Oral History Interview with
Member staff Office of Strategic Services, Office of Director, Washington, London, Mediterranean, Far East, 1941-45; Special Assistant, Under Secretary of State, Economic Affairs, 1945-46; Executive Secretary, Board of Foreign Service, Department of State, 1947; Deputy Special Assistant to Secretary of State, 1948-56.
July 10, 1975
by Richard D. McKinzie
[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.
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 October, 1978
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
July 10, 1975
by Richard D. McKinzie
MCKINZIE: May I ask how you happened to come into
Government service in the first place? Had you decided at an early state
in your career that you wanted a career in Government? Historians get
very interested in why people go into Government in the first place, is
it for purposes of prestige, money...
HOWE: As kind of an example, as a case history, I got out of Harvard
in 1935 and went to work for a thread business. I think, lurking in the
back of my mind was the diplomatic service, as I was selling thread in
such disparate places as the Adirondacks, Colorado, Arizona, and Yorkshire,
England. In 1939 or '40, I precipitously left that job to come down and
study for the Foreign Service. Then after taking the exams, I went into
OSS and immediately went abroad. I was accepted into the Foreign Service,
but they told me to go down to Guayaquil, which, in the midst of the war
when I was working in a key job in London, I was not about to do.
I was in OSS right to the very end and was working for General [William
J.] Donovan. I moved over to the State Department in September of 1945,
because a friend of mine from London days was working in the economic
side of the State Department and had recommended
me to [William L.] Clayton and his deputy, Willard Thorp. My interest
in the Foreign Service, but not yet being in the Service, led me to be
the staff officer for economic affairs. I was not an economist and have
never been an economist.
MCKINZIE: Did you share Will Clayton's views about economic realities
and his scheme for the world -- what amounts, as I understand it, to free
HOWE: Well, I think that's a somewhat oversimplified picture of Clayton's
view. Clayton was a very strong reciprocal trade man, and he built a very
strong reciprocal trade staff, headed by Clair Wilcox. They were out in
front in trying to build an international organization. It was then within
the United Nations framework, known as ITO, International Trade Organization,
which was the forerunner of GATT [General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs].
Clayton, as a very strong free enterprise businessman, could not have
been a more effective man in leading this show. Nobody could accuse him
of being a soft-minded bureaucrat, trying to lead the country to theoretical
goals of free trade. So that's why he was extraordinarily valuable. He
was just a very, very strong man -- a very mild, gentlemanly figure, but
a very strong man, very perceptive.
MCKINZIE: In the course of those early months when you were working in
that office, did you have anything to do at all with the continuing negotiations
with the International Monetary Fund and the International Bank for Reconstruction
HOWE: Not directly. I was dealing with the people
who were working on these matters, including Pete [Emilio] Collado --
and Ken [John Kenneth] Galbraith, I think, was involved in this some,
MCKINZIE: How would you assess the tone of those times, among those people?
That is to say, were they hopeful that these international financial institutions
were going to be adequate for the task of reconstruction and development
as they then saw them, or were they simply something they hoped would
HOWE: That's a very difficult question, very perceptive but very difficult,
and I don't know. On the British loan, which was a forerunner to Bretton
Woods I think they had a sense of desperation. The British loan was a
key element in bringing the world around to
a stable position where it could move forward, and there, I think, they
felt it was an absolutely necessary requisite. Then they moved on, and
I think they were very hopeful that they could set up an international
structure that could be relied on for many years ahead. They had such
a community of view amongst the economic titans of the world, Keynes and
the ones in this country. I don't even know who were the principal ones
who opposed it; there seemed to be such a strong and common bond amongst
them that this was the direction to go.
MCKINZIE: How did Willard Thorp, who was Assistant Secretary at that
HOWE: He was first Deputy Assistant Secretary when Will Clayton was Assistant
Secretary, and then when Will Clayton moved up to be Under Secretary
he became the Assistant Secretary.
