Oral History Interview with
British Ambassador to the United States, 1948-52.
Lord Oliver Franks
June 27, 1964
by Prof. David McLellan
[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.
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Oral History Interview with
Lord Oliver Franks
June 27, 1964
by Prof. David McLellan
Franks discussed the general character of the period from 1947 forward in general terms before lunch. He expressed the view that what was done during the 1947 1952 period set the pattern for the succeeding decade. Only now are the lines changing everywhere. A period within an era is coming to an end and a new period has begun. This new period is marked by the independent courses embarked upon by France, China, and many of the lesser members of both blocs. ( McLellan)
LORD OLIVER FRANKS: I first met Acheson in 1943 as a member of the British delegation to the
Atlantic City Conference. We next met at the Montreal Conference (? McL) in 194(?) ( McL). (Lord Franks was perhaps referring to the FAO Conference in Montreal in 1944, or less likely the Quebec Conference in 1943. P.C.B.)
I came over again in the fall of 1947 to explain and justify the Paris Conference Plan drawn up by the Europeans in response to the Marshall proposal. I then came over as ambassador in May, 1948. I saw a good deal of Dean socially during 1948. Within a year, Dean was in as Secretary of State.
During the summer of 1947 I was chairman of the Paris Conference charged with drawing up a unified economic plan for European recovery. From July to mid September we sat in Paris. I was also head of the British delegation. But the dual role explains my interest in getting to know all the delegations. I led over the delegations of all the standing committees, and we all had to tell one story, which we did.
PROF. DAVID MCLELLAN: What was the background to Bevin's prompt reaction to the Marshall Plan?
FRANKS: Based on a great many conversations with Bevin, I do not believe that he had any specific advanced warning. At the time, Bevin was worried about a great number of things. He was anxious about the incipient state of collapse on the continent; he was worried about the limited capacities of Great Britain to cope; and he was worried whether the United States was going to come in. He was living with the memory of America's fatal repudiation of Wilson in 1919.
He got the gist of Marshall's speech over BBC at breakfast. My God, he more or less reacted, the Secretary of State is saying these things about the Eastern Atlantic, what an occasion. Bevin grabbed it with both hands. He wasn't grabbing hold of it simply for
economic reasons or for anti-Russian reasons. He was grabbing hold of something which was the whole interest of the United States and of the rest of the world. Bevin suddenly saw a hand stretched across the water.
His total state of mind was receptive to the offer. Like a light shining out of nowhere in a dark night, you try to keep the switch from turning out. The chance suddenly opened up.
Of course there had been rumors and conjectures, but not the actual offer.
I met Herter in the Crillon Bar in late summer. We had a long talk. Then on the boat coming over to America, Herter got me to come and talk to the Congressmen more than once. They were like school sessions.
There was no profound integrationist sentiment associated with ERP in the summer or
fall of 1948(*He must have meant to say 1947, as that is when Herter was in Europe. P.C.B.). A gentle insistence emanated in the summer and fall of 1948 from the State Department: Was O.E.E.C. to last for the period of E.R.P. only, or was it a continuing body? To make it a continuing body, the United States was interested in continuing cooperation. But no specific view of a political set up in terms of which they (State) wanted it was ever expressed.
All that was asked for in '47 '48 was what Western Europe wanted, not just specific countries. General needs presented in Western European terms. The elements making for unity were there from the start.
My contacts at Paris in summer of '47 were with Will Clayton, Lew Douglas, and Jeff Caffery. The Confer. Steering Committee met with these three on at least three occasions.
In analyzing Acheson's attitude toward European aid before he left as Under Secretary and after he came back as Secretary, I would say that Acheson was thinking that the only large reservoir of free machinery and material is in North America; Europe is bankrupt and unable to master its problems; the world wide interest of the United States in European recovery was what was seen by Acheson.
Hoffman was a missionary with driving capacity. What Paul Hoffman meant by European unity (thinking out loud here--McL.) was an unimpeded European flow. A flow of men, goods, money (currency and capital) unimpeded by man made quotas and restrictions. An economy like that of the American domestic economy. He feared the setting up of nationalist economic blocs as occurred between wars. Paul Hoffman was not thinking in political
and federal terms when he called for European integration; except that he wanted a new European unit which would break with the way in which Europe had conducted its affairs in the interwar years.
One problem all the way through which Acheson (and Bissell, too) understood and which Hoffman didn't, was that all the countries in Europe were identical in one sense but that Britain (the English) was different in another sense. By that I mean the British _______(He must have been referring to the British pound.) was the exchange currency for a host of extra European countries Egypt, India, etc. Hoffman's concept too inadequate in the currency sense. So a three way dialogue went on among Hoffman, Dean, and myself in which Hoffman never really understood or believed this crucial difference.
You must remember that from the British point of view, the benefits of the British loan
had been nil. It went right through London to the Commonwealth and Sterling area. Hoffman only accustomed to working with the United States domestic market concept.
Acheson didn't want to scrap or harm (weaken) the Sterling area. He knew that the United States couldn't afford to tear this unrent fabric of free world into shreds. British balance of payments was the balance of payments and reserve of the whole Sterling area rolled into one.
MCLELLAN: What about British devaluation in 1949?
FRANKS: The issue quite apart from the actual confrontation in Washington in late September was not that the United Kingdom had to devalue; it had no choice. The issue was whether it would do it with the blessing and active help of the U.S.A. It was a matter of all Sterling
area countries, and therefore a very, very grave and major operation. Also a matter of the _______(He probably meant either "the pound and the dollar," or "the value of the dollar." P.C.B.) and the dollar. While Acheson and Douglas knew that Britain had to devalue, and that it was a world wide situation which could easily go sour, others in the United States Government did not.
Snyder and especially his doctrinaire and orthodox assistant secretary, whose name escapes me, did not. Not that Snyder wasn't always sympathetic to the British position and personally friendly towards me, but he viewed the United Kingdom as upsetting the applecart in this case and wanted as little as possible to do with it. Acheson took the point of view that if it must be done, then we had better all be in it together. Nevertheless, when the British delegation arrived, the U.S. delegation sat around grave, but not saying a word. They
persisted in this course until we British made up our minds what to do. Once we had made our decision, the dam broke, so to speak, and a whole lot of other joint decisions flowed naturally.
Remember, the quantum (amount by which the pound was to be devalued) had not been decided when the British arrived. The fact that we had to devalue had been decided and fully charged (?), but the quantum had not been decided, and that is, in many ways, a decision as crucial as the devaluation decision itself.
No American ever suggested by how much. The British delegation had to make its own decision on the quantum. United States stood by ready to extend a helping hand in a decent and friendly fashion.
MCLELLAN: What about the importance of John Snyder?
FRANKS: Snyder always had to be brought along. You couldn't expect any decision in the currency and exchange field to be made without the approval of John Snyder. Snyder was always personally kindly towards me and never in any sense unkindly to the United Kingdom. Snyder was cautious and he was not always at the big canvas of the world. Other people might have said that he was timid; I don't think so, I think he was quite courageous, but he was always looking at the smaller canvas.
MCLELLAN: What about the bicker in the fall and winter of 1949 1950 over the European Payments Union and over Spaak's candidacy for the Chairmanship of the O.E.E.C.?
FRANKS: One element of the picture (and not a very important one) was that of a Labor Government in power with a Socialist philosophy. How far,
the Laborites were bound to ask, would freeing up everything as Hoffman and