Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened January, 1976
Oral History Interview with
June 26, 1973
by Richard D. McKinzie
RICHARD D. MCKINZIE: Governor Stassen, would you tell me how you came to be appointed to the delegation of the United States to the United Nations organizational conference?
HAROLD STASSEN: President Roosevelt sent a cable to Admiral Halsey -- I was serving then as his Assistant Chief of Staff for Administration in the Pacific war -- stating that he would like me to be on the delegation. I think President Roosevelt was then on his way back from the Yalta Conference. There was Senator Arthur Vandenberg and Congressman Sol Bloom who were respective seniors in Senate and House Foreign Affairs and Foreign Relations. President
Roosevelt had decided, apparently, that he wanted me to be the third of the Republicans on the delegation. So, he sent this cable to Admiral [William F.] Halsey and Admiral Halsey called me in and threw the cable across the desk and said, "Here, do you want to do this?"
It was a complete surprise to me and, of course, I very much wanted to do it, because that was a basic objective, practically, in my life and I thought I had kind of left this behind when I went on to active duty in World War II, and I told the Admiral, "I'd like very much to do it."
He asked how we'd arrange my part of his staff work and I said, "Well, as you know you've always said we have to have men ready to take our place in case we get hit." And I said, "I'm not hit, but I want to go." I had two good assistants and so he agreed that Lt. Herbert Carroll could step up and take my work and I would go and report to President Roosevelt for this purpose.
Then, he asked me, "Well, when you're through with this, would you like to come back?"
I said, "I'd like very much to come back to join you again." So he wrote me a set of orders to proceed on temporary additional duty, to go report to the President for this purpose of his cable, drafting the United Nations Charter, and when completed for this temporary additional duty, return and report to Admiral Halsey. This literally is what I did. Of course, when I was in San Francisco, actually in the offices of the San Francisco Chronicle talking to Paul Smith, the flash came that President Roosevelt had died. This was about April 13, somewhere along in there, 1945. Then the delegation assembled and President Truman made a rather prompt decision that he wanted the same delegation to carry it forward. So he in effect then re-appointed all of us. Naturally, I personally appreciated it. I think, too, in the perspective of history, this was one of President Truman's rather typical, prompt, decisive conclusions, to appoint the same delegation to go forward with the United Nations Charter. He had, of course, the complete authority at that moment. He could have tried to add somebody of his personal acquaintance, or he could have shuffled
around or done anything he wanted; but he just laid it right on the line and both officially and publicly, and then to us, when he came out to San Francisco, that he wanted us to go right ahead with the work of drafting the United Nations Charter.
MCKINZIE: Had you met President Truman before this when he was Senator?
STASSEN: Very slightly, yes. I had met him in some of the Washington receptions and around the Senate a little bit. Of course, you see, before I went on active duty in the war, I was chairman of the Governors Conference, and this is the Governors of both Democrats and Republicans and we had quite a bit of contact at that point in the inter-relationships as the war approached, the Lend-Lease period, and so on. So, I had had some contact with him, but hardly have said that I knew him. And some contact at some of the Washington dinners like Gridiron dinners and things of that kind.
MCKINZIE: When you came back to San Francisco do you recall what kind of preparations you were able to
make? Probably you weren't able to do very much before you left the Pacific; but do you recall any meetings with Senator Vandenberg or Representative Bloom or John Foster Dulles?
STASSEN: Oh, yes, the whole delegation met and, of course, we also -- see out at Dumbarton Oaks they had prepared, of course, a draft, and then they'd also, out at Yalta, they had some agreements and there were quite extensive studies; and then I decided that, of course, I needed some staff. Coming back from the Pacific I had to then leave my old staff in the Pacific that is, naturally, my military staff, naval staff. So, then I sent cables to the presidents of Harvard and Yale and a few other institutions and asked for suggestions of any of their students who had shown great ability in international affairs and studies and had been off to war and might have been wounded but not seriously and got back, that they'd make such a search.
They turned up with a number of nominations and the two that I selected were a young man named Cord Meyer, who had been a marine and was wounded and
had studied international affairs at Yale as I remember; and then a John Thompson, I think had studied at Harvard, as I remember. These two young men became two of my key staff members and then the State Department was to furnish two and they turned out to be Ralph Bunche and [O. Benjamin] Gerig, two young Foreign Service officers at that time. Then, of course, secretarial help and so on. So we began our research and our preparations and the review of the delegation books for the drafting of the Charter.
Then we met at San Francisco in preparation and in the very early part of the negotiations President Truman came to San Francisco and met with the delegation, met with all of us; met with Ed Stettinius who was Secretary of State, and we had a number of conferences at that time.
MCKINZIE: One of the very early interests that you took in that Charter concerned the veto provision in the Charter. Do you recall any of your conversations with high ranking members of the delegation about the real possibility of getting that changed? It had been agreed to at Yalta, as I understand it.
