Douglas Ensminger Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Douglas Ensminger

B.S. (Agriculture), University of Missouri, 1933; M.A. (Rural Public Welfare), University of Missouri, 1934; Ph.D. (Rural Sociology), Cornell University, 1939. U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1939-51: Bureau of Agricultural Economics, in charge of Community Organization Research; Director, Rural Sociology Extension, Federal Extension Service; Coordinator, Foreign Training with land-grant colleges; Member, Food and Agricultural Organization Commission to Mexico on Rural Development and Land Tenure; Member, F.A.0. Latin American Extension Conference; in charge of International Conference on Extension; and Office of Foreign Agricultural Relations. Ford Foundation representative for India and Pakistan, 1951-53; Representative for India and Nepal, 1954-70.

Columbia, Missouri
June 16 and July 7, 1976
by Harry S. Taylor

[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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 February, 1977
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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

Oral History Interview with
Douglas Ensminger

Columbia, Missouri
June 16 and July 7, 1976
by Harry S. Taylor



TAYLOR: Dr. Ensminger, at the time the inaugural address was made, of course no one knew exactly what the Point IV program would be. Do you remember what a general consensus in the Department of Agriculture was regarding Point IV?

ENSMINGER: Both Stanley Andrews and I believed that Point IV was extending our know-how, but interpreted to mean our know-how in terms of how one solves problems. Very early in the



interpretation, operationally given to Point IV in extending know-how, meant that we take to the other countries our institutional structures, our approaches to doing things, and in the field of agriculture increasingly over the years, it has meant somehow another taking our agricultural technology.

At that time of Truman's inaugural address in 1948 John Hanna was president of Michigan State University and was president of the Land-Grant College Association. It was in this capacity he sent President Truman a telegram offering the cooperation and assistance of the land-grant colleges in carrying out what he interpreted to be the meaning of Truman's Point IV program. At that time it was Hanna's interpretation, and this was the reason for offering the land-grant institutions cooperation, that Truman had in mind a far more simpler approach



to Point IV development than the people who related to the European Recovery Program and economists later injected into the program which was economic development. Hanna saw really the role of the land-grant universities in this, going back to their early history and the role they played in helping farmers find solutions to problems, and in helping this nation understand the kinds of policies and programs that we were going to need to have our own agriculture succeed.

This is very much what Hanna had in mind in offering the service of the universities back in 1948, which is to help these countries develop a technology which meets their needs, rather than transport our technology to them.

TAYLOR: Was there any discussions concerning the possibility of transferring the philosophy



of the American land-grant college of this period to the institutions of higher learning in the underdeveloped world?

ENSMINGER: Well, there was very much of this in Hanna's point of view, because Hanna shared the basic philosophy of M. L. Wilson, whom I was then an assistant to. Wilson was Under Secretary of Agriculture. He is given credit for having designed most of the New Deal programs. M. L. Wilson said over and over again, and this was echoed by Hanna in the early period, "It was not then, it isn't now, our institutional structures and our advanced technology, that the developing countries need. What we had to offer then is what we have to offer now -- a philosophy of an educational institution helping to find solutions to problems and in helping design programs to solve those problems."



TAYLOR: Well, do you think that the problem-solving approach of the American university, particularly the land-grant institutions, and as Extension developed around it, do you think this would have been compatible with the English concept of higher education that was quite literally transported into the countries of the Third World?

ENSMINGER: Well, we all found very early that it was practically impossible to build anything that was applied into the existing institutions of higher learning that were from British heritage.

TAYLOR: Historically we'd been involved in several types of programs at the Institute for Inter-American Affairs through the World Bank. Did anyone at that time envision that perhaps Point IV would bring a lot of divergent groups



together, and perhaps give some simple directions to our foreign aid to underdeveloped areas?

ENSMINGER: I don't think we were that far along in our thinking. At the time Truman enunciated the Point IV program, we were very much involved in the ERP, European Recovery Program. The ERP was a program to provide money as resources. The European community had traditions of doing things, they had leadership, they had the institutional structures and what they needed was massive inputs of money. And that was the Marshall Plan.

