Oral History Interview with
Career in the US Department of State, 1922-60. Among many assignments served as Director, Near Eastern and African Affairs, 1946-48; Ambassador to India, 1948-51; and Ambassador to Iran, 1951-55.
Oral History Interview with
Career in the US Department of State, 1922-60. Among many assignments served as Director, Near Eastern and African Affairs, 1946-48; Ambassador to India, 1948-51; and Ambassador to Iran, 1951-55.
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview .
Opened January, 1976
Oral History Interview with
MCKINZIE: Mr. Ambassador, its hard to know where to begin in an interview with you, because youve had a most distinguished career, with the Soviet Union, particularly.
HENDERSON: Well, I worked eighteen years on Eastern Europe.
MCKINZIE: Yes. Its difficult, dont you think to start talking about the Truman era, as April l945. You have to sort of consider the events of the war.
HENDERSON: Would you like then for me to tell you about my position and whereabouts at the time of the death of President Roosevelt and what my initial
feelings were with regard to the Vice President who was succeeding him?
MCKINZIE: Yes, indeed, I would. But we might go back a little bit, if that is agreeable and talk about your experiences in dealing with the Soviets since our relations with the Soviet Union became one of Mr. Trumans first problems.
HENDERSON: Well, my introduction to matters pertaining to Eastern Europe took place in the early part of 1919 when as a member of the American Red Cross Commission attached to the Interallied Commission for the Repatriation of Prisoners of War with headquarters in Berlin, I acted as an inspector of prison camps in Germany. There were several hundred thousand Russian prisoners in these camps awaiting repatriation, and the problems connected with their repatriation were complex and numerous. There were arguments both in Paris and Berlin with regard to decisions relating to their
repatriation. On the one hand, there was a fear that if they should be sent back to Russia, they would be drafted into the Soviet Army and thus strengthen the Soviet forces who were fighting the Poles. On the other hand, there was the feeling that since they had been fighting as Allies of the West they, like other Allied prisoners, should have the right to return home.
In April 1920, a sub-commission was sent to Lithuania in order to try to find out first hand what the situation was at the German-Soviet front, and what the possibilities were of repatriation through the lines held by the Germans. Under arrangements effected following the Armistice the German armies were charged to remain temporarily in Lithuania in order to hold back the Soviets. This sub-commission was composed of members of the Interallied Commission in Berlin. It was headed by a British major; and its other members consisted of a United States medical officer, a French captain,
an Italian captain, a German officer acting in a liaison capacity, and myself. After consultation with the German commanders and the members of the newly formed Lithuanian Government in Kovno (later Kaunas), we were taken to the front lines where for the first time I came into contact with the Soviet military. Our sub-commission returned to Berlin with assurances that the returning Russian prisoners would be allowed to pass through the lines and go to their homes.
Following my return to Berlin I was assigned to Marienberg, on the borders of East and West Prussia to be in charge of the last stage in Germany of the repatriation. Large stores of army rations were placed in warehouses in Marienberg and as the train loads of prisoners came through on the way to the German-Soviet front each prisoner was given a bag of rations for use in going through the lines. Several U.S. Army non-commissioned officers were assigned to me and two of them would go on each train to the front and then return for the
next train. This kind of repatriation lasted only a month or so. When the Poles pushed back the Russians so that a Polish-Soviet front replaced the German-Soviet front, the Poles would not permit the Russians to return through their lines. Our work in Marienberg thus came to an end.
In the latter part of August 1919, I was sent by the American Red Cross to Riga to talk with representatives there of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, regarding the practicability of and need for an American Red Cross Commission to Western Russia and the Baltic States. I returned to Berlin in September to report to Colonel Ryan, my Chief in the Red Cross, that the governments of those little nations desired very much such a mission and would give it their hearty cooperation.
I then accompanied Colonel Ryan to Paris where this Commission, of which I became a
member, was organized with him as the head. I spent the next six months with that Commission, serving in Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. I shall not go into detail here regarding my adventures and experiences during this period, but I learned a great deal while there about that part of the world and about Soviet attitudes and policies.
