James W. Riddleberger Oral History Interview, June 24, 1971

Oral History Interview with
James W. Riddleberger

Chief, Division of Central European Affairs, U.S. Dept. of State, 1944-47; counsellor of embassy, and chief, political section, American Military Government, Berlin, Germany, 1947-50; acting political adviser to commander-in-chief, U.S. Forces, Germany, 1949-50; political adviser to E.C.A., Paris, 1950-52; appointed a career minister, 1950; director, Bureau of German Affairs, U.S. Dept. of State, 1952-53; and subsequent to his service during the Truman Presidency served as an ambassador to various countries and as director of the Internationa1 Cooperation Administration.

Washington, D.C.
June 24, 1971
by Richard D. McKinzie and Theodore A. Wilson

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | Additional Riddleberger 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.

As an electronic publication of the Truman Library, users should note that features of the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview, such as pagination and indexing, could not be replicated for the online version of the Riddleberger transcript.

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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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, 1979
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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Oral History Interview with
James W. Riddleberger

Washington, D.C.
June 24, 1971
by Richard D. McKinzie and Theodore A. Wilson

RIDDLEBERGER: Well, now you want to ask questions and then I answer? Is that the way we do it?

WILSON: Yes. If it's okay with you.

RIDDLEBERGER: My voice isn't so good. Does that matter?

WILSON: No, no.

RIDDLEBERGER: I've talked too damn much already, said a lot of things.

WILSON: Maybe we might begin by asking if there was anything that came up in the conference, or that has occurred to you when you read over the transcript, about the general issue of the occupation that you might want to comment on?

RIDDLEBERGER: I don't recall anything offhand. But don't forget it's been a long time since I read it. When did you get it out?

WILSON: It was early last fall, I suppose.

RIDDLEBERGER: Yes. It's been, you see it's been... I thought it had been six months or more. You know I read it as soon as I got it, but again though I thought it was very good, but I don't know that I have any particular comment on it.

WILSON: They received some excellent comments on it. The only objections were by that young man Gregory Henderson, who...


WILSON: ...who wanted certain of his statements changed. Well, I think we have some questions that may come up. Perhaps we might begin by talking briefly, or asking briefly about your service in London in '43 and '44, when you were Second Secretary of the Embassy. It was a crucial time in U.S.-British relations. Did you deal in any way with postwar issues at that time when you were serving in London?

RIDDLEBERGER: Only incidentally, because I was brought back here for that. But I better explain that I went to London in 1942 primarily to work on economic warfare. We had taken a decision jointly with the British to amalgamate in London the entire economic warfare operation. And in effect the British Ministry of Economic Warfare and the Economic Warfare Division of the American Embassy were put together. In other words, the committees were all joint committees. The decisions were all joint decisions. And the operation became a totally integrated affair.

Now this sounds simple but economic warfare was vast in its ramifications. It went not only into such things as issuance of navicents for cargoes which went to the neutral countries such as Switzerland and Sweden, but it entered into the whole question of financial control. So, it was a very big operation indeed.

WILSON: You were in on the ground preparations for the Safehaven program.

RIDDLEBERGER: Yes, in one sense. But what we had to do first was to organize the blockade section of the Embassy, and then put that together with the British Ministry of Economic Warfare, and I concentrated primarily on that. The reason for that being that Winfield Riefler, who had come from the Federal Reserve Bank, and who was in those days the Chief of Economic Warfare Division in London, had to concentrate on the war trade agreements, primarily with Switzerland and Sweden. His time was so taken up with negotiations, that in effect I took over the running of the whole blockade section.

WILSON: Yes. Economic Warfare is related to postwar assistance in some important ways.

RIDDLEBERGER: Oh yes. Then the other aspect of it was, of course, what we call the intelligence operation, which was also under Riefler, and on which I would help occasionally, because I was the one who had come out of Germany, just the year before. But the management of the blockade section was so heavy that I didn't have much time to work on other aspects of it. People like Walt Rostow were there, on that side of it in those days. Essentially, I ran the blockade part of it, and put it together with the Ministry of Economic Warfare.

