Oral History Interview with
May 27, 1964
by Philip C. Brooks
June 24, 1970
by Theodore A. Wilson
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. ) 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 January 1967
Harry S. Truman Library
Oral History Interview with
Baron Jean-Charles Snoy
May 27, 1964
by Philip C. Brooks
DR. PHILIP C. BROOKS: I would like to start, if I may, Baron Snoy, by asking if you agree with some persons to whom I have talked that the Marshall Plan was a turning point in the economic history of Europe.
BARON JEAN-CHARLES SNOY: It was certainly a turning point and very important one, because it was very unusual for the European countries to cooperate sincerely together in the years '46 and `47 and '48. In fact, we had a most interesting event in July '48. We were all, at
that time, lobbying at Washington to get the biggest possible share for every individual country in the Marshall Plan and I always remember the day when Governor Harriman came to me and said, "Now, you have to stop this undignified lobbying going on in Washington, because if you don't do it, you'll not get a cent from the Marshall Plan."
BROOKS: The theory was to have the lobbying done at Paris, wasn't it?
SNOY: Lobbying had been done everywhere, but, we had the necessity of producing a plan of division of aid, which had to be accepted unanimously and that meant something entirely new to the habits of cooperation of European countries. And we began from that day to open our books to each other with the fullest sincerity, and it was impossible from that point to do anything
except with unanimous consent and we had to convince each other of the righteousness of our case.
BROOKS: Could I go back a little, sir, and ask you, did the people of Belgium or did you expect this strong action on the part of the United States?
SNOY: In fact, the speech of General Marshall was not expected, but we were all under the feeling of a crisis, which had to be taken care of in one way or the other and we didn't know exactly what the outcome would be. Of course, everyone was relying on the United States as leader of the Western World.
BROOKS: Do you remember what your initial reaction was, or what people here, generally, thought about General Marshall's program?
SNOY: The reaction was extremely enthusiastic and I remember that in the first days of July, we arranged a meeting with our Benelux partners to have a common answer to the speech of General Marshall and also to the invitation of the French and British Foreign Ministers to get together in a conference at Paris.
BROOKS: General Marshall's speech called for a very high degree of cooperation
among the European nations. Did you think that that was possible at that
time? Was there any skepticism here in Brussels?
SNOY: We thought it had to be possible. In fact, we had our own experience, as small countries in Benelux where we were able to work together in a very novel way of cooperation. We thought that there was no future for Europe, if we didn't push forward such a cooperation between all the European
BROOKS: People have said to me that the Marshall Plan, the OEEC, was the first experience of this kind of economic cooperation. I wondered, if here in Belgium, the experience of the Benelux Customs Union was significant, if really you didn't have some prior experience.
SNOY: You know, in fact the Benelux Treaty had been already foreshadowed in 1932 by an effort called the Ouchy Convention, where the three same countries wanted to build together a customs union. This had been impossible due to the reaction of the great European countries, which didn't want any kind of discrimination, as they called it. During the war, the idea of the solidarity of the Benelux countries, at least economically, was growing stronger and stronger and so it was possible for the three governments
in London in exile, to sign, on September 3, 1944, the Treaty of Benelux. Then we started after the liberation of Holland, which came the last of the three to build together, the reconstruction of our countries, economically speaking. In fact, the decision to have a customs union working on the first of January '48, had already been taken in '47. We had some experience of the problems and we knew that things were difficult but that they were possible.
BROOKS: In other words, your experience in the Benelux Customs Union was good enough so that it made you optimistic about it. And you were personally associated with the Benelux organization.
SNOY: Yes, of course, I was at that time already Chairman of the Council of Union.
BROOKS: Did you or did the Belgians think it wise of Bevin and Bidault to ask Molotov to come to Paris and to invite the Russians to join?
SNOY: As far as I recall my impressions at that time, I thought this was a sound way of handling the matter. We knew that the chances were, perhaps, not so great to have the Russians accept it, but why should we exclude anybody of the European countries from this common effort? If the Russians had to refuse, well that was too bad, but we had done our duty.
BROOKS: You thought the Russians probably would refuse?
SNOY: Yes, that seemed probable at the time.
