Galbraith, JK.



Nitze, Paul H

Tucker, R.



Q: I wonder if we could begin by going right back to 1946. I wonder if you could tell me about that train ride you had with President Truman and Mr Churchill.

A: Well, it was one of the highlights, certainly of my tenure in the White House. President Truman wanted to get to know Mr Churchill better. They had met at the Potsdam Conference. As you'll remember, after two or three days of that conference Mr Churchill was called back to England because he had lost the election. That disappointed President Truman a good deal. So in the spring of '96 - excuse me, '46, the college President, was Mr College, said that they would like to have Mr Churchill come over and make their commencement address. Well, he had about one chance in a million of getting that request complied with, but it struck President Truman at just the right time, and he said, 'I'd like to have Mr Churchill come over. I want to get to know him better.' And he wrote a letter to Mr Churchill and said, 'this is likely to be an important occasion, and if you agree to come I will introduce you.' Well, that was an exceedingly attractive invitation to Mr Churchill. He had something he wanted to say, here he'd get a audience in a college in the United States, and being introduced by the President. So he answered at once and accepted, and came over later. We were with him the better part of a day before we left for Fulton, and had an interesting talk with him. Then we boarded the train about noon the next day and we sat in the President's car, which was a long, heavily armed railroad car, furnished like a man's club. Very comfortable. And so we sat there and talked a good deal and they began to get to know each other. Our President said to Mr Churchill, 'we'll be on this trip quite a while and I would be glad if you would call me Harry.' Well, Mr Churchill said, 'I'll be glad to if you will call me Winston.' Mr Truman said, 'I don't believe I can do that.' He said, 'I consider you the First Citizen in the world and I just don't believe I can call you Winston.' Winston Churchill said, 'if you can't call me Winston, then I can't call you Harry.' The President said, 'on that basis, we'll do it.' So it was Winston and Harry from that time on, and they got on very well. An amusing little incident, in the course of the afternoon, towards the end, Mr Churchill said, 'I've read in the press from time to time Harry, that you play poker.' And President Truman said, 'yes, I've played a good deal.' Mr Churchill said, 'well, I played my first poker game in the Boer War.' Well, that was very impressive, none of us could remember when the Boer War was but it sounded like a long time ago. And Mr Churchill said, 'is there any possibility that we might have a game on the trip?' The President said, 'I can guarantee you that we will.' So that evening after dinner, help put on a green baize cover on the dining room table, there were six or seven of us, and we settled down to play poker together. And from the way Mr Churchill had talked we thought he was gonna be a pretty good poker player. It turned out he wasn't. So that we'd been playing for about an hour and a half when he excused himself, Mr Churchill, said he'd be right back and he left. And the President said, 'men, you aren't treating our guest very well.' He looked at his chips, he said, 'looks to me like he's lost about 300 dollars.' One of the fellas spoke up and said, 'Mr President, you've got to have it one way or another. We're either gonna do our best, and if we do we'll take his pants. But if you want us to play business poker, we'll do that.' The President said, 'well, give him a good time, but don't let him go back and say that he beat us in the American game of poker.' So we had a charming time, played late, he just didn't want to quit. And I think that at the end of it he may have lost about 250 dollars, but he had a wonderful time. Time and again, if fellas saw that they had him beat they'd fold and let him win a pot. Which he did not know about. But he enjoyed it thoroughly.


Q: The speech itself, Mr Clifford, I gather from your book and elsewhere that Mr Truman knew what Churchill was going to say and had some idea. Can you tell me how he felt about the speech and the actual impact of the speech on that day?

A: He recognised that, from what Mr Churchill had said, that the subject was going to be a sensitive and delicate one. And he gave word that he was not going to read the speech before Mr Churchill gave it. He did not wish to be in a position of having supported it. And then he wouldn't be able to because he wouldn't have read it. The fact is he couldn't stand it and he did, he read it the night before. It came at a time when there was still hope in America that we could find a basis of living with the Soviet Union. And Mr Churchill's speech was blunt, hard and tough. And it suited the President all right, because the President had gone through an interesting period. When he was in Potsdam at the meeting with Stalin and Churchill, he had a formal meeting with Stalin and they got on well, so the President arranged privately to have a private meeting with Stalin, and Stalin came over with just an interpreter and they had a long luncheon together. And President Truman reported to us that it went very well. Stalin had been a farmer, Truman had been a farmer, and they talked together. So he came back to the United States after the Potsdam meeting quite optimistic about his ability to get along with Stalin. Through 1945, the rest of '45 and into 1946, that optimism began to fade. Stalin was fudging and violated portions of the Yalta agreement and the Teheran agreement, and believe it or not, even parts of the Potsdam agreement. And it became clearer all the time that the Soviets were engaged in some kind of plan for domination, whether it was Europe or the world we couldn't tell. The speech was not well received in the United States. It was thought to be too tough a speech and the President was criticised by some for having Churchill over. Just goes to show how history changes. Now it's one of the great speeches that's ever been made, because it helped warn the world about the danger of the Soviet aggrandisement. And after the speech was over, the President took some steps to mollify those who had been upset. He asked Stalin to come over and make a speech, and he said, 'if you come over and make a speech I will introduce you.' So he was making the same offer to Stalin that he had made to Churchill. My recollection is he got no reply from Stalin at all.

Q: Shortly after that historic speech you were asked by the President to prepare a report with Mr Elsey to look at what the situation was. Can you tell me something about the preparation of that report and a little bit about the conclusions that you came to?

