Geoffrey W. Lewis Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Geoffrey W. Lewis

With Department of State, 1946-70, formerly Deputy Director of the Office of German Affairs, Political Counselor American Embassy, Karachi, Pakistan, political division, United States Relief Organization Paris, France, deputy chief mission American Embassy, Amman, Jordan, American Ambassador to Mauritania, 1965-67; American Ambassador to Central African Republic, 1967-70.

Cushing, Maine
July 15, 1974
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. [45]) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the Lewis 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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
Independence, Missouri


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Oral History Interview with
Geoffrey W. Lewis


Cushing, Maine
July 15, 1974
by Richard D. McKinzie


MCKINZIE:  Mr. Ambassador, perhaps the first question should be, why did you go into Government service in the first place?  You had, so it appears, begun a career as a teacher and as a college administrator.

LEWIS:  Well, it was somewhat of an accident.  I joined the Massachusetts National Guard in 1934, and we were called into active Federal service a year before Pearl Harbor.  I was in the artillery at that time, and I trained


with the 26th Division for a while and then was ordered to the School of Military Government in Charlottesville, which I attended as a pupil and later as a member of the staff.

From there I was sent overseas to England, presumably to be trained to go into France.  But after I had been there a few months, at the school at Shrivenham which was set up for this purpose, I was detailed to the European Advisory Commission, or rather, more accurately, to the staff of the American member of the European Advisory Commission.

The American member was our Ambassador to England at the time, John Winant.  There were an Army Adviser, a Naval Adviser, and an Army Air Adviser, because what is now the Air Force was then part of the Army.  I was detailed to the Army Adviser, who at first was General Cornelius Wickersham, who had previously


commanded the School of Military Government in Charlottesville, and later was General Henry J. Meyer, who was a veteran of Anzio.

MCKINZIE:  How did you happen to go to the School of Military Government?  You must have been about the youngest man there.

LEWIS:  Oh, no.  No, I don't believe so. Well, I don't know.  I just all of a sudden received orders.  As a matter of fact, I was sitting in class in the Artillery School in Ft. Sill, to which I had been sent, when they read my name out and they said, "Please report to the School of Military Government two days ago."  So, I just don't know.  Perhaps my division was called upon to furnish a quota, and mine was the name that came up.

MCKINZIE:  As you look back on it now, with all the


advantages of Monday morning quarterbacking and all that kind of thing, how well did that military government school serve you when you finally got to Germany?

LEWIS:  Well, I never did end up being a military government officer because of this job at the European Advisory Commission which I was with until somewhat after the end of the war.  Then I came home and served for a year as an Army officer in the Civil Affairs Division of the War Department, which at that time was responsible for the government of Germany, Japan, and other occupied areas.  I cannot say very much about the active military government people in the field, except from my observations, because this European Advisory Commission was a rather rarified staff job.  There was, incidentally, a Political Adviser also, who was


perhaps the most important of the four advisers.

I wasn't even an adviser; I was just on the staff of the Army Adviser.  We planned for the surrender of Germany, the surrender terms, and of course, it was pretty slow work, because there were the Russians represented by their Ambassador, the French represented by theirs, and a person of similar rank from the British Foreign Office.  Things moved fairly slowly, as anything does in circumstances of that sort, so that I can't answer much about it from firsthand experience.

MCKINZIE:  Did you anticipate, when you were involved in all the civil affairs and the military government school and all that, that the period of the military occupation would


last as long as it did?

LEWIS:  I didn't personally think so.  I was surprised at how long it did last.  Looking back, I don't think I was correct to be surprised; I think it was inevitable that it should.  And to answer part of your question about the School of Military Government and officers who did serve as active military government civil affairs officers, from my observation and my remembrance, I think the school did a very good job at training people in something that was almost a totally new concept for the American forces.  There had been a certain amount of military government going way back to the Civil War, I suppose, and also in a sort of a mild form for a while in Germany after World War I, but nothing of the magnitude of what happened after World War II.


MCKINZIE:  The military government puts the Army into politics inevitably, doesn't it?

LEWIS:  Well, yes, but I respect highly the commanders that I knew, particularly General John H. Hildring, for refusing to get involved in politics any more than they absolutely had to, certainly not in the domestic politics of the United States.  They were constantly crying for directives as to how to treat various governmental figures in the countries that they were supposed to be militarily governing, and, I'm sorry to say, didn't always get very clear directives on this, so they had to improvise pretty much.

For example, what to do with Charles de Gaulle and his followers?  This, of course, was a terrific problem for all our higher policymakers, and the British as well as ourselves.


But that's just an example; it can be repeated over and over again.

MCKINZIE:  There have been people in the Army who have said that they wanted to turn over military governments to the Department of State quite early.

LEWIS:  Oh, they did.

MCKINZIE:  But the Department of State took the position that it wasn't an operating agency and, therefore, sort of left it for the Army by default.

LEWIS:  Well, it was one of those things.  I don't think that it was quite as deliberate nor as clear-cut as that.  The Army felt that they had a responsibility, so long as their troops were there and there was no indigenous recognized


government in the areas that they were trying to govern, to protect their troops by operating a military government type organization.

