Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened October, 1976
Oral History Interview with
June 5, 1973
by Richard D. McKinzie
MCKINZIE: Mr. Howard, many students interested in this subject might wish to know how you came from William Jewell College, and the University of Missouri via Berkeley into the State Department in 1942. You headed for an academic career and then ended up in the State Department.
HOWARD: That's right, and then I went back to an academic career after I retired from the Department of State. Then I went back on a temporary contract basis to head the Middle East Studies
Program in the Foreign Service Institute in the Department of State during 1971-1973. I headed a similar program at the Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, 1971-1973 I will finish this program in the Department of State this week.
I came in during the war. I was asked to come down to Washington in June 1942 by a person in the OSS. I knew frankly that I really didn't want to go into the OSS. I arrived here, was staying with my brother, and talked with a person from the OSS that afternoon. I went out to my brother's house and he said: "Oh, you've just had a telegram from the Department of State." I opened the telegram and it invited me to take part in a section of the Department which was going to work on postwar programs. I knew this was what I wanted to do and what I should be doing, although I would have done anything, really, that I was asked to do. Well, I got back
to Ohio. Soon after word came asking me to come and I arrived in Washington on July 12.
MCKINZIE: Do you happen to know how this request came through from the Department of State?
HOWARD: I didn't know the people personally --later, of course, I became acquainted with them. But I knew this was what I really should be doing during the war. As a matter of fact, the man with whom I had studied at Berkeley and prior to that time at the University of Missouri -- Robert J. Kerner -- had been on the House Inquiry into the Conditions of Peace in 1918-1919. I knew that if I had a job to do, or could make any contribution, however small, it would lie in that particular direction. So I was asked to come and join what was at that time the Division of Special Research. It later became the Division of Territorial Studies. I worked on Eastern Europe and the Balkan area. I
did a good deal of research and writing on Turkey, especially the problem of the Turkish Straits. Anybody who did any graduate work with the late Robert J. Kerner at one point in his career wrote something on that problem. So I was asked to do work in the Department of State, among other things, on the problem of the Turkish Straits. In a very real sense I've been doing it ever since.
MCKINZIE: When you arrived to take up this work were you aware that there were a lot of other people around working on the same kinds of things for other geographic areas?
HOWARD: Oh yes. I should add that, while we in our part of the Department prepared research and policy papers, which would go up the line, we always met in various inter-divisional committees in which officers on the geographical divisions served. My own feeling, quite frankly, was that, as we
took our papers into committees of that kind, with regular Foreign Service officers involved, generally speaking we came out with better papers than we had when we went in. We sometimes had fights -- which were not too serious. I recall a time in 1944, for example, when a friend in a section on Eastern Europe, of which I was then head, wrote a paper on "Hungary, Terms of Surrender: With Whom to Deal." She had referred to the Hungarian Government as "an authoritarian government." Some of our friends in the Foreign Service who were on the committee didn't like that at all. I contended that we could hardly call it a democracy, even if it had a parliament. I also noted that I had been in that parliament in 1928 when all six members had been present and they were entirely superfluous. I also observed that we had not called the Hungarian Government "totalitarian," but had used the term "authoritarian"
because that was the best description we could use. When we left the meeting one of the Foreign Service officers, a very good person and a good friend, said: "You know, you people in the academic life come to visit a country. You stay a little while. You consult with people. You gather materials for your research and you go back to write a book or an article. We in the Foreign Service go to the country and we stay two or three years. We play bridge with these people. We play golf with them, and occasionally we get drunk with them, and I guess we become a little bit biased at times. " Well, this was as good a characterization of what can happen as I know. But I think, generally, by this kind of gathering that we had -- they with their diplomatic experience and their knowledge based on experience, we with our book learning, as it were -- we produced better documentary materials than we ordinarily would have.
MCKINZIE: You were dealing with areas that everybody must have known were going to be sensitive after the end of the war. Was there really a lot of dialogue between the people in the Divisions of Near Eastern and European Affairs?
HOWARD: Very much. For example, when we had a problem concerning Poland, we met regularly with people like Charles E. [Chip] Bohlen, Elbridge Durbrow, and Llewellyn Thompson, when the latter returned from Moscow to the Department of State. We always had very useful discussions. For example, I think of one occasion which is a good illustration of intelligent and informed balance in the mind of a person like Chip Bohlen. During a meeting, a specialist on Soviet affairs in Eastern Europe, remarked: "Poland is the test of whether we can collaborate with the Soviet Union in the postwar years."
Chip Bohlen observed: "It is not the test." He added that if he were an official of the U.S.S.R., he would distrust a number of people in the Polish Government-in-Exile in London. If he were a member of the Polish Government-in-Exile, he would certainly distrust the Soviet Government. He repeated that Poland was not the test. Czechoslovakia was the test. The Czechoslovak Government-in-Exile had signed an agreement with the Soviet Government on December 10, 1943. If the U.S.S.R. really implemented that treaty and did not violate it, then we would have an indication that it might be possible to get along with the Soviet Union after all. If the Soviet Union should break the treaty - -the Czechs having gone as far as anybody could expect them to go -- this might be an indication that cooperation with the Soviet Union would not be possible. Here was a balanced and informed mind dealing with very complicated problems, and
dealing with them in a very realistic fashion. His recent memoirs confirm that impression. If one went into a meeting with a person like Chip Bohlen, he came out of it with better papers, more balanced conclusions and more realistic recommendations.