MCKINZIE: He was the only Assistant Secretary to serve the whole period
under Truman, as I recall; at least he had the longest tenure. I'm wondering
what the secret of that is. Is it simple flexibility to work for the men
above you, or did Willard Thorp have his own kind of power within the
State Department's hierarchy?
HOWE: I haven't the faintest idea. Willard Thorp was always an enigma
to me. I did not see how, in bureaucratic terms or in economic terms,
he had the clout, but he certainly had the permanence and he went on to
successful other ventures. He was, for many years, head of BELD in Paris.
I never could understand that. A lot of people get away with it because
got all the charm in the world; some do it because they have some other
particular feature. But Willard was, I think, a well-trained economist,
and, by the same way, he could talk circles around anybody who was not
an economist when he was talking on an economic subject.
MCKINZIE: What about the Treasury Department in all of that? Everybody
was vying for a piece of the action in those days, and I understand that
the Treasury Department did, at various times, have, if not the upper
hand, at least a considerable amount of influence. These internal matters
do affect, often, outcomes.
HOWE: I agree with you entirely, but I've got to bow out from the question.
I don't have any clear recollection of the part played by Treasury in
this. They were obviously in it, and I was obviously aware of their being
but it doesn't come through in any positive enough way that I can contribute
MCKINZIE: Do you recall the discussions about the various loans and the
whole idea of making bilateral financial agreements during 1945 and 1946?
The Dutch requested loans, the Belgians requested it, the French, and,
indeed, the Soviet Union.
HOWE: I don't feel that I can contribute on that.
MCKINZIE: Your concerns were with the organization of the Foreign Service?
HOWE: The relationship of economic officers in the Department to foreign
posts, and a problem which is current today of how you get specialists
in the Foreign Service that are good enough to deal on economic subjects
and still be treated
properly and advanced within the Foreign Service. It's an amazing thing
how comparable the problems are. I happen to, again, be working on it
MCKINZIE: What could you do in 1945-1946?
HOWE: I could press very hard, and I think with some success, in the
formation of the legislation which came to be the Foreign Service Act
of 1946, and in developing a structure within the Foreign Service administration
that would give more weight to the interest of the economic section of
the Department and to other departments who were interested, notably Commerce,
Agriculture, and Labor. Treasury was in a rather unique and small, special
MCKINZIE: I have heard some people say that in those years the political
people often didn't
listen to the economic people, that the economic people were off doing
their analysis, that the political people were off doing theirs, and that
oftentimes they were operating tangentially, but they weren't operating
in the same gear.
HOWE: The political people were acting as if the economic had no major
significance to what they were doing, and they treated economic officers
with scorn. The first economic officer who had any weight at all was Ambassador
Livie [Livingston] Merchant, and he was appointed as special assistant
to Secretary Clayton and then went over to be Minister for Economic Affairs
in Paris. He subsequently joined the Foreign Service, moving over onto
the political side so that he lost all economic coloration. But he was
the first fully successful economic officer in the Foreign
MCKINZIE: Were you involved at all in recruiting economic people?
HOWE: No. No. There was no active recruitment of economic people. There
was a recruitment into the Foreign Service according to a generalist pattern,
and then certain ones of those who were economists would move into the
economic field more than others -- people like Jack [John Wills] Tuthill
MCKINZIE: There are a number of kinds of economists -- particularly then,
there were a number of different kinds of economists. From your position,
where you were trying to structure the system so that they would have
some influence, did you detect a particular economic coloration of these
people? Were they adherent to the Will Clayton view?
Did those types tend to rise to the top?
HOWE: No. Those who rose to the top in the Foreign Service -- and this
is a very sad thing to say -- those who rose were the ones who played
a Foreign Service game correctly, almost regardless of their economic
competence, but certainly regardless of any theoretical base for their
economic views. And it was those who could be most acceptable to the overriding
political environment that the Foreign Service presented. Sad, but true.
