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Oscar L. Chapman Oral History Interview, January 12, 1973

Oral History Interview with
Oscar L. Chapman

Assistant Secretary of the Interior, 1933-46; Under Secretary of the Interior, 1946-49; Secretary of the Interior, 1949-53.

Washington, DC
January 12, 1973
Jerry N. Hess

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Chapman Oral History Transcripts]


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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 1980
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Chapman Oral History Transcripts]



Oral History Interview with
Oscar L. Chapman

Washington, DC
January 12, 1973
Jerry N. Hess

[756]

HESS: To begin this morning, Mr. Chapman, Mr. Truman has passed away since our last interview, his death occurring on December the 26th. And a week ago today at Washington Cathedral, you and I were both present at the memorial service held for him. Let's spend a few moments this morning with reminiscences. What went through your mind during Mr. Truman's last few days, and when you heard of his death, and perhaps what are your favorite memories of Mr. Truman?

CHAPMAN: Naturally, when the news came to me of his death I was very shocked and very grieved, more so than for any public official I ever had the privilege of being associated with. Mr. Truman, as he has passed on, and the reminiscence by the news media and the press and the other publications have all, practically all, have given him a better setting in his place in history than anyone ever dreamed

[757]

that he would have--at least his enemies certainly thought he would never have it. But there's never been a man in public life that has gained recognition so fast in the last couple of years of his life, and has gained such stature in the minds of the people of America and the people of the world. You combine the two together. I've never seen a man that had a public career so interlinked with his foreign policies. That was the continuing growth and strength of the man's work and his character and everything.

You could see it develop in your mind's eye as you sat there and listened to that sermon, to the comments by the dean. And I was naturally very touched by these things, because they brought to my memory many of the fine things that Mr. Truman did for which he never got credit at the time of the action that he took on certain subjects. And one particular one that I have to clarify in my thinking on this, is his help in pushing through the civil rights program that

[758]

was so wide and extensive, so much greater than--people who were working on it didn't realize how far-reaching that program carried the whole principle of human rights, and the care and attention that he had given to that subject, and to which he had given so much thought. He knew the subject so well. The problems that were encompassed in this whole subject were so far greater than, really, many of his people who worked close with him realized. Some who worked close to him never did catch the significance of the far-reaching effect of what he had done. Most of them had, but there were a few who didn't quite catch the strong significance of his efforts, of what he was doing. They got it and they got it in a fine way; they got it through contact, of visiting with Mr. Truman, just as we are visiting here this morning, and talking.

Mr. Truman was a man that wasted no words. When he had a conference with you about something that he wanted to talk about, that he had

[759]

on his mind, like the civil rights issue, of the whole human rights problem as we think of it today, he had so expanded that and studied it and had it so well briefed in his mind that he could talk with a man about it in the most minute detail, of where the injustices had begun, and where they continued, and where they were still continuing as of today.

To bring that point to a head, he was a man that when he made a decision he didn't worry about it. He had done the best he could to get the best information he could on the subject matter before he made his decision. There's where most people didn't understand him. He did that. He made a very cautious study of the subject matter before he made a decision on something that was very vital and important. Something comparable to the recognition of Israel as a state was so well thought out by him that he caught the reactions of the different ones of us who talked with him; he knew those who were brought to the forefront in this fight in many ways. Some came by way of--

[760]

if I were putting it in religious terms, I would say by expression of faith and a new development of the relationship between ourselves. Putting it in the phraseology of the man on the street we would say that we learn to live together, and we had to learn to live together or we will not survive.

That is true, not only of the Jewish people, it's true in several other areas of the world; that's still ahead of us to be worked out. Mr. Truman was working on that phase of his problem, of that kind of a problem arising from another group of ethnic people, of how they lived, and how they worked with their fellow man.

The Jewish thing was close at hand to him; he knew the Jewish people so well, and he had worked closely with them. He had always been sympathetic to the fact that the Jewish people had been persecuted so many times during the course of history, that they had taken such a terrific abuse in their daily living, that he saw what they had gone through, and he had a

[761]

very deep sympathy for them and the problems that they had faced.

Now, I try to bring this together to tell you that is one of the reasons why Truman was so recognized in his later years, differentiating from his early years while he was in active duty; and they didn't give him the recognition, the press, the other media for public communications, never gave him a proper place in history in their comments and in their thinking about Mr. Truman. And that is why they missed it. They missed this phase of Mr. Truman in their thinking about him, because Mr. Truman, as I said, wasted no words or time, or anything, but he would go straight to the point in his conference, whatever the subject was, and discuss the subject immediately from the heart and the core of the subject, and discuss it with you in a very quick manner like that; he'd do it in a very quick manner.

[762]

Now, he's a man that had a very deep sympathy for people. That was not known generally to the public as a whole until in the latter years they began to recognize his greatness. I began to see that they were recognizing it in his latter years, his last two or three years in office. He was beginning to be recognized then as a man of great stature, as a man that made a decision, and that he had made it on such solid grounds. It was based upon solid information so he didn't have to change his position or make any changes in his position during the course of that time, because he had done so much more studying of this subject than people ever dreamed that he had done.

I know that you know these things, because of your fine relationship with the President's family, and I appreciate your knowledge of them that you would easily catch how what I'm saying is connected with the facts, life as it developed during those eight years, almost eight, that he had in office.

Another thing he did to go through and support

[763]

his particular position that he was taking on a special issue--I'll use the Israel subject as an example that will bring us closer to the point. In that case there were many differences among people close to him; they didn't agree entirely with the question of how the Israel thing was handled. Some didn't think that we ought to recognize them. Those who didn't want to recognize them were not motivated by any prejudice against the Jewish people. Their feeling about it was thought out and based upon other reasons involving their desire to protect the interests of the United States and the American people.

HESS: In a recent interview we were discussing Dean Acheson; what was Mr. Acheson's views on this matter?

CHAPMAN: I'm just coming to that.

HESS: Good.

[764]

CHAPMAN: I'm just coming to that now, because he was so important in this and being such a thoughtful man in return; he was a brilliant man, and when he gave you a position on something, a statement on an issue of this importance, he had given some careful study and thinking about what and how this ought to be done.

I never had a chance to discuss this very much with Mr. Acheson, for which I was very sorry. I wanted to and the opportunity just didn't get around to where we could spend some time on it. Mr. Acheson worked out in his own mind, and for his own reasons which he supported, why the United States should not recognize Israel at this time. First, he had an approach that I think was a little bit unsound. From the long range point of view, it was a little unsound, where he really believed that we had had the habit of following the English people so much that we would be following them in this case instead of leading, and he felt we shouldn't appear to the world that we were following England

[765]

because she was doing this; and that we ought to steer our own course, map our own course, and state it to the world as to our position, and not to recognize Israel per se as a state. And he felt very deeply about it--it