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 sai