Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened August, 1980
Oral History Interview with
July 29, 1974
by Richard D. McKinzie
MCKINZIE: Professor, you have an academic background and I think people are always interested in what brings individuals into Government service, and I wonder if we might begin by asking you to describe what brought you into the Government at about the time of the Second World War?
COPPOCK: Well, I had been in academic work from 1934, when I first started teaching, until 1941. It so happened in the spring of 1941 that I was in the process of searching for a new academic job when I had a chance to join the Government at considerably more pay, and in a job of
interest, in the Department of Agriculture. So I took it.
I had wanted to have some Government experience; many of my economist associates had worked in the New Deal agencies and I felt they got a lot out of doing so. Two times I'd turned jobs down in the thirties. One was with the WPA research staff and the other was in the Department of Commerce.
In the spring of 1941 I was interviewed by various agencies in Washington. Of particular interest was a job at the Treasury Department, Division of Monetary Affairs, which involved planning for the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank, created in 1945. I interviewed [Edward] Bernstein and [Frank A.] Southard, who were major figures under Harry White, who was the head of the Division of Monetary Research during that time. But the Agriculture job was available immediately, so I took it. So
that's how I got into Government.
But after Pearl Harbor, the day after Pearl Harbor really, a friend I had known at the Department of Agriculture who had gone to the Office of Production Management (later the War Production Board), telephoned me in Philadelphia and asked, "How about coming to the War Production Board to work as a special assistant to a man named William L. Batt, Vice Chairman of OPM?"
So, I went down to Washington to talk about it. I accepted the job in a day or so after discussing it with my wife. I stayed at the War Production Board for nearly a year. During that time I worked mainly on the problems of getting supplies to the countries which had been given lend-lease aid. It was one thing to get the financial assistance, another thing to get the priorities established, and the orders placed so that the goods would get delivered to England or Russia.
Batt was given the assignment of pushing for the Russian aid, because there were all kinds of efforts to block that aid, even though the Russians were doing most of the fighting against Germany at that time (1942).
MCKINZIE: Internal Government opposition?
COPPOCK: Yes, internal, within the Government, in the War Department, Navy Department at that time, and in the OPM, which had been renamed the War Production Board in early 1942.
MCKINZIE: On what grounds was this opposition based?
COPPOCK: Well, many industrial and military people didn't like the Soviet Union and they felt that we needed the supplies, especially in the Pacific theater. Also, they felt it was hard to get the stuff to the Russians. And it was very difficult, very time consuming, to move things around the North Cape (Norway) or through Iran. Also many
of the things that the Russians wanted did not have, or didn't seem to a lot of people to have, very high priority for near-term military purposes. Some cases of this sort turned up later.
But [Averell] Harriman had negotiated the protocol, as they called it, with the Russians, in July 1941, shortly after the June 22 invasion of Russia by the Germans, with President Roosevelt's complete approval Batt had been Harriman's deputy in that negotiation with the Russians, and Batt was put in charge, when he came back, of pushing that project along.
So the first Russian protocol was under his general supervision. I think very little was happening on it in the latter part of 1941, but in 1942, after we got into the war, there was quite a push to get ahead with it and the Russians kept pushing very hard to give them the supplies they had requested in July 1941.
But that's a long story, adequately described elsewhere.
MCKINZIE: Yes, I was just going to say that events there may have had some bearing on what happened, how things ultimately turned out. I know that the Soviets were never very sympathetic to the desire of the State Department, or in this case the War Production Board, to have a lot of the information that was requested, to justify their requests; that they regarded it either as irrelevant or as some kind of espionage.
COPPOCK: That's right, they were very secretive. A specific example of that was the placing of a lot of orders for specific items, which somebody, a technical man, I've forgotten his name, in the War Production Board, recognized as a rubber tire factory when you put all the requisitions together. They dribbled them in and sent them different places, but they all got funneled into the WPB. "Well, what on earth are they going to do with a rubber tire factory? It takes a long time to assemble this; it would
be years." This was the WPB reaction. But when we called them in to discuss this, my recollection is that they sort of hung their heads and said, "Yes," that's what they wanted.
Well, it so happened that there was a rubber tire factory available. WPB called in people from the rubber industry as special advisers on this, and I worked directly with the chief adviser they had from one of the major rubber companies. The Ford Motor Company had a sort of reserve capacity plant, not in use, that could be dismantled and shipped. And so that was eventually done after a tremendous amount of negotiation and work.
So they got their whole tire factory and it eventually was put up some place in Russia, but I think it was near the end of the war by the time that it really got functioning. I've forgotten, if I ever knew, the exact outcome of it. It illustrates your point. I think the members of the Soviet Purchasing Commission
in Washington often didn't know what the rationale was; they had requests and they were expected to get what they could of these things.
MCKINZIE: But from your point of view it was appropriate to request this information from all recipients of lend-lease aid.
COPPOCK: Oh, sure, that's what the procedure was for, so that the different priorities could be judged. This was done through a committee called the Requirements Committee, chaired by W. L. Batt at first, which eventually emerged as quite an efficient organization after the reorganization of the War Production Board under [Ferdinand] Eberstadt after [Donald M.] Nelson had left in late 1942. But that's a long story.
