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Mark F. Ethridge Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Mark F. Ethridge

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.

Moncure, North Carolina
June 4, 1974
by Richard D. McKinzie

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


Notice
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.

RESTRICTIONS
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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
Mark F. Ethridge

Moncure, North Carolina
June 4, 1974
by Richard D. McKinzie

[1]

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

[2]

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 President.

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

[3]

to give."

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.

ETHRIDGE: Yes.

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 interested

[4]

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.

[5]

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 representing

[6]

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 job.

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.

[7]

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

[8]

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 the right?

ETHRIDGE: No, they followed me. They attached a young lieutenant to me as aide, so they said.

[9]

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?

[10]

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

[11]

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

[12]

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,

[13]

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

[14]

the Mideast. That argument was made to me several times. Yes, this was