Also, because of the connection of many of these problems I became a liaison officer from Economic Warfare Section of the Embassy to the Lend-Lease Section under Averell Harriman. He was running lend-lease in London.

MCKINZIE: What kind of awareness registered with you at the time of the British concern for their own economic future? Surely economic warfare had something to do with Britain's view of itself.

RIDDLEBERGER: Yes. I realize that.

MCKINZIE: Oh, I realize the winning of the war was the most important thing.

RIDDLEBERGER: Very much so. But don’t forget that this is 1942. Two things were still happening. The night raids on Britain (the German night air raids) were still very heavy. The blitz was over, the day blitz, but the night raids were still going on and they were still very heavy. And on top of that, of course, the losses at sea from submarine warfare were still enormous. So this period was really concentrated on survival, I'll be perfectly frank about it. And while I'm sure that within some part of the British Government--no doubt--thinking was going on; but this was '42 and '43.

WILSON: You mentioned you had some involvement in intelligence work, coordinating intelligence work.

RIDDLEBERGER: I'd be called upon from time to time because I often had personal knowledge that some of these other experts didn't have. But I didn't really work very much in that field. I'd be asked a lot of questions. You must remember that I came out very late from Germany, not as late as those who got interned obviously, but I came out, I recall, it was the early summer of '41. And because of the fact I'd been in charge of the representation of foreign interests in Germany I had been able to travel.

WILSON: Yes. So you knew...

RIDDLEBERGER: Jeff Paterson and I were able to travel, because we had the right to inspect camps. And that meant that I went all the way from a civilian camp, let us say, in upper Silesia, for example (where Wodehouse was incarcerated) all through the rest of Germany to the Western frontier, because I had the right to do that. Therefore, I would often have a fairly recent knowledge of the situation in a particular city that somebody else might not have. Of course, I was living in Berlin so I was asked about the situation there. This was before the heavy bombing of Berlin. It was earlier in 1941.

WILSON: You were brought back to the United States in 1944…

RIDDLEBERGER: Yes, from London.

WILSON: be Chief of the...

RIDDLEBERGER: Chief of the Central European Division. This brings me back exactly to what you asked me earlier--and that is that at the Moscow Conference in 1943.

WILSON: Right, '43.

RIDDLEBERGER: I did not attend the Foreign Ministers Conference in Moscow of the British, the U.S. and the Russians, of course. It was decided there to establish the European Advisory Commission in London for the purpose of commencing the negotiations on occupation, both of Germany and Austria. I was notified of this I would say probably late 1943.

I was told that I should probably be called back to Washington and a reorganization of the State Department was coming, whereby I would be made Chief of the Central European Division; and, therefore, I would be deeply involved in the whole question of occupation. That's exactly the way it worked out. The State Department was reorganized and the former Western European Division was broken down into Central, Southern, Western, and British Commonwealth divisions. I took over one of those divisions in which I was competent both for Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia.

WILSON: And Czechoslovakia?

RIDDLEBERGER: And Czechoslovakia. That was my administrative responsibility within the State Department as Chief of the Central European Division; but in addition to that I was made Chairman of a State, War and Navy (there wasn't any separate Defense Department then), which was given a cover name of Working Security Party. And that was the Washington arrangement for backstopping the negotiations in London in the European Advisory Commission, on which our representative was [John G.] Winant, our Ambassador and Sir William Strang was the Britisher.

WILSON: We would be very interested in having your assessment of first the hopes for the EAC, and then what happened to it. Winant became very bitter about what happened, and the assumption was that he had some idea, some belief that it would work and others did. Some other information that we have there was cynicism from the beginning about it. Is that fair?

