Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened June, 1979
Oral History Interview with
July 8, 1976
by Richard D, McKinzie
MCKINZIE: Ambassador Rockwell, I think many historians are interested in why people choose Government careers. You did go right out of Harvard, almost, into the Government. I wonder if you could explain what motivated you to choose a career in Government. Was it due to a youthful ambition? Were you convinced in college? What brings one into Government service?
ROCKWELL: Well, in my case I think the main reason was that I've always been interested in foreign languages, learning them and speaking them, and I majored in Romance Languages at college. And
when the time came to choose a career, I thought that the Foreign Service would be the most logical place for a person who was interested in languages and foreign affairs in general, as I was. I applied to take the examinations for the Foreign Service and fortunately passed both the written and the oral.
MCKINZIE: Did you have, at that time, any world view? A lot of people who came into the State Department at that time now unembarrassedly called themselves "Wilsonians" or "realists" or some other kind.
ROCKWELL: No, I think that would be going too far. I really didn't have any particular view at the time. I just knew I wanted to get started.
MCKINZIE: So you didn't really have any particular desire to go to Panama, where you were going?
ROCKWELL: That was just something that was decided
without consulting me. But I enjoyed myself very much. It was an interesting time for me; it was during war.
MCKINZIE: Of course. Were you involved in the very early aid programs for Central American countries in food or...
ROCKWELL: No, maybe they hadn't been established in time. I was involved mostly in the problem of the military installations in the Canal Zone and our relations with Panama concerning them.
MCKINZIE: You came back from Panama in 1944 and, as I understand, went to Ankara in 1946. What were your activities in the interim?
ROCKWELL: I was in the Army. I came back and was drafted into the Army. I was on my way to Algiers, but since I was of a certain age and unmarried at the time, the Department, which was under heavy pressure to give up its
position that its career officers should not be subject to the draft, gave in and decided that all unmarried career officers of a certain age could be subject to the draft. And therefore, I was drafted and went into the Army and finally ended up in OSS [Office of Strategic Services]. I did that for two years, mostly in London and France, and then returned to the Foreign Service in '46.
MCKINZIE: By the time you came back into the Foreign Service, had you formed any personal views about what the future of the United States was going to be in international affairs? Did you anticipate at an early stage the cold war or that the Middle East was going to be a tension spot?
ROCKWELL: Well, I think when I came back in 1946, I was under the influence of the philosophy that the main enemy was, of course, Nazi
Germany, and that the Soviet Union had been on our side during the war. Accordingly, it was supposed to be hoped that cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union would continue.
MCKINZIE: Were you in Ankara long before you were disabused of that?
ROCKWELL: It wasn't long after my arrival in Ankara that the trouble erupted between Turkey and the Soviet Union over Kars and Ardahanz. It soon became apparent, at least within that context, that we were not on the same side with the Soviet Union.
MCKINZIE: You were there at a very exciting time, because this was a period of the Truman Doctrine and the Greek-Turkish aid program. There must have been a great deal of political reporting which all Foreign Service officers...
ROCKWELL: There was, indeed, and it was a period of very close relations between ourselves and the Turks. In a sense, it's rather sad to see what has happened to that relationship recently over the repercussions of the Cyprus problem and also because of the rather spectacular growth of Turkish nationalism. However, at that particular time, we were the number one friends of Turkey and, of course, the major provider of aid, too.
MCKINZIE: There is always the question about why Turkey was included in the Greek-Turkish aid program, why Mr. Truman had chosen to portray the crisis in Turkey as equal to the crisis in Greece. There have been some revisionist suggestions that Turkey was brought into that discussion because, in that case, the threat was clearly Soviet, whereas, in the case of Greece, the threat was less than clearly Soviet. It seems it was coming from Bulgaria
and from Yugoslavia. But at the time the two together made it popular to sell the American public on the idea that the whole thing was a Soviet problem. Is there any validity at all to that?
ROCKWELL: Well, I think, as I recall it, the whole thing was sold essentially on the basis that it was a Communist problem, not necessarily a Soviet or a Bulgarian one. The monolithic idea of Communism was very prevalent in those days, that Communism in one country is equivalent to Communism in another country. My recollection was that the general public affairs description of the aid program was that international Communism was the problem in both countries. The Soviet Union was the major exponent of international Communism.
MCKINZIE: At this early stage, because this was the first American foreign aid program (with the
exception of lend-lease), was there any talk among the people on post about whether this aid program was going to constitute intervention in the internal affairs of the sovereign nation? Aid does in a way, does it not?
ROCKWELL: Well, no, there was not, to my recollection, largely because the sovereign nation so obviously desired the aid, and so obviously welcomed it without -- at that time at least -- there being an apparent concern on the part of the Turks with regard to the effect of that aid on their internal situation, or on our side either.
MCKINZIE: Well, I perhaps posed the question too strongly. Was the suggestion made by some people that aid constituted intervention in internal affairs?
ROCKWELL: Not to my recollection, no. Of course, it was just the beginning of our international
aid effort. It took some time, perhaps, for some people to come to conclude that foreign aid could be considered to be a kind of intervention. But at that time, it seemed to me that the Turkish reaction was unreservably favorable. I don't recall any discussions in the Embassy of concern less it be considered intervention. Of course, the Greece-Turkey aid program itself, as I recall it, was quite popular in both countries -- with the governments of both countries.
MCKINZIE: Yes. You consider that, then, just a normal tour, and when you came back you had no idea that you would be put on the Palestine desk?
ROCKWELL: Well, what happened was that the Palestine situation was heating up. In the early part of 1948, the Department removed from its post in Palestine all married officers, and they sent in single people to replace them from surrounding
posts. So, I went down to Jerusalem from Ankara in March, I guess it was, of '48 on temporary detail.
MCKINZIE: How did you find Jerusalem at that time?
ROCKWELL: Well, a very, very tense and difficult place. Obviously there was going to be an explosion, and everybody knew that. The British were preparing to withdraw, and it was really a very tragic time for everybody. We lost the Consul General, who was killed by a sniper and we lost two other members of the staff by shrapnel and various other accidents of war.
MCKINZIE: By that time everyone had agreed that the possibility of conciliation and the possibility of resolutions in the United Nations was hopeless?
ROCKWELL: That's right. There was inexorable progress toward the inevitable clash that everybody knew was going to come.
MCKINZIE: Then your mission was simply a reporting one?
ROCKWELL: Yes, largely, although, of course, when we became a member of the Truce Commission after the first fighting, then the Consul General had more to do than just reporting. He was a representative on the commission, together with France and Turkey, as I recall.