: mercury from Spain, wolfram from Portugal and to a lesser extent Spain, and so
on. Not to mention sardines, cloth, oranges, and all sorts of things, insofar as they had ships in which to carry them. But we organized the USCG as a purely ad hoc wartime matter under the aegis of the RFC, financed by them, and directed later on by the Board of Economic Warfare, when it was organized under Wallace and Milo Perkins, and with State Department participation in the form of Dean Acheson.
WILSON: There were some suggestions late in the war that the USCC be given a new role in the immediate postwar period. That one way of providing dollars for the nations in Europe was to expand the operation of the USCC, and have it acquire and stockpile strategic items, and also, thus, provide dollars to European countries. Were you involved at all in that?
BUTTERWORTH: No. After I became the number two in the Embassy in Madrid I ceased my connection with USCC and with the economic warfare,
and then went back into the mainstream of the diplomatic service.
MCKINZIE: This may not be a question you want to answer, but how did you feel about the neutrality of the Spanish Government at that time? Did you think they really were neutral and that they would sell to whomever came up with the money to buy or...?
BUTTERWORTH: No. It can't be put in quite those simple terms. When I arrived in Spain -- I arrived in Portugal in June '42 -- and I came to Spain just after the 4th of July, which I remember I attended the celebration of in Lisbon. At that time the Spanish were convinced that the Germans were going to win. [Ramon] Serrano Suñer, Franco's brother-in-law, had been much impressed by the German Foreign Minister. When you went into any ministry you were given the Falangist salute, and your facilities were very much restricted.
I had engaged a sitting room, bath and bedroom in the Ritz Hotel from Lisbon, and I arrived at the Ritz Hotel on something like the 5th, 6th or the 7th of July, just before luncheon. They said they had no reservations for me. I was carrying the package which we proposed to present to the representatives of the Spanish Government, as to what we would be prepared to give them in the way of supplies in return for the right to buy in Spain competitively with the Germans the things that we wanted, but nothing that the Spanish economy needed. We were not going to create any further shortages in Spain. There were already various shortages. We were buying surplus to domestic needs. Well, the man at the desk told me that there was no reservation. He acknowledged that I had sent a telegram, and that I had said that if there was any difficulty would he let me know and he hadn't done that. So, I told him that I was there on official business
representing the United States Government, I was accompanied by an American Embassy official, and I would like him, the desk clerk, to call up the Foreign Ministry and notify them that I was here, that he had told me that I could not have a suite in the Ritz Hotel, and to tell them that if there was no suite available I had asked him to make a reservation on the afternoon plane back to Lisbon, which left about 4 o'clock in the afternoon. I said, "I don't much care, I'll go out to lunch, come back after lunch, and I'll either pick up my ticket or have the suite." When I came back, I had the suite. But this is symptomatic of the way you had to operate -- not by threatening anybody, but by placing the alternatives clearly before them -- because we were the low man on the totem pole at the time. This was before Alamein had taken place and before Stalingrad. The expectation was that Germany and Italy were going to triumph. We'd lost the Far East and
were losing more, rapidly, every day.
In presenting the package that I was authorized to present, of so much cotton, so much copper sulfate (which was needed for their wines), so many tankers to be loaded with oil at Aruba at specified intervals, and so on, we clearly indicated that this was a bargain. In the course of the presentation -- at that time I didn't speak Spanish fluently, but I knew a certain amount of it, and, of course, I knew French and some Latin -- they asked me if I wanted an interpreter and I said, "Yes." He was not an ordinary interpreter but a member of the Spanish Foreign Office, and he sat at the end of the table in the Foreign Ministry, which was the old prison of the nobles; and around this beautiful oval room were cases of costumes of eras gone by.
I was making it clear that we were not asking for anything that the Spanish people needed; we were only asking to buy what was
surplus to their needs and in return we were making available to Spain material which was precious to us, which was not entirely surplus to our needs. We were making a sacrifice in making our goods available to them.
I went on to say, "But as we begin to win the war, our supply situation will improve." And the translator did not translate "as we begin to win the war;" he omitted it. I think he was frightened to say it before Serrano Suñer and other people who were present. And, so, I caught this.