In April 1920, I was assigned to Berlin as Chief of the American Red Cross office there and remained in that capacity until the latter part of 1921, when I returned to the United States and began to study for the Foreign Service examinations. It had been my original intention to be a lawyer. While I was in law school, however, I failed to get into the armed forces because of a partially stiff right arm, the result of a childhood break. Determined to do my part in the First World War, I went to Europe in the latter part of 1918 with the American Red Cross. During my years in the Red Cross I had met many members of our Foreign
Service. I liked them and became interested in the Service. I took the examinations in January 1922 and entered the Service several months later.
My first post in the Foreign Service was Dublin, Ireland, where I served as Vice Consul. After two years and several months in Ireland, I returned to the United States on home leave. While in Washington, I met by accident Evan E. Young, the Chief of the Eastern European Division of the Department, whom I had known when he was United States Commissioner to the Baltic States. Since there was a vacancy in his Division he asked me, in view of my experience in the area, if I would be willing to take it. When I agreed, he arranged for my transfer. I took over my first post in the Department in that Division in January 1925 and for the next eighteen years I worked on matters pertaining to Eastern Europe in the Department, in the Baltic States, or in the Soviet Union.
MCKINZIE: When you first went into the Foreign Service, had you expected that eventually you would be in Eastern Europe?
HENDERSON: Well, my interests were very much in Eastern and Central Europe. It was my desire, however, to have a variety of experiences, and therefore, I did not request an Eastern European assignment when I entered the Service. I refused to name an area of preference since I thought it would be better for the Department to decide what my first post should be.
MCKINZIE: Mr. Ambassador, Ive talked to a number of people who contend that you are the teacher of a great number of diplomats in dealing with the Soviet Union, that your experience was early, and that your perception was deep. Im speaking in particular of Charles Bohlen, Elbridge Durbrow . . .
HENDERSON: Oh, youve talked to them.
MCKINZIE: Well, I havent talked to Mr. Bohlen yet, but I have talked to Elbridge Durbrow and a number of other people who have been in the Soviet service. Are there outstanding events in those years between the experience in Riga and the Second World War, seminal events which helped you to form your ideas about how one had to cope with the Marxist government of the Soviet Union?
HENDERSON: It would be difficult for me to give what I would consider a satisfactory answer to that question without going into considerable detail. When I first arrived in Berlin in the early part of 1919 and during the subsequent periods when I was in Germany I saw the efforts of the Communists under Soviet guidance to take over the country. Great mobs of Communists or Communist sympathizers under the leadership of so-called "Spartacists" would go into the streets and sometimes for hours pillage, kill, and burn. The Spartacists were highly trained Communist cadres who were in close
communion with Moscow. In Germany and the three Baltic States the Communists were looking for weak spots in which to make trouble, to weaken the governments in power, and to strengthen the world Communist movement.
In the latter part of 1919 I opened an American Red Cross office in Kaunas, Lithuania. The Communists resented our presence and did their best to interfere with our work. They even fired on members of my staff at times. On one evening as I was entering my residence a bullet hit the lintel of the door only a few inches from my head. One of my successors were attacked and wounded, but fortunately even after being shot was able to defend himself from his attackers.
During my many conversations with the Russian prisoners of war in Germany, with refugees pouring into the Baltic States from Russia, and with journalists and other foreign visitors returning from Russia I received
impressions that were lasting. In looking over a report that I wrote to the Red Cross when I returned from my first visit to Lithuania in April 1919, I found that I had stated that the Lithuanians were desperately in need of aid and had urged that the American Red Cross try to help them. I had added that such aid might help them to combat Communist aggression in the area. You can see, therefore, that even at that time I had already formed some ideas with regard to Communists and their activities in Eastern Europe.
MCKINZIE: Would you care to comment, sir, on Franklin Roosevelt and his views about the Soviet Union? He evidently had a very optimistic attitude about the future, and Ive read some of the dispatches from the Second World War in which you were taking a more cautious view.
HENDERSON: Well, President Roosevelts views seemed to vary from time to time. Sometimes when the
Russians seemed almost contemptuous of him and of his feelings, he would become annoyed and be sharply critical of them. In general, however, he seemed to be confident that with his charming personality and his ability to persuade, he would be able to influence them to such an extent as to gain their cooperation.
