Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened July, 1979
Oral History Interview with
July 16, 1974
Richard D. McKinzie
MCKINZIE: General Clay, in December, 1944, you joined the organization of James F. Byrnes, the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion. Do you recall how you happened to get such an assignment?
CLAY: I was sent over to France to help General [Dwight D.] Eisenhower break up the blockade, if you want to call it that, at the ports. We were unloading equipment from ships much faster than we could move it forward, and the result was that we had a huge build-up of supplies
which couldn't be used by anybody. While I was assigned to Cherbourg, in command of all of the port area, General Eisenhower found out that his supply of heavy ammunition was not enough to meet the new demands that were being placed on our heavy artillery. Our soldiers had found out that by using heavy artillery we saved lives. With the greater mobility of the heavy artillery of World War II we were able to move it faster, supply it with ammunition faster, and fire it at a rate that had never been heard of before.
He felt that I was, because of my experience in logistics, the one that could convince the War Department of this need. He sent me back home to do it on the basis of that I would return to my overseas assignment.
When I got back and made the report I found that, by what we called "squeezing the pipeline," we could meet his immediate needs, but that we would have to cut back at the
production. This task fell upon Mr. Byrnes, primarily. It was his responsibility and he immediately made a condition that I would come over as his deputy to help get that program going. I was to serve as his deputy for the whole program of war mobilization.
I had no desire for that job at all; this was not a job for an officer in wartime. I had no choice, though, and General [George C.] Marshall very quickly rejected my plea. I wound up as Mr. Byrnes' deputy.
During the period that I was with OWMR I became very intimately acquainted with him. We became very close friends. As a matter of fact, I went to Columbia just not long ago to deliver his funeral eulogy in the state capital.
I held him in great respect and I was always very sorry of the difficulties that came between Mr. Brynes and President Truman, I had great respect for President Truman too. I was
closer to Justice Byrnes than I was to President Truman, but I'm a great admirer of President Truman and have a tremendous respect for his judgment, particularly in the foreign relations field.
MCKINZIE: When you were with OWMR, solving this wartime problem, were you aware that there were lots of people in OWMR then who were planning for the peace? They had the idea that the kind of planned and ordered economy that had existed during the war was going to be necessary for some time on into the peacetime period.
CLAY: I knew the people that believed that we have to have all of this planning for reconversion. I didn't believe them, and I perhaps persuaded Justice Byrnes that we had enough built-up demand in this country that this reconversion problem was not going to be anywhere nearly the disastrous problem that was being predicted.
I think I was proven right on that.
MCKINZIE: I understand from reading Mr. Murphy's book and some other things, that you weren't too happy at first when you were appointed as deputy director of the office.
CLAY: I think that President Truman would have understood that, because he did his very best to get into active military service. Here I was, a man who had spent my entire life in the Army. The major war of all times comes along, and instead of being a soldier, I'm on a civilian job the whole time. I would have given my eyeteeth to have commanded a division and had an opportunity in combat. Both my job in production in the Army and with Justice Byrnes ruled that out. When I went to Germany, it ruled out any possibility that I could do it in the war against Japan.
MCKINZIE: When you first went you were, technically
at least, under General [Joseph T.] McNarney. I understand that General McNarney had little to do with the actual operations of this.
CLAY: I was technically under General Eisenhower at first. He stayed until October or November, and then he was succeeded by General McNarney. I don't think there was any difference in the relationship between General Eisenhower and myself and between McNarney and myself, inasfar as the official relations were concerned. They were both the representatives on the Control Council and they would come to Berlin periodically. I would brief them, sit with them and help them with that work. Other than that they gave me a very broad delegation of authority in military government.
There is one big difference. General Eisenhower was one of the top two or three who was publicity-minded and regarded by the public as an ideal. Whatever happened in Germany they
attributed to General Eisenhower. Poor General McNarney didn't have that kind of a chance. The responsibility, then, was pretty much delegated to me. Never was General McNarney not informed and fully advised. He kept informed on what was going on.
MCKINZIE: Do you have any thoughts after this passage of time as to what went wrong with the European Advisory Commission? Should it have existed in the first place?
CLAY: It was created in the first place at a period when some of the Allies, and particularly the British, felt that there was a real prospect that the Russians would meet us on the English Channel; that the subdivision of Germany and establishing of boundaries for withdrawal would in effect save Western Europe from being run over by the Russians. Mr. [Winston] Churchill had grave misgivings about the English Channel. He wanted to come up through the Mediterranean
and that soft underbelly. The result was that he was very desirous of creating these boundaries. It is interesting that in '44 before the European Commission was ever formed, the British already had maps showing the boundary line between East and West Germany.
At that stage we were also very much influenced by the fact that we felt we would still be fighting a war against Japan. We might have a very real battle to land in and conquer Japan. We didn't realize that the bombing was going to make the Japanese quit. We felt that they would stay until the last Jap.
For this reason, we didn't want to get too involved in Europe. I think we were willing to settle for much less than we would have if it hadn't been for this particular factor.
I think President Roosevelt really felt that he knew how to get along with Premier [Joseph] Stalin. I am sure that at Potsdam
President Truman very definitely made up his mind that there wasn't any hope for a real agreement with Stalin.