BROOKS: Well, this is a rather hypothetical question, but, had they accepted, would the plan then have worked? Could it have worked?
SNOY: Well, we don't know, of course, what would have happened. In case they had accepted, it would have been possible for them to break up many things, that's true. But, on the other hand, there again it would have been so clear that it's not certain that they would have done it easily.
BROOKS: Would you say that the rift between the East and the West that we now call the Cold War had really developed by June 1947?
SNOY: No, you will always remember the case of Czechoslovakia. The Czechs accepted, in fact, the invitation of Mr. Bevin and Mr. Bidault, and this was the reason why the Russians provoked the famous Coup de Prague. And, this was the beginning of the Cold War.
BROOKS: Mr. Lange, the Foreign Minister of Norway,
told me he thought that Czechoslovakia was trying to act as a bridge between the East and the West on their side, just as Norway was on its side.
SNOY: That may be true, but I couldn't confirm it.
BROOKS: What about Germany, Baron Snoy? Thinking both of the judgment of the leaders and also of popular opinion, which was the stronger, whatever emotional antagonism existed toward the Germans as a result of the war, or the feeling that the German economy had to be allowed to recover to make Europe prosperous?
SNOY: Of course, you must be aware that Belgium had been occupied during practically four years and a half, and that the occupation had been very hard and very cruel. We had hard memories. On the other hand, we also had
the experience of the other World War, and we knew that what we had done after the First World War, to exact reparations and to ask probably more than was economically possible or sound, had driven Germany into the Second World War, to a certain extent. Therefore, we were more moderate in our feelings in '47, than we had been in '20. This is quite clear in my mind and this is not only true at the level of the government, it was true at the level of public opinion in our district.
BROOKS: The Belgians wouldn't have favored a plan to make Germany an agricultural country.
SNOY: No, we were quite aware of the impracticability of doing that.
BROOKS: On the question of the level of industry in Germany, the Belgians were willing to see the
German industry rebuilt.
SNOY: In fact the idea has always been, how could we avoid the strong heavy industries of Germany becoming an instrument of war again. Of course, the solution was found in '50 with the Schumann Plan.
BROOKS: This is a digression, but one thing that's interested me, since I've been in Southern Europe, is whether the Greek-Turkish aid program of the Truman Administration, which was practically simultaneous in time, was regarded here as something quite separate from the Marshall Plan. Or was there any particular concern about the Greek-Turkish problem?
SNOY: Yes, we certainly had a concern about the Greek and Turkish positions at that time. In fact, the matters were extremely mixed together,
because when we were talking about the cases of Greece and Turkey inside the Marshall Plan, we knew about the necessary coordination with the other plans of help to these countries. We were aware of the necessity of helping them very largely to avoid an extension of Communism in the Mediterranean.
BROOKS: Many people in our country thought of the Greek-Turkish program as part of the war against Communism, in economic and military aid, and so forth; and of the Marshall Plan as something quite different -- a matter of economic recovery. Did you think of the Marshall Plan as a phase of economic warfare, or otherwise?
SNOY: No, in fact, the Marshall Plan was essentially a reconstruction of the European economy. But, the state of the economy in '47 was so bad that we all knew that a collapse of the European
economy would have meant Communism everywhere.
BROOKS: I've been told that the occupation in Belgium by the Germans during the war was of a different character from that in Holland and Norway, for example. In fact, some people have said it wasn't quite so severe.
SNOY: It was more a military occupation than a political and civilian occupation. We had always during the war a great difference between the treatment imposed on us by the German Army, or by the German SS, or the political leaders -- Nazi leaders. In Belgium, it was only during the last months that influence of the political Nazi leaders was greater than the influence of the military heads.
BROOKS: Now the winter of '47 and '48, Baron Snoy, after the Marshall speech was a critical time
in much of Europe. I take it that most people here knew that the Marshall Plan would not be approved by the American Congress for months. Did this in itself create problems? Did people here follow the debates in Congress?
SNOY: You must remember that the situation of Belgium was, to a great extent, much better than any other European country at that time. We were even considered at that time as living to a certain extent in a "fool's paradise," because we had avoided many of the breakups which were due to the monetary crises. We had no monetary crises in Belgium and our