Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened March, 1982
Oral History Interview with
June 21, 1971
by Richard D. McKinzie and Theodore A. Wilson
WILSON: We are particularly interested in the origins of foreign aid. One of the things that has concerned us is that the documentation coming out of the war suggests that there were differing views about just what position American agriculture would be in after the war. I wonder if you have anything to say about that?
MCKINZIE: If I might clarify that a little bit, there was, of course, the problem of going from a period of restricted production to full production, and then there was the question of what would happen
to all of that agricultural surplus. Presumably, there would be a surplus at the end of the war. What kind of plans -- contingency plans -- were being made? Everybody was making plans during the war for what would happen afterwards. I understand that you had something to do with those, at least with internal discussions.
FITZGERALD: Well, there was extensive difference of opinion as to what the situation would be after the end of the war. A good deal of that opinion, it seemed to me, was reasoned from analogy with what happened after the First World War. Very shortly after the war ended, surplus supplies appeared, and agricultural prices tended to decline very quickly and drastically. There were quite a few people who thought that this was likely also to be a consequence after the end of World War II.
Actually, I wasn't really mixed up in this contingency planning very much over at the Department of Agriculture, because at the time I was
too busy allocating "shortages." I was the head of the Office of Requirements and Allocations at the time, and our principal concern during the war was how to get by, how to distribute supplies that seemed to be inadequate, how to distribute them effectively and fairly between various claimants. This included, as the war ended, overseas claimants -- first the Allies, and then the world in general.
But there was this serious concern. I would guess probably that those who felt there was going to be an early return to surpluses were in the majority. The tendency, as a consequence, was to develop plans looking toward that probability. That approach failed, it seems to me, to fully recognize the difference between situations at the end of World War II as compared to World War I. As you know, it was several years after the end of World War II before production began to catch up with the current demands for major food commodities.
In 1946 and '47 -- this would have been in '45 too -- there was more concern about the inability to get supplies than there was about anything else.
MCKINZIE: We're particularly interested in the assessment that various agencies in the Government had of Europe after the war, namely the extent of deprivation. There were all sorts of ideas about how long it would take Europe to revive. There's a lot of information about industrial destruction and so on, but there's very little in the public record about what was thought about European food production. Could you enlighten us a little on that?
WILSON: We know about the Hoover trip, of course, but…
FITZGERALD: The Hoover trip, it seems to me, was primarily a public relations job on all fronts, and I think a thoughtful one. I wouldn't disparage it in any way. It seemed to me that it had two major consequences. First of all, it
was an effort to get the American public to perhaps eat a little less, not to kind of relax and say, "Well now, the war's over; now we can go ahead." It was to encourage them to accept some further rationing for awhile. That's on the one hand. On the other hand, I think it was a legitimate effort to try to get friend and foe alike to feel that we had a comprehensive concern about nutritional and other economic situations, alike. And I think that for those two purposes, it probably ended up pretty well.
Food, or agricultural, production is usually considered as something quite a bit different from industrial production. I would say that the consensus was, that given time enough to overcome the shortfall in inputs that occurred during the war, that agriculture would recover fully. European agriculture relies more heavily than American agriculture on fertilizer. It got shortchanged during the war, obviously, because there were more important things to do with
nitrogen than put it on land. There was, of course, an accumulative deficiency, also, in maintenance on the farm. There was some destruction and reduction in capital stock. But I don't think anybody felt that it would take as long for European agriculture to recover as it would for European industry. One of the higher priorities was to provide inputs that could overcome these accumulated deficiencies of the war years, as fast as possible.
There was some feeling that European agriculture was antiquated in many respects. It hadn't been mechanized to the extent that American agriculture had. The farm unit generally seemed to be pretty inefficient because of the smallness of its size. In the Marshall plan days we provided some technical assistance in an effort to overcome these sorts of drawbacks and expand agricultural production in Europe. France, particularly, was worried quite a little bit about its system of inheritance in which the
farms got smaller, and smaller, and smaller. And we worried about a lot of others, too.
One instance which was humorous, but not certainly at the time, was that one of the technicians that we had sent to Italy was a cornpicker from Iowa. He was there to encourage them to grow corn for feed. We thought it was a good idea to send someone over there to show them how to pick the darn stuff, which he did, and successfully. We were amazed at the way they thought...
FITZGERALD: I don't think they ever got around to doing much of it themselves, but...
MCKINZIE: Did the disruption of East-West trade, which occurred almost immediately after the war, give much concern to the Department of Agriculture about distribution of agricultural products? There had been a kind of traditional flow of a lot of products from East to West mostly, I guess. Do you recall that being of a significant nature?