And I said, "I haven't made myself clear. I'm very sorry, but now I will repeat what I have to say in shorter phrases." I repeated it and then I came to the point, and I said, "As we begin to win the war," you could see his face twitch but he translated it, "As we begin to win the war," and then I went on from there. But this was the kind of atmosphere. And when it was over they too were divided. Senor Huerte,
who was the head of the Foreign Exchange Agency, came up to me. He was an old man with a wizened face; he looked like a Goya painting. He shook hands with me and he put his hands around me and he said, "Hombre." Well, I knew I had a friend from then on, and he proved an extremely cooperative person in the things we had to do in the future, because he thought we were going to win.
WILSON: One part of your operation in order to obtain these kind of agreements would logically have been to feed them information demonstrating that the Allies were winning, or to...
BUTTERWORTH: Well, that was done but not by my operation. That was done, so to speak, by the Embassy as a whole, but with the main instrument the information service headed by Elmer Davis at that time. And, of course, we went to great efforts in putting out bulletins disseminating information and doing all sorts of things to
convince them that this was inevitable. And some Spaniards who knew the United States well were aware of this; but they were by no means in the majority, and they were very few in the Falange Party of Franco in the Government.
MCKINZIE: And as the Allies did begin to win the war, could you see any appreciable difference in the Spanish attitude?
BUTTERWORTH: Of course. And you pressed for more concessions, and there came a point a little while after the Battle of Alamein and Stalingrad when Carlton Hayes, the Ambassador -- who, as you know, was head of the history department of Columbia, and a very intelligent and nice man, who did things in a very methodical way -- and I went over what he was going to take up with Franco and then the order of priorities. This was not economic warfare, this was later when I was the Counsel. And in Franco's outer office there had always been a picture of [Benito]
Mussolini and [Adolf] Hitler and on this occasion they had departed. This was the signal. Ask for everything.
WILSON: Is his memoir about this period in Spain an accurate and reasonable one?
BUTTERWORTH: Yes, I think so. He doesn't tell all, because it was written a very short time after the war.
WILSON: But Spain's position in the Truman administration in the years after the war was an anomalous one. Spain was excluded from most activities. Was that expected by the time, or had that been anticipated by the time, you left?
BUTTERWORTH: No. After Carlton Hayes left, Norman Armour was appointed Ambassador to Spain. I can't offhand remember the exact month he arrived there. But I should say that he arrived towards the end of 1944. He brought with him a
letter that Roosevelt had signed, which was very demanding and interestingly enough it was signed after Roosevelt had returned from his conference in Russia.
WILSON: The Yalta.Conference?
BUTTERWORTH: The Yalta Conference. And his signature was very wobbly, which was noted, and nobody had bothered to date it. It was impossible in its over-reachingness. You would have thought that we could have waved a wand and Franco would depart from the scene. And, of course, the more we tried to threaten Franco the more we produced cohesion in the very heterogeneous group that supported him. People forget that Spain after the revolution, after the monarchy was pushed out, was really about half divided between left and right, and had an election which indicated this too. Many of the people who voted for the left -- as
things grew more and more unsettled -- came on the side of what we now call law and order; but many of them were not supporters of Franco per se, certainly were not Falange. Many were anti-Falange, many were business, industrial groups and so forth. The more we threatened the regime the more they would coalesce. And anybody who's had any intimate dealings with the Spanish character knows how obdurate and proud they are, and how they would resist the pressures. And the Civil War was so near and it had been so bitter. There had been so many more people killed behind the lines than there ever were killed in the fighting. This wasn't -- as I reviewed the press releases -- really very well reported in the American press. You would have thought the main fighting had been done by the Italians and the Germans. The main fighting was done by the Spaniards, and the main Spanish fighting was done by murdering people behind the lines. This had left, naturally, tremendous bitterness and
every Spaniard high and low had a secret list of about half a dozen people that he was very anxious, if given the opportunity, to bump off. This was an explosive -- potentially explosive -- situation. And no one, not even the Leftists, except maybe the very extreme Leftists, wanted a recurrence of the Civil War again. So this did not fall on very fertile ground, and I would say that it wasn't the Truman policy. I would say this policy had been misshapen by Roosevelt, but it was a reflection of an illusion which was ricocheting around Washington. This was one of our first delusions of grandeur, rushes of blood to the head that we could act like the big bad wolf, and we could puff and puff and we could blow the house down. This was not so, and I did my best to demonstrate that this was a counter-productive policy. Then we moved from an individual policy to one of the United Nations where we agreed with the other powers not to have the Ambassador in Madrid.
