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Ivan B. White Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Ivan B. White

Appointed Foreign Service officer, 1935. Detailed to the Bretton Woods Conference, 1944, as liaison officer with the Latin American delegations. Served during the Truman Administration as a financial officer, U.S. Embassy, Paris, 1944-48, in Trieste, Italy, as Dir. of Finance and Economics for the Allied Military Government, 1948-50; as Director, Office of Regional American Affairs, Bu. of Inter-American Affairs, 1950-51; and as Counselor, U.S. Embassy, Madrid, 1951-53. Attended as an adviser the inaugural meeting (Savannah, Ga., April, 1946) and the first annual meeting (Wash., D.C. Sept., 1946) of the IMF and the IBRD.

San Diego, California
February 24, 1974
by James R. Fuchs

[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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 May, 1976
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri


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


Oral History Interview with
Ivan B. White


San Diego, California
February 24, 1974
by James R. Fuchs


FUCHS: Mr. White, I wonder if you would give me a little resume of where you were born and your life before you came into the Foreign Service, and then we'll pick up from there.

WHITE: Yes, I was born in Salem, Oregon in 1907, and was graduated from Willamette University in 1929. My interest in the Foreign Service arose in 1928 when I took a course in a political science major in the conduct of American foreign policy. After graduation and working a year, I went to the University of Washington on a teaching fellowship. Taught half time and took


graduate work the other half time, went down to the Federal courthouse and took the written Foreign Service examinations, managed to pass, and then went to Washington in June, 1932 to take the oral and physical examinations, passed those and returned to the northwest. It was during the Hoover economy wave and they were not appointing those who had passed examinations -- so I took a job as Assistant Relief Administrator in the state of Oregon, which was at that time under the RFC and very shortly came under Harry Hopkins and the Federal Unemployment Relief Administration, which I continued until I was called up into the Foreign Service in October 1935. After a year of training in Mexico City at our Embassy there and three months in the Foreign Service school in Washington, I was sent to Japan where our oldest daughter was born. Then I was sent to Harvard on a year's study assignment in international


finance, and subsequently, to Rio de Janeiro as financial attache in the Embassy there.

FUCHS: What year was that?

WHITE: I was sent in 1941 and was there until September 1944.

FUCHS: You were there a good part of the war, then.

WHITE: Yes, first three years of the war. In June 1944 I was detailed to the Bretton Woods Conference to act as liaison officer with the Latin-American delegations, which during the wartime period constituted about 40 percent of the total delegations. I worked under Dean Acheson who at that time was Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs.

FUCHS: Did you go to the preliminary conference they had in Atlantic City in June '44?


WHITE: No, I knew about it, but I didn't go. I was sent directly -- actually I accompanied the Brazilian finance minister and his group up to the conference. In addition to acting as liaison with Dean Acheson, we negotiated with the Brazilian Finance Minister a coffee agreement providing for the purchase of an additional 2,000,000 bags of coffee for the armed services. At the end of that conference, which was at the time of the St. Lo breakthrough and about the time of the reoccupation of Paris by the Allied troops, Dean Acheson asked me where I'd like to be assigned next. I told him Paris. He smiled, but said nothing; two weeks subsequent to my return to Rio de Janeiro I had orders transferring me to Paris. So, after taking the family back to Oregon to remain during the wartime period, I flew to Paris and served as financial officer there.

FUCHS: Let's go back a little bit. At the Bretton


Woods Conference did you have occasion to observe some of the people such as Harry Dexter White and so forth? Do you have any reflections about any of these personalities?

WHITE: Yes, I played tennis with Harry Dexter White and Mrs. Morgenthau, plus another lady whose name I do not recall. And, of course, I knew Harry White intermittently both there and at the inaugural meeting of the International Bank and Fund at Savannah in April of 1946.

FUCHS: Do you have any reflections about him, his personality, or his ability?

WHITE: Well, yes. He was very pleasant to me because I first met him at the Conference of Inter-American Foreign Ministers which convened in Rio shortly after we became involved in the war in the early part of 1942. He came down with Sumner Welles as the Treasury Department representative and I


became acquainted with him then, and I think he was largely responsible for my being called up to the Treasury shortly thereafter in 1942 for a briefing on foreign funds control. I knew very little about his background up to that point and my impression of him at that moment was that he knew his business and that Morgenthau obviously relied heavily upon him.

The moment of my unhappiness arose when I put into Washington on my way to Paris and went over to make a courtesy call on him. I had been by that time designated by the State Department as financial officer and he commented that he was glad I was going to Paris, and I'd get along well there, if I didn't attempt to involve myself in financial matters which were the prerogative of the Treasury Department and its representative. I had very little to do with him after that point except at the inaugural meeting of the Bank and Fund at Savannah, where I acted as assistant to


Judge Fred Vinson, who at that time had become Secretary of the Treasury and who was president of the Conference. Each morning we'd have a caucus there and at one point Harry White took the position that we should abandon our strong position that the Bank and Fund should be located in Washington instead of New York, which the British favored, on the grounds that we didn't have the votes. Well, part of my job with Judge Vinson had been to keep track of the different delegations and their thinking and having them up to his suite for luncheons and to maintain good relationships. My reading was that we did have the votes to have it in Washington rather than in New York, and on some other issue, the details of which I forget, we had the same confrontation. To my amazement, Judge Vinson, who was Secretary of the Treasury and who appeared rather critical of Harry White (who was still Assistant Treasury


Secretary), sided with me on both issues. In retrospect, I think possibly Vinson, at that juncture, had picked up some kind of information indicating that Harry White might not be within his official family very long. Now that's pure surmise; an interpretation of why Vinson did not go along with White's views.