Although he rarely issued personal statements critical of Soviet policies or specific actions, he was privately unhappy and at times even angered at Soviet attitudes during the period beginning with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Treaty of August 1939 and the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941. During this period oral instructions from the White House filtered down to us in the operational level of the Department to exercise firmness in dealing with the Soviet authorities in all matters relating to the protection and promotion of our national interests and the interests of American citizens. He personally,
for instance, approved our adoption of a so-called "tit-for-tat policy" recommended by Ambassador Steinhardt in Moscow in dealing with minor problems in our day to day relations with the Soviet Union. That policy was in essence that if Soviet officials would take a stiff unyielding position with respect to certain of our problems we would take a similar position with some of their problems and in doing so would let them know that if they were prepared to be courteous and helpful in connection with our problems we were prepared to treat their problems in a similar spirit.
President Roosevelt was indignant at the manner in which the Soviet Union annexed the Baltic States and personally approved the condemnatory statement issued by Under Secretary Welles on the subject. The President, himself, issued statements critical of the Soviet aggression against Finland. On one occasion he told a group of students, who apparently were sympathetic to the Soviet Union, that the Soviet Union was the
aggressor and on another occasion he condemned the treaty which the Soviet Union extracted from Finland following Finnish capitulation.
In his attitude toward Finland he differed somewhat from Mrs. Roosevelt who had a group of friends who were extremely friendly to the Soviet Union. I can recall that in early March 1940 the personal secretary of Mrs. Roosevelt called me by telephone. She said that Mrs. Roosevelt had friends who tell her that the Finns really started the war and were the aggressors and she would appreciate it if I would look carefully into the matter and let her know what the true story was. I replied that it was not necessary for me to look into the matter again. I and other members of the Department had carefully studied the origins of the war from the very beginning and there was no doubt that the Soviet Union was the aggressor. Mrs. Roosevelt was apparently not satisfied with my reply because several days later a letter addressed
to Secretary Hull and signed by Miss Thompson, Secretary to Mrs. Roosevelt, came down to my desk for action. That letter enclosed a pro-Soviet pamphlet which presented a distorted picture of the Soviet-Finnish dispute and indicated that Finland, not the Soviet Union, was the aggressor. Miss Thompson in her letter said that Mrs. Roosevelt would appreciate advice as to how much material in the pamphlet was truth and how much was fiction. I drafted the reply which was signed by Mr. Berle, an Assistant Secretary of State, who was at the time Acting Secretary in the absence of the Secretary and Mr. Welles.
I have already referred to the Presidents attitude with regard to the Soviet absorption of the Baltic States. You might be interested in the manner in which the President and Under Secretary Welles worked together. It was, I think, in the early morning of July 23 that Mr. Welles asked me to prepare a statement for issuance to the press expressing sympathy for the people of the
Baltic States and condemnation of the Soviet action. Upon looking at my draft later in the day he said that he did not think that it was strong enough. In my presence he called the President and read the draft to him. They agreed that it needed strengthening. Mr. Welles then recast a number of sentences and added several others which apparently had been suggested by the President. Since he was at the time Acting Secretary, Mr. Welles, thereupon, sent the statement down to the press room for issuance without further consultation. I was at the time in charge of the Eastern European Section of the Division of European Affairs.
Even during the period of Soviet-German cooperation the President, wisely I thought, tried in general to keep himself aloof from the conflicts that were inevitable in the conduct of relations between a country like the Soviet Union and the United States. If statements critical of the Soviet Union were issued, they
usually came from the Secretary or Acting Secretary of State. Unpleasant exchanges with the Soviet Union were usually effected at an operational level between the appropriate members of the Department and the Soviet Embassy or between our Embassy in Moscow and the Peoples Commissariat for Foreign Affairs. As a result, a fiction was created and widely believed among Soviet officials and left-leaning New Dealers in Washington that the Department, and particularly those members of the Department charged with handling Soviet affairs, were not loyally carrying out the Presidents policy of strengthening friendly relations with the Soviet Union.
