O. Edmund Clubb Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
O. Edmund Clubb

United States Foreign Service officer, 1928-52. Served in China, 1929-43, and 1946-50, including duty as Consul General, Mukden, Manchuria, 1946; assigned Consul General, Harbin, 1946; Consul General, Changchun, 1946-47; and Peiping, 1947-50. Also served as Consul General, Vladivostok, U.S.S.R., 1944-46 and as Director, Office of Chinese Affairs, Dept. of State, 1950-51.

New York, New York
June 26, 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 January, 1976
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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


Oral History Interview with
O. Edmund Clubb


New York, New York
June 26, 1974
by Richard D. McKinzie


MCKINZIE: Mr. Clubb, could you begin with an explanation of how you happened to go into the Foreign Service?

CLUBB: I developed my interest in the Foreign Service largely out of an application of my student time and energies to international law. In connection with my studies I also learned a little bit about Asia, particularly about China, because there was at the University of Minnesota a Professor Harold Quigley, who taught those subjects. I took what courses he offered. So, I had a particular facility,


in professional terms, in international law, for which there is not much outlet. And then I had this very special interest in China, which seemed to be an area promising much in the way of change, therefore in the way of interest. And it was far away -- foreign. International law having driven me in the direction of the Foreign Service, and my interest in China turning me toward the East, I took the exams for the Foreign Service and passed them. And when the Department offered the opportunity of opting for some strange language like Turkish or Russian, Japanese or Chinese, I chose to study Chinese. In those days at the end of the twenties one ordinarily studied his foreign language in the area of specialization, excepting Russian, which was studied in Paris. But Chinese was studied in Peking. And I, after a period of training in the Department, was sent to Peking, where I arrived in 1929. For practically all of my


foreign service I was in the Far East, excepting one brief period in 1944, and the years 1950-52, when I served in the Department. In the Far East, I served most of the time in China, and a little time in Indochina, where however, I operated the office at Hanoi only one half day before the war broke out and I was interned by the Japanese. And then I served in Vladivostok in the Soviet Far East. It was actually there that the beginning of the Truman administration in 1945 found me.

During the war, I had been sent back to China after my internment at Hanoi and Haiphong, and served in Central Asia. But I also spoke, besides Chinese, Russian. They naturally wanted somebody at the post of Vladivostok who spoke Russian, and they wanted a person who was besides a Far Eastern specialist if they could find him. I seemed to fit the bill. And so, despite the circumstance that I had had a long and somewhat arduous period of time overseas and had been


assigned back to the Department, shortly after that assignment -- a few months afterwards actually -- they sent me to Vladivostok.

Now, of course, at the beginning of 1945 you had other developments which are relevant to the situation. One such development took place in China. There were developments in the Far East generally. I should like to suggest that my experience, and what I’m going to tell you, was indicative of certain impending events. Events that were taking shape during wartime, but would be discovered in their full shape only after the war was over.

One such event was in China. Patrick J. Hurley had become a Republican Ambassador for a Democratic administration. He had been a Secretary of War under a Republican administration, but President Roosevelt sent him out largely, I assume, for political reasons. We have many strange appointments to ambassadorships. This was strange, because Hurley was no expert with


respect to the Far East. He had an overweening confidence in his ability of interpretation and his judgment. But this brought him chockablock in confrontation with some of the experts who were in the field. It was about the time of Roosevelt's death that Hurley, back in the United States, caused the removal from China, from the staff of General [Albert C.] Wedemeyer, who was acting as Chief of Staff to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, of the four Foreign Service officers who were there on station, and also the removal of his Counselor of Embassy, George Atcheson, because these people during his absence had sent in a long report analyzing the situation and disagreeing fundamentally with the Ambassador's optimistic position and his optimistic interpretation of events. The Ambassador was primarily, fundamentally, pro-Nationalist and was committed entirely to the idea of support of the Chiang Kai-shek regime. The others, the professionals, felt that there


should be more flexibility in the position, this being a carryover from the [Gen. Joseph W.] Stilwell proposition that if we were fighting Japan we should employ the Communist forces as well as the Nationalist forces. I give this as a bit of background, because it's pertinent to my later tale.

In Vladivostok we saw the potential for troubles too. The first Consul General at Valdivostok after the Revolution, the man I replaced (he had not been there long; we had reopened Vladivostok not long before), was Angus Ward. Ward was not a political observer so much as an administrative man. I was a political observer. My Foreign Service career was largely devoted to political reporting, economic reporting, interpretation of events. When we arrived we came to a town that was almost under siege in a certain respect. It was at the far end, of course, of the Soviet Union. But it suffered effects of the war,


because Siberia before the war, had been dependent in large measure upon Western Soviet Union for food supplies. And when the Germans occupied the grainlands, then the West of the Soviet Union said to the East, in essence, "You have to get on by yourself." So the living conditions were bad -- the fare was very sparse. We Americans of the consular staff did not go hungry, because Lend-Lease supplies were at that time being sent to the Soviet Union. Some of the Lend-Lease supplies were going Trans-Pacific, because the Soviet Union was at peace still, of course, with Japan. They therefore used Soviet vessels, naturally; not American, but these ships carrying Soviet Lend-Lease supplies also carried certain commissary supplies for us. So we got along much better than the local population, but we saw what happened to the population. And so while we were eating canned Spam and things like that, they were short of potatoes and cabbage and what not. This was a harsh place


in which to live; there is no doubt about that. It was harsh and it was isolated, because Vladivostok was part of a military zone. All during the war there were people who endeavored to get there -- newspapermen and others -- from the Western part of the Soviet Union, to see what "Vladi" was like, but there was no newspaperman ever made it. The only people who got there were the officials of the three countries that maintained consular offices there. They were the Americans, having recently opened an office; the Chinese, who had interest in the Soviet Far East; and the Japanese. We naturally had no dealings with the Japanese, because we were at war with them although the Soviets were not. And be it remarked that when, for instance, we went on those rare occasions to the theater, the Japanese were seated on one side of the hall, and we on the other, by the Soviets when they dealt out the tickets. I said we went to the theater, and we did; but there was a very little


