1. Home
  2. Library Collections
  3. Oral History Interviews
  4. James R. Fuchs Oral History Interview, Volume 3

James R. Fuchs Oral History Interview, Volume 3

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 3

[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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 3


CURRY: How did the Truman Library get involved in the Kennedy oral history project?

FUCHS: We became involved almost immediately in that they were looking for someone to direct the project and to do some initial interviewing, someone with experience. Stationed in Washington in the National Archives, was our first full-time interviewer, Charlie Morrissey, and they impressed his services. This was probably in December 1963, or early 1964, during which time he continued to do some interviewing for us. By March 1964, he was really directing their


project, although he did remain on our personnel roll until later in '64, about September.

CURRY: How does our oral history program compare with the Kennedy program in the number of interviews and substance?

FUCHS: Well, if you want to draw comparisons, they, with a much larger staff and many more funds, have exceeded our number of interviews. They have had as many as four full-time interviewers and one part-time, in addition to the Director of the project, four to five reviewer-editors, as well as a process supervisors and several clerk-typists, plus up to 80 or 10 transcribers. They might have had as many as fifteen persons working on oral history. This is to say anything of the early, what might be called "hoard" of volunteer interviewers who did the initial crash program of interviewing. Where as at any one time


the Truman Library has had no more than one fulltime interviewer and a part-time interviewer and two transcribers who double as clerk-typists handling all the correspondence, logs, filing and so forth a clerk would do.

Our staff hasn't exceeded four at any time, and as I've said before, we have had the services of a full-time interviewer for no more than one half of the time the program has been in operation. So you can see that there has been a much greater emphasis on oral history at the Kennedy Library.

If you consider the two projects with this in mind I think we compare very favorably. The Eisenhower interview project was done on a contract basis by the Columbia Oral History Research Office with copies of the transcripts being deposited both in the Eisenhower Library and the Research Office. They did at a later date institute some staff interviewing, but only about


8 percent of their interviews have been done by staff interviewers.

The Hoover Library has a project, commenced about 1966 by a former associate of Mr. Hoover and done under completely private aegis.

The Johnson Library oral history project was done by a staff member of the University of Texas at Austin for the Johnson Library, although now I believe they have some continuation of the project and staff interviewers.

CURRY: What about the Roosevelt Library?

FUCHS: Well, the Roosevelt Library has never had an oral history interview project, and it's strange in view of the fact that he served three full terms and commenced a fourth, and is among--it's generally said--our great Presidents, There were certainly a lot of people worthwhile to interview and probably still are today. It should be said that many individuals who were prominent certainly


in the Roosevelt administration have been interviewed by the Columbia Oral History Research Office, so there is no complete hiatus in that area.

It may have been that certain individuals connected with the Roosevelt Library and our Washington office had a predisposition against oral history, and didn't feel that it was worth the large costs. I don't know of any direct proposal to institute a program there that was subsequently turned down by authorities; there may have been one.

To recap, there has only been a total of five who have engaged in interviewing, full-time and part-time for our project, as dictating machine transcribers. This has not been enough in view of the importance of President Truman, who served nearly two full terms.

CURRY: A lot of people criticize oral history. They


say individual's memories are faulty, they remember things as they want to remember them, or at least tell them that way. They never put themselves in a bad light and rarely tell anything bad about a person they like and so on. In other words, it's very unreliable history. Do you think such criticisms are justified?

FUCHS: Well, I think it's justified to mention these things and certainly they are valid to an extent. The researcher, in the first place, must remember that these are very subjective treatments of personalities and events and that they have been filtered through the mind of the interviewee and subject to his prejudices and inclinations and desires, if you will, and therefore they must be viewed as suspect. Nevertheless, I think it is of value to record these and to get their views of these things that are of interest to historians. Certainly come distort,


but they usually don't lie outright. They are no different than those who create documents who very often alter the facts accord with what they would like them to have been. Memorandums written after the fact, and deposited in a file for notice of anyone concerned with it are often not true accounts of what really occurred at a meeting, a conference, or whatnot. They're after the fact, and maybe adjusted to make a person appear in a better light. I think you have the same sort of thing there.

You might say, "Well, documents don't lie, but liars document," or something like that. Oral history is certainly worthwhile, in my opinion, and interviews are reliable enough to make it worthwhile to record these things, although one can't accept them at face value without any introspection about them. And of course, there is the value of having multiple interviews in a particular area, and about a particular event, or


about a particular individual, because one gets a great deal of material and one can see what seems to be valid because it's corroborated by a great number of persons, that the facts jibe between what people say in an interview situation apart from the other person. I think there's ways of looking at oral history transcripts so that you can establish to a degree the validity of them. But all the things you say enter into the picture.

