Oral History Interview with
Visited the Balkans to study the postwar situation for the U.S. Dept. of State, 1945; U.S. delegate to the U.N. Commission of Investigation to study the Greek border disputes, 1947; a U.S. representative on the U.N. Conciliation Commission for Palestine, 1949; and chairman of the U.S. Advisory Commission on Information, 1948-50.
Mark F. Ethridge
Moncure, North Carolina
June 4, 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 January, 1976
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
Moncure, North Carolina
Mark F. Ethridge
June 4, 1974
by Richard D. McKinzie
MCKINZIE: Mr. Ethridge, I noticed that you had a great deal of affiliation
with the [Franklin D.] Roosevelt administration.
ETHRIDGE: Yes, I did.
MCKINZIE: Presumably through your work as a newspaperman. Is that right?
ETHRIDGE: Yes, and then Roosevelt came to Warm Springs, Georgia when
I was editor of the Macon Telegraph of Macon, Georgia. I got
to know him down there. Then, the Telegraph had
a reputation as a liberal paper and when Roosevelt went in he grabbed
me for a farm tenancy commission first, and then I did fair employment
practice for him during the war and I did a radio study for him.
MCKINZIE: I notice that in some of the writings about you, you are alleged
to have anticipated much of the New Deal; that you proposed some things
which, in fact, later was translated into action when Roosevelt became
ETHRIDGE: Yes, I did. I thought it was inevitable you had to have a New
Deal or something, something had to give. Roosevelt picked up from something
I wrote for one of his speeches, "too much wheat and not enough to
eat, too much cotton and not enough to wear." That phrase was from
something I'd written. And I made a speech, "Capitalism on the Defensive"
in 1931, before the New Deal, which said, "something had
MCKINZIE: You seem to have played a role of arbitrator in a lot of things
during the 1930s for Roosevelt. Was there any particular reason for that?
I noticed that you were involved in that business with the National Association
of Broadcasters and the FCC as a kind of arbitrator.
MCKINZIE: And the work you did for the FEPC was in the nature of arbitration?
ETHRIDGE: The National Association of Broadcasters -- we had a selfish
interest in that. We had a 50,000 watt station and when the musicians
pulled a strike somebody had to get into it, and I got into it and got
hooked as chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters. Then I
was elected unpaid president in 1938 for several months, and then they
selected a paid president and I went into the background. I never was
primarily in radio; we had a station and I had to get interested.
MCKINZIE: I noticed during the war that you were an advisor to the Office
of War Information. I wonder if I could get you to talk a little bit about
that, about the philosophy of the Office of War Information? Did that
seem to present any kind of a problem in your mind about preserving free
information? It is in a sense a domestic propaganda agency.
ETHRIDGE: No, I never was very active in that. As a matter of fact, those
were honorary titles. Elmer Davis was head of it and I think his philosophy
was to let out everything that could possibly be let out. He didn't take
as narrow a view of national security as [Richard M.] Nixon does. His
was a broad view, and I think most newspaper people subscribe to the way
he ran it.
MCKINZIE: Certainly you did?
ETHRIDGE: Yes, yes.
MCKINZIE: The reason I'm asking you about that is I'm trying to lead
you into how you happened to have your first contacts with the Truman
administration after Mr. Roosevelt's death.
ETHRIDGE: I'll tell you how I think it came about. The contact was really
with [James F.] Byrnes. I didn't know Byrnes except as anybody knew him.
I knew him as a newspaperman around Washington; but he called me and asked
me to come to Washington and I went. This was after the London conference
of October 1945 broke down, and there had been bitter exchange between
Molotov and Bevin in that conference, and he said that the break was complete
and we were further away from the Russians than we had ever been. One
of the charges that Molotov made was that the military and civilian people
us abroad were lying to Byrnes about the extent of Russian domination
of the situation. They were in charge in Eastern Europe and I think that
the Russians claimed that Byrnes wasn't getting correct information about
it and he wanted somebody to do a reportorial job first, a reportorial
MCKINZIE: That would explain then why he had called you.
ETHRIDGE: Yes. I found out from other people that a fellow named Brown
from Spartanburg, which is Jimmy Byrnes' hometown, had recommended me,
and Turner Catledge of the New York Times had seconded it for
me to do a reportorial job. So my contact wasn't with Truman except I
went to the White House as a matter of courtesy before I went on this
mission. That's the only contact I had, and at that time, I don't know
whether you remember it or not, but Byrnes fancied himself President.
MCKINZIE: He was in the process of getting himself in deep trouble just
then, I think.
ETHRIDGE: Yes, and in one of Truman's books he talks about Byrnes not
giving him my reports.
MCKINZIE: That's true. It's in Truman's memoirs that he mentions this.
When Byrnes called you to Washington and said he wanted a reportorial
job did he give you lots of briefings? Did you have access to the Balkan
situation or were you pretty well up on Balkan affairs at this point?