FITZGERALD: I don't recall this being a significant concern. There were some concerns, I'm sure, although I don't remember any specific details. Some thought that if the traditional flow of agricultural commodities out of the East, Eastern Europe, even the Far East, were curtailed, or reduced, this would effect the requirements for American agricultural products. Nobody knew what was going to happen, so you couldn't really plan on it very much. You kind of held your breath and wondered whether...
WILSON: You were, I assume, involved in this requirements and allocations work in providing lend-lease food and supplies also.
WILSON: The information we have is at least in '45, up to the day that lend-lease was cut off, Agriculture was really pushing through lend-lease food requirements to the Russians, and also to the British. What sort of information were you
getting about planning, or the contemplated use, of lend-lease?
FITZGERALD: Very little, very little. This was one of the problems that I know specifically coming up. I think it was shortly after the end of the war that the Russians came in and wanted 80 million pounds of lard. I still remember the figure. They just rushed in and said, "We need it. Furnish it."
Well, at that time fat supplies were tight in this country; there was rationing and other complaints of consumers. But I figured if I was going to approve an 80 million pound allocation to the Russians at that time I needed some kind of a justification or rationalization. It would have been easy to stick some statistics together, because they were in bad shape, no question about it, but the Russians didn't give a damn. They just said, "Our Government says we need it. We wouldn't ask for it if we didn't need it, and we don't have to justify that."
So I said, "Okay, gentlemen, you don't get it." And they didn't get it.
Now, this was after the end of the war. The Russians were beginning to become troublesome. We could see the light. Issues were brought up. If it had been earlier and fighting was still going on, I think we would have said, "Okay." I said "No," and I wasn't overruled by anybody. They didn't get it. And it was purely because I just felt I had to have something there for the American public, to explain to them why there would have to be more rationing.
MCKINZIE: This Russian attitude on lard was pretty much the same as their attitude on other products, as well, isn't that right?
FITZGERALD: Yes. I just happened to have that experience with them on the lard deal.
WILSON: Then, in 1946 you were moved to become Secretary
General of the International Emergency Food Council. How did that come about?
FITZGERALD: Well, during the war substantially all the supplies, food supplies and such, were under the control of the Combined Food Board, which consisted of Canada, Great Britain, and the United States. After the war, other countries became concerned that this little "monopoly" was inappropriate to the new circumstances. They felt that if they were in deficit, they should have more of an entree into the decision-making process. The few countries that were suppliers, Australia, for example, felt it might be nice if they would have a little more say as to where they thought the supplies should go.
So, the decision was made at a Combined Food Board meeting to expand and reorganize the Combined Food Board into the International Emergency Food Council. As I remember it -- the records are somewhere and I'm sure you could get them -- there was a great big meeting over the
question. I think FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) sponsored it. It was a two or three day meeting. The decision by the convention was to establish this committee which eventually got up to around thirty or thirty-five member countries.
Now, the Council had no police authority. All it could do was to recommend how supplier countries distribute their commodities. All things considered, compliance wasn't too bad. The Canadians, who were a big supplier of wheat particularly, had their own bilateral agreements and their own preferred customers. They were looking for the long pull, but marginally they'd shift supplies around. We got pretty good cooperation from some of the rice-producing countries. By and large, what happened was that the other countries kind of came in with the distribution they would like to make. We'd argue about that a bit, and then the Americans would fill in the big gaps.
MCKINZIE: Was this the case in the winter of '47 and '48 when Europe got itself into terrible trouble with that drought and...
FITZGERALD: I don't think they did it deliberately. As a matter of fact, supplies got pretty damn short. We had to provide France, for example, with corn as a substitute for wheat in their cereal food. The French didn't know how to make corn bread, I'll tell you that, and so they handled corn like they did wheat flour. They made some of the darndest bread. I didn't mind it. I thought it wasn't bad. They really thought it was terrible, and it wasn't very good.
WILSON: We should say that one reason that we're interested in doing this sort of interview is that we can't see the material dealing with the international relations, international involvement of the Department of Agriculture, because the State Department controls access to them.
FITZGERALD: I see.
WILSON: The State Department has its own rules about that.
FITZGERALD: Well, the files of the International Emergency Food Council aren't classified.
WILSON: They're not classified, but the State Department has a policy for a period, called the "closed period," and you know, the Department of State puts out this Foreign Relations series, and they tie opening all materials, classified or unclassified, into this. As a matter of fact, Dick was once working in the Department of Agriculture files. They just somehow decided that OFAR (Office of Foreign Agricultural Relations) -- this had gone back and forth as you well know, from State to Agriculture -- was controlled by State.