Well, I have repeatedly felt that if it had not been for the very recent experience with the ERP, which was a program of money, that Truman's Point IV program would have become quite a different program. But it's interesting that in the very early stages it was the county agents and the vocational



agriculture teachers who were sent abroad. I used to say that the people who were then looking at the program were talking about sending county agents and vocational agriculture teachers and maybe a pocketful of nickels. In other words, we were not then oriented to massive economic aid in terms of the developing countries.

Well, as I look back on this process in terms of what happened, many of the people who were actively involved in the ERP began to drift home, began to find themselves involved in the State Department carrying out of the Point IV program, and they just couldn't quite see how we could make a contribution to these developing countries unless we really talked in terms of economic aid. And it didn't take very long for their point of view to prevail. And the interesting thing to me is



that if you go back to my own experience in India, I went over there in 1951, which was three years after Truman enunciated the Point IV program, and Ambassador [Chester] Bowles came over, arriving there within weeks after I arrived, with a very clear mandate from the President to find appropriate ways to help India with its development.

Bowles was oriented to what he interpreted the Truman concept to be of helping develop people and helping people carry out their own development. It's also of interest, that when India gained independence, out of the colonial period into independence, Nehru and the other political leaders very early began to look for ways and means of keeping your pledge to the masses of the people that they made in the struggle for independence, which was essentially this: "You join us in the



struggle for independence and freedom and when we become a free nation, I pledge that as your leader, the resources of government will be devoted to improving the conditions of the masses of poor people.

Well, India was moving to formulate programs to really carry out the Gandhian concept: the Gandhian philosophy of village and rural development. So, when Bowles came along, looking at India in the concept of the Truman Point IV, he sought the opportunity for the U.S. to play a role of providing considerable technical help in terms of how do you do something, and limited financial help enough to get started in carrying them out.

So, Bowles jumped on this idea of U.S. aid, tied to community development, and this got a very great response in India, because it was not a U.S. imposed program. The U.S. was not dangling large sums of money in front of



India to try and influence her to buy a change of policy, but of helping India carry out its own programs and its own commitments to the people.

This started the community development in 1952. The Ford Foundation was also involved in the community development program. We're talking now about Truman and Point IV, and Bowles coming along as the Ambassador with backing from Truman, and the State Department, in terms of U.S. making financial and technical inputs and commitments into helping India carry out its community development program.

This big program was launched on Gandhi's birthday, on October 2, 1952, with national enthusiasm, and continued through the next five years. But increasingly the Congress leaders began to get restless, saying that India



needed massive economic aid and that community development was too slow, that India needed to put its foreign aid into big economic development projects. And interestingly enough, this began to happen in the developing countries throughout what we called the Third World.

TAYLOR: The period, from '48 to '51 is the period when the Point IV program was floundering in Congress. Why?

ENSMINGER: This is my personal observation that in Point IV we had the very inklings of a stratified organizational approach to foreign aid that never got off the ground.

TAYLOR: But there was such a protracted discussion in Congress for almost 18 months in developing a program, what were the problems?

ENSMINGER: I'll tell you one of the problems



that came out. I can identify one specifically and it was very widespread. In order to help sell this thing to Congress, one of the tasks that Stanley Andrews was caught with; they were looking for success stories.

Let me tell you one success story that created more problems than it ever solved. There was a man in India by the name of Horace Holmes, who had been a county agent, and he had been recruited to go over there by a fellow by the name of Albert Mayer who was doing their rural development program in a district called Itaoa, and they'd had about three years of experience and really had visible evidence of change.

Well, Point IV persuaded Life magazine to send photographers over there, and they did a four-page spread on him. But what did they show, they showed Horace Holmes doing everything, they didn't show the Indians doing



one damn thing, and when this document came out Nehru and the government said if this is what they are going to do, they'll destroy our people. If the Americans are going to say every time, every place they have a person, they are going to get credit for it, we get this in our effort to sell it to Congress, and we hurt the program tremendously, he wasn't even shown -- didn't even show an Indian plowing and him showing him how to use it.