Norman Armour had retired. He had had his thirty years service. At that time he was determined to retire after thirty years service, although later on the State Department persuaded him to come back and do other jobs in Venezuela, and in the Department of State. When he retired I was left as the Charge d'Affaires, and was told to be prepared to stay, to act as Charge d'Affaires for an indefinite period.
This left me with a somewhat uncertain feeling, because I had never experienced much confidence in the long range planning of personnel in the State Department as well as some other things. And sure enough, within a few months of this fulsome message, I received a telegram saying that they wanted to send my name up to the personnel board -- that a new broom was needed to run the Embassy in China, where General [George C.] Marshall had gone. This was just about the time he was leaving, and I got my orders ultimately and I proceeded to China.
WILSON: Did you have any sense from Madrid of where these ricochets had originated? One of the black sheep that we hear so much about is the EEA. The EEA was the center for these kind of illusions about how America could say, "Okay you must industrialize," or, "Okay, you must institute land reform," and, "Okay, you must get rid of authoritarian government," on the assumption that since the word was spoken...
BUTTERWORTH: Well, I don't know, because I wasn't there. When I went back to Washington (which I did frequently when I was doing economic warfare but not at all when I was Counselor) I would only go back for short specific trips, and I didn't try to take the temperature of the various organizations. I think that it was a very general illusion and I think...well, there was a division along religious lines in our country.
I myself am Episcopalian, but I think that
the Catholics were much more prepared to accept a Franco Government and the hard facts of the Civil War, and take into account what might well have been the alternatives than many of our more missionary Protestant groups as well as certain people who perhaps weren't religiously motivated but who responded to the cries of "anti-Fascism" and so on.
MCKINZIE: We have some indication that President Truman's own attitude towards Spain was based upon his own religious background. That being brought up in the Midwest in the Baptist tradition, he had the strong feeling that Spain did not treat the Protestants well, and that because of this they...
WILSON: Did not deserve American sympathy.
BUTTERWORTH: They certainly didn't treat them well. They wouldn't allow them to do anything.
I don't know if you can say you can
discriminate against people if you don't allow them around so that you can treat them worse than anybody else. I know this is a fine use of the English language, but Protestantism at that time was really prohibited in Spain.
WILSON: Yet as an Episcopalian you could attend an Anglican church, I assume.
BUTTERWORTH: Oh, yes. We attended the British Church.
WILSON: Was that accepted as Catholic?
BUTTERWORTH: Oh, no. The British Church was under the Embassy's diplomatic immunity and we could have had a church of our own if we had wished.
WILSON: I had someone refer to this as just chitchat, and I may be mistaken here, but I had some impression that the Anglican church was accepted as Catholic in a sense. The Anglicans did not accept the Bishop of Rome as the Pope, but they
still were Catholic in a general sense, and they weren't excluded.
BUTTERWORTH: Well, I don't know that the Spanish wanted to rationalize it themselves, but it was never represented by the British as a Catholic Church. And, in fact, we held our own services there, for instance, on Thanksgiving, and we said a memorial service for Franklin Roosevelt. But this was I think the first feeling that we had that we could -- no. [Woodrow] Wilson had had it, too, this making over the world in our own image with this puritan feeling -- I would say this as one coming from New Orleans -- this puritan feeling that there is only one road to heaven and our feet are right on the ladder.
WILSON: Did I detect when you were telling about your transfer from Madrid to Nanking -- did you have any sense of the status of morale or cohesion in the Department in Washington at
this time? There had been the [Edward, Jr.] Stettinius reforms and other reforms.
BUTTERWORTH: To be specific, about what things in general?