A: Yes. The President called me in one day, after he'd come back and he said, 'it's getting worse now, our relationship with the Soviet Union.' And he said, 'I want to be in a position to document our concern. Go back over the recent agreements and list one by one the violations in which the Soviets have engaged.' And Elsey and I started to do that. He was my assistant. As we got into it, we began to have the feeling we could do more than that, and that we could make a very real contribution if we filled in what the attitudes were and what was crystallising in this country. I went back to the President and said, 'we can make this fuller and perhaps provide you with some very useful information if you permit us to submit a report on the present relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union.' He said, 'go right ahead and do it.' We spent weeks on it then, interviewed most of the top officials in the United States, and then we prepared the, called the Clifford-Elsey report, and submitted it to the President one morning. That evening while I was here at home, he phoned and he said, 'Clark, how many copies of this report do you have?' And I said, 'we have twenty.' He said, 'early in the morning, get up if you will and bring those 20 copies in to me. don't it to get out.' He said, 'this'll blow the roof off of the White House, and,' he said, 'very likely blow the roof off of the Kremlin.' So he said, 'it must not get out now. It's an excellent report, I will have it on my own to read, be counselled by it, but I do not want it to get out.' So that's what we did, we got all the copies together. I saved a working copy, because we'd put a lot of ourself in it, and I didn't know, I thought maybe he might destroy all those copies. He did not. Some of them were found later, 25 years later, down in the Truman library. So he had saved them. But the report was very outspoken, and we had received the attitudes of all of the top officials in the United States, and that caused the hardening of our report, because there was a curious unanimity of feeling in their attitude towards the Soviet Union. So that we told about the history of the two countries in the report, we told about the splendid partnership we'd had when they were ally - an ally of ours during the war, and then we told about the disintegration which was due to Stalin's attitude. We ended up the report by saying the policy of our country should be set and clearly set. The Soviet Union constitutes a real menace to freedom in this world. Freedom in Europe, freedom in the United States. So we must prepare for it. I remember the last line went something like, 'as far as the Soviets are concerned, I want them to understand that we are too determined to be turned off, and too strong to be defeated.' Now he said, I want to - we said in the report, if the President chose to make this announcement with reference to the Soviet Union, then Europe, we thought, would come into it with considerable alacrity. He did not publish it, so it rested in his file.

Q: Can we most on just a little bit. In February 1947 Britain said it could no longer afford to pay the bills for the actions against the Soviet Union and the Communists in Greece and in Turkey. Do you remember that time very well? Do you remember what President Truman's response was to that?

A: I remember it in great detail. Because, I don't know that anybody else has expressed this opinion, this in some respects was the most important decision that President Truman made in his eight years in office. Keep in mind that in the farewell address of George Washington, our first President, George Washington said, 'my major concern and my major advice is keep away from all entangling alliances in Europe.' And we had followed that policy meticulously. And (cough) and done well with it. There's always a war going on in Europe someplace, and we stayed out of it. And the world had accepted that fact that that was the United States' policy. But in December, when somebody in the British Foreign Office let Acheson know that this later message was coming over, Acheson and I talked about it, and he said, 'this is going to confront President Truman with an extraordinarily serious and difficult decision.' We did have that time, however, to talk with it and to talk to President Truman about it. As you suggest, in early 1947 the message came and it was flat. It said, 'Great Britain is withdrawing from both economic aid and military aid to Greece and Turkey.' Now, the significance of that is Greece and Turkey constituted the southern anchor of the eastern defence line. And if they went Communist, it would be an extraordinary problem for the rest of the world. Now, we knew very little about that part of the world. The British had always taken part in that, in the Eastern Mediterranean, with their great fleet of ships and all, and we'd always left it up to the British. Now they were saying it's not our problem any longer, because we've reached the bottom of the barrel. It's now your problem. He thought a great deal about it, worried about it a lot, consulted the leaders in Congress at considerable length, both Democratic and Republican. And finally in early March, after thorough investigation of it and a period of close, hard reasoning, he said, 'we're going to take advantage of this situation. We must not leave that part of the world unprotected, and if the British leave it we will go in and replace the British, with economic aid and military aid if necessary.' He made that announcement in what has become known as the Truman Doctrine speech in March, maybe the 14th of March or something like, and I remember riding up to the Congress, and he said, 'I just don't know what the reaction of the American people is going to be.' He said, 'I think we can get the support of Congress.' But he was greatly pleased to get the support that he did from the country. He explained why it was necessary, and it was in that speech that he said, 'the United States must help those nations who are besieged by foreign interests both from within and from without, and we shall assist those nations in keeping their freedom.' Well, a thrill went clear around the world. Letters poured in from practically every country. The United States had taken a position, and to some extent had come in full force into the 20th century, and had shown it intended to defend against Soviet aggression.

Q: You seem to put yourself quite firmly in the background there, yet as I read your memoirs and talk around it you were really quite heavily involved in the Truman Doctrine speech, and I think at one point in your memoirs you described it as government policy being cranked out in a speech in a few days. Was it really something that - the final preparation of the speech - which came with rapidity, with shock?

A: Yes. The British gave us so little notice. We had some advance, but we didn't know exactly what the message was going to be. That's back in December. So when they sent us the message, the early part of March and said they were leaving in March, they created a very real time emergency for the President. And we had - first he had to reach his decision, then we had to prepare a speech, a very careful speech, because this was a monumental change in American foreign policy and I remember staying up nights while we worked on the speech. And we at the end felt that the speech served our purposes very well.