The Presidents attitude did change, however, after the Soviet Union was forced into the war as the result of German aggression. The British, in particular, who were bent on winning the war at any price and who were anxious to do what they could to appease Stalin, were able to exert
considerable influence on him. In my opinion at the time, the obvious efforts of the British to appease Stalin made the Russians even more difficult to deal with. Lord Halifax, for instance, again and again apparently under instructions from Eden, the British Minister for Foreign Affairs, tried to persuade us to recognize the Baltic States as a part of the Soviet Union. They did not wish to embark on a policy of this kind unless we would go along with them. This we were not prepared to do. In other instances, however, where we felt that important principles were not involved, we yielded to British pressures.
MCKINZIE: But seemingly President Roosevelt took some initiative in agreeing with Stalins request for a second front in 1943, and that was not what the British wanted.
HENDERSON: Yes, that was true. But I think that the President took that position on the spur of the
moment without the usual consultation with his Allies. If my memory is correct, Stalin was pressing him for more planes and other war supplies than we were in a position to furnish at the moment, and the President in order to appease Stalin, without considering all the factors involved, indicated his belief that a second front should be established in 1943. The President, of course, like Churchill, considered it important that Stalin should be convinced that we wanted to be of all possible aid to the Soviet Union, which during 1942 and 1943 was bearing the brunt of the German offensive.
Although I was in the Soviet Union at the time, it was my feeling that the President thought that he would be pleasing the Russians when he announced that we would follow a policy of unconditional surrender. The Russians, however, refrained from joining in such a statement. We were committed, but the Russians kept themselves free of such commitment.
The President later, as the war approached its end, did, in my opinion, go too far in his efforts to convince Stalin that we were not antagonistic to the Soviet Union, that we appreciated the "sacrifices" that the Soviet people had made and were making, and that we wanted to cooperate with them in creating the kind of a world after the war in which all of us could live happily and peacefully. Under the influence of some of his advisors he took great risks and made commitments which, in my opinion, were not to the advantage of the free world or to the maintenance of peace.
It was the feeling, I believe, of most of us who had been observing the Soviet Union over the years and been dealing eye to eye with the Russians--it was at least my feeling--that no amount of blandishment, no amount of persuasiveness, no bribes, and no concessions could divert the Soviet Union from its basic objectives. Its
leaders were dedicated, I might even say fanatical, Communists. They had risked their own lives and destroyed millions of human beings over the years in their determination to establish eventually a Communist world. With two of the great barriers, Germany and Japan, which had in the past contained them, torn down, they were out, when peace came, to take just as much additional territory as the world situation would permit. They might be willing from time to time to change tactics in order to cope with particular temporary situations, but they would not alter their basic objectives. That was my belief, and I felt that it was my duty to offer my advice and to write memoranda when occasion required me to do so, setting forth my views.
I am confident that anyone who reads the series of volumes put out by the Department of State entitled Foreign Relations of the United States would get the impression that I was a "hard-liner"
so far as the Soviet Union was concerned, and that impression would be correct. I was. Litvinov, the Peoples Commissar for Foreign Affairs when I was in our Embassy in Moscow during the 1930s and the Soviet Ambassador to the United States from 1941 to 1943, recognized that fact. He knew that I understood him and also understood the policies and the aspirations of the leaders of the Soviet Union. Furthermore, in the Department were a number of persons who did not hesitate to give him copies of my secret memoranda relating to United States-Soviet relations. On several occasions these memos had upset some of his plans.
When my four years in the Department of State were nearing an end in the summer of 1942, it was necessary for the Department to decide on a new assignment for me since under the law at that time a Foreign Service officer could not remain in the Department for a period longer than four years. It was therefore arranged for me to be appointed as a Foreign Service Inspector and to spend six
months inspecting our Embassy in Moscow and Kuibyshev and our diplomatic missions and consular offices in the Near East. At the end of that time I was scheduled to return to the Department and resume my work in the Eastern European area. When in July 1942, I applied for a visa to go to the Soviet Union, Litvinov was obviously annoyed. He asked me why I was planning to go to Moscow. When I told him in the capacity of an Inspector of Embassies and Consular Offices, he was quite rude. He said he did not see why I should go to the Soviet Union as an Inspector. Nevertheless, the visa was issued and I arrived in Moscow in the middle of August.