What relations did you have with UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) in this early period when you were in the International Emergency Council?
FITZGERALD: Well, UNRRA was a claimant. A Canadian -- his name may come to me -- was their spokesman. They would come in with what the Council generally thought were pretty excessive quantities; they'd get cut back pretty heavily, and he wasn't very happy.
They had their problems, too, because a lot of the claimants were Eastern Europe and they were having the same trouble getting any justification as I previously had with the Russians. And, you know, communications were in terrible shape. It reminds me of the old saying, "Figures don't lie, but a hell of a lot of liars can figure." They weren't intentionally liars, but you know a statistic has a kind of an aura of respectability that a non-statistic doesn't have.
In other words, there always was and still is constant pressure to get the statistic, because somehow or other it is more meaningful. As time progressed, with the Russians becoming less cooperative, it became more and more difficult
for UNRRA to get much sympathy from the Council.
The way the Council worked was that we had a very small staff, a couple dozen people all told, I guess, including secretaries and cleaning women. We would get the information that we could from the claimants. They would have to make a submission, and we'd get the supply estimates from the suppliers and we'd try to balance, or allocate the deficit fairly. Then the recommendation of the staff would go to commodity committees. There was one on feed grains; there was one on wheat, and another one on rice, and one on fats and oils, and meats. At one time, we even had committees on some kinds of inputs; for example, the seeds committee and one for fertilizers.
WILSON: What about machinery; what about farm machinery?
FITZGERALD: We didn't get into farm machinery. I think the rule was, if I remember correctly, that any member of the council that had an interest
in a commodity had a representative on the commodity committee.
Of course, in the case of wheat you had as many representatives on that commodity committee as you had in the Council. The Council would sometimes make some changes in the staff recommendation, not often, but sometimes, and they'd be approved by the committee in the name of the Council and everybody would be notified what they were entitled to. The suppliers were notified what the Council thought the distribution should be. It was on a quarterly basis, so it kept the staff pretty busy. Let's see, why am I telling you this?
WILSON: We were asking about UNRRA.
FITZGERALD: Oh, yes. Only countries could be members of the Council, so UNRRA was not a member of the Council, but it was a claimant. We began to get stories -- I have no way of proving how accurate they were or how biased they were -- that the
distribution by UNRRA was pretty bad. A lot of times it wasn't UNRRA's fault either, I'll tell you that. Generally there was a tendency for UNRRA to get the short end of the stick.
WILSON: Yes. Did you consult with Tyler Wood very often about these matters? He was telling us the other day he was the State Department man in charge of...
FITZGERALD: Yes, but not a great deal. I knew Mr. Wood casually, but we didn't become friends until later when we were both in on the Marshall plan.
WILSON: Special Assistant, I think at this time, under [William] Clayton. And he was the U.S. alternate delegate to the UNRRA Council.
FITZGERALD: Yes, that's what it was.
MCKINZIE: After UNRRA folded up and agriculture got in a little better shape, you then moved to OFAR in the Department of Agriculture.
FITZGERALD: Yes, but that's a long story, too.
MCKINZIE: We’d like to hear it.
FITZGERALD: Well, maybe it isn't a very long story. The International Emergency Food Council had a council meeting once a year usually, but sometimes more frequently. I think it was in the 1947 council meeting that the Council's executive committee concluded that the worst of the food emergency was over.
I made a statement to that effect one day, and the Chicago wheat market dropped 12¢ the next day. I raised the question with the Council, "Now, look, I'm going to wind this thing up as fast as possible, because there's just no sense doing this and going through all the motions if it isn't necessary. I'd consider that within the next 12 to 18 months the supply situation would be such that the necessity for allocating shortages would disappear." I said, "The only other excuse for this Council continuing in existence is if you
want to start dealing with surpluses." There was quite a long debate about it and some people said yes, but there was no real enthusiasm for it.
I didn't press it. I just said, "Okay, I don't believe there's sufficient consensus to warrant the Council currently concerning itself with surpluses. I'm just going to wind up the Council, as necessary, and do it as rapidly as I can."
And I started lopping off committees. I closed off the seeds committee, and I got the number of active committees down to three or four, something like that. They were getting ready to wind up in another quarter or two.
Well, it was in '48 that I was asked to come back and head up OFAR. I agreed to leave the Council; turn it over to my deputy because it was about finished, and return to OFAR. About that time Paul Hoffman called me and said he had been talking to Herbert Hoover and Joe
Davis, whom I had known in the Department of Agriculture. He had been in St. Louis with the Reserve bank there. He had recommended that Hoffman get ahold of me to head up the agricultural work in ECA (Economic Cooperation Administration).