FUCHS: I'm not certain of the protocol but I believe you introduced Judge Vinson there, and you were a State Department financial man and he had his own Treasury Department finance man. Why was that done that way?

WHITE: I don't know. It could possibly be because of what we discussed. He may have acquired a lack of confidence. I know I was called back from Paris for this conference, called back to the State Department. I had been called back because we were going to have some bilateral negotiations


with the French. Leon Blum had formed his cabinet after de Gaulle had resigned -- the first de Gaulle administration. Leon Blum had come in and they were in dire need of financial assistance before the Marshall plan and we had a lot of other things to settle, all kinds of things. So I was called back primarily to work on that, and then I was detailed to this conference while I was back in Washington. I really don't know but I'm happy that it occurred because I loved the Judge. Vinson was one of the nicest persons I have ever known.

FUCHS: Had you known him previously?

WHITE: No, I hadn't. He had previously been in Congress.

FUCHS: Oh, you were introduced to him. I understood that you had introduced him at some meeting.


WHITE: No, this was later on. And I came to love and admire him. Vinson didn't know too much about international affairs, but he got along well with people and he had a certain shrewdness which is very helpful in international affairs, plus the fact that he had Will Clayton there, you see, as acting head of the American delegation, because Vinson was chairman of that inaugural meeting of the Bank and Fund; therefore he couldn't act as head of the American delegation. And he had Will Clayton who was a tremendous person.

FUCHS: I see, he acted as head of the delegation.

WHITE: That's right. Now, that brings us to the point of the first annual meeting of the International Bank and Monetary Fund. It was


held in Washington that same fall. By that time Fred Vinson had become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by appointment by Harry Truman. And the Judge was so interested in the International Bank and Monetary Fund that -- at the Wardman Park was that...

FUCHS: Wardman Park Hotel, now Sheraton Park.

WHITE: Yes, Wardman Park, that's where we had this conference. I was called back from Paris again, you see, to be an advisor to the American delegation, and I was always running into Judge Vinson, who came over frequently to sit around and chat with his friends. I soon discovered that he was so pleased with the Savannah meeting and the acquaintances made there that he left the impression he felt more at home in that kind of situation than he did up there on the bench. I'm


not sure but that's my interpretation. Anyway, he was there. So, having worked for him, I saw a great deal of him. I'd sit down and chat with him and we might have had a drink or two. Towards the end of the conference President Truman was giving a reception for the 44 governors of the Bank and Fund, usually finance ministers of the respective countries. (Today, I believe there are over a hundred.) So the word came down from the White House to the State Department they wanted someone designated to introduce the 44 governors to President Truman at this reception. So I was tagged for it. I suppose because I'd been both at Bretton Woods and Savannah. Well, I didn't know all of them, but with two exceptions, I was able to announce to the President the countries they represented. So, I arrived early at the White House where, in addition to the 44 governors having drinks before the reception, several Americans


had been invited, including Judge Vinson. When I was taken to one side to meet the President, I screwed up my courage and said, “ Mr. President, Judge Vinson’s over there kind of at loose ends and, of course, he knows all these people having been chairman of the conference at Savannah.”

And he said, “Hell , yes, tell Fred to come on over and join the reception line.”

So we put Vinson in the reception line right behind the President. And I could tell that Vinson was tickled pink because he could then shake hands with all the people he’d known before.

FUCHS: Had you met President Truman prior to that?

WHITE: No, never met him before that meeting. So that was very pleasant and I enjoyed it. Well, I knew I couldn’t make it in terms of all their names, because I’m not the greatest one for names, although I knew quite a few on them; but I could


introduce them and I did as, for example, the “Governor from Iceland” instead of “Thor Thors.” So, that’s really my one direct experience with Harry Truman.

There was another amusing, albeit indirect, experience. After serving in Paris and then serving in Trieste as Director of Finance and Economics for Allied Military Government, the last of the SHAPE-type organizations, I was called back into the Department as economic advised for the Latin-American area. This was just immediately after Dean Acheson had become Secretary of State and, as such, I was directly responsible to Eddie Miller who was Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs. By 1950 I was in Brazil on business and planned to go on down to Uruguay and Argentina, when I received a telegram from Eddie Miller asking me to go from Buenos Aires to Santiago, Chile and be there at a certain date to


attend the inauguration of the National Steel Mill at Concepcion, which is south of Santiago. So I wired back and I said, "Of course." After Montevideo and Buenos Aires, I took a plane to Santiago. I didn't think much about the stop-over but had wired the Embassy to make a reservation for a hotel there. When the plane arrived at the Santiago airport I looked out the window, and there was a red carpet, a group in formal dress, plus a large crowd. My reaction was that some dignitary must have been on our plane. As I was disembarking, I saw a friend from the Embassy, who rushed up to me and said, "Put on your coat, you have to go through this reception line."

I started to ask why and he pushed me, so I went through it and shook hands with everyone. They even had a band out there, and I was a bit bewildered. Well, when the ceremonies were completed my Embassy friend informed me that the


Chilean Government had invited Harry