WILSON: Control over the Department's activities. I gather from your previous comment that you thought this was not too bright an idea.
BUTTERWORTH: No, I didn't really mind at all. I had not served in China before. My first post had been in Malaya. It was a challenging kind of job. I had been in Spain and on and off in Portugal for over four years. I was, you know, a fire-horse ready to respond to the fire. This was what I was in the Foreign Service for, not to lead a quiet life. I was aware enough of some of the difficulties so that I did take the precaution, although I was authorized to return via Washington to go out, of saying, "I would prefer to go directly to China." I arranged
to take a British troopship from Gibraltar to Bombay and I crossed India, sent a telegram to General Marshall and said, "Rumor has it that you are moving from Chungking to Nanking. You want me to fly to Chungking, or do I fly to Nanking?"
He replied, "No. We're on the point of leaving. Come to Nanking." So I got on an American troopship with my wife and two children and went to Shanghai and got on a plane and left for the short flight to Nanking. I did not want to have contact with Washington about China policy. I knew about the controversy that was going on about China, whether they were Communists or were agrarian reformers and I wanted to arrive in China directly from Spain.
WILSON: Insofar as you can sort it out from all the subsequent events and everything, what did you find when you arrived?
BUTTERWORTH: Well, Ill go back slightly. The telegram came assigning us to Nanking in December. We were scheduled to spend the weekend with some Spanish friends of ours, who had an estate outside of Valencia. I was Charge dAffaires, and on my own initiative, without consulting Washington, I made representations to the Foreign Minister, [Jose Felix] Lequerica, and urged him, with an eye to the future, to urge Franco to give an amnesty to political prisoners, so that only those would be kept in jail who had really committed criminal acts. Although sometimes these two categories are very hard to separate. Lequerica, who was a very sophisticated, savvy man, and who was very anxious to work his way home and to have Spain work its way home, thought this was a very good idea and he did this.
In Spain they customarily have amnesties of this kind. But it was said that this was a generous one, whether it was or not. Then this
telegram came and we had to tell our friends in Valencia that we wouldn't stay with them for Christmas. We had communications some time latex in Christmas week and they said, "We had a funny time on Christmas because in Franco's amnesty he let out one of the members from jail who had lived in our village, and he came back to live in the village with his wife and family. The day after he got back two other villagers accosted him in the street and shot him dead. They said Franco may pardon you for your crimes, but we are not going to.
Now then I arrived in Nanking, and a day or two later the man whose place I had taken gave a garden party, and there were a number of Chinese at the party. There was Chou En Lai leading the Communist Chinese delegation, which was there under our protection. There were all sorts of members of the National Government. There were various diplomats, and they were all having orange juice, whiskeys and soda, and whatnot
together, and chatting as amiably as you please. And, of course, I said to myself, "What kind of a world is this? Don't they know that the Communists are really serious? Do they really think that the lambs and the lions are going to live together and drink orange juice?" I found this atmosphere incredible. The reality, however, behind it was just as true as it was in Spain. But the ancient civilization with its patina over the centuries could afford to indulge in this kind of amiability on the surface. General Marshall had just gotten back shortly before from Washington, where he had gone to try to get an authorization for a large Export-Import Bank loan. He thought he had pasted it together sufficiently so it would hold while he went back to Washington to get this facilitated, which would perhaps add the necessary adhesive. But it began to fall apart while he was away. I was never optimistic that an accommodation of this kind could be reached,
particularly if it hadn't been reached between December  and May , with recurring attacks in Manchuria and North China and all over the place. I think that was the basis on which General Marshall and I saw eye to eye about all sorts of things, not necessarily this problem. He asked me shortly after his return -- I was running the Embassy, and wasn't in the mediatory mission -- what my view was, and I told him straight. He never made any comment about it at that time, but from then on he treated me with great courtesy, which he always did, and with some desire to know what I thought about this, that, and the other. And, of course, he brought me back to Washington after he became Secretary of State.
WILSON: You arrived then in late 1946?