I know you much opposed that provision; did it seem to you that there was at any time a possibility that that might have been altered somewhat?
STASSEN: You see, we did get it somewhat narrowed in its definition and this came up, in effect, that if you could have a veto on a discussion of an issue, preliminary veto so to speak, you could choke off the whole process. And then there were some other issues, so that we reached the conclusion, particularly Senator Vandenberg and I, that there were certain minimums that would have to be attained in order to make it worthwhile to have a Charter. That is, you had to make the judgment as to whether or not you had a beginning that was worthwhile or whether or not it would be better not to make the beginning, because of some of the Russian positions at that time. Of course, as you recall some of the Polish issues began to flare up versus the Soviet Union and other issues of that kind. I was one of those that recommended to President Truman that he send Harry Hopkins to Moscow to have more or less of a showdown talk with Stalin about the deadlock at San Francisco. This was again one of those
decisive decisions that he made that I think are very important in history and in what happened. He sent Harry Hopkins to see Stalin with a good briefing on what the issues were. At that time he got enough narrowing of the veto and enough resolution of some of the most difficult issues that it seemed clear that the Charter should go forward and we should make the start. At the same time, I had taken the lead on this matter of putting in the Charter another method of amending, and that was the so called "amending conference method" which is still in the Charter.
MCKINZIE: Article 109.
STASSEN: That's right Article 109, it became later, which was the basis on which you could really prepare a new charter and make a new start at some future year and which, of course, is overdue at this time.
MCKINZIE: Did I understand you correctly that this is precisely what you had in mind at that time was,
at some point changing it so that there could be a revision of the veto provision?
STASSEN: That's right, and other things too: the matter of weighted voting and the matter of better financing. There were a number of these things. In other words, we went as far as we could at San Francisco and President Truman backed us in going that far, and then having a document that could go through. But, I think, the issues as they stood, before Hopkins went to Moscow, were such that we felt that you could not in good conscience conclude a charter on the Russian terms. Then through the mission to Moscow by Hopkins under Truman's directions, you got enough giving on the part, enough yielding on the part of the Russians and enough open potential of evolution of the Charter to make it desirable, as we thought, to proceed.
MCKINZIE: At a later time, you were critical about the fact that the United Nations could not have an effective police force, a defense force. Was this a concern of yours at that time; at the San Francisco Conference?
STASSEN: Yes, to see how far we could go, of course, you did have the Dumbarton Oaks drafts which were some, in effect, base from which you had to work. You see, I had been advocating a United Nations for a number of years, in fact, this was quite clearly the background. When I first was appointed and flew back and saw President Roosevelt in his office in the White House, he said that what caused him to appoint me was he never forgot the Gridiron speech I made back in about -- it must have been 1939 or 1940. Then I said that isolationism was dead and I hoped the senior members of my party recognized it before it was too late. I also said that the President should try to take the members of our party along on the foreign policy takeoffs as well as on the crash landings. That Gridiron speech, you know, it's an unusual atmosphere -- the President there and everybody, and I as a young Governor had been asked to speak. Apparently my philosophy, which, of course, is lifelong, was in President Roosevelt's mind. I'd done a lot of work on what kind of a United Nations there ought to be before this conference was called.
MCKINZIE: Was this in general in keeping with the sort of plan you had in mind?
STASSEN: That's right.
MCKINZIE: One point Governor, you used the phrase just a moment ago "being in on the takeoffs as well as the crash landings." Do you happen to recall whether that's a phrase you used in that Gridiron speech in 1939 or '40?
MCKINZIE: You might be interested to know that Senator Vandenberg then picked that up and used it.
STASSEN: Yes, oh sure, as a matter of fact, that was one of the phrases that stuck out of that night. In face, Arthur Krock of the New York Times wrote years later, about his recollection that I had originated the phrase and that Vandenberg had followed up on it and so forth. There is an Arthur Krock column somewhere in the New York Times about that relationship.
MCKINZIE: I wonder if we might go back, then, a little
bit to the San Francisco Conference. I understand that this is the largest delegation the United States had ever sent to an international conference and that obviously there were going to be some differences of opinion on the negotiable issues, and I understand that you had daily, or almost daily, delegation meetings.
STASSEN: Daily meetings. We'd start in the morning first thing with a U.S. delegation meeting, and we had a lot of what they called the four-power meetings, that is France, the United Kingdom, Soviet Union and the United States. And then, of course, into the bigger delegation meetings and then into many subcommittees. There was a very extensive work schedule over a period of time.
MCKINZIE: In those negotiations after the Hopkins trip to Moscow, did you feel that the Soviet Union could be negotiated with? I think it came to a point later on where the Soviet Union simply talked and didn't really negotiate. But at that point did you feel that the future looked hopeful?