Oral History Interview with
Nicholas G. Thacher
Foreign Service Officer, 1947-73; third secretary American Embassy, Karachi, Pakistan, 1947-49; vice consul American consulate general Calcutta, India, 1950-51, consul, 1952; Indian affairs officer, Department of State, Washington, 1953-54, officer charge Afghanistan-Pakistan affairs, 1954-56; 1st secretary American embassy, Baghdad, Iraq, 1956-58; assigned National War College, 1958-59; deputy director, Office Near Eastern Affairs, Department of State, 1955-62; Consular of embassy American embassy, Jidda, Saudi Arabia, 1962-65; Minister, counselor American embassy, Tehran, 1965-70; Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, 1970-73, retired 1973.
May 28, 1992
by Niel M. Johnson
[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. ) 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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 September, 1994
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]
Oral History Interview with
Nicholas G. Thacher
May 28, 1992
by Niel M. Johnson
Topics discussed by Mr. Thacher include his father's relationship with President Harry S. Truman as well as his own foreign service career; Rozelle Court; the Mexican expedition of 1915; Truman's haberdashery; Battery D; World War I; World War II; Pakistan; Kashmir; Iraq; Iran; China; India; Afghanistan; Russia; Baghdad Pact; SEATO; Egypt; Yemen, and Saudi Arabia.
Names mentioned include Frank Rozelle, Eddie Jacobson, Ted Marks, Harry Vaughan, John Snyder, Mohammed Jimah, John Foster Dulles, Chester Bowles, George C. Marshall, Henry F. Grady, William L.S. Williams, V.K. Krishna Menon, Nuri Said, Clark Clifford, Adnan Menderes, the Shaw of Iran, Abdul Karim Qassim, Loy Henderson, George Marshall, Dean Acheson.
JOHNSON: I'm going to start, as I usually do, by asking you to give us your name, place of birth, date of birth and your parents names. Perhaps you could add the names of your brothers and sisters to this too.
THACHER: Sure. I'm Nicholas G. Thacher, spelled without a t in the middle, and I was born in Kansas City on August 20th, 1915. My brother is John H. Thacher, Jr.; he was born November 19, 1908, and he has been deceased since September 1990. My sister is Edith Thacher Hurd. She was born September 14, 1910, and she is still living.
JOHNSON: And your parents' names?
THACHER: My parents' names are John H. Thacher and Edith Gilman Thacher.
JOHNSON: Was your father born in Kansas City?
THACHER: He was born in Kansas City; my mother was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
JOHNSON: How long did your father live in Kansas City?
THACHER: He lived there much of his life. He was a continuous resident of Kansas City, until 1930. Then he moved away for a couple of years and came back for maybe two years. Then in the fall of 1940, my mother's health was quite poor and he wanted an easier climate so they moved to San Francisco. Then, for a short time they lived down south of San Francisco; there my mother died, and he continued to live in Los Gatos, California, between Palo Alto and San Jose. He continued to live there until the time of his death in 1960.
JOHNSON: I see. Was it your father's father who was a Civil War soldier?
THACHER: That's right.
JOHNSON: And fought in the Battle of Westport?
THACHER: He fought in the Battle of Westport. He was a major in a New York cavalry regiment.
JOHNSON: Did he ever write letters about his Civil War experiences?
THACHER: Not that I'm aware of.
JOHNSON: There's no record at all.
THACHER: No, I've never heard of anything.
JOHNSON: We have a Westport Historical Society, and I'm sure they'd be interested in anything that he had.
THACHER: No, I've never seen anything turn up.
JOHNSON: I notice in the papers you have brought with you that you wrote a rather lengthy letter to Alonzo Hamby on October 20, 1988, describing your father, his career, and his personality.
JOHNSON: So that will be useful information and I don't think we'll need to duplicate it. Do you have any additions or amendments that you might want to make to the information that you had in that letter? Is there anything we'd need to add?
THACHER: Oh, I don't think so. I think it was a pretty comprehensive little sketch.
JOHNSON: I see that you have reflected, too, on your father's literary interests and the flavor of his writing. And I certainly noticed those traits when I read those letters home from France. Were most of those letters to his law partners?
THACHER: Yes, I think they were. I thumbed through them quickly, and it's conceivable there was a letter to my mother in there. I know that she kept those letters for a while, but I've been unable to find them. I haven't seen them.