It's improved a lot, but it isn't improved as much as it must.
MCKINZIE: Did you approve of the system whereby State Department officers
could transfer laterally into the Foreign Service?
HOWE: Yes, but the Foreign Service didn't. One
of the things I pressed for strongly was the recruitment of more officers.
This is a somewhat different answer to your earlier question. The first
legislative act, immediately after the war, for recruitment into the Foreign
Service was called the Manpower Act, in which the Foreign Service was
given the authority, and indeed was pressed, to take in 250 people at
lateral levels, rather than at the bottom, in order to get both numbers
and to get specialities included, particularly the economic speciality.
And the Foreign Service drug its heels on this, so that in the course
of the life of the Manpower Act, two years or three years, they may have
taken in a hundred or a few more than that, less than half of the quota
that they were pressed to take in. This was indicative of
the fact that they did not want to take people in laterally, and they
did not recognize the need to take in people with previously demonstrated
abilities in specialities.
MCKINZIE: So, your position, then, was to simply go as far as you could
HOWE: Oh, I pressed very hard to have the Manpower Act implemented to
the full and to make sure that lateral entry provisions were in the new
act and, to the fullest extent possible, would be utilized. To that extent
I was not welcomed in the Foreign Service environment, because they felt
that the Service depended entirely on a closed service, which means no
lateral entry except in the rarest circumstances, and taking people in
at the bottom.
MCKINZIE: Well, you served under three Secretaries
of State while Truman was President. I guess Stettinius was out by the
time you came in.
HOWE: I think Stettinius was Acting Secretary when I came in, and then
Byrnes came in shortly after that; he did not last long.
MCKINZIE: And then Marshall and then Acheson. Of those three Secretaries,
were there discernible differences in their attitudes toward the Foreign
Service? I gather that Marshall had a somewhat different view.
HOWE: Yes, Marshall was such an Olympian figure that I don't think I
ever met with him, and I didn't get any clear impression of what his views
were. Acheson understood the Foreign Service and dealt with it. Byrnes
did not understand the Foreign Service and put in Donald Russell, who
didn't understand the
Foreign Service; and, so, there was just all kinds of confusion in the
Byrnes period. Acheson was Marshall's Under Secretary and then he left
for a while, then came back to be Secretary.
MCKINZIE: That's right.
HOWE: And so [Robert A.] Lovett was Under Secretary after Acheson, that's
right. And Lovett also understood, although not quite as well as Acheson,
the forces at work in the administration of the Foreign Service. Acheson,
bless him, understood, but he was not all that good an administrator.
He was just an administrator in the sense that he was prepared to put
a significant amount of time on the problem, and no Secretary of State
has ever been prepared to put a significant amount of time on
the problem. At least Stettinius might have, but he didn't understand
foreign policy, so he had great instability in that.
MCKINZIE: Well, then, you're coming close to the crux of the question
during those years, and that's morale within the Foreign Service. Structure
can effect to a certain degree, but then so can the time, which saw all
of that business of loyalty. Truman had his own loyalty board, and then,
of course, it phased into the [Joseph R.] McCarthy investigation. And
those, in a way, would seem to be detrimental to a feeling of esprit with
the Foreign Service. And yet on the other hand, it had the Foreign Service,
at long last, making a difference, out from under this sort of
repressive thumb of Franklin Roosevelt.
HOWE: I think the key element there was the fact that the Foreign Service
had a significant control of the key positions within the Department,
and the attacks upon the Foreign Service were all external to the Department.
So, you could find esprit in a common defense within the fortress. And
Acheson, of course, was the lightning rod for that, certainly in the McCarthy
kind of thing. So, the Foreign Service morale was low, but I don't think
it was all that low, for the reason that they could stand together
in an embattled position. Within the Department, people like Bill [William
Burnett] Benton were unhappy with the closedness of the Foreign Service,
so he would try and do something about it, and there were some external
people like Donald Russell or Joe Panuch, the deputy
to Don Russell, J. Anthony Panuch -- they would fight the establishment
of the Foreign Service. But they were too few and didn't have enough clout,
and there were enough big Foreign Service officers around, like Loy Henderson
and Harry Villard, and Jack Hickerson and Doc Matthews, who held the key
positions throughout the Department -- Selden Chapin, Julian Harrington.
