Oral History Interview with
Special Assistant for Domestic Operations, Office of War Information, 1942-45, and special consultant to the Secretary of War, 1943. Special Assistant to President for minority problems, 1946-52, and an Administrative Assistant to the President, 1952-53. Later served as Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin, 1959-61, and as Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1961-66.
June 5, 1967
by Jerry N. Hess
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Nash Oral History Transcripts]
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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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, 1973
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
June 5, 1967
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Doctor, at the end of our last interview, back in February, we were talking about the Committee on Civil Rights, and as the phone rang, terminating that session in February, I was asking you about a possible minority report to the October, 1947 report of the Civil Rights Committee. I have heard, read, understand, that there might have been a possible report by Dr. Frank Graham. What can you tell me about that?
NASH: Well, I don't particularly associate the possibility of a minority report with Dr. Graham, but your question does ring a very faint bell. There was an instruction from the President, if possible, to avoid dissent and try to come up with the one thing that everybody could agree upon, and we did have to do a certain amount of negotiating in order to get that to come about. Consequently, it is true that there were enough individual or specialized interests on the committee so that there were certain areas that some members felt more strongly about than others, and everybody was interested in giving an accounting of his service on the committee to his
constituency, whatever that might be. I associate one of these particularistic interests with the great civil liberties lawyer from New York, Morris Ernst. In the first place, Morris Ernst wanted a good big section in the report on civil liberties, as opposed to civil rights. In addition to that he is prominently identified, or was at that time, with the theory of disclosure; that the way in which you protect freedom of speech and the right of dissent is that you just make certain that when you speak up you make it clear for whom you're speaking, yourself, or a principal for which you are an agent, and so on. So, as I recall, there was considerable discussion about a section on civil liberties, the, Red issue (this was a little pre McCarthy -- but Joe McCarthy didn't invent that issue), but that was finally ironed out, I think, by a footnote reference. My recollection (this is many years ago now), but I think if you look at the report, you will find that at the appropriate place there is a footnote reference, and this was as close as we came to a dissent. And everybody was satisfied with that.
Now, with respect to Frank Graham, I don't think there was an element of dissent, but I tell you what
there was. At the last minute, he asked for a quotation or some invocation of divine grace or something of the sort, which again I think if we take a look at the report we'll find on a page by itself, just before the text begins -- I'm trying to recall, that's twenty years ago now, but you can easily check it out. Now, my guess would be that the story that your predecessor heard about a dissent and Frank Graham being connected with it, has garbled these two episodes: One is that when they got together for the final session where the report was approved page by page, the final session of the committee, that Dr. Graham pointed out that there was a great human area in which man was left out kind of by himself, and thought maybe that wasn't quite right. I don't think in that group anybody was going to disagree with that very seriously, and it was done and I think Frank Graham wrote something that appeared in there -- just one sentence.
The other one was really more substantial, and there was a question whether the committee should confine itself to the relationship of man exercising his rights in the face of interference from fellow man, as against his rights for interference by arbitrary government
action. And, of course, these are not very clear -- cut, and the report deals partly with the one and partly with the other. But there was a group in the committee led by Morris Ernst that felt pretty strongly about the Red issue and Communists in Government, in other words.
HESS: That was probably the minority report that I had written down under the general heading of the Committee on Civil Rights. This is asking you to remember all the way back to February, but do you think we've covered all that, do you recall?
NASH: About everything on the Committee on Civil Rights? Jerry, it's so far back in our conversation
HESS: I asked about the people who were on the committee. I had understood that you had helped write the report, but you set me right on that.
NASH: That really is not true
HESS: You told me about how you provided office space and helped pick the people
NASH: I helped make the selection, but it was Dave Niles' primary responsibility.
HESS: The cards that I'm flipping now are questions that I did ask last time.
In light of today's action on the invasion of Israel, I went through my cards, and my one card on Israel was down quite a ways, but I thought that perhaps we could just bring that up.
NASH: Incidentally, I left home before the Security Council had reconvened.
HESS: I haven't heard a thing since morning. I've been tied up all morning.
NASH: I watched the session on TV.
HESS: How far has the invasion progressed? Are the Arabs actually on Israeli territory now, shooting and killing?
NASH: I don't know who is invading whom. I really don't. Apparently, there was some kind of an air battle in which some planes were downed on both sides, and the Egyptians, at least, say that bombs were dropped on Cairo, or on an airfield near Cairo. The last I heard the Jordanians had occupied a portion of the United Nations headquarters in Jerusalem, and U Thant had demanded -- made some rather strong suggestions to King Hussein to get them out of there. The next thing I heard the Israelis said they had occupied it and were going to give it back, so I don't exactly know what the status is. But there has been active fighting on at least three fronts. Who moved in on
whom I don't know.
HESS: To go back many years what are your recollections on the events leading up to the recognition of the State of Israel? A great big question.
NASH: Yes, it sure is. Well, this was a major decision by Mr. Truman, and one to which he was led very directly by Dave Niles, my boss. He did ask me to do some writing chores, but there was plenty of manpower in the State Department on that, although I'm sure they regarded Dave as a good deal of an interference.
It was, of course, well known that the partition was just about the only answer, once the British had made up their minds to withdraw from the mandated territory. So, the question was, where will the partition lines be drawn. From the standpoint of American Jews, reflecting, I'm sure, the interest of Jews inside of Palestine, the real issues was, "What about the Negev?" This of course is in the southern desert, the tip of which is Eilat, and the existence of that port is what caused the Egyptians to close off the Gulf of Aqaba.
