Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened July, 1979
Oral History Interview with
June 9, 1974
by Richard D. McKinzie
MCKINZIE: Mr. Stinebower, what convinced you to seek a career in the Department of State? I know that you originally taught in college.
STINEBOWER: It was an accident in a way. After I had taught for three years I went back hopefully to finish my doctorate, which I did except for writing
that thesis. I had every intention in the world to continue teaching. As a matter of fact, when everybody was getting jobs in the NRA (National Recovery Administration) and all the New Deal agencies I was impecunious and really holding myself back. It was so easy to go get a job, but I was at Brookings and trying to get that thesis finished, because I had a firm commitment to go to the University of Chicago. I was going to teach international economic relations.
In my previous days at Chicago I had been the assistant to Jack [Jacob] Viner. A year before the London Monetary and Economic Conference was about to be set up he had written to the economic adviser in the State Department, Herbert Feis, wanting to know if they didn't have some place for an aspiring youngster to go along and have a junior job on the delegation. The answer came back as usual, and nothing more was thought about it, but in January of the following year
Feis wrote to Viner again and said, "Where's that young chap you were talking about before?" Viner, who that year was spending a year of sabbatical in Geneva, finally wrote back to him "sitting half a block away from the State Department [at the Brookings Institution]." That's the short part of it. Feis got hold of me and I then got hold of the head of the Department at Chicago. At that moment he was Chairman of the National Labor Relations Board -- everybody was in Washington.
He said, "Oh, this is absolutely wonderful. Of course, I can't give you a leave of absence, because you never had a job, but two years experience will be good, and you can come back in two years."
The only trouble was that I had such a good time that those two years stretched out into eighteen. I never got back to teaching.
For at least six or eight years I couldn't enjoy myself. I didn't even go out to a movie,
because that darn dissertation was still hanging over my head. It was pretty well finished and I thought, "I ought to get at that." I kept flirting with the universities and colleges for teaching jobs, but somehow I stayed on as a bureaucrat.
MCKINZIE: It must have been exciting work, then.
STINEBOWER: I just had a series of incredible luck in Washington for eighteen years. You know the first week or two or month you spend your time reading papers and people are introducing you around. I came at an awkward date when things were all through and the papers were completed. Economic Adviser Feis was just about to take off for a couple of weeks vacation, and he loaned me to Frank [Francis B.] Sayre, who was then his Assistant Secretary. They were at work on the earlier stages of preparing the first trade agreements act in 1934. I got sent down to
Sayre's office, and instead of going home at the usual hour the first day, I went home at 2:30 the next morning, and it was like that from then on. I was just lucky and it was just fun.
MCKINZIE: You attended the critical conferences at Hot Springs, Bretton Woods, Havana, and San Francisco. Did you have anything to do with the planning for Bretton Woods?
STINEBOWER: Not a great deal, personally. In 1943, as of January 1, they reorganized some of that postwar planning work under Leo Pasvolsky and set up two divisions, the Division of Economic Studies and the Division of Political Studies. Harley Notter -- I'm sure you know about him -- has written that up quite well. By accident or otherwise, I became the Chief of the Division of Economic Studies.
Now, I tried to follow it quite closely, and there were a lot of interdepartmental committees
relating to things like Bretton Woods. I was personally much more involved along with Harry Hawkins and others on the commercial policy side. I had, as members of my staff, three or four people who were very intimately connected with Bretton Woods, and through whom I kept closely in touch. I had Eleanor Lansing; [John Foster] Dulles, William Adams Brown, and John Parke Young. They were members of my staff, and were working with Harry White's group and the interdepartmental group right along through.
The answer is that I didn't have very much to do. I was terribly surprised. I didn't get any notice I was going to Bretton Woods until about three weeks before, when casually Harry White said to me, "Well, I'll see you at Bretton Woods." I looked puzzled, and he said, "Hasn't anybody told you?" Nobody had bothered to tell me. At that particular time the United States had to furnish the secretariats of the
conferences and Harry had just slotted me in to be the secretary of the Commission on the Monetary Fund. Nobody ever told me about this until we were almost ready to take off.
MCKINZIE: At that time did you participate in those discussions about the form the Fund and the Bank should take?
STINEBOWER: I wasn't involved with that very much.
MCKINZIE: There was that proposal of John Maynard Keynes, which was bigger in a sense that it would have created some capital and supposedly would have more lending ability than what actually happened. Some writing recently indicates that Harry Dexter White thought too small and didn't understand the magnitude of the postwar problem, and that from hindsight the Keynesian idea would have been somewhat better.
STINEBOWER: Well, I think there is a great deal of truth
in that in hindsight. I don't think that Harry White alone was thinking too small. None of us really envisaged the total magnitude of postwar reconstruction needs.
