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Sir Ashley Clarke Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Sir Ashley Clarke

During the period of the Truman administration, served in the British Government as Head, Far-Eastern Department, Minister at Lisbon, 1944-46; Minister in Paris, 1946-49; and Deputy Under-Secretary of State, Foreign Office, 1950-53.

London, England
June 10, 1970
by 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 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 October, 1981
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri


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


Oral History Interview with
Sir Ashley Clarke


London, England
June 10, 1970
by Theodore A. Wilson


CLARKE: There's one impression which is very strong in my mind about the actual moment when Mr. Marshall made his speech; that when he made it I don't think he himself had any very clear idea of how the thing was going to work out. I think he was giving a general indication that the United States as a matter of policy were prepared to help if Europe were prepared to help themselves. That was the basis of it. And the Foreign Secretary at the time, who was Ernest Bevin, and a man of really outstanding clarity of thought on most of the things that he dealt with, at once saw that what we needed in Europe was to get a more or less united effort together


to start a number of recovery programs. There had been similar suggestions from various sides as we emerged a year or two previously from a really very exhausting war, but there was no clear idea of the sort of European unity which of course we have now. And Mr. Bevin acted on it absolutely immediately. I remember his telegraphing to Mr. Bidault, who was at the time French Foreign Minister, to say we have to get a conference together at once to look at this statement. He was only able to do that because he had some very clear ideas as to what eventually became the O.E.E.C. (Organization for European Economic Cooperation).

WILSON: You were, of course, Minister at Paris at the time the cable came over and do you have any recollection of the French reaction?

CLARKE: Yes. I'm trying to remember whether Mr. Bevin was actually in Paris at the time. You see he came over a great deal at that time because there were many conferences at that time including conferences


about making peace. But he certainly took the opportunity very smartly. And within a very short time there was an invitation that went out to come to such a conference sponsored by the French jointly with ourselves.

So what I mean is that there was perhaps a clearer idea in Europe at that time of what American aid might become if America were willing to go that far than perhaps there was in Mr. Marshall's own mind.

WILSON: Do you have the impression, did you have the impression at the time that the American Embassy people were sufficiently aware of the urgency and need for some assistance, particularly people in Paris?

CLARKE: Well, that's rather difficult to say without also going into personalities.


CLARKE: Because I somehow doubt that Mr. Caffery saw


quite as far ahead as some people but, of course, Mr. David Bruce understood it perfectly.

WILSON: Yes. If I may interject -- any comment that you might make can certainly be for attribution or off the record.


WILSON: Averell Harriman has given a great deal of assistance and support to this project. We've had the opportunity of making use of his papers, and of course, one gets, well one gets his side of the problems between the American Embassy and the ECA mission. And so the matter of the role that Jefferson Caffery played is one which we would like information about and we're not getting it, of course, from the materials we have.

CLARKE: Well, I just don't think Mr. Caffrey had that way of looking at things; and then I dare say that when the ECA mission was actually set up there may have been some degree of rivalry, but I find it


difficult at this distance of time to substantiate all that.

WILSON: Well, it is substantiated in a number of ways. My curiosity, of course, derives from the reasons for it; one can guess at a number of them, such as displacement of an established operation by a new operation. Do you have any impressions at this distance of the issue about whether this aid was to be done through the Department of State or done through a separate corporation agency as did occur from the vantage of Paris?

CLARKE: I can't exactly recall. But I would have thought it was bound to be less successful if it was exclusively a State Department run affair. But I don't think that was really an obstacle. As it happened I think that the only way to make it succeed as it did, even beyond anybody's expectations, was to make use of an agency of some kind right on the spot.

WILSON: That's the impression one gets, naturally,


of Harriman serving as the special representative. So much had to go through him.

CLARKE: This is a basic thing of which we've seen all too much in recent years. Now aid has always to be described as having no strings on it and there is a human tendency to resent being given things and being helped too much. I suppose a classic example is that of General de Gaulle. Anyway, people go along with a project more easily that seems to be growing out of the ground of where they live.

WILSON: Would you describe the Marshall plan as aid with no strings? There were some strings obviously.

CLARKE: Well, there were obviously strings, some of them fairly important. But broadly speaking, it was remarkably altruistic and required imagination. There were certain things you couldn't do with American aid, but I've forgotten at the moment what they were and I don't think they really


inhibited the operation very seriously. Once the Europeans had the idea they had a real stake in this, it went remarkably.

WILSON: One of the strings was this general pressure on the part of the United States or on the Department of State for liberalization of trade. My previous historical research has concentrated on the immediate prewar and wartime period when this is so obvious as the principle in Department of State policy. Is it fair to say that Department of State people were perhaps zealots about this issue? Were they so single-minded about liberalization or non-discrimination in trade, as to see it as the solution to all our problems?

