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Dennis A. Fitzgerald Oral History Interview

 

Oral History Interview with
Dennis A. Fitzgerald

During the years of the Truman administration, was Director, Office of Requirements and Allocations and Special Economic Advisor to the War Food Administrator, 1945; Director, Office of Requirements and Allocations of the Production Marketing Administration, and special economic advisor to War Food Administrator, 1945; United States deputy member on the Combined Food Board, 1945; Director, Office of Foreign Agricultural Relations, 1948-49; Secretary-General, International Emergency Food Council, 1946-48; appointed chief food consultant to Herbert Hoover on President's World Food Mission, 1946, and to President's Economic Mission to Germany and Austria, 1947; special consultant to Secretary of War, visiting U.S. and English zones of Germany, 1947; Director, Food and Agriculture Division, Economic Cooperation Administration, 1948-51; Assistant Administrator, ECA, 1951-52; Associate Deputy Director, Mutual Security Agency, 1952; and, Deputy Director, Foreign Operations Administration, 1953.

Washington, D. C.
June 21, 1971
by Richard D. McKinzie and Theodore A. Wilson

[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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 March, 1982
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

 

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

 



Oral History Interview with
Dennis A. Fitzgerald

 

Washington, D. C.
June 21, 1971
by Richard D. McKinzie and Theodore A. Wilson

[1]

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

[2]

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

[3]

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.

[4]

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

[5]

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

[6]

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

[7]

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...

WILSON: Yes.

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?

[8]

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.

FITZGERALD: Yes.

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

[9]

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."

[10]

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.

WILSON: Right.

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

[11]

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

[12]

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.

[13]

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.

[14]

WILSON: The State Department has its own rules ab