In our efforts to sell it to Congress we just completely destroyed the very concept we were trying to promote, which was the self-help program, to help the people help themselves.

TAYLOR: The initial appropriations for the TCA, I believe thirty-even and a half million dollars, was that a sufficient beginning?

ENSMINGER: Well, it was a beginning, and at that particular moment it probably was all the



money they could effectively use, because the orientation in the beginning was developmental.

We were talking about technical assistance with a little money to help get ideas started, that's quite different from now in terms of big development projects and loans. Now we found that you could -- I helped do some of the early recruiting. We didn't have much trouble recruiting in the early period because people wanted to go, it was a part of a great adventure, I didn't have much more trouble recruiting for the early period than you did for the Peace Corps, and then they didn't have all of the bureaucracy in terms of what's involved in recruiting. So more of the responsibility in the early period was placed on back in the countries and India with Bowles having a direct line to Truman, there wasn't very much bureaucracy involved in getting approval of things.



TAYLOR: What about the influence of the missionary work in terms of self-help and Point IV in this initial stage?

ENSMINGER: Well, very much of the missionary work was drawn on to document that the approaches they were talking about would work. In India, for example, there were several very important agricultural missionary programs sponsored by the YMCA. Spencer Hatch, and there were many others, so that in the early period a country like India would have -- first it had the very great documentation of Tegor and Gandhi's rural development programs, and it had the programs of the missionaries, so they had experience to draw on. And the interesting thing, during that period there was no stigma of drawing on these missionary programs because these were not dictated from outside, these



were not dictated from outside, these were very much oriented to the people, and the people involved; they were what you call low-key programs. The missionaries were not seeking headlines in terms of things they had done.

TAYLOR: Was there any initial negative response from trying to Christianize Moslems, or to work with them, or similar problems.

ENSMINGER: Yes, but then you see, you get into a different kind of -- one there were missionaries over there who were development oriented, and then there were missionaries who were proselytizing.

TAYLOR: What breakdown would you -- would you give a percentage?

ENSMINGER: Well, most of them were proselytizing and now the countries did object to this once



they became independent, and India wrote into its constitution a provision against any form of proselytizing for this mass of untouchables, the poverty ridden group, so that missionaries or anybody else couldn't go out there and say that if they were converted to join -- became Christians that all their problems of poverty would be behind them, so there was some problems.

TAYLOR: There was a beneficial help and a hindrance at the same time.

ENSMINGER: That's right, there was a great deal of tension in the early period against certain of the missionaries, and this got misinterpreted back in this country, that India and other countries were against Christianity, or against missionaries, but this wasn't so at all. Prior to 1948 and before the period of



decolonization, most any church would rally to support any member of their church who wanted -- who simply said, "We feel the call to be a missionary," anyplace in the world they'd raise money to support him.

Well, what we found in that early period an awfully lot of people who are missionaries had no business being over there as missionaries. And just like we found in the recruitment of peoples to go abroad in technical assistance, a lot of people wanted to go shouldn't have gone and later on we found out a little bit more about what was involved and said no to a lot of people. And the churches now are taking the attitude that the people go abroad and they will recruit, therefore have a voice in who should go abroad. An awful lot of missionaries in India got into politics, in the hill areas. So yes, there were positive and negative aspects.



TAYLOR: When the program was announced you had an outpouring of editorials, many members of Congress were endorsing it, but six months after the announcement there is virtually nothing; and when the proposal reaches Congress, there's a year of indecision. Through this period you were in the Department of Agriculture. Was there any internal strife between the State and Agriculture Departments?

ENSMINGER: Yes, there was strife in terms of who was really going to manage it. Agriculture felt that if this was really going to be oriented to self-help programs, oriented to the people, and since 80 to 85 percent of the population in these developing countries lived in the rural areas and were dependent upon agriculture, that Agriculture should have the leadership for it. And State Department, yes, there was a great deal of bickering on this



particular issue.

TAYLOR: Did you meet personally with Ben Hardy, who developed memoranda for Point IV?


TAYLOR: What are your reflections of him?