ETHRIDGE: Well, I was pretty well up for a newspaperman, but he didn't
give me a lot of briefing on it. I was to go to Bulgaria and Rumania,
which were in Communist hands, and I interviewed in Bulgaria everybody
from the extreme right, that is the regent to the King, to the extreme
left. I interviewed, oh, I've forgotten how many, more than a hundred
people, and cabled reports everyday
to the State Department. So they got a great volume of report.
MCKINZIE: Did you have a good deal of help?
ETHRIDGE: No, I had one college professor, Si [Cyril Edwin] Black, who
is now professor of Russian history at Princeton. His mother was a Bulgarian,
and he had been working in the State Department. I don't know whether
on the Bulgarian desk or not, but they attached him to me and I was glad
to have him; and when I went on another mission I asked for him. So, that's
how close we were.
MCKINZIE: Did you feel that you had complete access to all those people
when you got there? Did you ever feel that somebody was trying to keep
you from seeing this person or that person, particularly the people on
ETHRIDGE: No, they followed me. They attached a young lieutenant to me
as aide, so they said.
MCKINZIE: Russian or Bulgarian?
ETHRIDGE: Bulgarian. But he was supposed to spy on me, and after I left,
because he hadn't, they put him in jail. I've seen him since then, and
I hear from him every Christmas. His father went to the University of
Pennsylvania, so he has that American connection and they said that's
the reason they attached him to me, because he had had American connections.
But he was supposed to spy on me. He accompanied me on trips that I made
outside of Sofia; he was very scrupulous. He would say, "I have to
go across town to get gasoline," and that meant I was free to talk
to anybody without surveillance; and I did talk to people without surveillance
and because he wasn't diligent enough about reporting on whom I talked
to, they put him in jail after I left.
MCKINZIE: You talked, I take it, to Maynard Barnes?
ETHRIDGE: Oh, yes, yes.
MCKINZIE: Evidently he was in some kind of trouble within the State Department
for some of his reports. I've seen evidence that maybe some people thought
he was reporting the situation too harshly back to the State Department.
ETHRIDGE: That was what the Russians had claimed. The Russians had claimed
that, but I found that far from exaggerating or overstating the case they
were understating it. The Russians were just ignoring us. We were a joint
occupying power. Theoretically the British, the Russians, and we were
the occupying power. They didn't pay any attention to us at all. Maynard
Barnes got worked up about it, yes; but he was reporting the truth.
MCKINZIE: How long were you there before you began to form some impressions
that those elections they were supposed to hold weren't going to be
very democratic? Was it just sort of immediately apparent or did it take
a while to figure it out?
ETHRIDGE: Yes, within a couple of weeks. They had no intention of holding
any elections. The Rumanians did hold an election I believe. A Rumanian
colonel saw me off when I flew from Sofia to Moscow, and he told me that
morning -- about 5 o'clock I flew -- he told me that morning how the Rumanian
election had come out. Well, the election wasn't held until that day.
He told me 24 hours in advance how the election came out, 99.4 percent.
I pointed it out to him. They knew it was stacked.
MCKINZIE: You said you filed some reports to the State Department everyday,
but did you have any awareness that Secretary Byrnes was getting those
reports as you were doing them?
ETHRIDGE: No, I couldn't swear to it. Every now
and then I wrote one "For Eyes of Byrnes." I did that later
on in the Palestine commission, for the Secretary's eyes. But most of
what I filed were routine interrogation of people. I'm sure the Secretary
got my conclusions. I wrote conclusions from time to time and I'm sure
he got those. But Byrnes, his background came out; he was a compromiser
in the Senate and he thought he could compromise with the Russians on
anything, and he was inclined to discount the harshness, say of Barnes,
or the factual reports of [Burton Yost] Berry or General [Cortlandt Van
R.] Schuyler who later became NATO commander. General Schuyler was in
Rumania at the time. Byrnes felt, I'm sure, that he could compromise with
"Uncle Joe "and my own feeling was he didn't take seriously
enough the situation.
MCKINZIE: This must have been rather disillusioning to you, with a reputation
of liberal thought and some commitment to integration of lots of things
in the world as far as that was possible,
and yet here this was just after victory and to go and discover that it's
all falling apart. Were you depressed as a result of this?
ETHRIDGE: Yes, it was very depressing because I had been sympathetic
to Russia but their design was emerging at the time, that is, their pattern
of holding on to Eastern Europe. They were hell-bent on holding on to
Rumania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia. They didn't have Yugoslavia because
Tito didn't let them have it, but they tried to get it.
MCKINZIE: Did you ever hear a Russian argue that that course of action
was justified on grounds of their own national security?
ETHRIDGE: Yes, yes. And also on this ground. Several Russians argued
with me, that Britain was through, that Great Britain was through and
"why don't we divide up the world into spheres? You take this part,
we'll take that part." That came back in the Balkan commission later
and in the Palestine commission and
the Mideast. That argument was made to me several times. Yes, this was