Oral History Interview with
Country specialist, U.S. Dept. of State, 1946-48; asst. chief, North European affairs, 1948-49; officer in charge of Swiss-Benelux affairs, 1949-50; coordinator, aid programs for Far East, 1950; member, U.S. delegation to 6th session U.N. General Assembly, 1951; asst. to Dep. Under Sec. of State, 1950-53, special asst. to Sec. of State for mutual security affairs, 1953-55. Service in Department of State subsequent to Truman administration until 1965. Served as Ambassador to Vietnam, 1961-63.
June 30, 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 February, 1985
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
June 30, 1975
By Richard D. McKinzie
MCKINZIE: Ambassador Nolting, I think a lot of historians are interested in why people go into Government service in the first place; perhaps we can start there.
NOLTING: Well, when I came out of the war (out of the Navy), I needed a job. Number two, I had, in the last six months of the war, been assigned to what was called "postwar naval planning," which had to do with planning for ships that were surplus, aircraft, harbors, and naval installations -- in the expected cutback of equipment as well as personnel.. We came up with such recommendations as mothballing --
putting plastic over the naval ships, clustering them in various harbors, and that sort of thing. In that connection, I was working with State Department people as well as other members of the armed forces and got immersed in foreign policy. Id always been interested in foreign policy, of course. But I got a more intimate view of the workings of the State Department, and after my Navy duty was completed I was asked to come into the State Department, which I had with great delight (but actually not thinking I was going to be there 18 years). I became what was then called a departmental officer of the State Department, which was distinguished from the Foreign Service in those days. Incidentally, some of those recommendations of our planning group were valuable when the Korean war broke out.
MCKINZTE: Were you immediately assigned to Dutch affairs?
NOLTING: No. Walt Rostow was the first person, I think, I worked with, in what was called "German-Austrian Economic Affairs." Shortly thereafter, I was asked to join the Northern European Division of the Bureau
of European Affairs. The Bureau of European Affairs was then headed try Jack [John] Hickerson, and my immediate boss was Hugh Cumming. So, I moved over to what was then the old State Department Building right across from the White House, now the Executive Office Building, and went to work on European political, affairs. This was about four or five months after joining the State Department in the other capacity.
MCKINZIE: There's a lot of talk among historians about what people intended in the way of economic planning for Germany and Austria. There was a kind of a policy problem with the [Henry] Morgenthau plan in the background on the one side, and the problem of sustaining life fell to the Army, particularly General. [Lucius] Clay. And General Clay very quickly became convinced that something other than pasturalization was necessary, something about integration into Western Germany. Were these problems with which you dealt in the...
NOLTING: To a certain extent, but "dealing with them" is much too meaningful a term for what I did during that short period. I remember vividly Charlie
[Charles P.] Kindleberger and Walt Rostow; they were in brown suits and. I was in a blue suit, all of us having just come out of the armed forces. They organized this division and asked me for a curriculum vitae which showed a year of study in Vienna as an 18 or 19 year old -- which I had done, but I was studying music; I was studying piano and also going to the University of Vienna. When they assigned me to these economic problems, I said, "Look, I was a music student in Austria; I don't know very much about the economics of the country."
Walt's reply, I remember, was, "Man, you've been there. The rest of us have only flown over it."
MCKINZIE: Made you an instant expert. Did you have particular knowledge or interest in Dutch affairs, to which you were very shortly transferred?
NOLTING: No, not much, except as a part of the whole European problem. I had traveled in Europe three or four times. I had, of course, been in the war, but that was mostly in the Italian and southern French campaigns. I didn't know much about Holland,
although I'd been there. Strangely enough, the Benelux countries were then in Northern European affairs; it was later changed so that they became Western European. But the division of Northern Europe took in Scandinavia and the Benelux countries in those days.
As you know, Indonesia became the main problem for the Dutch, aside from the recovery of Holland with the aid of the Marshall plan. But in the case of Holland, what went in under the Marshall plan was being spent in almost equal amount in trying to sit on top of the turbulent situation in the Netherlands East Indies. So, the two problems became very closely entwined. I later had many Dutch friends and they became very devoted friends over a long period of years, but at that time I didn't know Holland all that well, nor did I know Indonesia.
MCKINZIE: In what sense was there a clear policy towards that? There was this sort of legacy of Franklin Roosevelt which was anti-colonialist. Yet, by 1946 when you began to work on that, there was a great
deal of concern about Communist movement into these unstable areas. So, you had to kind of pull, it would seem, this anti-colonialist tradition on one hand and the desire to do something to prevent further expansion of Soviet inputs on the other hind.
NOLTING: Well, this question has come up often. Most recently a young man whos writing his Ph.D. dissertation came to see me, inquiring about the difference in the attitude of the State Department vis-a-vis Indonesia on the one hand and Indochina on the other. As it happened, I had worked op the Indonesian problem early in my State Department career and on Vietnam late in that career. He said specifically -- and perhaps your question could be answered or be put in these terms -- what was the difference? Why on the one hand were we, in the late forties, putting pressure on the Dutch to come to some political agreement with Sukarno's movement for independence in Indonesia and on the other hand, by and large, supporting the French attempt to re-establish French authority in Indochina Didn't the two policies seem inconsistent,
but I was assigned to one and not to the other. It so happened that the Netherlands were in the Northern European Affairs Division of the State Department, and France was in Western European Affairs; that's a technicality. But there were two major factors, I think, why the policies were different in the State Department and in the U.S. Government, generally. One was that Sukarno was regarded, in those days, rightly or wrongly, as a genuine nationalist -- untainted by an education in Moscow, untainted by charges of being a Communist. This changed later on, but in those days he was regarded as a genuine, popular nationalist. Ho Chi Minh, on the other hand, having been educated in Moscow, was regarded as anything but a genuine nationalist. Again, I say rightly or wrongly, this is historical.
The other factor was that, in general, the Netherlands politically was staunch, stable, and not thinking about having a coalition in Government
with the Communist Party. France, on the other hand, was weak governmentally and unstable -- could very easily have been pushed over into a coalition type government. So, the maintenance or the promotion of a strong centrist-oriented government in France was a great consideration, I think, and one reason why the United States didn't press France harder on the question of Indochina and, in fact, sent great quantities of aid to the French expeditionary armed forces and those Indochinese fighting on the French side against the Viet Minh. In the case of Holland, you had a division of opinion within Holland itself as to whether or not they should try to hold on to the Netherlands Indies. Some excellent Dutch people were in disagreement, I think, with the Netherlands policy on pragmatic grounds. They didn't think they had the force; they didn't think they had the money; and they didn't think it was worth the candle. The huge archipelago of the East Indies, with then some 70 million people, was perhaps too much for a small country the size of Holland (with about 1.0 million people then) to try to control indefinitely. The
government, however, was in a bind. They had strong tires with Indonesia, and they felt a certain responsibility for it, which was quite correct. They wanted, at least, an orderly transition to some form, first, of a union with the Netherlands under the Dutch Queen. Then, perhaps, gradually, as the institutions of self-government were developed, they would turn more and more power over. But they felt an obligation for the defense of Indonesia; they felt an obligation for its financial responsibilities; and they also felt that once order was restored there would be a good partnership arrangement beneficial to both sides that would be possible. So, you had this division of opinion within Holland itself. I think the turning point of the argument was whether