So I carried on both jobs for about three months; I found out that just didn't work; it was just too much of a load. I couldn't do justice to either of them, and so I resigned from the OFAR job in favor of heading up the agricultural work of the Marshall plan, ECA. So, my tour of duty in OFAR was about half days for three months.
MCKINZIE: Yes, I see.
WILSON: We are very interested in your work in the Marshall plan. But how would you assess the Agriculture Department's support in this earlier period, when you were Secretary General, for international agricultural problems? And comment perhaps on Secretary Anderson's role and the Department's interest in these issues.
MCKINZIE: I'm sure it was Agriculture becoming more political.
WILSON: Or more concerned about domestic matters which is another way.
FITZGERALD: I think it would be fair to say that in those days Agriculture's concern was primarily domestic. By 1948 surpluses were becoming more evident and were of increasing concern to the USDA. It seems to me inevitable that it would become more concerned in the sense that the problem was becoming more difficult; surplus supplies were becoming more apparent. In this sense of the word they were more concerned, yes.
As the domestic supply became larger, the USDA began to be more selective in where they marketed, and gave preference to those markets which they thought would be the continuing ones. They focused quite a bit of interest on the Japanese, for example; but I wouldn't consider that their interest was unreasonable or excessive. That's their business.
WILSON: What are we to make of this series of efforts after OPA, from the Famine Emergency Committee going down through that short-lived Citizen's Food Committee under Charles Luckman? Agriculture took perhaps the most hard-nosed attitude towards the activities of those committees. Were they really PR efforts or...
WILSON: Yes. And a lot of work, a lot of PR work was done...
FITZGERALD: Oh, yes, there was a lot of it done. In my opinion it was wholly a PR thing. One could, I guess, put it in the same category as Mr. Hoover's trip.
WILSON: Was it public relations work in its own right? That is, did the administration, or anybody in the administration, believe that by bringing in Madison Avenue, Charles Luckman could persuade the American people to eat less, and meatless Tuesdays, or was it…
WILSON: Well, no, I would think...
FITZGERALD: I don't know whether they were very successful, or not; that is another matter. And I'm sure Truman felt sincere in getting Mr. Hoover to make this trip and send back reports on conditions as he found them. Hover was known; one of his reputations, aside from presiding over the worst depression of the country, was that he was a very great humanitarian. His reputation as a feeder of the hungry after World War I had become legendary.
WILSON: Maybe we're being too subtle in our approach to this Citizen's Food Committee interest as a phenomenon, but we are wondering whether there was another motive, that of dramatizing the need for food as a way for preparing the American public for such larger efforts as the Marshall plan. It comes in that period. Think there's anything to that?
WILSON: It's all a day-to-day sort of thing.
FITZGERALD: I don't know who sold President Truman on this Luckman thing.
WILSON: We haven't either.
FITZGERALD: But I think somebody sold him on it. I think Truman was one of our better Presidents, frankly. He had to make some major decisions and he made them, and got by. By and large he was mostly right. I'm very fond of Harry in that sense. He was an impressionable fellow, you know. Someone would come in with an idea, you know, and he wouldn't think too much about...
WILSON: The sort of League of Women Voters approach, that all of the letters we've gotten said, "Well, we don't need any of this; you try again with OPA," or "Let's really have rationing." "It's the time; this is the summer, fall of '47; it's a time that the American people are willing to sacrifice and let’s demand that they sacrifice." That apparently was never considered?
FITZGERALD: I suppose it was; I wasn't in on this, because I was over in the international arena at that time. I suppose it was, but my impression is that really nobody did it.
MCKINZIE: If I might shift a little bit here, at the time that American agriculture began to worry about its surpluses again, and some other countries were beginning to worry about surpluses, one of OFAR's major duties was to increase production, making, at least theoretically, the surplus worse. Of course, ECA gave considerable amount of attention to increased production. Who had to grapple with that problem, of increased American surpluses and at the same time increased food production everywhere else? Was that a policy matter for the Secretary?
FITZGERALD: Oh, yes, this has always been a major issue in American foreign policy. Somewhere -- maybe it's still classified -- there should be a lot of stuff in the files about trying to deal with this problem. The Department of Agriculture was always
in the position of discouraging production overseas if it would compete with American production. This is par for the course. What else could they do? So you always kind of had to carry water on both shoulders. I got a lot of this when I was in the foreign aid program. All of twenty years we wrestled with this problem. It got mixed up in international affairs; FAO, for example, has to hassle with this all the time and they've got papers and books and things on it. It's always been, and probably always will be, a difficult issue.
