Theodore Tannenwald, Jr. Oral History Interview


Oral History Interview
Judge Theodore Tannenwald, Jr.

Special Consultant, War Department, 1943-45; Consultant to the Secretary of Defense, 1947-49; Counsel to the Special Assistant to the President, 1950-51; and Assistant Director and Chief of Staff to the Director for Mutual Security in the Executive Office of the President, 1951-53.
Washington, D.C.
July 14, 1969
by Jerry N. Hess

See also Theodore Tannenwald, Jr. Papers finding aid

[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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 July 14, 1969
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

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Oral History Interview with


Washington, D.C.
July 14, 1969
by Jerry N. Hess


HESS: Judge, could you give me a little of your personal background: where were you born, where were you educated, and what positions have you held?

TANNENWALD: Well, I was born in a little town in upstate NewYork called Valatie, which is about halfway between Hudson and Albany, and it is best known because it is the next town to Kinderhook, which is where Martin Van Buren was born. I went to grammar school in Valatie and in those days there were no psychological problems in skipping children, or at least people weren't aware


of them, so that I completed the eight grammar grades in five years, and graduated from the Valatie grammar school at the age of ten. I was eleven the month after I graduated. At that point my mother and father moved to Albany and I entered the William S. Hackett Junior High School, which was the first class of the junior high school in Albany. I spent a year there, and then went on to the Albany High School and graduated from there in 1931. I was fifteen the month after I graduated from high school, and the combination of the fact that my age, being so young, and the fact that I didn't have any money, caused me to wait a year before I went to college. I spent that year taking a couple of courses in the high school. I think I took a chemistry course and worked for the legislative correspondent of the New York Times every afternoon. In those days the New York Times used to publish the list


of new corporations formed every day, and it was from the office of the secretary of state in Albany and type it up and send it in to New York. I had the job of typing. I was not a typist. I did it by the old-fashioned hunt and peck system, which I still use.

In September of 1932 I entered Brown University in Providence on a scholarship and graduated there fours years later summa cum laude and then went to the Harvard Law School. I put myself through Brown, principally by borrowing enough money to see me through my first year, and I did the same thing at law school. Other periods I worked. It may be an interesting commentary to note that the aggregate of my gross expenses before scholarships and so on for my four years at Brown was approximately the same as the cost of one year of my younger son's education at Dartmouth some thirty odd years later.

I entered Harvard Law School and kept my


nose to the grindstone the first year and ended up first in my class, made the Harvard Law Review. I was also the first in my second year and for the three years' average. I was note editor of the Harvard Law Review. While I was in law school I did some outside tutoring to make some money, and also in my last year in law school, I helped the then professor of taxation, Erwin Griswold, later dean and now Solicitor General of the United States, write a couple of briefs. His wife had been stricken with polio the latter part of my second year in law school, perhaps the summer of 1938. In any event, my last year which was '38-'39, academic year, his wife was flat on her back in the hospital in Cleveland, and the financial drain on him was enormous, so he did a considerable amount of outside practice. He had two or three of his students helping him write briefs, and so on. I was one of the few members of my class


who decided I wanted to go into private practice instead of going into Government service, and I made arrangements to join the firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges when I finished law school. In the spring of 1939 when Professor Magruder was appointed to the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, he asked me to come with him as his law clerk for a year, but I had made up my mind I wanted private practice, and I had a job so I didn't need the clerkship for a job, and I guess I was ambitious to make money in those days and so I turned him down. It's one of the few regrets I have in my life, not that it would have helped me pragmatically. I don't think it would have had any direct bearing on my future career, but I always have felt that I missed a year that would have been a very pleasant memory and a very wonderful experience, because Magruder was quite a man.

I entered the firm and did general practice


until shortly after Pearl Harbor, when I became very restless. I tried to get a commission but couldn't on account of my eyes, and I had lots of friends who had been classmates of mine in law school who were working in Washington. The bulk of the members of the Law Review, as a matter of fact, came to Washington to work, and I started looking for something that would give me an outlet for my emotional problems of not being willing to stay in private practice while the war was going on. One of my good friends, who unfortunately is now deceased, was Philip L. Graham, who later became publisher of the Washington Post. Phil was then assistant general counsel of the Lend-Lease Administration. I talked to Phil and he found out that Dean Acheson, who was the Assistant Secretary of State, was trying to augment his staff but had budgetary difficulties and so temporarily it was worked out that Lend-Lease hired me, and I went to work


for Acheson in the State Department. This is why I am listed as a principal legal consultant to the Lend-Lease Administration. I never really worked for Lend-Lease. I started from the very first day I went to work, which was I think in May of 1942, over in the State Department working for Acheson in the economic warfare area. I think after a month or so I was assigned to the Foreign Funds Control Division, which involved the diplomatic and political side of the Treasury Department's exchange control regulations during the war.

HESS: What were some of your duties while you were there?

TANNENWALD: The duties of that division were--it was a very small one--were to maintain liaison and coordination with the Treasury Department, in order to make sure that the diplomatic and international political considerations on controls


over transactions and dollars were taken into account for freezing foreign-owned assets. For example, one of the provisions that came in, that came under consideration, was the question of freezing or getting the Latin American countries, in addition to ourselves, to stop the importation of U.S. currency, green stuff, and this involved negotiations with Brazilians, for example, and I was involved in that. We also were involved with the Alien Property Custodian, and some of the political implications of the seizure of enemy-owned assets which were held--purportedly held by the enemy via a neutral country. For example, I was involved in the seizure of American Bosch and what to do about it. The Swedes claimed that it was a Swedish corporation. These were the kinds of problems that we got into.