CLARKE: Yes, I would think there was a good deal of this and also that there was a certain degree of resistance from here at first. The most remarkable example of liberalization was the Italian situation in 1951, approximately, when they liberalized about 95 or 96 percent. Considering


what an extremely shaky condition Italy was in at the time, this was a very bold thing to do. I think they must have ultimately derived the courage to do it through a good deal of exhortation from the United States. And it turned out to be the very thing which changed the whole situation.

WILSON: That's very interesting. I will be in Italy, I was telling your wife, to see some Italians some time next month. I'll be sure to bring up this question.

CLARKE: I would think that [Luigi] Einaudi was largely responsible. As you know, he was a very great and good man; a banker, and basically anti-Communist. Indeed, the biggest influences at work there were Einaudi and Carli at that time. Later on Carli carried the thing a good deal further about 1955. It was then a ten-year plan, I think, which was the follow-up of what had been done in 1951. I don't think liberalization would have gone nearly as quickly if it hadn't been for the very audacious


action by the Italians. In a sense, they had nothing to lose by it because they were so weak anyway that almost anything else couldn't make the situation worse and might make it better -- in fact did make it immensely better. Not only for themselves but as a matter of fact, it made it much easier for us to liberalize and we did liberalize, though not as far as they did.

WILSON: Very interesting. Yesterday Sir Alexander Cairncross said that he -- and this echoes what other British persons have said -- that it was his impression from England that the American invitation for Russian participation wasn't sincere and that to a certain stage there was a belief and a possibility that the Russians would participate in the Marshall plan. Would you agree with that?

CLARKE: I didn't realize that it went as far as that but think there was genuinely a desire to see the satellites come in. As you know, the Czechs did


in fact accept and then had to pull out again.

WILSON: Yes, when [Klement] Gottwald went to Moscow.

CLARKE: That's right. But I wasn't perhaps quite near enough to it to know whether the United States policy was absolutely, sincerely related towards getting the Russians in.

WILSON: There is some evidence that on the American side, of course, that Marshall and others were quite relieved when the Russians didn't participate.

CLARKE: Maybe. But it shows that the Russians were really terrified by this strange development, and had to force the whole of their lot to stay out.

WILSON: One of the questions that I had down was this business of American pressure, the increasing American pressure to cut off East-West trade from the political point of view. One, we mustn't give the Soviet Union anything that will increase its war potential, and I've been somewhat corrected


since I've been here that I perhaps shouldn't put it in that way but look at it at least in part as Russian concern that continued East-West trade would weaken their hold over the satellites. Do you think that is the...

CLARKE: I remember too that criticism. But at the tine that Mr. Marshall made his remarks, I think that there can be no doubt that the Russians were terribly afraid of what would happen if they allowed their satellites to join a Pan-European effort.

WILSON: Might you comment on the question of the creation of a new organization, that is, the OEEC, rather than making use of perhaps the Economic Commission for Europe? There was an early British idea, by Bevin, that a new organization should be established, rather than making use of the ECE.

CLARKE: Yes, I think it quite likely was a decision of Bevin's and there were obviously disadvantages


in having to operate through an agency which had got the Russians inside it. I imagine the strongest motive in our attitude about that was that we should be hamstrung at a time when we were trying to do the things which OEEC did in fact do. But I saw one of your questions asked if we felt over here that this was all part of an anti-Communist thing. I don't think it was quite that, except that of course Europe was in such disarray at the time that anything to strengthen Europe to be able to stand up to the pressure from the East seemed to us rather a good thing. And I have a certain feeling that the other trials of force which developed with the Russians about the same time perhaps might not have developed if we hadn't had the assurance that OEEC was going to succeed. I've forgotten what the exact year or date of the Berlin crisis was...

WILSON: '48. Just at the time...

CLARKE: We were beginning to recover a kind of European consciousness and European firmness at the time.


It was just two or three people that took that decision about Berlin and Bevin was certainly one. But I don't think that Bevin would himself have been quite so ready to take that decision if he hadn't felt that the biggest hurdle was already being surmounted. That is to say, European recovery

WILSON: Most persons with whom I have talked in the United States date the beginnings of the cold war -- their consciousness that some sort of conflict really did exist and would seem to last a long time -- from the Czechoslovakian coup in '48? Would you agree with that? The reason I'm asking is that there has been some considerable discussion in America in recent years that had President Roosevelt lived there would have been a much different world but that when Truman came in, either because he didn't know yet what international affairs were like, or for various reasons, he took much too strong a stand with regard to the Soviet Union and thus...


CLARKE: I wonder if that's true. I find that rather difficult to believe. No, I think that events were moving that way. There had to be conflict developing at the very end of the war. We hadn't quite realized, unfortunately, that before the war ended the Russians would take a turn to stake out their interests in Europe. And I think historically the Russians have always acted like this. They want a firm fence of some kind or another which marks about where they are not going to be interfered with, and on the other side the other chaps can do what they like. There had to be in the years immediately after the war some sort of tension between the two sides to decide where that line came and it went on growing until, paradoxically enough, the Berlin wall was actually physically built and you could see where the fence was. And it's amazing how almost immediately after that the tension dropped. Now this wasn't s