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Conrad E. Snow Oral History Interview


Oral History Interview with
Conrad E. Snow

Director, Legal Division, Office of Chief Signal Officer, 1940-45; in charge of clemency, Office of the Under Secretary of War and member of Clemency Board (Roberts Board), 1945-46; asst. legal adviser for political affairs, U.S. Dept. of State, and adviser to U.S. member, Far Eastern Commission, 1946-50; chairman, Loyalty-Security Board, 1947-52; asst. legal adviser for Far Eastern Affairs, 1950-56; member of the Advisory Board on War Criminals, High Commissioner for Germany, 1950; U.S. representative negotiating Status of Forces Agreement, London, 1951; and chairman, Clemency and Parole Board for Japanese War Criminals, 1952-56.

Gilmanton Iron Works, N.H.
July 2, 1973
by Richard D. McKinzie


Oral History Interview . . . . . . . . . . .Pages 1-44
Appendix A . . . . ... . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . .45
Appendix B . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46-51

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


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.

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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 February, 1976
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri


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


Oral History Interview with
Conrad E. Snow


Gilmanton Iron Works, N.H.
July 2, 1973
by Richard D. McKinzie


RICHARD D. MCKINZIE: General Snow, would you begin by giving a little information about how you came to re-enter the military service in 1940. You had, after all, already had a distinguished career as a lawyer. You had already served in the military, and you went back to service before Pearl Harbor.

CONRAD E. SNOW: That's right.

MCKINZIE: Could you give us some background about how you came back to the service and then a brief account of your subsequent wartime career?


SNOW: I had not reserved a Reserve Commission after my experience in the First World War, but in 1940 I had a telegram from Robert P. Patterson, then Assistant Secretary of War, asking me to come to Washington because he needed my services. The upshot of that was that I entered the army in the fall of 1940 as a lieutenant colonel in the Signal Corps for the express purpose of taking care of the legal affairs of the Signal Corps.

MCKINZIE: Had you known Mr. Patterson, General Snow?

SNOW: Yes. He was a classmate of mine in Harvard Law School.

MCKINZIE: So most of the wartime years you were involved then with the legal affairs of the Signal Corps?

SNOW: I was Director of the Legal Division of the Signal Corps. I was the legal advisor of the


Chief Signal Officer from the beginning. Shortly after that the Legal Division was organized and I was made Director of the Legal Division. While I was the only lawyer they had in the Signal Corps at the beginning, at the end I had 75 lawyers and a 150 civilians in my department.

MCKINZIE: Could you explain basically how this evolution came about?

SNOW: Well, it came about through the multiplicity of my duties. I not only had supervision of the contractual affairs of the Signal Corps which amounted to purchasing ten billion dollars worth of stuff in three years, but I had all the labor problems and the patents and inventions problems of the Signal Corps, which necessitated numerous offices throughout the United States -- in twelve cities as a matter of fact. I had to have officers to man these various offices.


MCKINZIE: Had you known people in the Department of State and had you considered any work in the Department of State prior to your joining that Department?

SNOW: Never. When I retired from the Army in 1946 I had to consider what I should do next. My practice of the law in New Hampshire had disintegrated through the closing of the office for the period of the war, and I decided that I would like to do something in the way of public service. The State Department appeared to be a natural recourse. Patterson recommended me to the Secretary of State.

MCKINZIE: Yes. I understand you have a letter [See Appendix A] which we could insert into our record at this point.

SNOW: Yes.


MCKINZIE: May I go back and ask you about serving for the Under Secretary of War in 1945 and 1946 on the Clemency Board which was established to review for clemency the cases of, I believe, some twenty-two thousand or so army personnel?

SNOW: There were three clemency boards, as a matter of fact, that I sat on. The clemency board that I think you refer to was the Clemency Board of the War Department where I was serving under Kenneth C. Royall, Under Secretary of War, after the closing of my work for the Legal Division of the Signal Corps.

MCKINZIE: I see. This was at the close of that period.

SNOW: Yes, in 1946. I sat on the Board under the chairmanship of Owen J. Roberts, formerly Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, and familiarly called the Roberts Board. And that Board passed on some twenty-two thousand five


hundred cases of soldiers who were in penitentiaries for all the crimes on the calendar, from AWOL to murder to rape. We reduced the sentences in eighty percent of the cases.

MCKINZIE: Could we at this point talk a little about that? What kinds of legal principles were involved in those reductions? Was it just a matter of the war now being over and leniency was kind of in the air because of the victory, or were there some harsh differences between codes of military justice and civilian justice which needed to be reconciled?

SNOW: The sentences passed out by courts-martial during the war were in the highest degree uneven. There were extraordinary sentences for slight offenses -- like AWOL for a few days or a few weeks and handed out by military courts in the exigencies of battle practically. So they needed reductions, these extraordinary sentences.


MCKINZIE: Were there people on that Board who had other views about that? There was a feeling of some later that the military justice code had to be extremely harsh in order to maintain discipline.

SNOW: Well, that's true. In order to maintain discipline it was necessary for these courts-martial to hand out severe penalties at the time the sentences were handed out. But after every war there comes a period when those harsh sentences have to be reviewed and mitigated.