Now, I don't know to what extent the Truman Committee got into all of this. There were a good many squabbles between the supply part of the War Department and the War Production Board.
The supply people in the War Department felt that the War Production Board should just expedite what they wanted without reference to other considerations (like the Russians) and there was a tendency for them to ask for more and more, but to neglect the civilian supply aspects of the problems.
One result of the Eberstadt reorganization of the WPB was that the foreign supply unit was moved out from under Batt. Our small staff was scattered. They offered me a job in the central secretariat of the War Production Board. At the same time, somebody offered me a job as associate director of the Chemicals and Drugs Division of the OPA. There were a lot of jobs available for technically able people in that situation. So I took the OPA job, which seemed more interesting.
And shortly thereafter, my OPA chief, Patrick Murphy Malin, who was from Springfield, Missouri,
where his father was a banker, went to the State Department to work with Governor [Herbert H.] Lehman to help plan UNRRA, the relief organization. And so in early 1943 I became head of the OPA Chemicals and Drugs Branch and remained so until the fall of 1943, when there was organizational turmoil in the OPA. Congress was extremely critical of the OPA, as a result of business pressure to relax price controls. They asked for a complete reorganization. Chester Bowles was made head of the OPA, and a very able man from one of the distilleries, James Brownlee, became Deputy Administrator. All non-business employees above the branch level were fired. About a half dozen of the most able people had to leave. Only Donald Wallace, a truly devoted person, stayed on, but only as an adviser to Brownlee.
MCKINZIE: And you?
COPPOCK: Well, I wasn't at that level; I was at the
next echelon down. They did not fire the academicians who were in charge of branches. They just made things less comfortable for us.
So I remained in OPA for quite some months. About that time (late 1943) my draft number came up, even though I was nearly 35. Obviously, they were getting toward the bottom of the barrel. Somebody suggested, "Why don't you move into a military organization?" The OPA situation was becoming rather difficult and I had got defeated on an effort to get the prices of vitamins rolled back. There was a tremendous profit margin on them and there had been a great expansion of production. It was within the scope of the price control law to reduce prices. I was becoming less and less effective in the organization. Also some of the other very good people, e.g., Gardner Ackley, who was later chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, was a member of my staff. Kermit Gordon, who is now (1974) president of the
Brookings Institution, was also a section chief of staff. Jim Nelson, who was a Rhodes scholar and had taught at Amherst College for some years, was also a section chief. A lot of these people went off to the military. Frankly the main job of OPA had shifted from devising price controls to enforcement. A very different kind of personnel was called for.
So in late 1943, I went to the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), first on a civilian basis. In early 1944 the OSS arranged for me to be given a naval commission (lieutenant, junior grade).
MCKINZIE: Was this job in the Research Branch of OSS?
COPPOCK: No, it was on the Planning Staff, the planning unit of OSS. In the spring of 1944 I was shifted from the Planning Staff to what they called the Operations Office. I was the head of the European Operations Office -- as the backstopper in Washington for European OSS operations. I wore a Navy uniform and went through naval
officer training school, but I was never a real Navy character. I was like a lot of other people during the war -- a civilian in uniform.
And then I got sick in the winter of 1944-45 and was sent to the Naval Hospital at Bethesda. It was pretty evident by then that there was a great surplus of naval officers and other people of my sort so I began to think about what I should do when I would get out of the hospital. I could go back to the OSS on a civilian basis or on military basis, but I learned that I was going to be discharged with a minor, minimal disability. This was in April 1945. Then events took an interesting twist for me.
In the fall of’44, after Cordell Hull had resigned as Secretary of State [Edward R., Jr.] Stettinius was brought in. One of the few sensible things that Stettinius did as Secretary was to hire William L. (“Will”) Clayton of Texas as his
Assistant Secretary for Economic Affairs. Clayton had been brought to Washington by Jesse Jones to work in the RFC. He had also worked problems of disposal of war surpluses.
Will Clayton inquired around who would be the best academic economist to be his deputy. Well, he wouldn't have had to inquire very long to learn it would be Ed [Edward S.] Mason of Harvard, a simply tremendous guy who had been the deputy to William Langer, the head of the Research Division of OSS pretty much all during the war. Mason had been an All-American football player (Kansas), a Rhodes Scholar, etc. So Ed Mason was brought in as Will Clayton's dept and with instructions to beef up the whole economic end of the State Department.
With Ed Mason's broad acquaintance and prestige, he was able to recruit a lot of people, a lot of good people to strengthen the rather minimal economic unit in the State
Department. The conviction was widespread that the problems of the postwar period in the international realm would be very largely economic so it was desirable to have a large, strong, staff in that field.
MCKINZIE: You attribute the personnel selection largely then to Edward Mason...
COPPOCK: That's right.
MCKINZIE: ...rather than to Will Clayton himself?
COPPOCK: Oh, yes, he didn't know very many people of the sort who could do this kind of thing, because high level bureaucratic work is much more like academic work than most any other. Lawyers are extremely valuable and useful in it, but most businessmen, except for investment bankers, are not used to it. Investment bankers are used to sizing up a total situation, but most businessmen