Oral History Interview with
U.S. Foreign Service officer, 1928-53, with service as counselor of the Embassy, Bogota, Colombia, 1943-45; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1945-47; Ambassador to Honduras, 1947; U.S. rep. Inter-Am. Economic and Social Council, 1947-48; director American Republic Affairs, U.S. Dept. of State, 1947-49; U.S. delegate to the 9th International Conference of American States, Bogota, 1948; Ambassador to the Council of Organization of American States, 1948-50; and as U.S. Ambassador to Ecuador, 1951-53. Also served later as a special adviser on Antarctica, U.S. Dept. of State, 1957-59.
Paul C. Daniels
June 11, 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. ) 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 September, 1978
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
Paul C. Daniels
June 11, 1974
by Richard D. McKinzie
MCKINZIE: Mr. Ambassador, many historians are interested in the general subject of why people go into the Foreign Service. How did you happen to come to that?
DANIELS: It first occurred to me while I was in college at Yale. In fact, when I worked on a ship going to Europe in the summer of 1923, I called on Consul General [George S.] Messersmith in Antwerp. I asked him about the Foreign Service, or the Consular Service, as it was then called, as well as the Diplomatic Service. And
he said, "Young man, the same talent, brains, and energy applied to something else will get you much further." Well, in other words, he wasn't trying to proselytize; quite the contrary. I then gave up the idea for a while because I had to go back to college, and I later went to France for a year. Then to earn money I went to Riverdale School to teach French for a year, just to earn my bread and butter. But it wasn't my calling, so, after a little thought, and with suggestions from friends of my mother, I looked into the Foreign Service, as it was called after the Rogers Act of 1924. That was just beginning, and it sounded as though they were trying to make a decent Foreign Service. So, I went down to Washington and took cram courses on different subjects, international law, history, economics and so on, passed the exams, and in due course entered the Foreign Service. That was in 1927, and I stayed through it from the
bottom until I voluntarily left in 1954 after my tour of duty as Ambassador to Ecuador.
MCKINZIE: Did you have any special interest in the Latin Americas, or did that simply fall to you?
DANIELS: Well, this was an amusing thing, as a matter of fact. While I was going through what they called then the Foreign Service School, which meant that you went to different sections of the Department to learn the ropes, I figured that Russia was a pretty big place, and we weren't doing anything about it much. I thought that maybe since obviously sooner or later we would have to, it might be good to look into Russia specialization, because they did have such a thing anticipating that.
I went to see Bob Kelly, who was head of the Eastern European Division, and I said that I thought I'd inquire about the possibility of becoming a specialist in Russian affairs.
“Well," he said, "are you really interested in that?"
I said, "I just thought it might be interesting." (Lackadaisical was my nature, and I wasn't going out eager beaver.)
Well, he kind of figured that I wasn't interested enough, so he dropped it and therefore I dropped it. But if I had, I think, showed a little more enthusiasm for it, I'd have gone into that Russian service. I hadn't at that point given any thought to specializing in Latin America, though it subsequently turned out that my entire career was in that field. That started when they assigned posts for our new class. All of us were sent out as Vice Consuls. I was assigned to Valparaiso, Chile, and that began it.
Valparaiso was then a Consulate General. It has since been closed, which was a mistake. We should have an office there for public relations,
if nothing else.
One day the Consul General got a telegram from the State Department saying, "Daniels proceed immediately to Cali. Travel paid." Well I didn't know where Cali was. I wondered if they meant California and in the office we bustled all around and finally figured out that it must be this town in the southern part of Colombia, called Cali, which actually today is a very fine, big, prosperous city. There was no airplane travel in those days at all, and the ships were not very frequent either, but I got on the next freighter, which carried mostly copper bars; went up to Buenaventura, Colombia, the port near Cali; then went inland to Cali. Well, I was then Vice Consul there. I found out that why I was transferred was because the previous Vice Consul, whom I was replacing, had thrown the Consul down the stairs, knocked him down. They had had this argument which became
physical, and so he was transferred and I was called up, being, apparently, the most available. That's how I went to Cali, my second Latin-American post.
Having been there several months and getting used to it (it was really a nice place, too), I received another telegram; "Daniels proceed immediately," or words to that effect, "to Buenaventura to take charge." That was a small place with just one officer. Well, I was surprised, but I just packed my suitcase and took the train that goes over the mountains and down to Buenaventura, which was the worst post of the Service, I guess. There may be some worse ones now, but it certainly was then. The reason for my assignment was because the Vice Consul there, a very decent chap, had been there too long. He was getting D.T.'s, delirium tremens, and they figured they couldn't leave the office in charge of somebody who had the D.T's. So, I was sent down, and with some enthusiasm I took over, after I managed to get him off on a ship, somehow. The staff consisted
of myself and a little colored boy who would get the mail. I was tempted to send a photograph to the American Foreign Service Journal with the caption that this was the staff at Buenaventura, Colombia. It would show this little colored boy and nobody else, and say that the other member of the staff took the photograph. I never got around to that. Somewhat later they sent a young American chap down as clerk. He could do a little more of the typing, which I wasn't too good at. But I worked like the devil there; it was a busy place.
Then I came back up to the States in July. I was due home on leave, because I hadn't been back for a while, and it was granted. They didn't pay your way then, so I arranged to sign myself on a ship. Being Vice Consul then in charge, I had to sign all the shipping papers, so I signed myself on a freighter as a utility man at one cent a month. That was free passage, and this
was all I wanted. This ship was to call at the port of Buenaventura on July 4th. Well, my replacement, Mr. Meyers, was an older man and was coming down from Panama. I met him, of course. He got in there, I think, only one day before I was supposed to leave. He was gaunt and frail -- didn't look very robust.
