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Erling Wikborg Oral History Interview

Oral History Interview with
Erling Wikborg

Member of Parliament, Norway, 1945-49

Oslo, Norway
May 21, 1964
By Philip C. Brooks

[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 It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.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 January 1966
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri


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


Oral History Interview with
Erling Wikborg


Oslo, Norway
May 21, 1964
By Philip C. Brooks



Wikborg, Erling; Norwegian politician; b. 94; ed. Oslo Univ., and legal studies in France and England. Councillor, Supreme Court; mem. of Storting (Parl.) 45-49, 54-, Minister of Foreign Affairs Aug. 63; Chair. Christian People's Party. c/o Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Oslo, Norway.

My interview with Mr. Wikborg was set up by Mr. Douglass Ballentine, the Counsellor of the American Embassy in Oslo, on the basis of my previous letter to the Ambassador. .As in several cases, however, I did not know about Mr. Wikborg until I arrived in Oslo, and therefore was not able to do any background study on him other than the biographical sketch in the International Who's Who.

Mr. Wikborg is a lawyer in Oslo, and was Foreign Minister of Norway for one month.


DR. PHILIP C. BROOKS: Mr. Wikborg, would you start, please, by telling me something of your activity in the late forties? You were a member of Parliament, I believe.

MR. ERLING WIKBORG: Yes, I became a member of Parliament just after the war and I have been a member of Parliament for twelve years. For the latter part of my period in the Parliament, I was a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

BROOKS: And you represented what party?


WIKBORG: The Christian People's Party, which was a new party after the war. Well, it existed also before the war, but not on a big scale. We became a country-wide party after the war.

BROOKS: Should I think of this as an opposition party?

WIKBORG: No, we wanted to cooperate as much as possible with the others. There was very little opposition, you see, in this country to start with after the war because we were so eager in rebuilding our country and we were cooperating so very well also in the political line.

BROOKS: Then, you were later in the Cabinet, were you not?

WIKBORG: Well, just for a short period. I was Minister of Foreign Affairs last autumn, when we had a coalition government.


BROOKS: Now, Mr. Wikborg, the time I'm most concerned about is 1946 to 1948, the time at which the Marshall Plan was suggested and developed. We regard this as a high point of the Truman Administration foreign policy and I would like to know something of how it looked in Norway. Was it that important to you and in what way?

WIKBORG: Well, it's many years ago now, but you see, we looked upon the Marshall Plan as an extraordinary opportunity to rebuild our country much faster than we would have been able to if we hadn't got that help. So, I think it's one of the greatest events in modern history -- that the United States did help so big a part of the world in the way they did. We will certainly never forget it in this country.

BROOKS: Was this expected, sir? Did you think that President Truman and General Marshall would take this strong and vigorous a stand?


WIKBORG: Well, we felt that they understood the needs of the rest of the world. But, I don't think we could have imagined anything of the size it took afterwards.

BROOKS: I believe it grew later to be somewhat larger than was originally anticipated in Norway. Right?

WIKBORG: Oh yes, absolutely. I think that our government at that time thought that we would be greatly helped if we could get assistance in the size of about fifty million kroner. It turned out that we got three thousand million kroner in Marshall aid.

BROOKS: What were Norway's greatest needs, Mr. Wikborg? What was this used for primarily?

WIKBORG: Well, you see, we had lost half of our modern mercantile marine during the war. We


had lost two million, five hundred thousand tons. We wanted to rebuild that. Of course, we had much to draw upon, because our ships had been insured, so we had the insurance money to start with.

BROOKS: Where did that come from? From England?

WIKBORG: From England, yes, mostly from England. You see nothing had been built during the war, our factories, our railways, everything was buried deep down and we had to start afresh in really every sphere of our economic way of life and so we needed capital. We needed credit. Now we got it.

BROOKS: You didn't have a manpower shortage, did you, a labor shortage?

WIKBORG: No, no, I can't say so. As a matter of fact, you see, we had some fears of unemployment. Among


others one of the leading Swedish economists had told us that we had to expect unemployment on a big scale. Well, we certainly never had it. But, there might have been some unemployment if it had not been for the Marshall Plan and the aid we got, and especially what reverted from the international cooperation based upon the Marshall Plan. I'm thinking now of the OEEC and the cooperation between the countries, the liberalization of trade and all that, which also meant very much for our shipping.

BROOKS: I notice, if I read these figures correctly, that the percentage of labor in Norway devoted to agriculture, forestry, and shipping has gradually decreased, and that this has been taken up by industry.

WIKBORG: Yes, and the public service.


BROOKS: Did most people here think that at that time, Mr. Wikborg, that the degree of cooperation among the nations was possible that was called for by General Marshall?

WIKBORG: Yes, yes, we hoped for it. We had very great hopes for the United Nations but you see, these hopes vanished very soon. I think we met with the first East-West difficulties in the opening session of the United Nations in London in 1946, and it grew deeper and deeper, and we understood that the United Nations couldn't do very much.

BROOKS: Yes, there was some suggestion in 1947 that the planning for the Marshall Plan should be done by a United Nations organization, the ECE, rather than the Committee in Paris.