My plans for inspecting our missions and consulates in the Near East after inspecting our divided Embassy in Moscow and Kuibyshev did not, however, materialize. After I had completed the inspection work in the Soviet Union and was preparing to depart for Tehran, I gave a farewell
dinner to the Ambassador and members of the Embassy who had been so kind and helpful to me while I was in the Soviet Union. After I had made my farewell speech, the Ambassador said he had a surprise for me. A telegram had just come in from the Department asking him to come to the United States for consultation and requesting that I remain in the Soviet Union as Chargé dAffaires pending his return to the Soviet Union.
Admiral [William H.] Standley returned to the Soviet Union in January 1943 and I prepared to go back to Washington. Before I left he told me that I ought to know that just prior to his departure from the United States, Litvinov had asked him if it was true that I was coming back again to work on Eastern European Affairs. When Standley had replied in the affirmative, Litvinov had said that the United States and the Soviet Union would never have good relations so long as Henderson was on that desk.
I thanked the Ambassador for telling me what Litvinov had said and immediately on my arrival in Washington, I told Secretary Hull what Litvinovs attitude was. I said that it would probably be better for the United States in this trying period for me to be given another assignment, and for my position in Eastern European area to be filled by someone who would be acceptable to Litvinov. The Secretary disagreed. He said, "No, I am not going to have Litvinov say who is going to handle things in the Department. You are going back to your old job."
Some two months later the Secretary sent for me. He said that he was sorry to tell me that I was to have another assignment. "The people over there," he said with a gesture in the direction of the White House, "want a change." I learned later that Litvinov had complained both to Mr. Welles and Mrs. Roosevelt about my return to the Department and they, who were very close to one another, had persuaded the President to take action.
When I asked the Secretary what he would like for me to do, he said, "You are to go out as Chief of a Diplomatic Mission." I pointed out that Chiefs of Mission were usually selected from the officers in Class I; that I was only in Class II; and that I did not think that it would be right for me to deprive some higher ranking officer of a Chief of Mission appointment merely because I must go to the field. I added that I would be happy to accept any more junior post that the Department might regard as appropriate for me. The Secretary replied, "No, you are to go out as a Chief of Mission. Your assignment must be a distinct promotion. I do not want Litvinov or other Soviet officials to think that they can damage the career of a Foreign Service officer because he might happen to displease them, or for other Foreign Service officers in the future to be afraid of taking action which they consider good for the United States because they did not wish to excite Soviet displeasure. Now you look around and find
out what posts might be available and let me know which one you want."
During the next few days I learned that the Chief of our Mission in Iraq was resigning and that the post would be vacant. I thereupon went to the Secretary and told him that I would like to go out as Minister to Iraq. "What! To Baghdad?" he said, "Why do you want to go there?"
"Its just the post I would like," I said. I did not add that I was selecting it because at that time there were no other Foreign Service candidates for it. So, I went to Baghdad. I wish to make it clear that I bore no ill feelings against Mrs. Roosevelt or Mr. Welles because of their intercession. Mrs. Roosevelt always had a rather soft spot in her heart for the Soviet Union and was glad to be able at times to take steps to improve United States-Soviet relations. Welles had become very close to Litvinov, who apparently had fallen out of favor with Stalin, and was anxious to do what he
could to help him.
MCKINZIE: Did Mrs. Roosevelt ever speak to you personally?
HENDERSON: Yes, we have talked to one another on a number of occasions, but never about my transfer to Iraq. Ive never even intimated to her that I knew about her interest in the matter.
MCKINZIE: Could you talk about your wartime experience in Iraq? It became, as, of course, the whole Middle Eastern area became, vitally important in the war in a strategic sense.
HENDERSON: Well, Iraqs role was not very important so far as we were concerned.
MCKINZIE: But Iran next door was.
HENDERSON: Well, during the period that I was in Iraq, the country was virtually under British control. They had a large Embassy there headed by an able and experienced Ambassador and composed of British experts on the area. A British lieutenant general
was in command of the British forces stationed in various parts of the country. Among his assistants were perhaps eight or ten brigadier generals. The British forces in Iraq at the time included a large number of Indian regiments, the members of which were well disciplined and made a fine appearance. British India was playing an important role in that part of the world. As Minister to Iraq, I had responsibility for such relations as we had with the Arab sheikdoms in the Persian Gulf. In visiting them I found that British officers, as members of the Indian Civil Service, were acting in the role of advisors and counselors to the various Sheikdom Governments. Also vessels flying the flags of British India patrolled the Gulf looking after lighthouses and other shipping facilities.