MCKINZIE: Would you consider that rivalry sufficient to have affected
the operations of the Department between the Foreign Service and the non-Foreign
Service people in the Department?
HOWE: No, the non-Foreign Service people were largely of two kinds, even
as there are now; there are the specialists in economics and the specialists
in public information and cultural
affairs. There were almost no Foreign Service officers in the economic
side. All Foreign Service officers were on the political side. This was
a functional rivalry and almost a division of the State Department
into that which was peopled by Foreign Service officers and that which
was peopled by non-Foreign Service officers. The Wriston program tried
to overcome this, but for different reasons, I think; by that time, the
Wriston program was too late.
MCKINZIE: If it were going to be reformed, it should have been reformed
in the early postwar years?
HOWE: That's right. And it should have been a reform of the Foreign Service,
not to enlarge the Foreign Service to try and encompass the Department.
What it did was to remove the
ability of the Department to develop the specialists that it had to have.
By the nature of the Foreign Service, you're not going to have real specialists.
The Foreign Service is a generalist corps the way it has been built, and
even the Wriston program was based on a generalist officer and the success
of a generalist officer.
MCKINZIE: Foreign Service officers, though, had to take on a constantly
increasing amount of baggage. As the U.S. foreign policy expanded, in
a sense, taking on such things as aid, Point IV, technical assistance,
and as the cultural exchange programs increased, it would seem that the
list of duties became longer.
HOWE: I don't think that the Foreign Service took those on, and I think
this may be the trouble.
These functions of responsibilities were assumed by the State Department,
but Foreign Service officers went right on being traditional Foreign Service
officers, which means that they would communicate on political matters
with the host government, mostly in a bilateral, not a multilateral, way.
There were some specialists -- for instance, in the trade agreements --
but again, they were not Foreign Service officers; they were people from
the economic section, many of whom then moved over to the Foreign Service.
Win [Winthrop G.] Brown is a keen example, and Willis Armstrong, but many
did not, such as John Leddy.
MCKINZIE: How did your own work change when Will Clayton left the Department?
HOWE: When the Foreign Service Act was passed,
they set up a Board of Foreign Service, and they wanted to demonstrate
that they were open-minded about life, and so they asked me to come over
and be the executive secretary of the Board of Foreign Service. This was,
among other things, to satisfy the other agencies, notably Commerce, which
had a very strong lobbying position that they did not want to be dominated
by the Board of Foreign Service as an instrument of the Foreign Service.
I lasted in that about a year and a half, and I think the Foreign Service
then wanted to get somebody who was more captured than I was prepared
to be. So, I moved. They sent me to the War College, and I came back to
MCKINZIE: In Acheson's office?
HOWE: Acheson was then Secretary, Park Armstrong
was the Director of Intelligence, and I became the Deputy Director.
At that time, there were, oh, as many as 700 or 750 people in the intelligence
side of the Department. They were doing research of an encyclopedic kind
under a special program that was financed by CIA. They were also purportedly
doing research reports in support of policy. Our major problem then was
to relate the product of that intelligence more directly to the policy
needs. The research boys were mostly inherited from OSS -- a part of OSS
that I had not been in, the Research and Analysis Division -- and they
felt that it was more important to do the research that they thought
was important rather than what the policy officer necessarily thought
was important. They were partly right, but I think they were very wrong
in maintaining as much independence in
what they did. And this is a constant fight within the Department. It's
a built-in fight, it's a healthy fight: How much is intelligence going
to be responsive to declared policy needs, and how much is intelligence
going to tell policy what it ought to hear?