JOHNSON: Oh, you mean you have some letters in addition to what you have here?
THACHER: I know that he wrote her a lot of letters during the war, but I have been unable to discover them. I don't know where they are now.
JOHNSON: So the letters that you are turning over to the Library are primarily the letters that he wrote to his law partners?
THACHER: That's right.
JOHNSON: He calls them "Pards." "Dear Pards" -- meaning "partners."
THACHER: That's right. Yes.
JOHNSON: Of course, if you do find these other letters, we'll certainly be interested.
THACHER: One member of the firm was Rozelle, and Rozelle was the man who worked very closely with Colonel Nelson in setting up the museum.
JOHNSON: There is a Rozelle Court, isn't there, in the middle of the gallery?
THACHER: Yes. That's right, there is Rozelle Court there which is in memory of Frank Rozelle.
JOHNSON: So your father was a lawyer. In fact, he had a Harvard degree.
THACHER: Had a Harvard Law degree, that's right. He went to Harvard Law School.
JOHNSON: Apparently he never enjoyed the practice of law.
THACHER: He didn't enjoy it very much. He was an active individual and [did not enjoy] sitting down and grinding through law books, looking up precedents, and he didn't have much confidence in the laws of institutions. He said, "It's a good way of settling
disputes, but, I don't think it's necessarily a perfect way of reaching justice." I remember hearing him make that comment on several occasions.
JOHNSON: Was he a bit of an idealist?
THACHER: I really don't think that's quite the right description.
JOHNSON: A romantic?
THACHER: No. Well, he was a man who loved friendly, personal relations. In his old age when he didn't have very much to do -- he lived to be 87 -- why he kept himself sort of going by writing letters to a lot of his old friends. He kept up friendships going back many years with a wide variety of people. He kept them alive with this letter writing, and he had a great sense of the drama of things, you know.
He traveled in Morocco and he was fascinated by the different customs and architecture. I guess he visited Morocco three times, because he had a good friend who was a consul there. I guess this is in the letter to Hamby, but one summer when he was at Harvard Law School, he went down to Puerto Rico to write stories on the Black Hand, which was a terrorist organization there. He went back up in the mountains
on a little mule to discover this; then he wrote a couple of articles for Harpers Weekly, which were published. But in everyday things, it always seemed to me he was quite down to earth, you know. He left little maxims to us, "Not only avoid evil, but avoid the appearance of evil."
JOHNSON: He was kind of a moralist maybe too?
THACHER: And a practical man about personal relationships. He used to talk to us about himself. He had a distaste for people who laughed too loudly and he would say, "The loud laugh laughs the vacant mind." [He had a distaste] for people who were too garrulous, and also for people who were personally unresponsive. He used to talk about one friend who was afflicted, he said, "With the ungrinned grin," who refused to sort of respond to a spirit of good will and amiability. And there were a lot of other things.
He worried about one cousin, a woman who had a very high rather nasal voice, and he really wanted to send her to a voice specialist, because he felt that was such a personal handicap. If you let your hands wander up to your face too much when you were talking to anybody, he'd get after you for that. Well, he also said, "In life, if you don't make a couple of first-rate
enemies, you probably don't have any character. You've got to know how to be vigorous in your attitude with other people and firm, and you'll probably have some people that you don't get along with. You'll dislike them and they'll dislike you."
JOHNSON: Did he do much public speaking?
THACHER: I don't know.
JOHNSON: He wasn't called on?
THACHER: No, I can't recall that he did much public speaking.
JOHNSON: I guess he was down in Mexico for that 1915 expedition.
THACHER: That's right. His unit was called up, and he went to the Mexican border for -- I've forgotten how long -- several months.
JOHNSON: Now, was this mainly for adventure, or was this...
THACHER: Oh, no; he was part of the National Guard.
JOHNSON: So he was acquainted with Truman perhaps in the Guard, or did he ever say anything about...
THACHER: No, he never mentioned that.
I had the impression that Truman went into the National Guard much later, but...
JOHNSON: Well, he went in in 1905, but then resigned in 1911, and then came back in in '17.
THACHER: Yes, I see.
JOHNSON: So maybe in that gap there was when your father went in.
THACHER: That's right. He went to the Mexican border in 1915.
JOHNSON: And, of course, Truman was still far