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John Wesley Jones Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
John Wesley Jones

Assigned State Department 1941 - 45, assistant chief, South European Affairs, 1944 - 45; first secretary embassy, Rome, 1945 - 48; counselor embassy, Nanking, China, 1948 - 49, Madrid, Spain, 1949 - 53; director Office Western European Affairs, State Department, 1953 - 57; Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, 1957 - 58; U.S. Ambassador to Libya, 1958 - 62, to Peru, 1963 - 69; deputy commandant National War College, Washington, 1969 - 71.

Flat Rock, North Carolina
June 8, 1974
by Richard D. McKinzie

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


Notice
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.

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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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

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Oral History Interview with
John Wesley Jones

Flat Rock, North Carolina
June 8, 1974
by Richard D. McKinzie

 

[1]

MCKINZIE: Mr. Ambassador, I think many historians, present and future, are very interested in why people go into the Foreign Service. I understand you went in in 1930, and I'd be interested to know why.

JONES: Well, I was born and grew up in a midwestern town, Sioux City, Iowa, where very little was known about the Foreign Service. But there happened to be two people in my youth who

 

[2]

influenced me in making a decision for the Foreign Service. One was the Registrar of Central High School, Sioux City, Iowa; she had been a clerk in our Embassy in Paris during the First World War. She took a fancy to me, thought I would be good in the Foreign Service and talked to me about it when I was a junior or senior in high school. Then there was a neighbor and friend of my aunt's, Fred Knepper, who had been a vice-consul in Beirut and came back to Sioux City. This too inspired me. I would go to call on him from time to time and talk to him about the Service and his experiences.

So, in this relatively remote area from foreign affairs, there were two people in my youth who gave me the idea, and when I left high school and went to college I already knew that I wanted to pursue a Foreign Service

 

[3]

academic course. I went to a small Methodist college in Sioux City for two years, and then I persuaded my father to send me to George Washington University in Washington, D.C., for my last two years, where I was sure they knew something about the Foreign Service -- because in Sioux City, Iowa, very few did. And I graduated in 1930 from G.W., took the examinations the same summer, and, by the grace of God, passed them. So, I went directly from the University into the Foreign Service and fortunately (or unfortunately) have had no other experience other than that in the Foreign Service.

MCKINZIE: Did you think that as a result of your first assignments, those assignments you had through the 1930s, the depression years, that you had made a good decision? Did you like it as much as you thought you would? Sometimes

 

[4]

people have a view of things before they get into it that's rather different than that they experience afterwards.

JONES: Yes, I think from the beginning I was happy and satisfied with the choice. I must say that Calcutta was a cultural shock, and when I look back on it, it was probably one of the most difficult periods of adjustment; I think probably I grew up and became an adult during the years that I was in Calcutta. I was very homesick at the beginning, and one must remember that in the early thirties there was no airplane travel on a regular commercial basis, so that all mail went by ship. And it took 30 days for a letter to come from my family to Calcutta and then, of course, another 30 days for my reply to get back to the Middle West. So, there was indeed an isolation from everything that I had known, and I

 

[5]

was still in my early twenties. I think I had my 25th birthday in Calcutta. India, then and now, is so very different culturally and climatically that it was, for me, a difficult adjustment, but I made it. And I think, once I got through Calcutta, including living there for three years with no illnesses whatsoever, that I was sure that I had made the right choice in a career.

MCKINZIE: By the time the Second World War began, had you developed any particular interest in any place in the world? Did you consider yourself, at that point, any kind of an area specialist, or did you keep a kind of broader Foreign Service outlook on things? Did you have a desire, for example, to spend some time in Europe, since you did in fact spend a great deal of time in Europe?

 

[6]

JONES: When I first got into the Foreign Service we were all generalists, and specialization was very rare indeed. A few people like "Chip" [Charles E.] Bohlen and Eddie [Edward, Jr.] Page decided at an early date that they wanted to specialize in Russian affairs. A few people decided they wanted to be China language officers, and so they went to Peking to the language school. But specialization was something that no one ever talked to me about, and it was not something that was generally considered to be part of a Foreign Service officer's career unless there were special reasons that he wanted to do so. So I, like most of my colleagues, was completely at the mercy of the Director of Personnel and Board of the Foreign Service in Washington. And since they too had a generalist philosophy, we were available for service anyplace in the

 

[7]

world. I never asked for anything except French-speaking posts, because I had studied French four years in high school and four years in college. While I always asked for a French-speaking post, I never got one. That's the only thing I ever did ask for.

MCKINZTE: Could you speak briefly about your assignments during World War II?

