Oral History Interview with
Benson E. L. Timmons III
Foreign Service officer. During the Truman era served as a chief financial advisor, financial subcommittee, Allied Control Commission, Italy, 1943-46; executive assistant to Asst. Secretary of the Treasury, 1946-48; special asst. to the Chief, Economic Cooperation Administration Mission to France, 1948-49; deputy chief, 1949-54; deputy to the minister of economic affairs, American Embassy, Paris, 1952; and special asst. to the ambassador for mutual defense assistance affairs, Paris, 1952. Later served as Ambassador to Haiti, 1963-67.
July 8, 1970
by Theodore A. Wilson
[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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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, 1986
Harry S. Truman Library
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Oral History Interview with
Benson E. L. Timmons III
July 8, 1970
by Theodore A. Wilson
TIMMONS: Where do you want to go? Do you want to ask me questions?
WILSON: Well, I think that the best way, the most desirable approach for me, would be for you to review your role and give your impressions.
TIMMONS: Well, I can do that fairly quickly, I think. Also, it's interesting because now, after some 22 years, I find myself in the organization, which, of course, was created at the time of the Marshall Plan, and to which President Truman contributed so much.
I came to Paris in the very beginning of the Marshall plan in 1948 with Ambassador David Bruce, who himself is now coming back to Paris for a third or fourth time. I was at first the special assistant
to Bruce when he was the director of the ECA [Economic Cooperation Administration] mission to France. Of course, at that time the central office for the Marshall plan was in Paris under Ambassador Averell Harriman. Later I became deputy chief of the mission. David Bruce, himself, became Ambassador to France after nine or ten months, I think, as chief of the Marshall plan. He was named by President Truman as Ambassador to France. But I stayed in the Embassy in the ECA mission to France for about seven years, from 1948 to 1955; so I saw the whole period of the Marshall plan, properly speaking, in France and, of course, the later developments, the beginning of the military assistance programs. I left Paris in 1955. I was the director at that time then of the mission. ECA went through many changes. As you know, it became FOA [Foreign Operations Administration] and MSA [Mutual Security Agency], ICA [International Cooperation Administration], and now the AID [Agency for International Development]; but through all of those successive changes there was a mission to France and I think I was the next to last director of it. I think there was one person who followed me, and then the mission had finished its work. Of course, it was
progressively reduced; so I suppose sometime in 1956, why, the mission came to an end. But I saw that whole period, from 1948 to 1955.
WILSON: You served earlier, 1946 to '48 in the Treasury.
TIMMONS: That's right; I was in the Treasury and I had also known Ambassador Bruce during the war. He was in London and I was in London, but he asked me to join the mission here.
Then I went into the diplomatic service, the regular Foreign Service, and I served in a number of other posts, in Washington, and Stockholm, and New Delhi. Then I was Ambassador to Haiti. And after that I was asked by the State Department to come back here as Deputy Secretary General of the organization. That was the first time I had actually served in the secretariat of the OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development], although, of course, I'd had a great deal to do with its predecessor organization, the OEEC [Organization for European Economic Cooperation], when I was in Paris. I've been now in this post for some two and a half years.
There was always a complete continuity in this organization from the very beginnings in 1948, when this building was acquired and the OECD began its existence. There was a continuity of approach, of method, of the discussion and confrontation of national policies inside the OECD in an attempt to confront national interests with the international interests so as to harmonize policies. This is the second of what I would say are obviously the two basic accomplishments that began in 1948. The real foundations were laid in that period of 1948 to 1952. The first four or five years of the Marshall plan was the period of really the first, the essential, recovery of Europe from the effects of the war; the restoration of industrial and agricultural production; the beginning of modernization of industry; and improvement of productivity. The indispensable material element was the increment of dollars which Europe at that time, Western Europe, had to have. The second couldn't have endured without the first, but the most enduring result has been, I think, the whole tradition of international economic cooperation, which is, of course, not confined to this organization. It embraces the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund
and the GATT [General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs].
WILSON: It certainly seems that a number of the people whom I have seen have continued this tradition.
TIMMONS: This organization now embraces 22 countries, really all of Western Europe and the United States, Canada and Japan. Of course, in the beginning the United States and Canada were not members of the OEEC, which was a European organization, although they played a very active role in it. Although called associate members, they participated very fully; they were not actually members according to the convention of OECD. The changeover took place in 1961. And now you, really, have the whole of the developed world, in effect -- outside of the Eastern countries -- with the market economy system; you have this represented in the OECD, so that you have the most intimate consultation and confrontation here in a relatively small, intimate circle of like-minded countries, who discuss their economic problems in common. It's more than discussion in an attempt to reach conclusions; in many cases there are recommendations to government. This has been, I think, the great enduring feature of what was launched in 1948; not only in this
organization but in other organizations, too. I think that this is the direct result of the Marshall plan and the impetus that was given by President Truman and Secretary Acheson and so many others -- Ambassador Harriman, Ambassador Bruce -- to this process of international economic consultation on a very broad front. Now we deal with practically every aspect of the country's economic and social life, not only economic policy in the more restricted sense -- the question of balance of payments, developments, and the curbing of the rate of inflation, which is the major problem on our mind now. We are working actively in many other fields -- the field of industry, the field of manpower, the field of agriculture, the field of science, education, now the environment, and so on. So, you really have probably the widest consultation in terms of subjects, but on the most intimate basis instead of in a worldwide organization; you have it among a relatively restricted group of countries; and quite a small group of countries.
WILSON: When you came to France, what was the view that was given to you about the aims of the United States in giving support to the OEEC? Was it assumed, or hoped,
that the OEEC would become rather quickly a very strong organization? There were these recurring efforts to strengthen the secretariat at that time, to bring very prestigious people in always. How much in this was there an effort on the part of the United States to create a United States of Europe?
TIMMONS: Well, I doubt that in historical terms it was as clear-cut as that. I, of course, would emphasize that in those days, in 1948, I was dealing strictly with France. It sounds perhaps a bit formal and bureaucratic to say this, but our responsibility to Ambassador Bruce when he was chief of the mission, for seven years, was the French program. It, of course, was one of the largest and one of the most important, given the great importance of France in all fields. And it was Ambassador Harriman who was representing the U.S. Government as regards the OEEC. So, there were many people which you have talked to who are much better qualified than I to speak about the aims at that time. But it was obvious that the primary condition, the primary prerequisite laid down in Secretary Marshall's speech, was that this had to be a cooperative effort in Europe. It
couldn't result in the United States helping a number of countries separately. Those countries had to band together to aid themselves, and then the United States would aid that common effort. So, I think this was the beginning of this organization; there obviously had to be a place where these consultations could take place.
As I said earlier, the immediate problem was one of restoring industrial and agricultural production which was greatly disrupted by the war, as well as the question of rationing of scarce raw materials, and the question of the liberalization of payments. Most of European trade was on a bilateral basis at that point; there was no multilateral mechanism for payments, and OEEC really created all of that. So, I think it was immediately a response to what Secretary Marshall said in the famous speech on June, 1947, about what efforts will be required on the part of Europe. In effect, if Europe helped itself, the administration would be prepared to recommend to the Congress that the United States help Europe. Of course, eventually it became Western Europe. There was the