Please note: Interviewees were given the opportunity to edit their transcripts before their approval. In places where the sound recording and the transcript differ, the written transcript should be considered the official historical record.
OH250 Tape 1, Side A
OH250 Tape 1, Side B
OH250 Tape 2, Side A
Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened March, 1978
Oral History Interview with
July 1, 1974
by Richard D. McKinzie
MCKINZIE: Ambassador Parsons, I wonder if we might begin by having you explain how you came to be in the Foreign Service?
PARSONS: I'd be glad to. Back in 1929 when I graduated from Yale College, I became interested in the Foreign Service because I ran into an Englishman who was studying for the British Foreign Service. I knew very well that I didn't want to go to Wall Street where my father had spent his entire life. As you remember the stock market crash had taken place
by then, and it looked even less attractive.
At any rate, I agreed with my father that I would go there for two years. I'd managed to win a job by competition in my class at the NYU Business School, which paid $12.50 a week. By 1932 it paid $3.75 a week. Just at that moment, the head of my old boarding school, Groton School, in Massachusetts telephoned and said that the new ambassador to Japan wanted to take a Groton graduate with him as his private secretary. (That was as kind of a man Friday or whatever.) And he asked if I would be interested.
I said I was very interested because I'd played out my two year option. I hadn't been a financial success during the depression and I was always interested in the Foreign Service anyway. So I went out with Ambassador Joseph C. Grew to Tokyo and spent four years with him. It was a wonderful training ground. Three of
those years were awaiting the Government's holding of examinations for candidates for the Foreign Service. During the depression, that was put off, too. But I really got into the Service as a result of these developments.
I did my studying in Tokyo early in the morning, took the exams, and became an officer in 1936. Having started in the Far East, it was a large part of my life after that. But as we're going to see in the tape this morning I did become involved in other things, too.
MCKINZIE: Your first post was in Havana?
PARSONS: I went to Havana as a training post as a vice-consul and had a very interesting fifteen months there doing principally immigration visas. At that time many distinguished people were leaving Germany. These people were distinguished in various fields of science and technology or were outstanding businessmen
and people of that kind. We got so many talented and capable people from Germany in those years that I always thought it was a great advantage to our country and a great disadvantage to Germany that that type of population shift took place. Germany lost the elite among the people of Jewish background who would have been very valuable to the country had they remained.
MCKINZIE: There's a recent book concerning a number of Jews who were not allowed to come to the United States through Cuba. Had that reached a crisis stage when you were working?
PARSONS: I don't really recall. The numbers were limited by the quota, which was fairly large for Germany. But we had just been going through the depression and financial qualifications for would-be immigrants were very stringent. I think this probably resulted in an overall selection of those who were more prudent in the protection of their money (1)or
more successful in earning money or status in life in Germany. The result was that we probably got a good proportion of the elite and a good many others were disappointed. This is just a subjective opinion over these years, but that was the principle focus of my work in Havana.
Soon after that we found ourselves back in Mukden, Manchuria. When the war broke out in 1939, I was vice-consul there. One is always asked where one would like to go. In those days it was almost certain one would not go there, but would go someplace quite different.
I was asked, along with the rest of the young vice-consuls at the time. I said I wanted to go to a very small post in the Far East where there would be a chance to do political reporting and work that was more related to diplomatic than consular affairs.
They sent me to Mukden, Manchuria, which was a small post. It was the post from which whatever business we had with the unrecognized state of Manchukuo was done.
I used to go up from Mukden to Hsinking the capital and from time to time the consul general would go. We observed the industrializati