Yuri Ivanovich Sum,
INTERVIEW WITH AMBASSADOR GEORGE MCGHEE
(First question not recorded. Recording begins 2-3 words after start of reply.)
GEORGE McGHEE: ... crisis, and we were very concerned about Greece. Greece had suffered dreadfully during the war. The Germans, in conquering the country and in departing the country, blew up everything they could: the docks in the Port of Piraeus, the Corinth Canal, bridges, everything. And the poor country was, at best not a rich country; Greece has very few raw materials; not much good land even. Shipping was one of their main sources. And so the people in Greece were in a desperate situation. We feared that this Communist menace, which had just then been emerging, would take advantage; and we could see the build-up of the guerrilla forces, small in number; they never reached, at their extremity, more than 35,000 but nevertheless they had so disposed themselves that one couldn't go out of Athens or Salonica more than 10-15 miles with safety. We sent people to try to help them...... bankers and others, to try to help them in their financing; but we as a government had not yet done anything for them directly. The... situation just continued to deteriorate, and we were very afraid that this would have been the most vulnerable point of the line dividing us from the Soviet Union, that they might, through the guerrillas, drag them back behind the Iron Curtain.
INTERVIEWER: And what about... at the same time, how did the situation in Turkey look to those of you in Washington?
GM: Well, Turkey is of course quite different, and Turkey was not in the war. Having had a disastrous,, consequence of being in the First War, they were determined to be neutral. But they had to, in doing this, isolate themselves from normal trading partners, and their economy had run down, and the equipment that they had for their normally very forceful army, had run down. The Soviets found Turkey a most coveted prize: Turkey's strategic location through the entry to the Middle East, the fact that they controlled the access to the only southern port... the ports of the Black Sea that the Russians have. And the Russians had previously, when they'd negotiated their treaty with Germany, made clear to Hitler - something which disturbed him very much - that the... their real interest in this area was in the direction of Batam... Batum and Baku, in the direction of the Persian Gulf. So it's quite obvious that they saw it as a reward for their being an ally of Hitler, at least having an agreement with him, that they perhaps would be given the freedom to take these countries. And were it not for Turkey, it would have been very easy for them. So Turkey became of strategic... extreme strategic importance; much more than Greece.
INT: Can I ask you then to sum up... again I'm thinking of that period in the early part of 1947, January-February 1947, before the note comes from Britain about handing over... but before that point, how did the whole situation in Western Europe look, how alarming was the whole situation in Western Europe after the very bad winter of '46-'47? How alarmed, how concerned were you all in Washington at that point in time?
GM: Well, we were becoming increasingly concerned as the effect of the war had on... Europe became clearer to us: demolished the industry and broken the arrangement between farm and city. Many of our... better advised people knew how bad the situation was. On the other hand, everyone was relieved from the end of the war, and that seemed to be much more important perhaps than the threat that might exist, say, through the Communists coming in, who already one could perceive were taking advantage of the weakness in Europe. What to do about it was another thing. I'm not sure that people generally had the ability to understand or analyse the nature of the problem. And the one man who did, in my judgment, more than anyone else, was William Clayton, who I had come into Washington to work for. Clayton had been the leading cotton factory in the world, whose Anderson Clayton company dominated the world trade in cotton - 5,000 people working for them in Brazil... He was a very experienced man and well thought of in financial circles. And he had been in Europe, to the meeting of the... conference of the Europeans, which included Russia and Switzerland, and there the reports from the various countries as to how bad their situation was economically had greatly impressed him. On the way back, he went to Paris and found that the French were not... being supplied with enough food and raw materials to restore the economy, and he, more than anybody else, would know the consequences of that. He came back, and when he arrived, unfortunately he had a slight flu and was at home in bed, and I went to take him the most important telegrams and mail that had arrived; I was his special assistant. And he read them all with interest, and he gave me a piece of paper on which he'd written on his return from Europe, and asked me to take it to the Department and see that Acheson and the other officers involved had copies of it. And this was the paper which analysed the situation, how it should be met, even the cost of it. He used the figure of 14 billion, which turned out to be the actual cost in the end. And he brought out the breakdown in the partnership between country and city, and the capital had to be provided so that these countries could buy the raw materials that they needed to reinvigorate their economy and restore (in full) the facilities which were destroyed during the war. Many other people added to the thinking, the idea of the Europeans managing the problem themselves through the committee which Lord Franks came to preside over. And the final speech which Marshall made reflected his own ideas, although he had not been very long in the Department so he didn't have as much background as these other people. , the views of the military were also very important, what... how this would affect the threat that the Soviets offered. And from this emerged the Marshall speech which faced the problem head on, and committed us to restoring Turkey... Europe as our allies.
INT: Right. I want to just go back a little bit. The Marshall speech was in June, so I want to go back now just to the end of February '47. Can I ask for your own memories of that weekend, when the note came through from Britain that it was going to pass on the responsibilities on Greece and Turkey? How do you remember that weekend?
GM: Well, I remember it vividly, as I think most people do. I was then working for Clayton; I was... a very junior officer: I hadn't been in the Department more than two or three months then. I'd been in government before, but not the State Department. Clayton, at this time, in the absence of Acheson, had taken the lead in trying to analyse the situation, and he saw the need to restore Greece and Turkey, who were threatened in the ways I have described. This was one of the first coherent positions that had emerged before the British demarche. Our people who were working daily with the British were fully aware of the British problem and the fact that your Treasury had demanded that they couldn't support Greece and Turkey anymore, that you had suffered such losses in the war that they couldn't be met. And our own people were so sympathetic with this view, as we had been between the two countries; so many of us had had close ties with Europe. I had spent three very pleasant years at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar and had very fond memories of England. And most of us had made up our minds that something had to be done. So in a sense, this demarche did not surprise anyone; it merely brought it to a head in a very abrupt way. ... the evaluation made to us by the British Government was that if Greece failed to receive any more aid from them, they probably wouldn't survive two weeks, because a lot of it was not just physical but psychological, (...) the result of their action; and particularly in London, where we had officers who were extremely close to the British, we always showed each other our telegrams - we didn't have any secrets from each other. And when thiadvance note was presented to the State Department, the people who took over the consideration of it... Loy Henderson was the real leader; he was then the head of the office of the Near East, South Asia and Africa, which was the same area that I eventually inherited myself, and it became an assistant secretaryship... but they met night and day, and I was working to help Clayton, who was very actively involved at the under secretary level. And the joint chiefs were making their evaluation, and the committee that existed between the State Department and the military establishment came up with their analysis of the problem, and all of these were put together and converged, and was presented to Marshall, in preparation for his receipt of the British official notice on Monday. And in three days, from Friday to Monday, a policy of more importance than many that our nation has been forced to make, was made without any difficulty. And when it arrived at the President's office, when Marshall presented it to him, everyone knew that he had already decided himself that this is something we should do.