MCKINZIE: What was Acheson's attitude toward that?
HOWE: Well, Acheson's attitude was sound on the basic principle, which
came out in his decision in the Hoover Commission (he was the Deputy Head
of the Hoover Commission). The task force had come out for breaking up
the intelligence divisions and putting them under the regional political
divisions, and Acheson said, "That won't do," and said that
it was going to be maintained just as a central function, that the Secretary
must have an independent line of
information. This he maintained while he was Secretary of State; and he
always looked to Park Armstrong or me to get for him a view that would
be free of what the political line, which had a concern of policy, was
saying the situation was.
MCKINZIE: He didn't get his material for his defense perimeter speech,
in which he left out Korea, from the Intelligence Bureau?
HOWE: Funny, but I never looked back to find what the source of that
was. I don't think he needed any intelligence to know or not to know;
he was not apt to have left anything out by mistake. I don't know. I want
to go back to Present at the Creation to see what he said about
that. I've forgotten what he said, but I can't believe that it was carelessness.
MCKINZIE: President Truman talks about people in the State Department;
particularly in the case of the Palestine question in 1948, he had a kind
of "striped pants" idea of those people in the State Department,
which, I gather, is not unusual for Presidents to have. But would you
sense that sort of, not presidential contempt, necessarily, but some very
mild form of disapproval of all of it?
HOWE: Oh, I think so. I think one was aware of it. I think that Acheson
was a very strong barrier between. He protected the Foreign Service from
Truman, and protected Truman from the Foreign Service. Acheson was so
close to Truman. Truman saw Foreign Service officers -- he saw the Ambassadors
when they got to that level -- but he dealt principally with Acheson.
And so I don't think Truman's disdain for them
was necessarily harmful to their morale.
MCKINZIE: Could I ask you a couple of questions about the intelligence
work in the Department? Did they send down these encyclopedic reports
as far as the desk officers?
HOWE: No. The encyclopedic reports were, as I say, a special program
that was important, because it gave very good funding for area divisions.
The encyclopedic product was amassed by CIA from all agencies and put
together so that all of the information on the terrain and the economy
and the political structure of every country was therefore available to
the Government. The political officers had nothing to do with that; in
fact; the State Department had no particular interest in it. It was a
vestige of wartime intelligence form with
pictures and everything else; a luxury you could then afford, a major
encyclopedia of information. The same divisions, however, using some of
the people that worked on NIS but also using non-NIS people, prepared
reports on the political and economic and cultural matters that were current
at the time.
One important impact of the Acheson organization was that every morning
the director or the deputy director of the Intelligence Bureau briefed
the Secretary's meeting, and this meant that intelligence always could
get a voice to the Secretary. Every single morning we would brief them
on what were current events, and we would know what was current in the
Secretary's meeting on which there was need for views. We would take back
views of the divisions and check them against what the
facts were in the case, or the estimate of the case. Then where we identified
differences, we could send memoranda to the Secretary which, at times,
differed quite considerably from the political evaluation -- political
evaluation always being suspect as tainted with the policy matters which
MCKINZIE: That was a very low profile unit at the time; the papers rarely
referred to it, and it seems unusual that there should be, what you say,
550 people in it.
HOWE: Yes. The size was related to the encyclopedic endeavor. I don’t
know; its present size is anywhere from 250 to 350 people, which is not
too different from what it was then, ex the NIS program, the National
Intelligence Survey (which is the encyclopedic group). And
then it was divided amongst the areas and functional divisions. Their
mission is really very much the same; it has changed in the manner in
which it performs its mission and how responsive it is directly to the
Secretary as against the regional divisions; what kinds of products it
has, what relationship it holds with the intelligence community, what
contributions it makes to the intelligence community, and what special
intelligence matters it handles.
MCKINZIE: Were you in a position to be attending high-level conferences
outside of Washington during your tenure?
