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John C. Campbell Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
John C. Campbell

Specialist Eastern Europe, State Department, 1942-46; secretary U.S. delegation, political advisor Council of Foreign Ministers, also Paris Peace Conference, 1946; political advisor, U.S. delegation Danube Conference, 1948; officer in charge of Balkan affairs, member Policy Planning Staff, State Department, 1949-55.

New York, New York
June 24, 1974
by Richard D. McKinzie

[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 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 November, 1979
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri


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


Oral History Interview with
John C. Campbell


New York, New York
June 24, 1974
by Richard D. McKinzie


MCKINZIE: Would you begin by telling a little of your background and how you got into Government service?

CAMPBELL: I was trained for a teaching career. I had begun teaching at the University of Louisville in 1940, at the time of the second reelection of President Roosevelt. The coming of the war had a good deal to do with turning me from teaching to Government service.

Teaching jobs were not available at that time, and there was this tremendous series of


world events. As one who had been in the field of modern European history, I found history taking place at the time.

I'd spent two years in Europe during the thirties. I had tried to get into the State Department after finishing my graduate work, but without success; they didn't have room for a Balkan expert, and the State Department had not begun its wartime expansion.

After finishing my temporary teaching job in Louisville, I came here to the Council on Foreign Relations on a fellowship to work on contemporary international affairs. It was natural that I would be open to any chance to go to Washington.

I had talked to Laurence Duggan, who was Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America. (Duggan also worked on Latin-American affairs here at the Council.) This was not my background, but one couldn't go to Europe in 1940. (A large


number of scholars had migrated to Latin America to become specialists in that field.) I undertook a study in nationalism in Latin America, because I had been trained in nationalism in Eastern Europe. I came to know both Duggan and his principal assistant, Harley [Arthur] Notter, who, with Leo Pasvolsky, had begun the study of postwar problems in the State Department. The conclusions of their study convinced Mr. [Cordell] Hull and Mr. [Sumner] Welles that this kind of study should be conducted inside the Department rather than outside, as in 1918 with Colonel House's inquiry [a project by President Wilson to enlist the aid of professional experts]. They were assembling a staff, and they were interested in me for work in European affairs. My old colleague, [Philip] Mosely, had already agreed to join Pasvolsky's staff and it was through his intervention that I was brought in there during the summer of 1942. So, it was during the latter Roosevelt period that I came into Government service.


No one really thought of going back to teaching as long as the war was going on, but most of us hadn't made up our minds to stay in Government service after the war. There was a large influx of academics both into the State Department postwar planning divisions and the Research and Analysis Branch of the OSS. Both of them were filled with students of history, political science, and so on, just out of the graduate schools.

MCKINZIE: Did you have the feeling there was a kind of new mentality about the Department as a result of this influx?

CAMPBELL: Well, there was obviously a difference between the old-line Foreign Service officers and these university people who were brought in to "plan the peace," so to speak. There obviously was a different outlook, a different experience, and so forth. We had, from time to time, a few


Foreign Service officers assigned to our division, then called the Division of Special Research. (It later was broken down and got different names. A few Foreign Service officers became accustomed to some of the university ways of looking at problems, and we began to learn a good deal about the operations of active day-to-day conduct of foreign relations. Of course, the war was a special period in which we didn't have normal day-to-day operations, particularly in dealing with Europe, which was then occupied by the Germans. We dealt with the future of Europe. So far as there were official relations, they were with exile governments which were not in Europe. We were dealing with the possibilities of eventual liberation; in some cases, where there were or would be no recognized governments, we would have to discover somebody with whom to renew relations and sign agreements. We were also dealing with the possibilities of getting agreements with the major allies, the British


and the Russians particularly, as to what the shape of postwar Europe was to be. In that respect, the career Foreign Service officers had a good deal to offer, just as the scholar types had different kinds of knowledge and ideas to offer. I spent two years there (we were across the street, we weren't in the main State Department Building) writing more or less theoretical papers about what the postwar map of Europe would look like, where the boundaries ought to run, what kind of arrangements should be put into armistice and peace agreements, and so forth. Much of this must have seemed quite academic to the people who were sitting on the desks for Soviet affairs or Polish affairs. Nevertheless, we did establish a kind of continuing working relationship with them, both directly and through the major committees, which Mr. Welles organized. Isaiah Bowman, who was President of Johns Hopkins and had been in the old Inquiry group, really took


charge of that whole operation. Our papers were prepared for these committees, on which Mr. [Adolf A., Jr.] Berle, other Assistant Secretaries, and people who were intimately involved in the ongoing affairs of the Department would sit. So, we were not operating wholly independently, as the Inquiry had been in 1917-18 without much contact with the actual operational officers.