WIKBORG: Yes, but that was impossible, of course, with the attitude that Soviet Russia took to the


whole scheme. They wouldn't allow Poland and Czechoslovakia for example, to take part in the Marshall Plan...

BROOKS: Would you say that the idea or the concept of the cold war had already started, or had it not quite crystallized?

WIKBORG: The cold war started, as a matter of fact, already in 1946. It grew hotter, if you can say that a cold war grows hot, in 1947 and of course in 1948.

BROOKS: What was the Foreign Relations Committee of the Legislature primarily concerned with in these days and what did you worry most about in that Committee? Do you remember?

WIKBORG: No. Those years I was not a member of that Committee in the Parliament, but of course, we were mostly concerned during all these years with the foreign relations, because we saw what


happened to the smaller countries bordering Russia. We have also a common border with Russia and so we felt that it was a great relief when we entered the North Atlantic Pact -NATO.

BROOKS: Mr. Wikborg, in 1947 Mr. Bevin and Mr. Bidault invited Molotov to Paris, and the Russians were invited to take part in the Marshall Plan. Is it fair to ask you if you thought it was a good idea to invite the Russians, and if people here thought the Russians would participate?

WIKBORG: Well we hoped so. It's rather difficult to remember all such details just now, but we certainly hoped for it, because we wanted, as far as we could, to be bridgebuilders between the two at that time. We thought that possible. But we were very disappointed, of course, when we saw what attitude the Russians



BROOKS: And, since they took that attitude, would you say that the Marshall Plan worked better without them or not?

WIKBORG: Well, it's a new problem for me to answer, but I think it would have been a very fine thing if they had been taken into the Marshall Plan and if they had developed more rapidly than they did. Because, I think that their increase in standard of living is part of the security of the world. So the sooner that can come about, the better. But, now, of course, when we look upon it, it was impossible because of their idea.

BROOKS: Were the Eastern European countries very important to Norway in respect to trade?

WIKBORG: No. We have been a westward looking country


always. That's our position. To England and the United States, there we have our largest trade. There, we also have our best friends.

BROOKS: We're glad of that. The desire to work with the Russians, if possible, was largely a political thing, rather than seeking markets?

WIKBORG: Yes, but we also believed that if a market of some two hundred million people, if they should develop, well that would be to the good for all of us. Especially for Norway with its large shipping.

BROOKS: May I ask you somewhat a similar question about Germany, Mr. Wikborg? There must have been a good deal of bitterness toward the Germans, and yet Germany is a very important export market for Norway. Did the Norwegians favor


allowing the Germans to develop a high degree of the "level of industry?"

WIKBORG: Well, we thought it was a good thing for Europe as a whole that they could rebuild their country as fast as possible, although we know they are very clever and that they had some chances there that we haven't got. But, still, I think it was all to the best for all of us.

BROOKS: In the work of the Committee, the CEEC at Paris and the OEEC after it was set up, did you think that Norwegian interests were fairly represented and that the people there understood the Norwegian needs?

WTKBORG: Yes, I think so.

BROOKS: As I understand it, each country came to those meetings with certain wishes and estimates, and these had to be debated and cut down. In


one or two countries I have been told that they were cut down too much. I take it the Norwegians didn't feel that way.

WIKBORG: Well, as I now remember it, I think we have been very satisfied with the working of the OEEC. Of course, we have wanted to see, especially now in the OECD that our shipping interests are included in the whole cooperation scheme, which does not always suit the United States' interests very well.

BROOKS: And you feel that the shipping interests haven't always been well represented?

WIKBORG: There were some discussions whether it should be part of the OECD. I think in time this was accepted by the United States.

BROOKS: This wasn't a matter of the amount of tonnage that Norway should rebuild or...


WIKBORG: No. There were some discriminatory measures taken by the United States Government in international shipping. And, we were not very happy about that. But, that's an old story.

BROOKS: General Marshall made his speech at Harvard in 1947, asking for the cooperation of the European countries in this program, and everybody knew there was no chance of having the program approved by the United States Congress for months and months. Did this, itself, present a problem in the following critical months? I believe you had a hard winter...

WIKBORG: Well, we were fighting our difficulties all the time, and I think we never reckoned with any aid of that kind. But of course, we had difficulties, grave difficulties. There were so many things that had to be done at once,


and we couldn't do everything at once. We used most of our resources for the building up of our country, so we had some quite meager years.

BROOKS: I imagine it's difficult for us to realize quite how meager.

WIKBORG: Yes, I think that's impossible. But, we all felt that we had to do it that way. We didn't get excited about it, there was no great opposition.

BROOKS: During that winter, there were extensive debates in the American Congress. Were the Norwegians following all that?

WIKBORG: Oh, yes, of course, we did. We always follow what's going on in your country.

BROOKS: And the Congress sent a mission of its own, the Herter Mission over here in the fall of 1947,


and certain other missions that came to collect information. I think some people in Norway at the time, and in other countries, felt that the planning and organization of the program should be through the U.N., and you already said you thought that was unrealistic.

WIKBORG: Yes, I think that was unrealistic at that time.