While I was in Iraq, its chief port, Basra, gradually became one of the important shipping centers for commerce through Iran between the
Soviet Union and the Western Allies. Many of the military supplies urgently needed by the Soviet Union were unloaded in Basra and shipped through Iran to the Soviet Union.
During my stay in Iraq the British Government arranged for the establishment of diplomatic relations between Iraq and the Soviet Union, and the new Soviet Minister and I established amicable relations, partly because I was the only other member of the diplomatic corps who had been stationed in the Soviet Union or was really interested in the Soviet Union. A treaty between Iraq and Great Britain had provided that Great Britain should be the only power with an Ambassador in Iraq. Accordingly, all other Chiefs of Mission were Ministers or Chargé dAffaires.
MCKINZIE: Then you returned to the State Department in March of l945, is that not correct?
HENDERSON: Well, I arrived in Baghdad in November
1943 and was there almost a year and a half. It was, I think, in early March 1945 that a friend, a lieutenant general stationed in Cairo in charge of the United States Air Forces in the area, came to Baghdad on a visit. He was keen on shooting, so I took him out in the country on a shoot. After a frustrating afternoon wading through irrigation ditches and climbing mud fences, I arrived late in the evening in the legation very tired. Don Burgess, our code officer, was waiting for me. He said, "Mr. Minister, I have here an important telegram for you."
"Does it need action tonight?" I asked. He said that he thought that I should look at it at once.
The telegram was from the acting Secretary of State, Mr. Joseph C. Grew. It asked if I would be willing to come back to the Department as Director for Near Eastern and African Affairs. Although the position was two notches higher in the Departments hierarchy than that which I
had left in 1943, I was not exhilarated at the prospect. I had become interested in the problems of the area. I had been intrigued by my visits in the Kurdish Mountains, by my calls on the Arab entities in the Persian Gulf, and in the complex political and religious rivalries of what had become to me a challenging little country. I also realized that as Director of the Office in the Department known as "NEA" I would again be faced by a series of controversial and far from pleasant tasks when the war, which was already approaching its end, would terminate. Nevertheless, I didnt think for a minute of replying to this telegram in the negative. As a Foreign Service officer it was my duty to accept in good grace any position that the Department might suggest to me. Accordingly, on the following morning I sent a reply stating my willingness to accept the position and my pleasure that the Department had sufficient confidence in me to offer it.
Several days later I received my instructions to visit various countries in the area for which I was to have responsibilities before reporting to the Department in the middle of April.
MCKINZIE: Do you know what prompted the Departments telegram? Did you have a friend at court?
HENDERSON: No, so far as I was aware I had no friend working on my behalf. Mr. Hull had already retired and been replaced by Mr. Stettinius. I had met Mr. Stettinius, who had succeeded Mr. Welles as Under Secretary just prior to my departure from Washington in 1943, but our relationship had been casual. I was told later that on his way back from Yalta the President had spoken somewhat kindly of me and my views and had suggested that I be brought back to the Department. He may have been responsible for my return to Washington.
In pursuance of my orders I visited some
eight or ten countries or dependencies either before saying my farewells in Baghdad or while enroute to the United States. My last visit was at Tangier where I spent two days with an old friend, Consul General Rives Childs and his wife, before boarding a Trans-Atlantic airplane for the United States. At about midnight on April 12 Rives knocked on my bedroom door and asked me to come down for a few moments. Downstairs I found him and his wife in a state of excitement. "Weve got bad news," they said, "the radio has just announced the sudden death of President Roosevelt."