The Chinese colony, which was very important in Buenaventura and ran a lot of stores, selling groceries and stuff like that, gave me a banquet, because they thought I had protected them. At that time we had charge of Chinese interests all around the world, and they thought I was helpful once when there threatened to be an election riot. Well, I did walk around the streets, and they would look out through the windows, and I would wave. That was all. Anyhow, they were good enough to offer a nice banquet, and they did it very well, even in a place like Buenaventura. And, of course, with the new Vice Consul coming,
my idea was to invite him. So we had a good banquet with plenty of libations, exotic food, and so on. The next morning Mr. Meyers, the new Vice Consul, was very ill. That created a problem, because I had to get on the boat, and yet I didn't want to leave and have him die three hours later. He already looked as though he was half dead. That was a real difficult situation, whether to miss my transportation (God knows how I would have gotten up without that) or to leave him and take the chance that he might not die. Well, I elected to take the trip on the theory that other people could take care of him. I was no doctor. But I was relieved when I found out in Panama that he had not died. It was a close decision. Anyhow, that brought me up to the States.
That was the summer of 1930. I went up to Massachusetts a couple of months, then I went back to Washington and they asked me if I'd like to go to La Paz, Bolivia.
"Well," I said, "I hadn't thought about it." But they said that they needed me there; that's what they always say. I had no particular objections. Still, at that time you could send up what they call a transfer record, in which you indicated where you'd like to go, sort of for morale purposes, obviously. I said that I'd like to go to Paris. Of course, they paid no attention to that. Anyhow, I went to La Paz, and was there for over two years. It is a high place. Then I came back on leave, and I was reassigned. This was ‘32. Ed [Edwin C.] Wilson was then in charge of the Latin-American Division. He was one of the best we ever had in that job. He said, "Paul, how about going to Managua, Nicaragua?"
"Well," I said, "that's another 'unhealthful' one. I've already had three. I'd just as soon go there, but I am afraid it would look kind of funny on the record if you keep sending me
to these odd places."
And he said, "No, that's very important." It turned out he was right. So, I went to Managua in '32. The U.S. Marines were still there. In fact, I saw them evacuated after the end of the year. I came in September. And a while later I had to dig up several corpses in the middle of the night. It was very gruesome.
I was in Managua for the elections. We had an electoral mission there under Admiral [Clark H.] Woodward. They elected a Liberal President, [Dr. Juan B.] Sacasa, and I stayed on and things went very quietly. [Augusto Cesar] Sandino was trying to make a deal with him, but then some people, probably the National Guard, assassinated him along with some of his people in February of '33. It was quite a night. The people got very excited. It eliminated Sandino anyhow, even though it was a cruel assassination. We had nothing to do with it in case anybody asks.
MRS. DANIELS: What was that about the corpses that you were talking about?
DANIELS: Oh, yes. We got instructions to send home some poor Marines who had been killed. They would go out putting up wires and exploring and scouting for the bandits, these Sandino people. The Marines were sometimes jumped and killed. Some of the corpses were mutilated. That was pretty gruesome stuff. There were about four or five of the bodies that they recovered and buried in Managua. I was Charge d' Affaires at the time. (That was a good break for me, because Minister [Matthew] Hanna had left, and it was some time before Arthur Lane came. For about six months I was about the youngest Charge d' Affaires in the Service, so it was just fine.) I then got instructions to send the bodies home. They sent down some very nice caskets, and I consulted with some of the authorities there. If we did it at high noon there would be a lot of crowds
and events might be a little unpredictable, so, we decided that the safest thing was to do it at night, which we did. We got some laborers, and they had to dig down quite a way. I had to identify the corpses. They had tags and were only semi-decomposed. Then we had to transfer them from the rough graves into these very nice coffins, silk and all; close them up and identify each one. And then transport them over to the railroad train to Corinto on the Pacific Coast, where they were shipped back. That was all there was to it, but that business at night, with these flaring lights around and digging these corpses, was kind of an odd job.
Anyhow, in the middle of '34 I finished at Managua and came up again on leave, and that gave me my four unhealthful posts in a row. I forgot to mention Corinto. While the Marines were still there, in the latter part of '32, another emergency call came from Corinto.
That's a little port on the Pacific Coast, where the railroad comes down from Managua. They had a Vice Consul there, again only one person, and he was a nice chap, too. But they reported up through other sources that he was running around the streets naked at night, and he had the D.T.'s. He'd been there too long, also. So, I was assigned to go down there immediately. I got my little grip with my pajamas and got in one of the Marine planes. They had these little planes they called Hell Divers. They gave me a big bundle of a sort of khaki cloth and said, "Here." It turned out that was a parachute. It's a good thing I didn't have to use it. I didn't know how it worked. And so we came over to Corinto. It's only thirty minutes, I think, by plane. And that made four so-called unhealthful posts in a row for me, which was a record, I think.
Well, in the States again, Ed Wilson said that he wanted me to put in some time in the
Department to work there on the trade agreements. That program was just beginning. Cordell Hull was pushing it and he brought in Henry Grady to help. They decided that I could help in the Latin-American part, so I worked on that line for a good many months, particularly the Brazilian Trade Agreement. Then another thing came up in '35. Panama was complaining, as they always have, about the Canal and the arrangements there, and sent up Ricardo Alfaro, a distinguished man, and Narciso Garay to sort of keep tabs on each other and to negotiate with Sumner Welles about revisions. I was asked by Welles to keep track of things and revise the stenographic record, which was taken professionally, to make sure that it was okay. The Panamanians had their Mr. Chevalier, who did the same thing. We compared notes and agreed on a final version of what