Oral History Interview with
Ambassador William Fletcher Warren
Ambassador to Nicaragua, 1945-47; Ambassador to Paraguay, 1947-50; Director, Office of South American Affairs, Department of State, 1950; Ambassador to Venezuela,
January 4, 1974 | January 14, 1974 | January 21,1974
by Byron A. Parham
Attachment No. 1 - Ambassador Warren's views on Latin America
[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed | Additional Warren Oral History Transcripts]
This is a transcription of an interview for the Oral History Program at East Texas State University, Commerce, Texas. 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.
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Scholars and researchers may utilize short excerpts from this transcription without obtaining permission if proper credit is given to the interviewee, the interviewer, and the University. For extensive use of this material, permission must be obtained from the University.
This material may not be reproduced by any party except East Texas State University . However, to further the goal of thorough research, copies of unrestricted interviews may be obtained at cost by contacting the Oral History Office, East Texas State University , Commerce , Texas 75428 .
Opened February, 1974
Harry S. Truman Library
[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed
| Additional Warren Oral History Transcripts]
Oral History Interview with
Ambassador William Fletcher Warren
January 4, 1974
by Byron A. Parham
PARHAM: [These] interviews with Ambassador Fletcher Warren [are] for the East Texas State University Oral History Project.
Go right ahead [with] just what you were saying.
WARREN: The trip to Blair House to meet the President [Harry S. Truman] was made by, as I remember, five or six ambassadors, including my old chief, Arthur Bliss Lane, who was then in Washington, I suppose, between posts. It was the most interesting tea party that I have ever attended. The President was brand new.. He was living in Blair House because the White House was under repair. He hadn't yet got all the reins of the government in his hands. He, I'm sure, felt insecure because there seems to be no doubt now that President [Franklin D.] Roosevelt had not kept him informed of what was going on. So he had to pick up the reins, not knowing the road that was to be
traveled. He impressed all of us--I think I can make that assertion--with his sincerity, his modesty, his simplicity and his determination to get the job done to the best of his ability.
PARHAM: Let me interject a question here if I may.
PARHAM: Were there within the Foreign Service comments as to the President's [Roosevelt's] so-called secrecy of diplomacy, how he kept everything pretty much to himself? I ask this question in this regard because a number of senior statesmen during the Second War mentioned how Roosevelt, instead of using State Department trained people, would frequently send his own emissaries such as Harry Hopkins or Wendell Willkie--off on a fact-finding tour. In other words, he leaned more on them than on his own trained people. Were there comments concerning this within the Foreign Service personnel that you recall?
WARREN: This, after all these years, is difficult to answer with precision. However, at this date, I am sure that I am right in saying that there was comment in the ranks, certain ranks, of the Foreign Service with regard to the extradepartmental activity of individuals in the field of foreign affairs. I believe that has happened wherever an outsider has stepped in and taken over what should
have been the role of the Secretary of State. So I'm sure there was some comment and I have no doubt that many of my colleagues thought that Mr. Roosevelt was, in the first instance, his own Secretary of State. But I don't want to go farther than that. I do think that during the period of the Roosevelt administration that the Foreign Service did rise in his estimation, just as it did in the estimation of President [Dwight D.] Eisenhower and [Secretary of State] John Foster Dulles. John Foster Duller had a very low opinion of the Foreign Service when he came in. So there was something but with out having something to refresh my memory I won't say more than what I have said.
PARHAM: Then when President Truman came in, was there, or do you recall that there was, any change perhaps of attitude toward the White House?
WARREN: Well, on that, you know, with a service as large as the Foreign Service was and a service as scattered over the whole globe, and a service that has--if you get away from it's esprit de corps, the minimum of cohesiveness, it takes time for an opinion or impression or attitude to get around. I know that I had the feeling that now with a new President, perhaps the State Department would have more to do with the Foreign Service, with the foreign
policy of the United States. The previous administrations had used the Foreign Service simply as a machine to carry out whatever policies they had agreed upon. And the information for those policies, as you have implied in your question, was often based on the work of people other than the Foreign Service. For instance, I am sure from the period that I'm thinking about now, that Harry Hopkins was a controversial figure even at the time that Mr. Truman came into office. Now back to Mr. Truman. We all left the--I'll change that. I'll speak for myself only. I left the tea party with the feeling that I had come in contact with a real man and one that I wanted to do everything I could to help. And he called upon us, the President called upon us, to help him carry the burden that was to be his. I'm sure that he made a favorable impression on the ambassadors present, even though they are a group that is not so readily impressed. I'm also sure that all of us left there determined to do what we could to assist a President who had asked us frankly to help out in what he was going to do. After the call at the White House, it wasn't long until Wilhelmina and I took off for Nicaragua. We went by train from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans and [got] there about midnight one night--the same day we arrived,
as I remember. We took a plane that flew across the Gulf of Mexico, and over into Guatemala, and then on down to Managua. We got there around, if I remember rightly, around ten o'clock in the morning of May 4, 1945.
PARHAM: That was just two days--or a day or two--before the Germans surrendered.
WARREN: That was May 6, wasn't it?
PARHAM: I believe it was.
WARREN: I believe it was. Yes. May 6. Well, in a way it was like going home for us because we had served two very happy years in Managua under Boaz Long as minister and Arthur Bliss Lane. We knew all the principal people in both parties. We had friends in both parties. We knew General [Anastasio] Somoza very well indeed, his whole family, his in-laws as well, and we liked them all. Our experience with Somoza as the head of the National Guard while I was there as the secretary of legation made us glad to return to Managua although the climate was supposed to be very bad indeed.