MCKINZIE: May I here interject a question about Iran? Arthur Millspaugh wrote a book about Iran, in 1946, Americans in Persia. At one point he implied that President Roosevelt thought Iran might be the test of Soviet principles after the war.
HOWARD: Very likely, and in a similar sense it could be.
MCKINZIE: When you were working on postwar plans, was there any special emphasis given to Iran?
HOWARD: Not in the groups with which I dealt, although I have no doubt there were other groups which did deal with Iran. About as far south as I got in
that period was Turkey. I did deal with the Palestine problem somewhat, particularly in the period following the war.
MCKINZIE: Could you talk about your work on the Turkish question? I recently read an account that at one point the people in the Division of European Affairs -- Jack Hickerson, for example -- were inclined to entertain the idea of a revision of the Montreux Convention of 1936, and that members of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs were more rigid in their thinking about the role of the Soviet Union.
HOWARD: I think they knew more about the problem. At one point -- and this throws a little light on the problem -- during the period of the publication or possible publication of the Yalta and the Potsdam Papers, especially the latter, I was asked to be the clearing officer for the Bureau of Near
Eastern and South Asian Affairs. One of my friends in the Bureau of European Affairs called me up one day and inquired whether I had cleared such and such material. Had I cleared Jack Hickerson's paper dealing with the Straits. I said I had cleared the document for publication. This was a paper which Jack had written in 1945 just prior to the Potsdam Conference. I noted that Jack had been in error in the paper because about the only work on which he had relied and read was H. W. V. Temperley's History of the Paris Conference. It is true that there were differences of view between the Bureau of European and the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. The latter Bureau was inclined, let us say, not to be so much more rigid, as it was to take its stand, I would like to think, at any rate, on the basis of the facts in the case. I am not sure, offhand, what the precise position of the Office of Near Eastern Affairs was relative to the later Truman
proposition as to the internationalization of the Straits. I know what my own position was. I favored internationalization, if the United States were willing to face the implications of the Straits insofar as the Panama Canal was concerned, insofar as the Suez Canal was concerned, insofar as other waterways of international concern were involved.
MCKINZIE: Was your own feeling that those consequences could be faced?
HOWARD: My feeling was that they could be. I wasn't sure that they would be. President Truman evidently was willing to face it, as you know, at Potsdam, in the various plans dealing with this problem. Take the case of a year later, in 1946, when the Paris Peace Conference was in session and Secretary of State James Byrnes was in Paris. Joseph Satterthwaite, then Special
Assistant to Loy Henderson, Director of the Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, summoned me and showed me a top secret letter, signed by William A. Eddy, then Director of the Office of Research and Intelligence in the Department of State. I read the document, remarked that I was pleased that it was top secret, but really should have been "for the eyes only of," -- or, best of all, should never have been written at all. There was not a single factual statement in the letter which was accurate and, therefore, none of the conclusions or recommendations could stand even cursory examination. I was then asked to go to the people who had written the letter and delicately inform them that the communication relative to the Straits was completely wrong. I conferred with the writers of the letter and found that they knew none of the basic documents, whether of
the Lausanne Conference (1922-923) or of the Montreux Conference (1936). This was shocking, but, fortunately, not typical of the Department of State. At any rate, I was asked to write a paper on the Straits. In it I touched on some of the similarities between the Straits, on the one hand, and the Panama and Suez Canals, on the other. Papers of this sort, however, have to go through channels, and quite naturally so. Gordon Merriam, then Chief of the Near Eastern Division, and I discussed the paper with Loy Henderson, Director of the Office of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, a very able and distinguished officer. Loy hit the ceiling when he duly noted my position relative to the Panama Canal. He held that there could be no comparison between the Straits and the Panama Canal, and reminded me that I was no mere academician now, but an advocate. I replied that I was well aware that
I was now an advocate, but that the best advocacy had to rest on the facts, and that these were the facts in the case, well known to the Russians. I also observed that I was not saying that the Turkish Straits were identical with the Panama Canal, but that the similarities were quite obvious. Granted that the United States had built the Panama Canal and spent its blood and treasure in the process, and the Straits were "an act of God," I insisted that these were technical considerations, not basic distinctions.
During the Suez crisis in 1956, I wrote a brief paper dealing with "Some Essential Elements in the Suez Problem." The paper was four or five pages in length. Among other things, I compared the Suez Canal with the Panama Canal. I sent copies to a few people inside and outside the Bureau. One of our information officers was much interested, remarking that people in the USIA, who would be going to the London meeting to consider
the Suez issue, were really not acquainted with the issues involved. Since I was running short of copies and wanted to revise a sentence or two, I made some extra copies. Having received the latest Report of the Panama Canal Company, I was able to show only some 28 percent of the traffic was American domestic coastwise traffic, while 36 nations regularly used the Canal. In one of his public statements during this period, Secretary of State