Do you have anything to add to that?

LAGERQUIST: No, I think as long as you consider the fact that the person being interviewed may be trying to justify his own actions, and also recognize that you can't depend entirely on the interviews, then there are these gaps in the historical record and I think this is the only thing that can fill them in.

FUCHS: Many times the interviewees are talking about


events in which they were not directly concerned and they are dispassionate about it. They sort of sat on a log and watched these things transpire, but they were on a log that was in a good position for them to see. They don't really have a vested interest, they are not trying to justify anything for themselves. In so many cases you're getting a better account of events than you could by interviewing one who was a protagonist in the event perhaps. This is one reason why we've often found that the top participants, I'll use the example of a Secretary of State who signs a treaty--is not as good to interview about the subject as it would be to interview one who worked in the preparation of position papers, and so forth, and really dealt with the nitty gritty of it. What I'm saying is that often interviews with those at a lower level are of more value than those


with a more prominent official.

CURRY: Realizing that you may be a little prejudiced for or against them, what kind of a job do you think that Morrissey and Hess and McKinzie did?

FUCHS: I feel by and large they have done a good job. They've had their good moments and their bad moments, but I've seen the same thing in other projects' transcripts. All have times when they fail to follow a logical lead, may have offered a leading question, or any number of other things that you would say doesn't make up a good interviewing technique, which they certainly acquired to a greater degree as time went on. I think they compare favorably with interviewers in other projects.

LAGERQUIST: I think in our oral history transcripts, any interviews that don't amount to much have


been with persons that just didn't want to cooperate.

FUCHS: Yes, I think that that's true. This is sometimes the case, you're just up against a stonewall. You realize that you have not produced a good interview. We know that we have some interviews that are not in the category of first class historical evidence, but I think they are in the minority. This is inevitable and the unfortunate thing about the procedure is that you really don't know what you're going to get in the interview until you've interviewed a man. Then you're already committed. Of course you can cut the interview short when you realize that you're in an unprofitable situation but you can't be rude and you have to proceed to a point. Some of the individuals whom you preconceived would be your best interviewees because of the loftiness of their position and


the things they were involved in, in relating their participation in events almost give you the feeling that they weren't there. They know the written record and they might parrot that back to you, but you don't get much else. This is sometimes due, I suppose, to the fact that they have participated in many seminars, conferences, etc., and they've said these things so many times, that they're a little less inclined to repeat them--they feel that their story has been told. They may have written books in which they've told their story. We try to fill in on the gaps we find, which they inevitably leave. We try to have them go into more detail, to get new insights and opinions about personalities, to add something to the record, even though they've written widely, but often you don't get anything much.

CURRY: Did Mr. Truman feel this way?


FUCHS: Mr. Truman was inclined, in an interview with researchers, to simply say, "I've published my Memoirs and it's all in there."

LAGERQUIST: Yes, we remember that he used to allow doctoral candidates to come in and interview him, and in most cases, especially when they got into a sensitive issue, and especially in the field of foreign affairs, he'd say, "It's all in the Memoirs."

FUCHS: I think sometimes those who were in the higher levels are more inhibited by your tape recorder in that they are very conscious of the fact that in their political life, that when things aren't recorded if it doesn't come out too well, they can retract; but when the tape recorder came in, they then couldn't say, "Well, I was misquoted, that's the way the reporter says I said it, but I didn't." Now they can play the tape back, and they're in a little different position. I think


some of them are very conscious of this, even though they know what your purpose is and what you're doing, they are a little more inhibited than people who have been not in the public eye and who are not so fearful of their position in history.

LAGERQUIST: Also, the man at the top always makes the final decision and has the responsibility for the final decision, but much of the preliminary work in negotiations would be done by his subordinates and he wouldn't enter into the making of the final decision at all, but it's this preliminary work very often that historians are interested in.

FUCHS: That's very true.

CURRY: Getting back a little bit to people who have interviewed for you, what particular abilities or qualifications do you think, Morrissey, for


instance, had as an interviewer?

FUCHS: Well, he was a trained historian; he had an inquiring mind, he was articulate, he was analytical, and he was a congenial Irishman. I suppose it was easy for him to establish rapport, to get along with the person he was interviewing with in most cases. He was well-suited I would say for interviewing.

CURRY: How about Hess?