theater. We Americans were a little better off under my administration than the Chinese, because the Chinese were occupying a strained position already with the Soviets by reason of strained relations in China where the Chinese Nationalists, having won the support, they thought, of the Americans for their conflict with the Soviet Union and with the Chinese Communists, caused the ousting of the Soviet from Sinkiang, where I was stationed in 1943. When I was there I saw the Soviets leaving. They had come in with quantities of equipment as well as some troops, which were stationed to prevent any advance of the Japanese into Central Asia -- any sudden strike or that sort of thing. But this strain between the Chinese and the Russians was reflected at Vladivostok. There was reflected there also what you might say was the "past." There was the immediate reflection of the existing difficulties of the Soviet Union, as I suggested, but also of the "past" in terms of the feeling on the part of the Russians -- a


feeling built up particularly after the revolution in 1917 -- that the capitalist powers were their natural enemies. There was less of this in Moscow. There was a larger residue of it, I would say, in Vladivostok. And so, where in Moscow one occupied the position, essentially, of an ally of the Soviet Union, in Vladivostok we were much more restricted. There was not by any manner of means the suggestion, let it be said, that we were enemies, but we were very closely watched, and there were, if you will, only "correct relations" between us and the diplomatic agent -- the Dipagent, they called him. The first Dipagent was a man named Dyukarev, and he was a very amiable young chap and got along with us very well. And we got on with him. There was however, a successor to Dyukarev,a man named Rychkov, who was a much more sour personality. And even with Dyukarev, when first I and my colleagues met him on two or three occasions alone, he was apparently ticked off in regard to this. Generally


speaking, when we met Soviet officials in Vladivostok, they sat in pairs. They did not want to meet with an American alone for fear of being compromised. Well, that was one of the situations.

This being a military zone, be it remarked, there were limitations with respect to our movement. We were able to leave the center of the town for only nineteen kilometers by one road, and when we were in town the office and the residence of the Consul General and of the others were kept under constant surveillance by the NKVD, that is, the secret police. We got on well enough with other officials besides the diplomatic agent. There was the port authority; there were the people connected with Lend-Lease, that sort of thing. And we, be it said, had on our staff an Assistant Naval Attaché, one George Roullard, who was charged with following Lend-Lease developments, Lend-Lease cargo and that sort of thing. He was not officially there as an Assistant Naval Attaché,


but they knew that he was a naval man. But, as I say, they kept close watch over us all the time.

There were on our staff various Soviet citizens -- clerks, messengers and so forth in the office. And then, of course, maids, cooks and so forth in the households. And they, we always assumed, were always caused to report to the NVKD, and we naturally acted accordingly. Our official relations and our relations with the staff were almost all that we had. We had very little in the way of social relations. We knew that there was a potential in that regard, because of the circumstance, that every once in a while we would establish brief contact with a Soviet citizen, but there was always shortly brought down upon him the knowledge that he should not have close relationships with foreigners in Vladivostok, and particularly with Americans. I don't say "especially." I think that we were in a better position, as I suggested, than the


the Chinese. The Japanese led a very isolated life indeed from our rather general observation of them. But we were never able to develop with more than a handful of people, whom we always assumed had somehow been okayed, such close social relations that we were able to go and have dinner with them or have them in for dinner with us. When we had Soviet officials for dinner, ordinarily we always had to give a reason for having the dinner. It had to be a national holiday or something like that, otherwise they would not necessarily even answer. They wouldn't refuse, but they just didn't appear.

So that was our situation in Vladivostok. We were viewed there as having that function with respect to Lend-Lease, if you will, but we were also a listening post. We naturally were supposed to report anything that came to our attention. Now be it said that, with the limitations upon our movements, we very naturally had relatively


little of prime importance to report; but we did see some things, We did do reporting. We were able to get some provincial newspapers that they couldn't even get in Moscow. And after having gleaned what we could from the newspapers and made reports about it, we would send them on to Moscow, and Moscow would devour them and then send them to the Library of Congress, which seized upon them with great avidity. We, upon occasion, were able to make short trips to Nakhodka, the port which now serves Japan, and to Khabarovsk up the river, places like that. And we were likewise able to give the reactions of Soviets and the others to things that we might say, or give their questions, and report on developments. We earned our salt; there is no doubt about that. The reasons for the strained or limited relationship with the Soviets there were to be found, I think, largely in the political and police setup of the Soviet Union. They were so bureaucratic


in their approach to the question of relations with foreigners, and particularly with people whom they had designated before as imperialists. In that distant region of the Soviet Union -- the Soviet Far East -- so far from the throne, so to speak, the police acted as they had in the earlier days. The new idea of an easier relationship with allies, it just hadn't seeped down. But, of course, this was to be deemed a threat, an ominous sign, of the possibility of bad relations in future or worse relations after the war was over. Now, I don't say that our people in Moscow were ignorant of that, but we had more signs of it in Vladivostok, perhaps, than they did in Moscow.

MCKINZIE: Did you have frequent contacts with Averell Harriman in Moscow?

CLUBB: We had only contact by the post, and then upon occasion, when we had something that had to go safe hand, we sent a courier. We, of course, had our


cabled messages in code, and so we could contact. I made only one trip to Moscow. I'll relate that a little later in place, and on that occasion I did see Harriman, but only very briefly.

There is one thing to be remarked and that is that some of the reporting we did was on Siberia, its resources, its potential and so forth and so on. And