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Paul R. Porter Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Paul R. Porter

Chairman, Shipbuilding Stabilization Committee, War Production Board, Washington, 1941-45; Deputy and later Chief, Mission for Economic Affairs, American Embassy, London, 1945-47; Chief, U.S. delegate to the Economic Commission for Europe, Geneva, Switzerland, 1947-49; Chief, Economic Cooperation Administration Mission to Greece, 1949-50; Assistant Administrator, ECA, 1950-51; and Deputy U.S. Special Representative in Europe, Mutual Security Program, Paris, France, 1952-53.

November 30, 1971
by Richard D. McKinzie and Theodore A. Wilson


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


These are transcripts of tape-recorded interviews conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of each transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that these are essentially transcripts 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.

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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 June, 1987
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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


Oral History Interview with
Paul R. Porter


Reston, Virginia
November 30, 1971
by Richard D. McKinzie and Theodore A. Wilson

WILSON: It's interesting that in talking with persons who were involved in foreign aid it seems so many of you had experience in the War Production Board. I don't know whether you ever noticed that at the time, but a great many people came out of that. I don't know; it was just coincidental I'm sure. But how did it happen that you took the position with the War Production Board? You were there for three years, all during the war.

PORTER: Yes. At the time I went there I was publisher of a group of trade union newspapers in Wisconsin. I got a call out of the blue asking me to come down for three months. And on the expectation that it would be only three months, I accepted, and I never went

back to Kenosha.

WILSON: And what were your responsibilities at the time? I notice you were in the shipbuilding...

PORTER: Yes. My initial responsibilities were very vague. I was given a number of errands, but after a few months I was made chairman of the Shipbuilding Stabilization Committee, which was a tripartite body of procurement agencies, the shipbuilders, and the shipbuilding unions, and our purpose was to establish labor standards that would suffice for an expansion of the shipbuilding industry from about 175 thousand employees to nearly two million. On the whole it worked well. We had less time lost due to work stoppages than any other industry during the war.

WILSON: You would have been involved with the establishment of the landing crafts program.

PORTER: Very much. That was very interesting.

WILSON: It's very interesting. It came from Evansville, Indiana and there was, of course, LST programs.


WILSON: Looking back on the War Production Board, do you have any general comments about that agency? It has come under fire from historians as being a sprawling, ill-directed outfit, though it accomplished a great -- I think -- a remarkable record in many ways.


WILSON: Much of the criticism has been launched at President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt, because he didn't give authority to people.

PORTER: That's right. There was a good deal of difficulty at the top. The two-headed arrangement with Knudson and Hillman never worked out well, and it's pretty hard for such an arrangement to work.

Then Donald Nelson made a major effort, and on the whole, I think did a good job, but he was dealing with an awful lot of prima donnas, the dollar-a-year men, and many of them felt they couldn't stay for the duration, there was a big turnover among many of the top people there. So, eventually, he was succeeded by Cap Krug. By that time, though, the work was beginning to wind down. My guess is that any administrator would

have found the job an almost impossible one.

MCKINZIE: There were some plans during the war for the postwar period. Were you involved in any of those -- the transformation from War Production Board to Civilian Production Administration?

PORTER: No, I made up my mind in 1944 that I wanted to go into military government. The main factor of influence then was, I thought, that it was very important to revive the democratic trade unions in Germany after the war, and that -- if that was not done -- the Communists would take over. So, that was my objective in seeking a job with military government.

WILSON: You did then seek a position in military government? Yet our records show that you went to London. Is there a hiatus in our information?

PORTER: I was in Germany first, but I was only there three months. A chance event resulted in my transfer to London. Overnight I became a coal expert. I had never been in a coal mine before. I was assigned to the 15th Army Group at Wiesbaden. The British had

responsibility for the operation of the coal mines in the Ruhr. The American Army at the time had the responsibility for the occupation force there. The British had established a workday ending at 6 in the evening. The Americans had established a 5 o'clock curfew. So, as the miners came out of the mines our soldiers were arresting them. I was sent to mediate the conflict between the commanders of the British and American forces. We worked out a reasonable agreement and that made me a coal expert.

So I was asked to go to London to be the U.S. representative in the European Coal organization, which had the responsibility of allocating coal for all the countries of Europe. The U.S. by that time was becoming a major supplier. Later I became chief of the U.S. Mission for Economic Affairs.

MCKINZIE: When you were in Wiesbaden did you have a feeling that there was added emphasis on the revival of the democratic trade unions in Germany? Did the military command seem to have, in your opinion, a knowledge of the importance of that sort of thing, or was it, you know, to prevent rebellion, starvation and everything else?

PORTER: Yes, to prevent disease and unrest. No, they did not. The general attitude was why have trade unions? They'll make trouble. They should be prevented from reorganizing. Even if it's a good thing in the future, we cannot afford it now. So, the basic attitude was one of resistance. At least that was the initial position. And the Communist position (and there were some Communists in military government) was also to prevent the reorganization of trade unions because they felt that the organization of work councils, so-called, devoted to only getting production would enable them to establish a base for taking over the trade union movement at a later date. And so for a time there was an acceptance of the position of Communists within military government.

