Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened February, 1976
Oral History Interview with
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.
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