MCKINZIE: Do you think that if Ambassador [John G.] Winant had pushed a little harder in the beginning, there could have been a more solid arrangement?
CLAY: I think it would have been helpful if there had been a specific arrangement in writing as to which roads and railroads going into Berlin were under the control of the Allies, and which were under the control of the Russians. But, remember this, when the war ended and we were sitting over there with the greatest army that had ever been seen, nobody was concerned about anybody blocking us on roads and railroads.
We went through two things: one, we never did have to move these troops to Japan. The Japs surrendered and then the demand for
bringing the troops home was great. Within a relatively short period of time our military forces had deteriorated until they were nothing but young high school boys not wanting to be there. It was pretty sad. It was under these conditions that I am sure the Russians made up their mind that it was time to push; that our actions didn't indicate any desire on our part to stay in Europe.
MCKINZIE: With all due honor to some very capable people who served under you in Germany, how did you assess the quality of the Armed Forces in 1946, 1947, and 1948? There are those people who say that the Civil Affairs Branch particularly was .
CLAY: This depends on your definition. We certainly went in there with a great number of people who were either members of the Communist party or tended in that direction. This was not the
place nor the time for them. It did create some problems that took a long time to correct. Many of these men had come to us on Treasury teams. We ran into a tremendous opposition on the part of the Treasury if we attempted to change or remove any of these people.
How serious it was in the long run, I don't know. I think it was an inevitable thing that we had to go through. After all, we had spent a couple of years convincing everybody what a wonderful thing it was that we and the Russians were fighting together. How, overnight, could we turn around and convince people that they were a threat to our national security? It was a very difficult thing to do. If the Russians hadn't taken the steps they did, I don't know that we would have done it at all. If they had been more subtle they might indeed have gained Western Europe before we realized what was happening.
MCKINZIE: When you say if they had been more subtle, do you mean if they had conducted themselves in some way other than they did in the Allied Control Council meetings?
CLAY: Not only that, but also the way they conducted themselves in Eastern Europe. We had these treaties pushed through and they were a great achievement. We wanted the treaties at an early date. The terms of the treaties called for coalition governments; governments from those exiles that had gone to the West and those exiles that had gone to Russia. After a very suitable period of time it would have called for constitutional conventions, elections, and so forth. The Russians moved in almost over night to take over those countries and governments. If they had done it over a two or three year period, I don't think we would have realized it was happening until it was too late.
MCKINZIE: While all that was going on you were faced with the problem of denazification, and keeping alive a population that was on the verge of starvation, and numerous other problems.
CLAY: We had also a change of administration. The people who had had the greatest influence and developed the occupational powers went out, and Mr. Truman's administration came in with the people that he brought to run the Government. I don't think that the so-called "destroy Germany" policy was ever one that President Truman personally believed in. He had nothing to do with its creation and I don't think he ever believed in it.
On the food proposition he sent former President [Herbert] Hoover over to look at the whole European situation. Mr. Hoover came back with the recommendations that we supply food for Western Europe, including West Germany, and Mr. Truman backed him completely. If it
hadn't been for this we would have had mass starvation. Mr. Truman didn't hesitate one minute in backing Hoover, and I think it was a very wise decision on his part to send him. Not only was Hoover a great expert in this field, after his actions following World War I, but he also had the respect of everybody in the country and was a Republican. This got Republican support for it.
MCKINZIE: General Eisenhower said that he wanted the Army to get out of Germany as soon as possible, yet no one in the State Department wanted in evidently. Would you talk on that point?
CLAY: I urged General Eisenhower to get out as quickly as he could. I didn't see how he could possibly add to his stature by staying there as Military Governor. I wanted him to get out and I'm glad he did; I think that this was fundamental. However, there wasn't anybody of requisite size
that would volunteer to take the job or would take it, except an Army officer whom you could tell to take it. There wasn't anybody in the State Department that wanted the job. Four years later, when there was reasonable order and the economy was back, they found civilian administrators that were perfectly willing to take it. They got one of the finest. when they got Jack McCloy to go. He had turned it down when they first wanted him to go over, before I went.
MCKINZIE: It also makes it difficult, doesn't it, in matters of policy setting, because you had JCS-1067, which was as I understand it, a compromise between the War Department and the Department of State on how...
CLAY: JCS-1067 would have been extremely difficult to operate under. If you followed it literally you couldn't have done anything to restore the German economy. If you couldn't restore the
German economy you could never hope to get paid for the food that they had to have. By virtue of these sort of things it was modified constantly; not officially, but by allowing this deviation and that deviation, et cetera. We began to slowly wipe out JCS-1067. When we were ordered to put in a currency reform this was in direct controvention of a provision of JCS-1067 that prohibited us from doing anything to improve the German economy. It was an unworkable policy and it wasn't changed just without any discussion or anything by those of us who were in Germany. It was done by gradual changes in its provision and changes of cablegrams, conferences, and so on.
MCKINZIE: You must have had some backstopping in Washington to be able to do that.
CLAY: At that time I happened to have been very close to Mr. Byrnes, having worked for him. I could
go to Mr. Byrnes (he was very close to the President), and he would go to the President. We'd get this thing resolved in short order.
MCKINZIE: Did you discuss with Mr. Byrnes the deteriorating situati