I stayed there only for a year, because it became apparent to me that I was going


to be drafted, and while I had no basic objections to serving in the army as a buck private it seemed to me that if I could find an assignment that would make better use of my talents, I would be well advised to do it.

In 1942 the United States Air Forces, the Army Air Forces, under General [Henry H.] Arnold, had decided to copy a system that the British had created at the time of the Battle of Britain, which was to opt the services of the Air Force and to make scientific analyses at the operational level and put their conclusions, if they could, into practice, without having the information come back to the laboratories in the United States, which meant it would be six months or a year before the answers came back and by that time it might be too late. The chief of that setup in the Army Air Force was a professor in my law school, W. Barton Leach,


and Leach felt very strongly that there was a role for the lawyers to play, particularly if they were possessed of technical background. And I had had the equivalent of a mathematics major in college, and so I was offered the chance to become the deputy chief of the Operations Analysis Section of the Eighth Fighter Command in England, and I took it in the spring of 1943.

Leach's theory, which was quite valid and proved out in my case and a few other cases, was that a lawyer could perform two functions in that kind of a setup. Let me just say a word about what the setup was. Most of the sections were on the bomber side, and they would do analyses of the strike photographs to determine such questions as the proper pattern for bombing, whether you bombed individually or whether you bombed on the leader of a squadron or a wing; or the various kinds of fuses and size of bombs for particular types of targets.


On the fighter side, we got involved in problems such as the proper belting of ammunition, the study of combat film. Every fighter plane automatically took a film of his combat to determine ways in which fighter pilots might be trained for better accuracy, because this was before the automatic sighting mechanisms, and the pilots were notoriously poor in their shooting capabilities. Gasoline consumption studies, which became very important as they tried to push the outer range of the fighter planes, to Berlin for example, and then later in the Pacific, when the planes based on the Philippines and Okinawa were flying over water into Japan. But the point that Leach had and he was quite right, was that a lawyer could serve a very useful purpose in that area. Two ways: First of all, he was the administrative officer of the section, he was the one who had to take care of all the nonsense


of getting the supplies and getting the travel orders and the day-to-day housekeeping problems that most of the long-haired scientists didn't want any part of, and even if they would have had to do it, they wouldn't have known how to do it. Secondly, the key to the success of these sections lay in the ability of the scientific personnel who were members of the section to communicate their conclusions from their studies to the commanding general of the unit. This meant that you had to put it in language that the average military officer would understand, and here again, Leach felt, and quite correctly, that a lawyer, particularly a lawyer with a scientific background, could perform a useful function. I found that because of my scientific and mathematical background, I was able to take the ideas and conclusions of the scientific boys, who were members of my group, and put those conclusions


and ideas in language that the military would understand. I spent about fifteen or sixteen months, with the Operations Analysis Unit in the Eighth Fighter Command, right outside of London. Then, toward the end of 1944, in September, I was assigned temporarily to London to set up the mechanics for housing and implementing a program of what was known as the United States Strategic Bombing Survey. I was there only until about a months after the survey team came over. They came over about Thanksgiving of 1944, and I left in late December of ‘44. This was a very interesting group. Its potential for future history was perhaps not recognized at that point. Just by way of notation, three members of the group were Adlai Stevenson, Paul Nitze, who later became head of the Policy Planning Staff in the State Department and then Deputy Secretary of Defense, and George Ball, who became Under Secretary of State. I became good friends


of all three of them and maintained that friendship over the years. Stevenson certainly did not indicate his future potential at that point, in fact, of the three that I've mentioned, if I had to rate them, I would have rated Stevenson third in capability. He was bright, but I didn't think measured up to either Nitze or Ball.

I came back in December of 1944, and at that point the Air Force was stepping up its activities in the Pacific and augmenting some of its new commands, and I was asked to form an Operations Analysis Section to go out with the 301st Fighter Wing, which was then based at Mitchell Field. I spent the first six months of 1945 looking for people and getting equipment and so on together, and I finally left with my section in the first week of July of '45, and I was there until September when the war with the Japanese ended and I came home. We were on Ie Shima.


I was a civilian throughout this period. I had the simulated rank of a full colonel. I was technically in '45, in June of '45, drafted, but the Air Force had worked out with the Army Adjutant General at that point, or long before then, that any of us that were drafted, there were only about seven or eight of us in this group that were of draft age, most of the scientific personnel were men in their late thirties and forties, that we would be inducted, but instead of being sent to basic training, we would be released in the enlisted reserve and sent back. I was sworn in along with forty-nine other people at Grand Central Station in New York, the induction center, and forty-nine of them got tickets to Camp Dix, and I got my papers releasing me to the enlisted reserve.

I went back to my firm in October of ‘45, and started to do tax work for the firm, because they needed somebody to take over the tax job.


The man they had wasn't working out.

In the spring of '46, the firm needed somebody to go down and run the Washington office which they were establishing. They asked me to recommend somebody, and I recommended myself, because I loved Washington. And so I came down here and I was here from 1946 to 1949.

During that period, I gave vent to some of my urge for public service by getting involved with the Secretary of Defen