As the Russians approached Europe from the East, all these problems began to arise in actual diplomatic contacts with the Soviet Union, Eden's trip to Russia in '42 and Anglo-American discussion on how to raise questions connected with Eastern Europe in dealing with Stalin. Finally it came to the point where in Moscow in '43 there was the first tripartite conference really devoted to postwar problems. We had a great deal to do with the preparations for that conference. Phil Mosely, from our staff, attended the conference and advised Mr. Hull on various points which came


up in connection with the future shape of the peace. From that time on we were more and more drawn into the actual decision making process, and were going more into operational matters. Our division began to break up into a new organizational pattern as the war went on, in a way that would allow us at least to look forward to the actual facing of these problems at the peace table. We still thought that there would be a big peace table like Paris in 1918-19. We didn't realize that there never was going to be a peace conference in the classical sense, so we were all ready for that. We had all the papers and we had positions on where we would stand on the Hungarian-Rumanian frontier, what we thought about the South Tyrol, what should happen to East Prussia, and all such territorial questions. None of the papers was really of a great deal of use when it came to actual decisions, because those decisions were made, some of them anyway,


under the stress of military situations which arose on the Continent of Europe. Others were simply never made because they were postponed; there never was any German peace treaty. They were just postponed indefinitely and dealt with in other ways. There's a great mass of these documents, some of which have been published in the Foreign Relations series, though I'm sure there are much more in the Archives which historians should look at someday. We had all kinds of detailed studies, more than we needed. Just to take an example, we thought we might have a major role in Hungary after the war. The victorious allied powers would have to do something about the feudal regime in Hungary, which obviously would go down with Hitler. We had rather detailed schemes of land reform for Hungary: modern agriculture, land for the peasants, and what not. However, the land reform for Hungary that was put in effect was drawn up in Moscow by Imre Nagy, who later became Prime Minister of Hungary, and we had absolutely


nothing to say about it. That was an example of one of the problems, where we had a young fellow wasting six months doing a detailed paper on land reform in Hungary. It was one of the ironies of our work.

MCKINZIE: You may be aware of some of the revisionist consequences of that work. There is a school of thought which says that the people who were doing that postwar planning were doing it with particular zeal; that they were, indeed, building a world modeled on the ideals of Cordell Hull and Will Clayton. These revisionists contend that this would have benefited the only industrial power left after the war, the United States, and that there are economic overtones in this kind of planning. Was there a kind of feeling that you were rebuilding the world according to American ideas of decency, human equality, and political democracy?

CAMPBELL: I think this is so, without any thought of


the way it's often presented in revisionist literature that our main concern was extending an American-dominated economic system or making the world over to fit the economic needs of America and other capitalist countries. It seemed to me that the prevailing approach which we had was to attempt to improve on what had happened the previous time, not to make the mistakes of the Wilsonian effort at peacemaking. This was largely the President's philosophy and, I think, one of the main reasons for the President's and Mr. Hull's insistence on not making secret treaties or setting frontiers or making political decisions on Europe's future by prearrangement before having a full discussion of the issues at a peace conference. We wanted to make a more democratic peace, one which would really apply self-determination better than it was applied at the time of the post-World War I settlement. All our studies on boundaries and territorial


questions were directed to make what we would have called a more just, more fair, and more stable set of relations among the countries of Europe. Of course, in Eastern Europe they'd all been put under the Nazis, briefly under the Soviets, and then under the Nazis again. We felt that if there was to be built a peace which had any promise of stability and would not repeat the problems of the twenties and the thirties, we would have to do better. We would have to reduce the number of minorities living under countries of a different nationality, have treaty arrangements which would work better than the treaty arrangements in the inter-war period, and make sure that aggression would not pay. We wanted a territorial and a political settlement which would produce a peaceful Europe, and a peaceful world, if you look at it on a larger scale. While it's quite true that we thought there must be trading arrangements that are not


discriminatory, we were also thinking of all the principles which later came to pass more or less in the Bretton Woods system on the financial and trading side: the World Bank, UNRRA [United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration], and stable monetary arrangements. To say that this was somehow an idea of either preventing the Russians from enjoying security or having a position to which they were entitled as one of the great victorious powers, seems to me, something which was not a part of our thinking and our approach.

We were looking, particularly in the case of Eastern Europe, at the possibilities of Soviet domination. The Soviets had taken some of these territories in 1939 and 1940, and we knew that there probably wasn't very much that we could do about the Soviet return to roughly the frontiers which they had had at the time they were attacked by Hitler. Still, we wrote papers


about this, saying that it would be desirable if we could have a compromise in Poland and they wouldn't keep all of that territory that they'd taken. It would be desirable if they would be gentle with Finland and make a peace which would not deprive the Finns of obviously Finnish territory. We were clearly not going to make a big issue with the Soviets about their western border as approximating the border of June 22, 1941, but when it came to the question of what kind of a government was going to exist in Poland or Czechoslovakia or Hungary and so forth, we took a rather idealistic line. Somehow there was a right on the part of those peoples who had been overrun by Hitler to exercise self-determination. We began thinking along the lines of free elections, provisional governments which would be broadly representative, and all these things which eventually found their way into the Yalta Declaration on Liberated Europe. In a