WILSON: I see. Was that U.S. military government?

PORTER: That's right. That's a story I've never wanted to tell, because of the [Joseph] McCarthy period. I did tell it once to Stewart Alsop, because he had learned that [Dwight D.] Eisenhower was about to be attacked by McCarthy, and he felt that the best way

to offset the McCarthy attack was to tell the story. And so I did give him the details; but he never published it, as he felt that the tide was turning against McCarthy. McCarthy was afraid to attack Eisenhower and so that story was never told.

WILSON: Did you have a feeling that this was rather long range planning on the part of Communists who worked for positions in military government, that they might not be able to get into this situation and was it seizing an opportunity that came up?

PORTER: I think it was part of a long term plan.

WILSON: We have been struggling with the records about the early period of the occupation and have gone to Hyde Park and gone through this massive record of Henry Morgenthau and his diaries, so-called diaries, which he kept, which actually is every bit of things that came through his office -- transcripts. It's clear from that record that people in the Treasury were still pushing for a very strong, harsh policy for treatment of Germany until at least Morgenthau's dismissal or resignation in July of '45, and then perhaps even

thereafter. Was that apparent at the level at which you were working at the time, this confusion, this struggle about policy?


WILSON: What then were its effects?

PORTER: Well, we must be very careful to distinguish between those that were consciously carrying out a Communist plan, and those who just favored harsh treatment of Germany. Most people were in the latter category. I'm convinced, or at least I've never had any reason to believe, that Morgenthau himself was in the slightest influenced by any disposition to be pro-Communist. Some of the people in the Treasury were pro-Communist, but there weren't very many. And they had very definitely infiltrated the Manpower Division of military government. I never spotted any in the Treasury division of military government.

Well, the Treasury took a very hard line, but I don't think they were in the least bit influenced by any Communist objective. At least I never identified any of those that were influenced at least.

WILSON: What was your personal reaction to the situation in Germany when you arrived? Had you been prepared to recognize the chaos that was present? Do you think that the United States Government had really recognized the kind of problems that they were going to face in getting Germany back to some minimum level of...

PORTER: Very inadequately. I was not prepared for the amount of devastation that we encountered, or for the near complete breakdown of many services. When I first saw Germany in 1945 (I went in while the war was still on), I didn't think that they could make a comeback in less than 25 years. They did. This was largely the result of American assistance, but at that time it looked hopeless.

WILSON: One guiding assumption at that time was that the three-power occupation in Europe -- and that would be under the Potsdam Declaration -- there would be sooner than later some kind of economic unity in the three zones. At least the records suggest that the United States authorities believed that this was going to happen.

PORTER: You mean three-power or four-power?

WILSON: Well four-power, because that's after the French came in.


WILSON: And indeed, that story, I'm sure is very important. But in the other spots was there the belief that it was going to be possible to work with the Russians?

PORTER: Yes, for a time. I myself was very skeptical of it. But I had been a Socialist, and had some experience with the Communists, and I was very doubtful that it would work; but most of the military command I think genuinely believed it would work, genuinely tried to make it work.

WILSON: There's a recent book, which we think is a very good book, about the early years of the occupation, by a man named Gimbel. He argues that in the first two years the great hangup was not with the Russian opposition but it was the French opposition in carrying out the Potsdam Declaration. The United States had more difficulty with France and with the French opposition than with the Soviet Union. What about that?

PORTER: I think, one, was that the French were very

difficult. We had trouble with them because we weren't prepared for the French to be difficult. We were very surprised that they were offering such obstinate opposition. And the second was that we had expected the Russians to be difficult, and therefore, we weren't surprised when they were. And we were making a great many concessions with the Russians because we were prepared to make them, but we weren't prepared to make them to the French. That would be my opinion on that. I haven't read the book.

WILSON: We had not realized at the beginning of our study how crucial the question of Germany was to both any treatment of foreign aid, and also how crucial the whole problem of the occupation and of the continuation of military government, was to be. It is very difficult for us. The records that we have seen suggest that there were repeated efforts, offers, on the part of the Army, the Department of the Army, and later Department of Defense, and on the part of [Lucius] Clay himself, to turn over administration to some civilian authority, and that the State Department said, "No, this is not our responsibility," dragged its

feet, or whatever. And yet, in practice, the kind of actions taken by military government suggests that they were digging in, that they were building an empire, perhaps naturally. The coal question and the setting up of the joint export-import agency with this rigid control over the German economy, might you comment on that? Is this a contradiction or is it just how people worked?

PORTER: Well, there were all kinds of contradictions in what happened there. The preparations which had been made I think were pretty theoretical. Have you had any opportunity to look at any of the manuals that have been prepared?


PORTER: They are awfully superficial. And how superficial they were I didn't realize until I got to Germany. So, there was a weakness there.

Secondly, there was a very big turnover in the Army. The combat officers weren't really well-suited for military government anyway, except maybe Eisenhower would have been. He had been selected primarily as supreme commander for his qualities as a man to reconcile