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Philip Trezise Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Philip Trezise

With State Department since 1946. Adviser, U.S. delegation to U.N. Commission on Indonesian question, 1948; consultant, report to President on Foreign Economic policy, 1950; deputy director, Office Intelligence Research, intelligence activities, 1943-56.

Washington, D.C.
May 27, 1975
by Richard D. McKinzie

[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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 June, 1979
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


Oral History Interview with
Philip Trezise


Washington, D.C.
May 27, 1975
by Richard D. McKinzie



MCKINZIE: Ambassador Trezise, I think one of the things that historians will be interested in in the future is how people came to Government service. Had you intended, in your college training, to enter Government service?

TREZISE: No, it had never occurred to me, in fact, that I would come to Government. I guess I had mind to be a businessman, specializing in labor relations and government; certainly foreign affairs were far from my mind. But I wound up in foreign affairs by happenstance and that's where I stayed.



MCKINZIE: Could you explain the happenstance?

TREZISE: Well, I was in the service during the war, and I was co-opted from the Navy to OSS [Office of Strategic Services]. From OSS I was sent to China, where I became, briefly, a China expert. So, at the end of the war, my element of OSS was placed in the Department of State. There I was, still in uniform and subject to Navy orders, though I was in the Department of State. Well, in due course I got out of the Navy, and the Department offered me a job. As against the alternatives, it was about as good as the others in sight and so inertia kept me there. That, really, was quite literally the case.

I must say the reason I was sent to China, interestingly enough, was that I had been offered a job in China before the war at St. John's University in Shanghai. Had I taken the job, I would have been there in time for



Pearl Harbor. I didn't take it, but the notion that I was interested in China was really quite exaggerated by somebody in OSS. I suppose most things in life are happenstance.

MCKINZIE: As you said, against the other alternatives, this was an appealing kind of offer. Do you recall how you came to be attracted to the State? Was there a particular individual who asked you to come in?

TREZISE: Oh, well, my immediate superior in those days was a man I'd served with in China, a fellow of really uncommon ability and attractiveness. (He's now dead.) He was an historian and a very wise man, and I suppose it was primarily the fact that he was there and was kind enough to suggest that I should stay, that I would have a good career in the Department, that kept me on.

MCKINZIE: Were you, from the very first, concerned



with foreign economic policy and colonial questions, questions, which, at least during the Truman years, were two of the things that were emphasized?

TREZISE: Well, my first assignment was in the research element of the Department and as a China specialist. I was concerned with foreign economic affairs, but primarily in relation to China. In those days, you know, some people at least had the notion that China would be a great economic power. And there were a number of major questions up right away; reparations from Japan for China, loans to the Chinese -- development questions. In those days, we had rather hazy ideas about development, but we were working on it very early in the game. In fact, we were developing models of Chinese development before the Chinese Communists won the war, and I think, in retrospect, the models would still have some merit.

MCKINZIE: In the subject of development in the



Truman years there seems to be two rather conflicting philosophies: One was to simply appropriate a lot of money and depend upon the massive infusion of capital, and the other was to build what someone called service infrastructures in areas like China, which ultimately would be able to accommodate capital investments. Did you find the people with whom you worked of one mind, or was there considerable discussion about the approach that ought to be taken?

TREZISE: Well, if I may say, our judgment about China was that infusions of foreign capital and foreign aid, generally, were not going to be a sufficient answer. They could obviously have a role, but we were more of the view that, in this massive continental country, the basic problem was one of mobilizing the savings of the Chinese themselves. This presented a very difficult question, because China, of course, was



and is an agricultural country, and the savings would have to be obtained from the farm sector. We were, I think, quite prescient in saying what the requirements were, and the Chinese Communists, in fact, followed that pattern.

MCKINZIE: Were you concerned that early about the failure of Chiang Kai-shek to institute any reform in his system? Later, of course, this became a critical problem.

TREZISE: Oh, yes. I think all of us who had served in China or who knew anything about the country were troubled, distressed, at the inability of the regime to pull itself together and to take the measures that we, in our wisdom, saw as necessary. No doubt, they were necessary, but whether they were feasible in a situation like China is another story, I suppose. In any case, this was a general view which, of course, then was overtaken by military developments



which soon made the prospects for reform pretty academic.

MCKINZIE: Were people who were doing the kind of work that you did concerned at all or aware of the division in the China service, or was that an after-the-fact revelation to those of you who were involved?

TREZISE: Oh, no, it was well-known that the majority of the China officers, so-called, the language officers, were to put it one way, skeptical of the durability of the Chiang Kai-shek regime. But a few were quite of the opposite opinion and were devoted to the notion that we should at all costs, or at nearly any cost, anyway, bail out the Generalissimo. So, this was a well-known division, I should say. The majority view was strongly that Chiang Kai-shek was a doubtful prospect and, in any event, that we should use our influence to try to strengthen



and improve the character of his regime. The other view was that we should provide all necessary assistance to keep him in power.

MCKINZIE: Was this discouraging work for you then, to be involved in economic planning with such an uncertain client?

TREZISE: Oh, no, it was an exciting period in many ways and a period when obviously historic events were taking place. It was discouraging in the sense that the prospect for an outcome along the lines we had originally envisioned was diminishing rapidly. But, on the other hand, there were these large events taking place. In any event, I stayed on with the China thing only until 1947 or '48, when I went to Indonesia and became enmeshed for the time being in another kind. of revolution.

MCKINZIE: May I ask one other question about your work with the China affair? Secretary Will



Clayton was extremely interested in the reconstruction of China. To what extent did he have any input into the kind of planning that you were doing? Was it by virtue of the knowledge of his position on the matter, or did he have any direct input?

TREZISE: Well, I did not work under Mr. Clayton in those days, and what he thought about China is not something I'm very clear about. But we did have a chronic, persistent question in economic policy toward China; the idea of a massive -- in those days massive – Export-Import Bank loan, which was to be 500 million dollars. The Export-Import Bank was very unenthusiastic about lending 500 million dollars to the Chinese, considering that it would be a lost cause. And, I think in the main, most people concerned with China came to that conclusion along in '47-‘48, as things began to go down hill.

Now, there is a point which is commonly



forgotten, that we did finally undertake a program of aid to China on about that scale and as a part of the Marshall plan. This is generally forgotten in the history books, but Nationalist China was given a substantial amount of aid under the Marshall plan. The first year, I think, it was about 450 million dollars. And that amount was lower than what the administration had asked of the Congress, which Mr. Acheson, I remember, once pointed out to a congressional committee which was conducting a postmortem on why China fell.

MCKINZIE: How did you get involved in the Indonesian question?

TREZISE: Oh, I was co-opted by Walton [William Walton, Jr.] Butterworth (who died recently), who was then what we would call now Assistant Secretary, I guess, for Ear Eastern Affairs -- it wasn't quite that title in those days, I



believe. We'd come to know one another through some of the work on the Marshall plan for China. He called me one day and asked me would I go to Indonesia where, as he put it, we were going to get a settlement between the Dutch and the Indonesians; they needed somebody