When we got back to Nicaragua, the government gave us a warm welcome. Somoza told me , "I had a soldier under every palm tree .from the embassy to the Presidential Palace," when I presented my credentials, and he did. We had a practically new embassy residence to go into. I
was able to take with me two of my secretaries that had served with me in Washington, Miss Betty Flohr and Miss Grace Williams. That was the first prerogative of being an ambassador: I was able to take the secretaries with me that I wanted.
PARHAM: Of course, they accepted your invitation, or was it that they had any choice?
WARREN: Oh, they wanted to go. They wanted to go, and I wanted them to go and I was wondering if I would be able to get away with both of them. But since it was Managua, I did. If it had been, say, Mexico City, I doubt if I could have because Mexico City was a nice post. But these two girls wanted to go and they stayed with me the whole time. No, Grace didn't because she married one of the men in the embassy, James N; Curtis, and they are now living in Athens, Georgia. He's retired from the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigation].
PARHAM: When she married, she had to resign her position with you?
WARREN: No, no. She stayed on until--as I remember though that wasn't very long--until, as I remember [her husband] was transferred shortly before I left. I'm depending on my memory of this.
PARHAM: So you sort of inspired a romance there?
WARREN: Oh, yes. I gave the bride away. We gave the couple a wedding reception and all. Betty, she didn't get married. But since her retirement, she has married and she is the wife of Attorney Fio, F-I-0, Lopardo, L-O-P-A-R-D-0, an Italo-American born up in Hoosick Falls, New York, graduate of Harvard, who went out to California to practice law and met Betty out there. Now he is a district judge appointed by Mr. [Governor Ronald] Reagan. He's in a district in California, and they live at Escondido, California. But that's in passing. Two finer secretaries there never were. I can say that right now.
In Managua I got the first chance to put to work what I learned under Arthur Bliss Lane, Boaz Lang, [Consul general] Carlton Bailey Hurst and the others in the field of diplomacy. There was much political opposition to Somoza. The two parties were always scrapping, and we had to keep the respect of both sides because the opposition would have liked nothing better--and did sometimes say that we were the tool of the Somoza regime. Somoza would not have hesitated to ask for my removal if he thought I hadn't been playing fair. So it taught us how to walk the tightrope. We had a small American colony but a splendid one. We had men there in tobacco, cigarette manufacturing, in mining, and in shipping. We had two
Americans who were high in the ranks of the Nicaraguan government: Augustus I. Lindbergh, Colonel Lindbergh-no relation to Charles Lindbergh.
PARHAM: That's interesting. The same middle name.
WARREN: And then we had Thomas F. Downing from Downington, Pennsylvania. By the way, he's retired and still living there in Managua, I think. We had United Fruit. I'm sorry, it's not United Fruit, Cuyamel Fruit Company coming into the east coast at Bluefields and Puerto . . . . I should have looked this up. Anyway, it's a company port on the east coast of Nicaragua [Puerto Cabezas] and they were engaged in shipping and in bananas and in lumber. By the way, in that little port, there was a man who was an accountant and he was a cousin of Albert Einstein in this little east Nicaraguan port, a port no larger than Wolfe City, [Texas]. What can I get for you? I found it very interesting to know him and to know her. Then, of course, we had the other American shipping putting in at Corinto, the western port, and San Juan del Sur. We also had a branch, an office of an American telegraph company. Boy, I'll have to look up these names now again. Then, as I said, there were all the friends in the government, in the business, in society. So it was truly a splendid homecoming for us. We worked hard.
We came to know Nicaragua, what was there. We knew the President; we knew his three children, a little girl in pigtails and two boys, Luis and "Tachito," [Anastasio Jr.]. Well, as you know, later, after we left there, Somoza was assassinated. Luis was the first son to become President and it's generally considered, I think, today that he made a good President. "Tachito" is now President. He guided the Republic during the recent awful Managua earthquake, and the little girl in pigtails, Lillian Somoza, is the wife of the dean of the diplomatic corps in Washington, D.C., [Ambassador] Guillermo Sevilla-Sacasa. We knew his father better than we knew Guillermo, but now, of course, we knew Guillermo better than we knew the father. But he was a fine old man. He was postmaster-general for a time. Well, I could go on. It was most fortunate for us because they liked us from the period we'd been there before, and we started in as if we hadn't been away and learned how to practice diplomacy in Latin America. Europeans, European experts, usually take a dim view of a Latin American diplomat. But some of our best have originated there.
PARHAM: Excuse me, you say Latin American diplomat. Do you mean a diplomat from one of the Latin American countries or a United States diplomat who has done service there?
WARREN: That's a good question. Let me state it another way. I mean by that, that American Foreign Service officers who have served in Latin America are not generally regarded so well by the diplomats who had European assignments. But nevertheless, it took a special type, or special ability, to be a successful diplomat in Latin America and it could come in very well as others showed. In Europe, for instance, Arthur Bliss Large, who served as minister in Latvia, Yugoslavia, and Poland. I'm prejudiced, of course, but I don't think that [Under Secretary of State] Sumner Welles or any American diplomat that I can think of now was a better diplomat than Arthur Bliss Lane. He knew it, he devoted his life to it until the very end, and no one could have worked harder or more sincerely than he did. He had a lovely wife who had been born--I'm not sure whether she was born in the United States or whether she was born in Florence, [Italy]--but she was brought up in Florence. Her family lived there and unless they have left in the last ten years, some of them still live there.
PARHAM: What was it that. . . ? Can you give us an example of what in particular was it that was needed to make a good American diplomat in Latin America? What was it that Mr. Lane had that you can put your finger on?
WARREN: Well, yes, I can name some of the things. First thing:
he had a good education; he was a graduate of Harvard. Second thing: he believed in human beings regardless of th