In the foreign aid program we've had to be somewhat more careful, or develop a more convincing argument for putting in substantial Marshall plan resources for agricultural expansion overseas, because of the concern. We'd get up on the Hill, and Congress would jump on you all spraddled out; the Agriculture Committee would take a swing at you. Well, this is just standard operating procedure in America; that's all.
WILSON: Yes. And the tobacco question, for example, that one was. Could we ask you why you decided to go with the ECA, in terms of your career and also in terms of what you thought would be accomplished?
FITZGERALD: Well, you know, a fellow's reason for doing things sometimes aren't always very clear. I thought it offered more challenge. I'd been on this trip with Hoover. I'd been overseas before, but I'd never had quite the exposure that I had on this trip. I felt there was a lot to do, a lot that could be done. I also felt that since I'd worked in the Department of Agriculture, people knew me and had some confidence in my judgment. I might be a leavening influence on the Department of Agriculture, more of a leavening influence on the Department, than anyone else might be. You'd have to ask other people whether this was the case or not, but I certainly think it's fair to say that in the council meetings of the International Emergency Food Council, the
fact that I was Secretary General -- I had been personally nominated by Secretary Anderson -- had effect. The Department knew that if I felt that the matter was sufficiently serious, I could go to the Secretary and get a hearing. That made the Department of Agriculture more cooperative, let me put that way, with the Emergency Food Council than might otherwise have been the case. And I would suspect that this was true when I was in ECA.
WILSON: That was an independent agency. How much clout did it swing at this early...
FITZGERALD: Oh, it swung a hell of a lot.
MCKINZIE: Where did Agriculture fit within ECA? You know, there's a huge emphasis on industrial redevelopment. Did you feel that you had your share of the pie there?
FITZGERALD: Well, I spent most of the money for the first couple of years. The biggest volume of
procurement by ECA in its first year was agricultural products. No, I did not have any difficulty at all. But the shipment of agricultural products, food products, to Western Europe had a lot of good secondary effects, besides feeding people. It was a very quick and easy way of generating local currency. It was anti-inflationary, and this was a hell of a big argument on this tobacco thing -- it provided an awful lot of revenue, a non-inflationary revenue source, for these governments. Even I felt sometimes that some countries were asking for too much agricultural commodities, because of the advantages they had in this respect. So, no, I never had any fights over how much funds would be available out of the total for agriculture. The only fights I ever had was where I would get it from.
We got into a hell of a railroad jam in the U.S. one spring. The British needed a slug of wheat. Well, they had been getting it from us under the Marshall plan. But this time I decided
that we really couldn't get the wheat to port, so I gave them an order to buy in Canada. Everybody jumped at me all spraddled out about that one.
There was the same problem, you know, on cotton and wheat. There was quite a little bit of complaint from other suppliers on the one hand if we bought in the U.S. and from U.S. agricultural interests if we bought from other suppliers.
WILSON: You had to deal with a number of other agencies to coordinate both getting the supplies and getting them to ports. Remember this whole business of, what was his name, Captain Conway...
FITZGERALD: Yes, Captain Conway and I worked very closely together on that, the early work.
WILSON: ...the coordination on a personal basis. We've heard this from a number of people. Records would suggest that there were all sorts of hassles about this or that between agencies, but other people have told us that it is a matter of coordination among men, of personal sorts of
relations that sort of work things out. Was that your experience also?
FITZGERALD: I think this is just inevitable. Committees are wonderful things, but they don't get much done.
FITZGERALD: Well, there's an old saying -- I don't know whether it's an old saying or whether it's something that I've thought up on that -- "the best committee in the world is a committee of three with two absent."
WILSON: Did you make use of OFAR people for your data gathering or consulting work?
FITZGERALD: Yes, we relied exclusively on the existing departments of Government for the fact gathering. I mean, I never sent out any special questionnaires, never did put out statements, never appointed any persons overseas to report situations and so on. I relied on the Department of Agriculture's Foreign Service, on agricultural officers for their
periodic reports. I relied on State for its regular flow of information from its Embassies abroad.
MCKINZIE: You've been talking a great deal now about procurement and commodity supplies. There was a phase of technical assistance in this agricultural program wasn't there, the extension of experts to areas where it was needed? Presumably this was mostly not in Europe, but later on in the Far East.
FITZGERALD: Well, there are some in Europe; I've mentioned the cornpicker.
MCKINZIE: We tend sometimes, I think, to get all unglued about the duplication of activities. In 1951 Congress passed the Point IV progr