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W. Walton Butterworth Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
W. Walton Butterworth

U.S. Department of State, 1928-68, Foreign Service officer and career Ambassador. Among other posts and appointments, as Ambassador served as counselor of Embassy, Madrid, Spain, 1944-46; counselor of Embassy with rank of Minister, Nanking, China, 1946-47; director for Far Eastern Affairs, Dept. of State, 1947-49; Asst. Sec. of State, 1949-50; and U.S. Ambassador to Sweden, 1950-53.
July 6, 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. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the Butterworth 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 May, 1983
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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


Oral History Interview with
W. Walton Butterworth


Princeton, New ,Jersey
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 alt