JONES: Well, I was in Rome at the time of the declaration of war by England on Germany, 1939, and then I was still there when Italy declared war on France and England in June of 1940. I was transferred out in the spring of 1941, back to Washington to be an assistant on the Italian Desk in the State Department. And I was in Washington at the time that Pearl Harbor occurred and at the time the Italian Government and the German Government declared

 

[8]

war on the United States, on the 11th of December. So, the war years, as far as I was concerned, were spent in Washington. I had the Italian Desk and also the Vatican Desk. Myron Taylor was the President's special representative, and he left an assistant, Harold Tittman, in the Vatican during those years that we were at war with Italy. And the Vatican very kindly made their telegraphic and diplomatic pouch services available to the members of the diplomatic corps that were inside Vatican City, including the British Ambassador and the American Charge d' Affaires. So, we did get messages from the U.S. representative at the Vatican all during those years that we were at war with Italy.

And then I went, just after the war in Europe was over and just before the war in the Far East was won, back to Italy. So I was

 

[9]

in Italy at the time of V.J. Day.

MCKINZIE: When you talk about postwar Italy and postwar Italian-American relations, it seems to me that really it's appropriate to start not in 1945 but sometime a little earlier, because there was a great deal of postwar planning going on in the State Department. Did you have anything to do with the future of American-Italian relations? The victory over Italy was anticipated (not talked a lot about I'm sure, but anticipated) at a fairly early date, and there were plans being made for the postwar world. I wonder if you recall any of those discussions or if your work involved any of that postwar planning?

JONES: As I remember [Benito] Mussolini was arrested and [Pietro] Badoglio formed a new government in the autumn of 1943. The King

 

[10]

went to Brindisi, and the Italian Government became a cobelligerent with us against Germany. From that point on, our planning took the form of considering Italy "on the side of the angels" and thinking about what we could do, once the war was ended, to make Italy a constructive and positive and democratic force within Europe. So, almost within days or weeks, we stopped considering Italy as an enemy and began considering her as a friend, a potential Ally, and a future constructive force in Europe. And that meant planning plebiscites for the form of government that Italy would have, consideration of what we could do economically to help Italy in the future, and finally what would be done about the Italian colonies. And this planning went on certainly in 1944 and continued on up until V.E. Day, the 8th of May in 1945. Then, of course, it was continued on until the time

 

[11]

of the Paris Conference in 1946, when there finally was a peace treaty signed with all of the former belligerents except Germany and Japan.

MCKINZIE: There was in the State Department a remarkable group of men at that time. Will Clayton seemed to have been inspirational to a lot of them, and they, at least those concerned about things economic, seemed to have kind of a vision of a better world after the war. It wouldn't be like the world before; the vision was one of greater integration of economies, if not of political units. The postwar world would be one of interdependence, and Clayton argued a lot that prosperity, stability, peace, and the rest of it was all tied up in that kind of engineered interdependence at the end of the war. Do you recall that as being a prevalent guiding principle? Did you share

 

[12]

it, and were you concerned about things economic at all as you did your work?

JONES: Well, that's a good question. We had an economic officer in the Western European Office -- or Southern European it was in those days -- Jack [Jacques] Reinstein who worked very closely with Mr. Clayton. Jack was in constant communication and touch with me, but he really did the economic work for all of us. It was only later on, that the question of aid programs for Italy became a possibility (I must say, going back to the middle of the war, that no one had ever thought about large aid programs for Italy; all we were thinking about was winning the war and getting it over with.) But Reinstein did do most of the economic work and economic planning. Later on when the aid programs came into being, then, as a political officer back in Rome, I was certainly very

 

[13]

much involved, as this was terribly important, politically, to help Italy get back on its feet. But in terms of "one Europe," the sort of thing that eventually evolved out of the Coal and Steel Community, that was more of a Western Europe or Northern Europe concept. I don't remember any planning during the war years in Washington that would have involved Italy, particularly, in an overall European economic plan; other than the general hope that Italy would come back into the concert of European nations as a constructive and helpful and democratic force. But I should also say, going back and thinking about those years, that we were more forgiving, more forthcoming, and more positive in our efforts to help the Italians get back on the "side of the angels" than our principal ally, Great Britain. The British were always reluctant to be generous or helpful

 

[14]

to the Italians in the early days. They were always a few steps behind. And this was particularly true of their military, who felt very strongly about the position of the Italians and their contribution to the war against the British, their contribution to the Germans, their assistance to the Germans, their stab in the back of France at the time the British were still trying to help the French. So, while we had, really from the very beginning, once the Italians switched sides, what I consider a very positive and proper policy toward Italy, trying to help her back to a respectable position in Europe, the British were not so forthcoming. So, we always had cons