ENSMINGER: He was like all the rest of them, and here we are 25 years later, still not understanding and accepting that when we talk about the developing countries we're talking about distinctly different cultures. The reason I'm bringing in this orientation is that, in this whole area of giving and receiving aid as related to the developing countries, it would be very easy to document failures, to document mistakes we made. I happen to believe that there was no way through this except to try. Now, my main quarrel has been that the



things that haven't worked, people have jumped on them as failures, and what we should do is look upon these as experiences. I don't see any more reason why, when you're moving in this whole broad area of human behavior, cultural change, why we have to assume with all the uncontrolled variables, that everything we put together can be made to work.

TAYLOR: What prompted you to enter Government service with the Department of Agricultural Economics in 1939?

ENSMINGER: Well, I would say that it was circumstances and decisions of other people, not mine. When I graduated from Cornell in 1939, the top rural sociologists around the United States were expressing concern because they did not have a rural sociologist in the Department of Agriculture, particularly the Bureau of



Agricultural Economics. And since the field that I was following, the rural community, was at that time considered to be the heart of the contribution of rural sociology; and since I was being trained under the top rural sociologist in the United States, Professor Sanders of Cornell, they all decided I was going to Washington under a Civil Service appointment. I don't have any regrets that I did it now, but I was upset about it then because somebody else was making the decisions for me. I feel sorry for people who try to work in foreign countries just out of an academic background and without Government experience because they blame everything that doesn't work on that country's government, failing to understand there are certain norms about government.

TAYLOR: You were with the USDA from 1939 to 1951.



During any period of this time were you connected with the Office of Foreign Agricultural Relations?

ENSMINGER: Yes. My last 18 months I actually moved over to OFAR. I was over there in the middle of '48, and the reason I moved over there again was M. L. Wilson. Howard Tolley, then the Chief of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, and Stanley Andrews, all prevailed upon me to move over to OFAR and put together an organizational structure to coordinate and manage the training of foreign nationals who were coming to the United States to study agriculture. At the time they asked me to take on this assignment there were about four thousand foreign nationals in the United States, nobody knew who they were or what they were doing. The land-grant institutions complained to Washington: "We just simply can't live with this any longer, a group of ten people which show up in a Dean's office, or a head of a



department unannounced saying, 'We're going to be here for three months to study some aspects of agriculture.'"

So, I moved over and stayed on this assignment until I went to India. During this period I developed a close working relationship with John Hanna and with Stanley Andrews. John Hanna was in charge of land-grant State Department aid, and a policy committee on training procedures. Together we worked up the policies that said to an institution: "We will pay half the salary of a person to coordinate the training programs on this campus, and we pay a certain amount per diem for each foreign student who was at the institution taking courses either undergraduate, graduate, and we paid the tuition." I then formed a staff and we sent instructions out to the foreign countries before people could leave



the country to come here for study, they had to send in certain information. We had to know who was coming, what their backgrounds were, the assignments that they were being trained for and how long they were to be here so that by the time they arrived, we had a draft program agenda. We then sat down face-to-face with them, and determined their training and program. On this basis we began to get training programs, coordinated and tailored to the needs of the country and we got the cooperation of the institutions.

TAYLOR: Was this approach in turn reversed when the TCA began to send people to underdeveloped areas?

ENSMINGER: To a certain extent.

TAYLOR: Margaret Meade made some studies in this



particular period for the U.S. Government in regard to the cultural differences between developed and underdeveloped areas. Did these reports ever reach you and, if so, were they used?

ENSMINGER: I knew Margaret Meade personally and was aware of her efforts. I was always fortunate during my period in Washington working with people who understood culture, for example, Howard Tolley, one of the top agriculture economists, M. L. Wilson, Carl Taylor, Stanley Andrews all were very savvy people in terms of other cultures.

TAYLOR: In the USDA, and more specifically in OFAR, was there any consideration of political objectives in terms of long-range goals in economic development and technical assistance programs? Was there any kind of a unifying goal that could be



identified in this particular period, 1948 through '52?