So, the military were torn, it seems to me; they wanted to get rid of this responsibility, yes, because it got them too much into politics, both domestic and foreign, and yet they felt a responsibility to these troops.  But all in all I think that statement is correct that they wanted to turn it over to the State Department rather sooner than the State Department felt prepared to accept it.  And the way that this was hammered out was something in which I was involuntarily, I guess, involved.  When it was decided that the State Department would indeed take over, there was established in the State Department an Office of Occupied Areas, and the first director, or


rather, the first Assistant Secretary as he was called, was none other than my boss in the Pentagon, General Hildring.  He asked several of us who were not professional soldiers if we would like to come over with him and serve in the State Department.  And this goes back to your original question, "How did I get into the State Department?"  Well, that's how.  When we got over there we took off our uniforms and became civilians again.  There were several of us who did at the same time.

MCKINZIE:  Let me go back just a little bit and ask you about the work in the European Advisory Commission.  It never amounted to much, but at the time you were connected to it, on the staff of it, I take it that people thought that it was going to be the guiding force for what was going to happen.


LEWIS:  Yes, this was supposed to be a shining example of prior planning.  That is to say, all of us hoped, certainly, and believed, that eventually the Germans and the Japanese would surrender, which of course, they did.

Now, what then?  The European Advisory Commission was supposed to lay the policy for that event.  Well, we have found since, and we certainly found then, that dealing with the Russians on matters of that sort was pretty difficult, but I'm bound to say that dealing with our friends was pretty difficult, too; there were conflicting interests.

MCKINZIE:  You are talking about France?

LEWIS:  I'm talking about England too, because the British at one time were very keen on having complete control of the northern part of Germany.  We finally worked out a


compromise whereby the United States had the Port of Bremen and a corridor, largely to keep our troops supplied by sea.  That was very important and that was a sticky thing to work out, because of all those arrangements -- what the zones were to be into which each of the other country's troops would go; who was to govern what; what the authority of the joint military government to be established was going to be; what was going to happen to Berlin, which later on, it became quite clear, would probably be separated, as indeed it was, from the rest of West Germany, I shouldn't say the rest of West Germany, because it wasn't a part of West Germany, naturally.  It was the capital of the country, that was the point, and it was in the Russian zone. Naturally, the French, British, and ourselves were very reluctant to see the Russians in sole control


of the capital.  In fact, we were determined that that shouldn't happen.

MCKINZIE:  Robert Murphy has written a book in which he said that he thinks Ambassador Winant was a little soft in the sense that he didn't demand access routes into Berlin in this early period we have been talking about.  Is it a fair question to ask what you thought about Ambassador Winant's performance at the time?

LEWIS:  I think that most of us in the military side of the European Advisory Commission were unhappy that the agreement wasn't more ironclad with respect to our access to Berlin.  It seemed to us that was a really very vital thing, and we weren't, ourselves, very happy about leaving it in the rather vague way in which it eventually turned out.  On the other hand,


there were pressures to reach some agreement with the Russians, because after all, they had Berlin; their troops entered first.  Therefore, they had a pretty good trump card.  So, it's a little unfair, I think, to look back and say, "Well, why did we do this?"

One of the reasons we did was that they were there, and we weren't, at least not to the extent they were.  It was their troops who came into Berlin fighting and who overran it, which is natural because Berlin lies in the eastern part of Germany -- not in the western.

MCKINZIE:  The agreement that was finally worked out on governing Germany provided that it should be administered as a whole from the Allied Commission, but that if there were


disagreements each commander would have supreme authority within his own zone.  There's record of Lucius Clay having come back and saying, "Well, that is just a technicality.  It will be administered according to the policies laid down by the European Advisory Commission."  Did you think at the time you were there on the military staff, that it was going to be possible?  In short, were you optimistic about the devices that were worked out?

LEWIS:  Well, it depended, in my view then -- and looking back I would say the same thing now -- so much on what was then a pretty much unknown quantity to us all, namely the Russians. How would they behave?  Would they really live up to these agreements as we were sure, in general, the British and the French would, once they were hammered out?  It turned out


that we were all, probably in varying degrees, too optimistic.  But the question is, supposing no agreement at all had been reached -- ineffective as these turned out to be and based upon something that never really happened, namely cooperation at the top.  The question always is, what would have replaced it?  Because the Russians, after all, as I said, were sitting in Berlin and a good part of Germany.  What could be done short of going to war against the Russians, which I don't think any of us were prepared to do?  Well, of course, there were always the "drop the bomb" boys, but so far as I know, no serious person in the higher reaches of the governments of the French, the British, or ourselves ever seriously contemplated that.

For one thing, we: had the Japanese war on our hands in the early days, and nobody


knew how that was going to go.  People were very pessimistic at that time, not knowing about the atom bomb, that it might be a very long and extremely costly business.

MCKINZIE:  When did you come back to the United States?

LEWIS:  I came back in September of '45, and served in the pentagon for approximately a year.

MCK.INZIE:  Had you anticipated staying in the military service?

LEWIS:  No, I hadn't.  I thought at one time that I'd probably go back to schoolmastering when I got out of the Army, but I had always had, ever since I was very young, a kind of hankering a