RIDDLEBERGER: Oh, yes. Primarily in the White House, yes. [President Franklin D.] Roosevelt didn't want to delegate these most important matters. But the question of it working I think can be summarized very quickly. It worked insofar as the negotiation of agreements on the structure of the occupations were concerned. On policy I must say it got, well, practically nowhere, in spite of monumental efforts by the British, and less monumental on our part, and sort of a negative attitude by the Russians. But the control machinery agreements came out of it, and the protocol on zones, and eventually the same thing for Austria.

WILSON: Yes. You put in an enormous amount of time working out specifications--stipulations for control of civilian population, the use of police. This sort of thing came out of the EAC. And yet while you were doing this you knew that people like Henry Morgenthau and others were submitting papers...

RIDDLEBERGER: This was one of the most difficult periods in Washington. Difficult for the State Department, I mean.


RIDDLEBERGER: In that, while technically Roosevelt had approved all this, and had endorsed the conclusions of the Moscow Foreign Ministers meeting, he never regarded the European Advisory Commission as an important instrument. He thought a lot of these important matters should be reserved for him and for [Sir Winston] Churchill and for [Joseph] Stalin. That was his idea. In fact, he described the European Advisory Commission once as not only not being on a primary level, but not even on a secondary level and he called it merely a tertiary level. That was the very phrase he used.

WILSON: What sense did you have of his views about the occupation? He was running fourteen horses in a way.

RIDDLEBERGER: His views were very simple in one sense as reflected back to us. That is while we were given the responsibility of trying to carry this out, you see, at this time Roosevelt would say, "Well we can't make these decisions here. Let's wait and see what we find when we get in Germany."

WILSON: There's a suggestion that he really didn't believe the United States would stay very long?

RIDDLEBERGER: Oh, yes. He made that very clear.

WILSON: He did?

RIDDLEBERGER: Very clear on several occasions. This by the way, is coming out now as the Foreign Relations are being published.

WILSON: Yes. Right.

RIDDLEBERGER: I am supposedly writing a book, you know, on American policy in the occupation of Germany. That's the general subject; it's not a title yet. We don't know. I got started on it, but General [William H., Jr.] Draper got me to come here, and while I'm trying to cut down, I don't always succeed. And, consequently, while I've written a chapter and blocked out another one and done some drafting on it, I've had to drop it.

MCKINZIE: Well, we hope you can go ahead with that.

RIDDLEBERGER: I hope I can go back to it someday. And luckily I made no commitment on the timing, and I stipulated that at the very beginning. This was an offer that came to me. As soon as they heard I planned to retire (I was still in Vienna) I was asked to do this study. It must have been 1967, and the moment I got back here they (this institute in Washington) asked me if I'd undertake to write this. I said, "Well, I’ll see. I will start on it. I will have to go and ascertain what documentation is available." The organization is called the American Enterprise Institute, and what it did was very clever in a way. It publishes primarily brochures that analyze legislation and that sort of thing, but it had one done by Bill Sebald, a colleague of mine. He was [General Douglas] MacArthur's political adviser in the occupation of Japan. They got him to write a short study, not very long, about 135 pages, something like that.

WILSON: Yes. We've seen it. It's very good.

RIDDLEBERGER: Oh, you've seen it. Not bad.

MCKINZIE: No, no, quite blunt.

RIDDLEBERGER: Quite blunt, yes. As I pointed out to the director here, I said, "You know, Japan was in effect a one power occupation. And there are those who would characterize it as being a one man occupation." I think this has a certain merit too. But, of course, Germany is a very different story indeed. You had these long negotiations, and you had a four power occupation eventually, and a great--well, I can almost say disorder in the policies of the several states, certainly in ours, and how it would come about, and who had the authority to do what and so forth. Then you had, as you properly mentioned, the injection of Morgenthau’s ideas. And they played a great role. But the difficulty about writing this sort of study is, that this is a very long and complicated period, extending from the time of the Moscow Conference in November '43 (it took until January to get the European Advisory Commission star