HOWE: No. No, I traveled abroad on a couple of occasions, really to help
the Embassies to understand the needs of the Intelligence Division at
home and, to some extent, to deal
with friendly counterparts, such as the British.
We had a liaison with CIA, and CIA's overseas efforts needed to be explored
a little by the departmental officials responsible, of which I was one.
MCKINZIE: At that time, however cumbersome and bulky the whole operation
was, did you consider that there were definite lines of control and that
those lines were open so that administration was orderly and there was
not a great deal of siphoning off or befuddlement at various levels of
HOWE: No, I must say, as I reflect on it, I think we were not as effective
as we should have been. The bureaucracy was stubborn in its ways, and
we should have been able to make it more effective. Now, I have no specific
I now think of, but I think it has become a great deal more effective
-- the intelligence function within the Department -- than we had it.
And I wish we could have moved more. But as to its personnel, a division
chief and an analyst that has been doing things, you've got to change
the body before you can change the effort, really.
MCKINZIE: Did you have a personal interest in any one area?
HOWE: No, I did not.
MCKINZIE: You were overseeing the whole thing.
HOWE: I was overseeing the whole thing.
I might add that Lucius Battle was a special assistant to Secretary Acheson,
as was Jeff [Jeffrey] Kitchen, and both of them
were good. Loy Henderson, Carl [Carlisle H.] Humelsine, Jack Hickerson,
and George McGhee are all people who would be very knowledgeable on these
times and are reasonably available people now to talk to. They would each
bring their same prejudices even as I have.
MCKINZIE: Mr. Howe, thank you very much.
[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
List of Subjects Discussed
Acheson, Dean, 16-17, 19, 24,
26-27, 28, 30,
Armstrong, Park, 24-25, 27
Armstrong, Willis, 23
Battle, Lucius D., 34
Benton, William B., 19
Board of Foreign Service, U.S. State Department, 24
Bretton Woods, 5
British loan, 1946, 5-6.
Brown, Winthrop G., 23
Byrnes, James F., 16
Central Intelligence Agency, 25, 29,
Chapin, Selden, 20
Clayton, Will, 3-4, 6, 12
Collado, Emilio, 5
Donovan, William J., 2
Foreign Service Act of 1946, 10, 23
Foreign Service, U.S.:
economic affairs, 2-3, 9-13
Free trade, 3-4
functions of, 22-23
lateral entry into, by State Department personnel, 13,
morale in, 18-19
political officers, 10-11, 21
recruitment for, 14-15
Galbraith, John K., 5
General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), 4
Harvard University, l
Harrington, Julian, 20
Henderson, Loy, 20, 35
Hickerson, John D., 20, 35
Hoover Commission, 26
Howe, Fisher, background, 1-3
Humelsine, Carlisle H., 35
International Monetary Fund, 4
International Trade Organization, 3
Keynes, John M., 6
Kitchen, Jeffrey, 34
Korea, Acheson perimeter statement on, 1950, 27
Leddy, John, 23
Lovett, Robert A., 17
McCarthy, Joseph R., 18, 19
McGhee, George C., 35
Manpower Act, 14-15
Marshall, George C., 16
Merchant, Livingston, 11
National Intelligence Survey, 30, 31
National War College, 24
Office of Strategic Services, 2, 25
Panuch, J. Anthony, 19-20
Reciprocal trade, 3-4
Russell, Donald, 16-17, 19-20
State Department, U.S,:
economic affairs, 2-6
Stettinius, Edward R., 16, 18
Foreign Service, rivalry with members of, 20-21
intelligence activities, 24-27, 29-34
Truman, Harry S., relationship with, 28
Thorp, Willard L., 3, 6-8
Treasury Department, U.S., 8-10
Truman, Harry S., relationship with U.S. State Department, 18,
Tuthill, John W., 12
United Nations, 3
Villard, Harry, 20
Wilcox, Clair, 3
World Bank, 4
Wriston program, 21-22
Yorkshire, England, 2