ENSMINGER: I don't think so. I think at that particular period the orientation was pretty heavily humanitarian. I think it was then simply recognizing these countries had come into being. They had great poverty and the leaders had great commitments to improve the living conditions of the poor people. I have thought about this a great deal but I never detected that there was any great design. I think if you look at Truman's background he just felt that we needed to offer to help these people succeed.

TAYLOR: In this period was there any concern about the long-range plans that were being formulated for economic development, in particular effecting population growth, or did we look beyond the



immediate problems that we perceived, that perhaps in solving these problems we might create additional problems?

ENSMINGER: I didn't sense any discussion on population until I went to India in '51, and it's interesting to me since I did have a continuous dialogue with people in India on it, and interestingly enough it was in the middle fifties that I saw an opportunity to help India create a non-government institute on population and family planning. At that time the government of India was in a position to consider it, and send back a proposal to the Ford Foundation. They ducked it. They have been the ones since then who are so strong for everybody to do something about population, but they weren't ready then, nobody was ready on this side at that point to deal with this



question of population.

TAYLOR: Well, it seems like in '39 through '52 that one should have realized that increased aid, and better living standards was going to decrease the mortality rate, and in some proportion brought this population question to the forefront.

ENSMINGER: We had at the time of Truman's announcement of the Point IV program just coming to the end of our major role in the ERP: a program of money because they had institutions, they had the know-how, and our basic concern was to get them back on their feet for international trade.

Okay, when we looked then over at the developing countries I would say there were very few people who really understood at that particular moment what the implications were, because the people who began to come in on



Point IV were the people in the ERP. It took us a long time to really understand the gut issues.

TAYLOR: Wasn't some of this problem compounded by the developing countries expecting aid on the level of the ERP?

ENSMINGER: Yes, many of them felt that we were being stingy in contrast with what they knew we spent in ERP. I think that all of us might have faced up to these realities, and much earlier. They didn't have to face the gut issues, we weren't pressing them to face the gut issues.

TAYLOR: While you were in the USDA were you in contact at any time with the SERVICO program of the Institute for Inter-American Affairs in Latin America?



ENSMINGER: I was very close to them. In fact, I was in the process of being employed by them to be in charge of their agricultural program for Latin America in 1951. The only reason that I didn't join them is that the Ford Foundation hired me a week before I was to transfer over there, so I know a great deal about them.

TAYLOR: Explain their approach and its success or failure?

ENSMINGER: Well, their approach was very much like what had been developed in Taiwan. It was a joint approach. The SERVICO had a representative in a country and the local government designated a person and together they made the decisions. They were not down there in an advisory capacity, they were in a partnership capacity. It was quite different,



from Africa, Asia, and other areas.

TAYLOR: The State Department appears, on the face, to be a stumbling block on Point IV. Were you familiar with Willard Thorp, who was in charge of the Point IV program? Bob Lovett, Acting Secretary of State had turned down Hardy's memorandum several times. From your view, what was the thinking in the State Department that just absolutely would not let them grasp this concept?

ENSMINGER: Well, I think that one has to answer this with a sympathetic understanding that State Department traditionally was political oriented, not development oriented. And I don't think that the State Department, then nor now, has shown great understanding in terms of the differences in cultures.

TAYLOR: I'm assuming that your saying in terms of



priorities in foreign policy, that in this period the Third World just received a low priority.

ENSMINGER: That's right. And, the interesting thing is that's still true. We didn't have any great difficulty giving the kind of money appropriated for the ERP because that was our first priority in terms of the world, and if you wanted to really find out how slow we are in terms of recognizing the existence of the rest of the world.

TAYLOR: Was there any consideration of expanding this type of program in the underdeveloped areas of the Third World?

ENSMINGER: Well, there was some discussion, but I can tell you why it never did. You can't imagine how deep were the scars of colonialism in



these countries emerging from the colonial era until you got inside one of them. India would have been in trouble politically if Nehru would have developed a cooperative program with a country like the United States, a major power, where we were participating openly in policy and program decisions. He just couldn't have accepted it.

TAYLOR: Well, how were we able to effect this in Latin America then?