I felt deeply shocked because, although I had frequently not shared the Presidents views, I not only admired him but had a feeling of affection for him. Furthermore, his death seemed to me to be a great national loss, with peace just around the corner and important postwar decisions to be made. I wondered if Truman would
be able to stand up with his limited international background to the overbearing and ruthless Stalin and the sly and resourceful Molotov. During the night I thought of the death of Lincoln on the eve of victory and the difficulties which plagued Johnson in the post-Civil War era in dealing with a vindictive Senate, many members of which considered themselves superior in education, experience, and culture to the President.
I arrived in Washington on April 15 and assumed my position as Director for Near Eastern and African Affairs immediately.
MCKINZIE: Did you anticipate that a new President would mean a change in policy?
HENDERSON: No, I didnt. I thought that for a time at least he would be surrounded by the advisers whom Roosevelt had assembled and would to an extent depend upon them until he had become settled in office, had adjusted himself to the
routine of a Presidents life, and had had an opportunity personally to examine the international problems facing the country and to become acquainted with the international figures with whom he would be required to deal. Its difficult for a new President, who has unexpectedly assumed the office, to escape the advisers of his predecessor, particularly when he was following a popular President. I didnt think that Truman, who hadnt thus far won any spurs in the international field, would fire Roosevelts advisers and go out all alone in the world.
MCKINZIE: I wonder if you might speak to the point of your thoughts about the postwar world? There was a lot of energy expended in the Department during the war in making plans for the postwar world.
HENDERSON: Yes. It had been my feeling during the war that we should try not to let the war end with the Soviet Union in a dominating position in
Central Europe. It was my firm opinion that if the war should come to a close with powerful Soviet forces dominating Eastern, Southeastern and Central Europe, the Soviet Union would try not only to retain under its control the territories which its forces were occupying but as much additional territory as it might extract from its indecisive Western Allies. I felt the same way about the Far East. I repeatedly urged that we should not encourage the Soviet Union to go to war with Japan. I pointed out that there was a danger that when Japan was on the verge of defeat, the Soviet Union would come in at the end so that it could claim certain Japanese territories and insist on certain peace terms that would help it to realize its ambitions in the Far East.
During the war I disagreed with certain members of the Department, particularly some of them in the economic areas, who seemed soft on the Soviet Union and considered that those of us
who believed that the Soviet postwar aims were irreconcilable with ours, were misjudging a peace loving ally.
I was really upset during the last part of the war when we refrained from going into Czechoslovakia in order to let the Russians occupy it; when we refused to accept the surrender of some of the forces in Germany and the Balkans so that they would be compelled to surrender to the Russians; when we permitted the Russian forces to occupy Germany on all sides of Berlin so that Berlin was completely at the mercy of the Russians or of forces dominated by the Russians. When, however, I arrived in the Department in 1945, I found plenty of problems facing us in the Near East, South Asia, and Africa. We had Greece, Turkey, and Iran, for instance, the continued independence of which was in great danger.
MCKINZIE: Well, on the point of the Near East, you mentioned that the people in the economic division were . . .
MCKINZIE: ...softer, thats a good word, well use that. Yes, were softer toward the Soviets, and, in addition to the economic people, were there not a few people in the Division of European Affairs who, for example, were willing to make concessions to the Soviets about the straits and wanted to talk about the revision of the Montreux Convention in dealing with the Soviet use of the Dardanelles?
HENDERSON: Yes, thats true. But in my opinion most of those people were not particularly soft on the Soviet Union. They were for the most part people who had no deep convictions or strong views and who, therefore, were willing to go along with what seemed to be the overwhelming opinion of the media, or of persons around the White House. Frankly, there were a number of people who took it upon themselves to be advisors to
the President and who in a sense played a role of defending Soviet actions and the Soviet point of view. Joseph Davies, the former Ambassador to the Soviet Union, for instance, through publicity, speeches, movies, and writings, was able to generate a considerable amount of public opinion in favor of giving in to the Russians whenever we could do so without generating too much criticism. Then there were a number of persons in the Government and even in the State Department and among the armed forces who felt that in the interest of their careers it was important for them not to win the disfavor of Harry Hopkins, the Presidents closest advisor on foreign affairs. I am referring here to President Roosevelt, not President Truman, since Hopkins played an important role in the White House for only a few months under the Truman administration. One of the surest ways of winning the disapproval of Hopkins was to express suspicion of Soviet motives or to intimate that we could not