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Reminiscence of William Sanders

Reminiscence of
William Sanders

Associate chief, division of international organization affairs, Office of Special Political Affairs, U.S. Department of State, 1945-48; alternate U.S. representative, Council of Organization of American States, 1948; special assistant, Office of U.N. Affairs, 1948, acting director, 1948; director seminar in international law and organizations, Georgetown University, 1948-53; special assistant, Bureau of U.N. Affairs and acting deputy assistant secretary of state, 1950-52; appointed foreign service officer, class 1, 1952; staff director, Bureau of U.N. Affairs, 1953.

August, 1975

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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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 March, 1977
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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Reminiscence of
William Sanders


August, 1975
Mr. Sanders chose to write rather than relate orally the most memorable events of his Government service during the Truman years.


The background of President Truman's visit to Rio de Janeiro in September 1947 was:

1) The Mexico City Inter-American Conference on Problems of War and Peace held in 1945 adopted Resolution VIII on "Reciprocal Assistance and American Solidarity," known as the "Act of Chapultepec." This document consolidated and extended the Declaration of the Havana Meeting of Foreign Ministers (adopted some seventeen months

before Pearl Harbor) which provided that any act of aggression by a non-American State against an American State would be considered an act of aggression against all the American States.

In a very real sense the Act of Chapultepec was a response to the provisions of the Dumbarton Oaks draft of the U.N. Charter of the five big powers allied in World War II. Copies of this document were in the hands of the delegations at the Conference. The Act provided "that for the purpose of meeting threats or acts of aggression against any American Republic following the establishment of peace..." the governments should consider the conclusion of a treaty establishing procedures whereby such threats or acts might be met by the use, by all or some of the signatories of the treaty, of a series of specified measures. The Act was, in effect, an

implicit assertion of regional autonomy in security matters vis-a-vis the upcoming World Organization.

2) This issue came to the fore early at the San Francisco U.N. Conference later the same year. It became one of the most difficult problems facing the U.S. delegation. There were Latin-American proposals that the Act of Chapultepec be mentioned specifically in the Charter as constituting a regional arrangement exempt from the veto of the big powers. After much soul searching and with the approval of President Truman, the delegation made two proposals, one part of the conference proceedings and one not. The first was the introduction of Article 51 in the Charter, on individual or collective self defense in the case of an armed attack; the other was an assurance, made by the Secretary of State to the Latin-Americans, that the U.S. was prepared to proceed with the agreement in the

Act of Chapultepec to negotiate an inter-American treaty on reciprocal defense.

3) The inter-American Conference to negotiate the second part of the U.S. formula was postponed twice for known reasons, and almost a third time, not known publicly. The first two reasons related to U.S. objections to have Argentina participate in the Conference, because of its failure to take necessary action against the Axis powers after its last minute break of diplomatic relations with them.

As to the third reason, on the eve of Dean Acheson's departure in 1947 as Under Secretary of State and Robert Lovett's assumption of that post, I was informed that a decision was imminent to request a further postponement of the Conference. The reason was the uncertainty as to the outcome of the Conference. In view of the President's plan

to visit Rio on the "Mighty Mo" to celebrate the conclusion of the treaty on reciprocal defense to be signed there, some clear assurance was needed that the meeting would be a success, otherwise the President would find himself in an untenable position. Time was needed, it was argued, for further preliminary negotiations in the Governing Board of the Pan American Union to ensure that the Conference outcome would justify the President's visit.

I requested an opportunity to discuss the issue with Messrs. Acheson and Lovett. A meeting was held with them, attended also by the Director of the Office of American Republic Affairs (now at the Assistant Secretary level), the Director of the Division of Regional Political Affairs of that Office, and the chief of the Secretary's staff.

The discussion was prolonged. Mr. Acheson remained unconvinced by my arguments that we

could not ask for a third postponement after being responsible for two of them. At the end I said that, as I saw the possible outcome, there were three possibilities: a maximum success, a middle possibility, and a minimum one. I said that even the latter outcome would justify the President's visit, although I thought the other two were more likely. Mr. Lovett at last turned to Mr. Acheson and said he thought the U.S. should go ahead with the Conference. Mr. Acheson reluctantly agreed.

As we left the office, the Director of Latin-American Affairs turned to me and said, "Bill, I hope to God that you are right."

The Conference was a great success, as was President Truman's visit on September 2, 1947, to celebrate the conclusion of the treaty -- fortunately for the Western Hemisphere, and for me.

An important factor that made for success was the agreement, authorized by President Truman and

announced by Secretary Marshall at the Conference, that the U.S. would accept a decision, by a two-thirds vote of the American States, to impose measures short of the use of armed force against any country, American or otherwise, found to be guilty of threats of aggression or of acts of aggression against any of them. This was unprecedented and totally unexpected by the Latin-Americans. The then Director General of the Pan American Union and later President of Columbia, and an outstanding statesman on all counts, Alberto Lieres Camargo, invited me to have a drink with him to celebrate the U.S. announcement. He found it hard to believe that the U.S. could put so much of its "sovereign prerogatives" in the hands of its neighbors.


President Truman's judgment in the selection of men for high posts in his administration may, as some hold, not have been flawless, but in the case of George Marshall and Dean Acheson, two very different personalities, he was faultless. The former he considered "one of the great men of his time." I agree. To illustrate:

I was with General Marshall at the Rio Conference of 1947 and the Bogota Conference of 1948 as an advisor on the U.S. delegation.

1) At the Rio Conference the Mexican delegation unexpectedly proposed that the treaty being negotiated limit the obligations of the parties to assist in meeting an armed attack against any one of them to an area three hundred miles from the coasts of the Western Hemisphere, and that in the case of an act of aggression not an armed attack, or of an extra or intra continental conflict or other fact or situation that might endanger the peace of America, the treaty provide for consultation on the measure to be taken.

The morning after the proposal was presented I entered the office where the staff was preparing for the committee meetings. With my back to the entrance door, I held forth on why the U.S. should oppose the proposal. Suddenly I heard the voice of Senator Vandenberg behind me (he was the U.S. spokesman on the committee to consider the proposal) asking: "Bill, are you sure we should oppose? I have already told the Mexicans that we will support." I said that, in my opinion, we should oppose the proposal. The Senator then said that we should have at once, that same Sunday afternoon, a meeting of the delegation to discuss the issue. He then spoke with General Marshall, who immediately agreed to have the meeting. Since the Conference was held at Quintandinha, in Petropolis, some miles from Rio, where most of the U.S. delegates were taking advantage of the day of rest to relax and

sightsee, the call for the meeting meant that they had to abandon Rio and hurry back to the site of the Conference. I was sure I would become thoroughly unpopular.

At the meeting* Senator Vandenberg spoke at some length on why the U.S. should support the Mexican proposal. After he had finished, the Secretary looked around the room for the views of the other delegates. None spoke up. The Senator then said, as I recall, "Bill Sanders has other views and should make them known." I then took out of my pocket a piece of paper on which I had scribbled several points on why we should oppose. One, and the major one, was that the proposal would have the psychological and political, if not legal, effect of limiting the obligations for the maintenance of peace and security which the parties had assumed in the Charter of the

*Attended by General Marshall, William D. Pauley, Arthur H. Vandenberg, Tom Connally, Sol Bloom, Warren R. Austin, two generals and an admiral, and the top level advisers.

United Nations. This would undermine the concept of the World Organization of collective responsibility for world peace. At this point the Secretary reached over for my piece of paper. That is the last I saw of it.

Senator Connally, at whose side I sat, asked me if I was sure of my grounds. I replied that I w