ENSMINGER: In Latin America you had pretty high percentage of dictators -- they weren't vulnerable to political opposition, it's quite a different political mix from other areas.

TAYLOR: In this period of when the ERP was passed, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Ford Foundation were actively engaged in economic development



Also OFAR was actively engaged in these types of programs. What was the major problem that the Agriculture Department did not get more input into, not only the Point IV program, but these other programs that were slowly evolving in this post-World War II period?

ENSMINGER: I was in the Office of Foreign Agricultural Services at that particular time. And it's interesting to me that the early implementation of the universities' involvement that Hanna offered to the Point IV program, Agriculture handled. Actually I participated in drawing up the first cooperative agreement between the universities in this country and the universities in Latin America.

Very early there developed a conflict between Agriculture and the Point IV office in terms of who was in charge.



TAYLOR: Anybody in particular involved in this controversy?

ENSMINGER: No, it was just normal bureaucracy.

TAYLOR: Was it at the Secretary level, or was it at the department level?

ENSMINGER: It was at the top in foreign aid. At that particular time Point IV aid was also struggling for a position of prestige, power, and influence. In the Agriculture Department, we had a very aggressive fellow in the office of Foreign Agricultural Relations, Denny Moore. He pulled for this program over in Agriculture, but it's the old story of those who control the money, more frequently than not, if there's any question who's going to follow the tune, they call it.

TAYLOR: Did Truman or Acheson either one ever intervene



on behalf of Point IV?

ENSMINGER: I don't think so, I think this was just a strictly bureaucratic struggle and AID [Agency for International Development] won.

TAYLOR: How did OFAR react to the Rockefeller Foundation and the Ford Foundation's efforts in terms of private enterprise and private capital in the direction of American foreign aid in this very early crucial period?

ENSMINGER: So far as I could determine then, highly supportive, because they weren't a threat in any way to the Department of Agriculture.

TAYLOR: Was there any transmitting of knowledge back and forth, if the Ford Foundation was going to do such and such in India, was the Agriculture Department aware of it?



ENSMINGER: Interestingly enough in that particular period we carried out cooperative projects to the advantage of everybody. The Ford Foundation for example preceded Point IV aid in India, and we were engaged in providing funds for what turned out to be ten pilot bloc development projects and five training centers to train people to fill these.

When Point IV came along, Chester Bowles was the Ambassador and he wanted to be sure that continued funding was available for India, and he wanted AID to participate in what Nehru considered his priority program -- rural development.

It didn't make any sense to me for the Ford Foundation to say, "You guys stay out of this." They had money and wanted to participate. I worked out an arrangement with the two governments -- where this was a cooperative



effort, and AID provided people with county agent background who went into these ten blocs and they provided people from extension and vocational agriculture to go into these training centers.

This approach was rejected, and at that time, we didn't have the bureaucracy we have now. I made clear to everybody that these were not the Ford Foundation's projects, these were the Government of India's and so there was a great deal of cooperation.

TAYLOR: Would you care to comment on the transition when the State Department began the Agency for International Development?

ENSMINGER: When we moved away from the earlier Point IV program formation, priorities were more country determined. When AID came along and began to build a big structure, Washington



increasingly said these are our priorities.

TAYLOR: Now when you say "Washington," you mean the State Department?

ENSMINGER: State Department and AID said these are our priorities, and this is where we'll put our money.

TAYLOR: What were those priorities?

ENSMINGER: They moved the approach into the big development projects. That's when foreign aid began to move into the philosophy of economic growth measured by GNP, on the theory that the big projects would create a base for increasing employment opportunities by generating wealth, and the effects of this would trickle down to the poor.

TAYLOR: Was this decision by country or area?



ENSMINGER: It was all over.

TAYLOR: Was there any continents or geographical areas that were excluded?

ENSMINGER: Not that I know of.

TAYLOR: Just randomly by political objectives?

ENSMINGER: Yes. To me it was a real tragedy because in the process by which funds were appropriated on a year by year basis, and many times appropriations never being made until you are half through the year, it was always to me a rather crude process by which programs were imposed upon countries. And I was embarrassed by seeing my own government in a