BUTTERWORTH: I arrived in China in the spring of 1946, and General Marshall ordered me back to
Washington on consultation shortly after. I left in an airplane with General [John Paul] McConnell, who has recently retired from being head of the Air Force. He was head of the air advisory group at the time. One of their big planes had to have its periodic servicing, which couldn't be done in that part of the world. McConnell had to go back on business of his own, and so he and I flew in this plane back to Washington, and we left the day after the 4th of July party. So I can place that date. When I got back to Washington, General Marshall asked me to stay.
WILSON: That's a very apt description, this orange juice garden party sort of thing. I trust that not many Americans failed to look beneath this veneer of civility.
BUTTERWORTH: Well, that depended, you know, because after all the Chinese had asked for this mediatory mission. There was an old history of Communists
and the National Government reaching temporary accommodations. You remember Chiang Kai Shek once when he was having negotiations was captured, kidnapped by them, and held. So those who were more familiar with Chinese customs were perhaps more inclined to give credence to this kind of goings on.
WILSON: Did you find a local variation by that time of the view that well, these two groups are not this different anyway -- the agrarian view?
BUTTERWORTH: No. I don't think so. I think this was greatly exaggerated in the press -- agrarian reformers and all this sort of thing. This was Pat [Patrick J.] Hurley's contribution to misunderstanding.
WILSON: He must have absolutely destroyed the Embassy.
BUTTERWORTH: I don't know. I wasn't there at the time. Well, not so much when he was in China,
because his record in China rather belies what he said when he got back to the United States. But the subsequent actions, including the McCarthy era, really destroyed a whole generation of very capable and able Foreign Service officers. And in the end there were practically no China language officers who had been China language officers before the war, anywhere near China. They were Consul Generals in Frankfurt or Stuttgart. Tony [Fulton] Freeman was in Rome and later on Ambassador to Colombia and Mexico and so on.
WILSON: Leaving aside the Hurley sort of charge, which was neurotic from the record, what about the idea that some historians and others have brought up that some of these people because of their rather unusual -- unusual for the Department -- situation in which so many of them had had some experience as children in China, they came from missionary parentage and this
sort of thing, that they had an attachment to China that made them not objective? Is that a fair statement of their role?
BUTTERWORTH: Well, as in all things, this differed with different people. Total objectivity is very hard not only to acquire but to measure. I don't know how you'd measure total objectivity, because you have to have total objectivity yourself, if you are going to measure total objectivity. And this takes a godhead to intervene to make it possible. I would say that -- generalizing about all Western countries -- given the attractiveness of the Chinese people, the fact they are the only continuous civilization in the world, the fact that they are a mine of cultural and historical treasure, the fact that the climate of China isn't as intolerable as other places are, why, all these people became attached and caught up in the charm of China. Just as people who go to live in Paris become attached to French
culture, French cuisine, the French way of life, so do the people of England and Florence and so on. But I think even more so in China, because the difference is so great. So it is true that many of the Foreign Service officers who were born there had this long attachment. They at least spoke the native dialect. Many of them spoke Mandarin as well, and they had a facility for getting along, and they liked it very much. I think their missionary background in many ways (I'm not a great supporter of missionaries) led them to translate these impulses into the diplomatic and political life. By and large, they were a very able and interesting group of people. By and large, I don't think any other country was served better by the China language specialists. Now, besides that, there were a great many outstanding Foreign Service officers. The two most outstanding in my opinion, of two separate generations, were Philip Sprouse and Tony Freeman. Neither of them
were born in China, nor were their fathers missionaries. And there were a lot of people like that who for one reason or another were attracted to go into the China service, just as there are people who are attracted -- like, say, Chip [Charles] Bohlen and George Kennan -- to go in the Russian service. None of them were born in Russia or had any deep Russian connections, except George Kennan I think had either an uncle or a cousin out there.
WILSON: Yes. His uncle in Siberia.
BUTTERWORTH: So, I think we were well served by them, but at that time when they had just moved down from Peking the China Government was hitting very heavy weather, and the conflict with the Communists was in full swing.
They were trying to administer areas which were larger than any Chinese had administered within living memory, because the principal cities which had had extraterritorial status
were handed over to the Chinese to run -- like the French concession at Shanghai, Tientsin, Canton, and the rest. They