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James R. Fuchs Oral History Interview, Volume 2

Oral History Interview with
James R. Fuchs

Oral History at the Harry S. Truman Library with James R. Fuchs. What is an Oral History and how are they created and used at the Harry S. Truman Library.

Independence, Missouri
March 19, 1976
by J.T. Curry and P.D. Lagerquist

Volume 2

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Fuchs Oral History Transcripts | 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. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.

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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 1976
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri


[Top of the Page [ Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Fuchs Oral History Transcripts | List of Subjects Discussed]


Oral History Interview with
James R. Fuchs


Independence, Missouri
March 19, 1976
by J.T. Curry and P.D. Lagerquist

Volume 2


CURRY: You have talked a bit about establishing rapport with the interviewee. In the past you have mentioned talking at length, perhaps at lunch with your interviewee. Has that disadvantages as well as advantages?

FUCHS: There are times when your appointment is close to lunchtime, and he might suggest having lunch first, and at lunch he proceeds to tell you all that he considers to be his best stories about Truman or some other matter. Of course, nterviewees I should say here, that interviewees are initially much oriented towards their direct


relationship with the former President, if they had one. We are, of course, interested in such relationships, but we are even more interested, in most cases, in their activities in connection with programs and problems of the administration, realizing that their direct contact with the President may have been minimal Their anecdotes, of course, are often being valuable to history, illustrative of traits of the President, his manner, and his personality.

Anyway, in chit-chat before taping or at lunch, they will tell you all of their best anecdotes and of their personal relationship with the President, and sometimes deal at length with problems and events foremost in their minds. This is interesting and does help establish rapport, but then when you get to the taping of the interview and try to cover these same points, they often say, "Well, I've already


told you that," or they begin at a point, knowing you have certain background, which leaves much unclear. They will often cut short their stories in this second telling and it may be difficult, indeed, to pry the full story out of them again. So, in some ways pleasant things that transpire before an interview may be detrimental to the taped interview if one is not careful.

CURRY: You mentioned that it sometimes is hard to get across to interviewees that you're interested in their activities, unrelated as well as related, to the President. Is this a big problem?

FUCHS: Many interviewees initially approach it that way, but they soon see what your aim is, although some just don't remember much or haven't much worthwhile to say, and the interview is not as good as you had hoped it would be.


CURRY: Are there techniques to get people to talk openly about things that they'd not normally talk about?

FUCHS: There are certain things you might do. The subject must realize, of course, the good of your program. The fact that you are not gathering information for your personal writing, but only trying to gather material that is unrecorded for history is helpful. The fact that he may close parts of the material or may restrict all of it until some later date is quite helpful. With this assurance they will usually talk with some candor and spontaneity. However, there are those who never seem to let down their guard. I have found this particularly true in interviewing people who were active politically, politicians normally being reticent, it seems, to put everything in writing. They are reluctant to tell you some things that others might consider


completely innocuous. The tape recorder then, would naturally tend to inhibit such persons. But people in all positions feel that certain things are private and best left unsaid. That history really doesn't have any right to them. Yes, you do run into this problem. As I may have said before you sometimes can get them to talk by pointing out what other people have said on the same matter and they then want to get their side of the story on paper; whereas, if you didn't resort to this stratagem, they might just ask for the next question.

There are other tactics. An interviewer should, I find, be very patient and let a man think. Let the interviewee decide what he wants to say in his mind before speaking to the tape. Interviewers often abhor silence and keep prodding a person while he is really just trying to organize his thoughts. Perhaps as to whether


he wants to answer the question at all, or with how much detail or candor, or as to just what he wants to say. I think sometimes they are side-tracked if you're not willing to wait. One needs a lot of patience and forbearance in the interview process. An appeal to their pride as to what they could do for the historical record, along with the guarantee that they may edit the transcript, and may stipulate that certain things remain closed temporarily--these things make for candor.

Of course, they will speak "off the record" at times and as part of the ethics of oral history we feel honor bound to respect that even though they speak to the tape, but don't want it to go into the transcript. Often you are told to shut off the tape while "I'll tell you something." We make an effort, if it's important to history, to have them say it with the tape running telling


them to restrict it in the transcript for the time being. Sometimes we are successful and sometimes we are not.

CURRY: Do you try to bring out things for the record in the interview, that a researcher using the transcript might use as an indication of the liability of the interviewee's memory?

FUCHS: I try to initially offer as little information in a question. Just enough that the interviewee understands what you're asking. It's frequently necessary to expand on a question by supplying certain facts and certain information to prod the memory. Of course, often the question and a direct answer to it is not quite as important as what is said in the ensuing dialogue, what comes out from his memory after having been jogged by your first question, although it may not bear directly upon the question. The most


important things in an interview may come from just letting them talk.

CURRY: Do you try to determine just how closely your subject was involved in a particular situation? whether or not he's talking as an eyewitness or secondhand?

FUCHS: This is one thing we do try to establish. How close was he to the actual event? Whether he was a participant or just a close observer; whether this has been filtered through knowledge of what subsequently transpired; whether these were his thoughts at the time. We often ask if they remember what they were thinking at the time, and how they felt this was going to effect things at the time. We might also ask what now the interviewee feels should have been done, what errors were made? Yes, there is an attempt to establish what is firsthand and what is subsequent knowledge, and also what is hearsay


CURRY: How long does the process of completing an interview take? That is, preparing, taping, transcribing, reviewing, getting an agreement signed. In other words what is the time for the whole interview process?

FUCHS: Well, the interview process from the initial approach to the interviewee to the final accessioning of the transcript to our manuscript collection is lengthy. This involves assent by the interviewee, background research, perhaps a preliminary interview, the taping session or sessions, transcription of the interview, our review of the transcript, review of the transcript by the interviewee, final typing, and the making of an agreement with the interviewee as to use of the final transcript. Frequently there is a great time lag between the time that the interviewee receives the draft transcript to edit, because of the backlog in transcription and review,


and then many times there is an even greater time lag in getting the interview back from the interviewees, who are often busy individuals and find little time to devote to a review of something of this nature. Then, of course, the retyping into final form takes additional time, and with a backlog there's another lag there, so a record might be something like a year, although I think there are some that we have accomplished in a lesser period of time. We have also had some that have been out for many years, the initial interview having been done back in the early sixties. Ten years has gone by and we still have not received some transcripts for final typing, or we have not been able to obtain an agreement to make the interview available for accessioning and research use at the Library.

CURRY: What are the marks of a good interviewer, the qualities required to be a good interviewer?


FUCHS: Some of them I've already touched on, such as patience, being a good listener, but in addition, of course, they'd have to have intelligence, ability to do the background research and come up with incisive question