You see, Dave Niles' interest and mine, obviously had to be from the standpoint of the domestic interest.
We were not trying to do the State Department's work, nor were we playing politics with a very important world issue, but I think Dave felt that there were a great many people in the State Department and in the Defense Department who were very fully briefed on what other countries of the world thought about Palestine, or who were very well briefed on exactly what would happen to our petroleum supplies in the event of real disaffection in the Arab countries. But there were not very many people -- except what Dave and I were doing just by ourselves -- who were prepared to tell in an authoritative way what the American people or important segments of the American people thought about Palestine, namely, American Jews and their friends. This, after all, was rather an embarrassing commitment in terms of international politics. It was a commitment that grew originally out of desire on the part of the British in World War I to harass the Turks, so that if they promised British Jews a national homeland, as they did in the Balfour Declaration, and then sent Lawrence and other guerrilla leaders out to cut rail lines and interfere with the Turks from behind, this obviously advanced the cause of the Allies in World War I, and the outgrowth of this was the collapse of the Turkish
Empire, the rise of the Arab countries, and at the same time the demand by Jewish people in England, supported very much by Jews in this country, by our Government, by President Wilson, by resolutions in Congress and so on, that the national homeland should be made real.
So this country had a long history of support for the world Zionist movement, that is for the Zionist aspirations with respect to a national homeland in Israel, not necessarily for the creation of the State of Israel, but for the Zionist objective of a homeland. And we did not partake in any of the machinations that went on with Arab leaders in the Lawrence type of guerrilla warfare. Consequently, we were and still are uncommitted as far as the Arabs are concerned. And we have a commitment of some forty years standing so far as the Jewish people are concerned.
Now, in the time between World War I and in the years after World War II, the Arabic, the Moslem countries is the proper word -- the countries that belonged to the Arab League -- have become important to us for an entirely different reason, having to do with the world reserves of petroleum, and the Defense Department gets very concerned about this. Secretary Forrestal and Mr. Niles
had quite a few rather hot discussions about this subject, and there were certainly a number of people in the State Department who felt that Mr. Niles was playing domestic politics and that there was little merit in his view. Mr. Truman was rather disinclined to be scared by stories about a holy Arab war. He rather thought that having a supply of petroleum would be about the same whether -- in other words, it was a business deal and that whether we were great political friends of the Arabs or not . . .
HESS: If we had the money, they would sell it.
NASH: If we had the money and they had the oil we would find a deal. So he just wasn't very much impressed by the so-called Defense argument. And Dave in particular always thought that the people who talked about a jihad, and I saw that word in the papers this morning the holy war of Muslims -- were just sucking their thumbs and reporting on the flavor, that this expressed their personal preferences and maybe some prejudices too. So, he, I'm sure, had some strong psychological reasons of his own for seeing to it that such presidential action as he had anything to do with, would be taken care of in line with what he thought were the President's own
personal interests, convictions, and so on. Accordingly, in 1947, wasn't it, was independence -- it was '47 and not '46. It seems to me '46 is more like it. Well, at any rate, the official United States position was that we supported international trusteeship, and this was what our representatives in the very early sessions of the United Nations, this was the position they supported under instructions from the President. This did not satisfy the American Zionists and they were very angry at Mr. Truman about this. They wanted to go much further. They were for independence and consequently there was an area of judgment that the President was free to exercise.
If certain forces were working for partition, and the official United States position was for trusteeship, then the trusteeship might or might not be acceptable either to the United Nations as successor agency to the League -- might or might not be acceptable to whatever government came out of the withdrawal. The British were determined to withdraw no matter what, and they had announced they were going to, and the date was well known, and all sorts of proposals were being made as to what to do, and the partition was just the most practical one in face of the circumstances. The United States didn't think it could support it -- honor, for example, some of President
Roosevelt's promises to the Arab countries during World War II, the latter part of it especially. So, this was a case of people doing what they felt they must do for themselves in Palestine at the moment of the British withdrawal, and it was not a case of the United States creating a new country, but a people creating it for themselves while we were supporting something else, really an extension of the mandate concept with the former mandated territory becoming a trustee country under the United Nations. I don't know whether this would have been acceptable to the Arabs or not; it certainly was not to the Jews in Palestine, or their world organizations or their friends in this country. So it was known that they were going to proclaim a new country. The United States was supporting trusteeship, but the UN wasn't acting on that any faster than they're acting on the cease fire declaration this morning. Accordingly, Dave as a practical, not a theoretical operator was interested in the President's reaction to the actualities in the Eastern Mediterranean. The actualities were that on midnight of a certain day, a country proclaimed its independence, and it didn't do this because of any view of anyone in the State Department, or
because of anyone's views in the Defense Department, or because of Mr. Niles or Mr. Truman's views. They did it because they themselves chose to take their own destiny in their own hands at that moment in history.
Well, Dave knew it was coming, so did everybody else, and he simply had ready a statement by the President, which was in fact a recognition of the existence of the new and independent country. It was the kind of thing that anybody could have done. I have no recollection of having worked on the drafting of that statement myself, although Dave was not a wordsmith. But actually, it seemed so unimportant as to how it was worded that I don't even recall that. It might have come out of the State Department or it might have come from several other places.
HESS: The spring of 1948?
NASH: The spring of '48? Well, of