MCKINZIE: To your knowledge, did this experience with the Roberts Committee have an effect on your acceptance by the State Department or their interest in your work?

SNOW: I don't know that they even knew about it.

MCKINZIE: Could you tell me something about the first days in the State Department? Did you


have a clear idea of what you were going to be doing when you arrived there?

SNOW: No. No idea of what I was going to do, and no idea of international law; and I was Assistant Legal Adviser for Political Affairs at the beginning. Later on it was changed to Assistant Legal Adviser for Far Eastern Affairs.

MCKINZIE: Yes. Could you tell how you happened to become involved in Far Eastern Affairs. Is it a particular expertise, did you have a knowledge of Far Eastern problems or was this one of those things that happen in the State Department?

SNOW: Well, it was partly just what happened, but as Assistant Legal Advisor for Political Affairs I had been given the job of serving as counsel for the American delegation on the Far Eastern Commission. I sat continuously with


the Far Eastern Commission from my entrance into the State Department until, I think, '52 when it ended.

MCKINZIE: May I ask you about that Far Eastern Commission? Do you recall any of its substantive work? It didn't have much effect, did it?

SNOW: Well, it issued directives to General Douglas MacArthur, and one of the most important works of the Board was trying to reconcile the Board to the fact that MacArthur never really observed the directives.

MCKINZIE: This was the important job of the counsel, you say?

SNOW: Yes, the Far Eastern Commission.

MCKINZIE: Well, as it wasn't having much effect did you ever think that it might legally be disposed of, or that that ought to be taken care


of some other way?

SNOW: No. I don't know if that occurred to me; but there was a great deal of difficulty in getting MacArthur to observe its dictates.

MCKINZIE: Did anybody at the time ever say anything to you about a military man being involved in political affairs in the State Department? There has since been, as you well know, a great deal of discussion about the lines between the military and the executive branch -- the extent to which military thinking must bear upon the diplomacy. Was this ever any concern of yours in those days?

SNOW: No. I don't think my experience as a soldier in the Second World War had any great bearing on my job as an Assistant Legal Advisor. I think my work as Assistant Legal Advisor was initially assigned to me because of Patterson's letter, and my experience as a lawyer rather than a soldier.


MCKINZIE: Could you explain how you came to be involved in the two other clemency boards on which you served? You mentioned one the Roberts Board.

SNOW: Yes. On the Roberts Board I served under the Under Secretary of War in the Second World War, in 1946. The next one was the Advisory Board on Clemency appointed by John J. McCloy, U.S. High Commissioner for Germany. The State Department loaned me to General McCloy for that purpose, and I went to Germany with David W. Peck, Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division of the First Department of the New York Supreme Court, as Chairman; and Frederick A. Moran, Chairman of the New York State Board of Parole, as the second member, and myself as the third member. We went to Germany for forty days. We read five thousand pages of opinions and passed on -- I don't remember offhand how many criminals



MCKINZIE: I read someplace that it was one hundred and four.

SNOW: A hundred and four I think that was right. A hundred and four war criminals -- recommending reduction of sentences in many, and probably most, cases.

MCKINZIE: Again, could I ask you to discuss the reasoning of this committee and even the legal principles involved if you recall them.

SNOW: Some recent writer has misinterpreted the work of this committee by assuming that our job was to retry the crime committed. That was not so at all. In all cases we assumed that the crime had been committed exactly as found by the court.

MCKINZIE: The Nuremberg Court, yes.

SNOW: No, it wasn't the big Nuremberg Court. It


was several minor courts of American judges. We didn't concern ourselves in the guilt of the criminals for the crimes for which they were found guilty. What we busied ourselves with was the suitability of the sentence to the crime, and in all cases where we recommended a reduction of the sentence we came to the conclusion that the sentence was excessive for the crime involved.

MCKINZIE: General Snow, why was it necessary to go to Germany for the review of this? Were not the records available in Washington?

SNOW: As far as I know they were not.

MCKINZIE: So it involved then, mainly, a task of reviewing the appropriate legal documents and transcripts of the trials?

SNOW: The transcripts of the decision of the court. There were five thousand pages of decisions in these hundred and four cases, and in forty


days we had to read all those opinions.

MCKINZIE: How did this work then by a kind of majority vote?

SNOW: The three members of the Board sat down together and decided what should be done in each case.

MCKINZIE: Was there a general meeting of minds on most cases by the three of you?

SNOW: Yes. We had very little difference of opinion.

MCKINZIE: Did you discuss then your recommendations with John J. McCloy?

SNOW: No. We submitted them in writing to Mr. Mccloy.

MCKINZIE: Did you get a chance while you were doing that to discuss with any of the Military Government officials of Germany their views


about these cases? Were they interested in those cases?

SNOW: No. Mr. Moran interviewed the prisoners themselves, and we talked with counsel for the prisoners. The counsel for the prisoners appeared before us.

MCKINZIE: This would be German lawyers.

SNOW: German lawyers.

MCKINZIE: You yourself, did not then go in and talk to the German prisoners?

SNOW: I did not talk to the prisoners, but I listened to the lawyers.

MCKINZIE: How do you explain the fact that that Board was necessary or desirable?