I'm going to skip around and kind of mix our periods now, but among those who equally thought too small were two of the men I most greatly admired, Will [William C.] Clayton and Dean Acheson, Nobody at that stage, either for UNRRA, the World Bank and Monetary Fund, or particularly the first British loan, really estimated the total magnitude of what was going to be required. Everyone thought, contrary to hindsight, that things would pick up rather quickly, normal life would come rapidly in Europe, and the more normal processes of loans rather than automatic drawing rights and so forth would close the gap. Of course, in those days at Bretton Woods, first of all there was hope, then despair, and then false hope again that the Russians were going to take up a good-sized
quota. They did sign the referendum at Bretton Woods. A ten billion dollar figure, at Bretton Woods, was a widely accepted figure. It was one of the things that used to get me, in my cynical view; not having worked intimately on all these details but then being thrown into the custodianship of the records and having written many of them myself. Also, in sitting on the special committees that handled all the problems which the Commission seemed unable to come to grips with, I used to have a very cynical point of view that we could get rid of all of these by just giving much larger quotas to all the countries that wanted to draw on the Fund. What they wanted to do, of course, was to get the United States in a very large corner so that they could have more drawing power. I'm not sure just how wise Keynes was about the needs. I think he was more concerned in the automaticity of access to these resources than he was, at that moment, in the total resources.
One of the reasons that it always seemed that way to me was that, after Bretton Woods was an accomplished fact and we were doing the negotiations for the first loan to the British, Keynes was disappointed that he didn't get as much as he wanted. Some of us by that time didn't think he wanted enough. Of course, he was thinking about Britain going to have to repay this, too. Still, there were those who thought that the minimum loan should have been on very highly concessionary terms and for ten billion dollars instead of either 6.3 or 3.7 (depending on how you measure it) that was achieved.
Europe was highly disappointed when Mr. Will Clayton offered them the Marshall plan, because they wanted at least into the twenty billions, and we ended up with seventeen. Actually, when it was finished up it had taken only thirteen something. This is the only time of which I can think that we ever (and I say, I don't think
this is Harry White alone) fully realized the total magnitude of the job.
MCKINZIE: Why was that? Was it poor reporting and inadequate information going into the whole analysis, or just a lack of perception of all the things that were involved?
STINEBOWER: Like generals fight last wars, people looked at the history of the recovery act of WWI and the amount of damage. They thought in terms of physical damage. I suspect there was an under-realization of the extent to which the whole fabric of the world economy had been torn apart in World War II. That's over-simplified, but I think it's the essence of really what happened. Think how completely disorganized the whole European economy was, and once we started to work on it how fast it did recover.
MCKINZIE: The people with whom you worked in the
next couple of years were all very close, it seems, to Will Clayton, who was a remarkable man. Did that "Clayton internationalism" seem to you to have any real prospects of ever working itself out into solid programs? Prosperity and peace were part of the same package and it was all tied to freer trade.
STINEBOWER: In that aspect Will Clayton was a self-educated deputy in power in the straight line from Cobb, down to Hull, and in that direct lineal descent. He constantly came up against the less convinced, in Dean Acheson and Adolph Berle. I suspect that at least half of the people around Will Clayton thought that his own explanation of many things was over-simplified. I can remember one incident in which Will had made, what seemed to me, an almost incredibly naive speech about the close linkage of things and how self-interest is going to lead everybody to the nice free world that we were talking about. I was just
wondering how some of our more sophisticated British friends were taking that. I was surprised a couple nights later to have Lionel Roberts and Honorable Lord Robbins, and Dennis Robertson say how they had listened, fascinated, to it. They thought that Will Clayton was one of the greatest exponents and influences for the possibilities of a better organized world economy that they had run across. They were not making this for any public pronouncement. We were talking in a private conversation, and they just thought that Will Clayton must be a very powerful influence. Of course, later on in Havana, where I was a delegate to the U.N. Conference on Trade and Employment in 1947 and '48, he pulled what was an almost incredible "rabbit out of the hat" only to have the Congress of the United States refuse to sign the International Trade Organization agreement.
My feeling is that the advisers around him and that people who worked for him ran the whole gamut of belief to disbelief. Harry Hawkins, for
example, fundamentally thought in exactly the same terms as Hull and Clayton; then you go to the clear opposite end with Dean Acheson, who really didn't believe one bit about this. One of the reasons why Bretton Woods took place ahead of Havana was that in all these bilateral and trilateral talks between the United States and the United Kingdom Dean was terribly disinterested. There were strong views that trade and goods were the important thing. You ought to get the rules to govern their activities laid out, accepted, and then have a Bretton Woods for the financial mechanism.
I can remember Dean saying, "Oh, heck with it. Trade isn't important. Money is the important thing to make the international economy work the way you want it to work." Dean was all on the side of [Henry] Morgenthau-White that money should come first.
Clayton was not very active on the scene that
particular moment. He was over in the Reconstruction Finance Commodity Corporation. This issue, as to which was going to come first, the monetary conference or the trade conference, was decided by the Treasury. I don't know how Mr. Roosevelt would have decided that one if it had come to him. He nearly always decided without any worry about it in those days. Nonetheless, he had no opposition from Dean Acheson at all on that point, although they couldn't speak to each other politely on a lot of other things.
MCKINZIE: When Bretton Woods was finally hammered out there was general agreement within the State Department that it wasn't going to be enough to do it all. Individual l