Numbers appearing in square brackets (ex. ) within the transcript indicate the pagination in the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview.
Opened August, 1972
Oral History Interview with
January 20, 1972
by Jerry N. Hess
HESS: Mr. Secretary, to begin and for the record, will you give me a little of your personal background; where were you born, where were you raised, where were you educated, and what are a few of the positions that you have held?
FINLETTER: I was born on November 11th, 1893 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I was educated at the Episcopal Academy in Philadelphia and at the University of Pennsylvania, also in Philadelphia, where I received an A. B. degree, and later in the law school an LL.B., before I entered the service of the law.
I practiced law in New York for many years until the early fall of 1941, when I went to the Department of State as Special Assistant to Secretary of State Cordell Hull. I stayed there until 1944 (I've
forgotten the exact date), and in 1945 I was assigned the responsibility of going to the San Francisco Conference which set up the United Nations. Then I returned to my practice of the law. In 1948 I was Chairman of the Air Policy Commission which rendered a report as of December 31, 1948, to President Truman on air policy. I was Secretary of the Air Force under President Truman from 1950 to 1953, when his term ended. I then developed a rather keen interest in politics and especially in the career of Adlai Stevenson, who ran for the Presidency on two occasions in the following years. In both cases he was defeated, much to my regret.
After the second defeat of Mr. Stevenson and the election of Mr. Kennedy as President of the United States, President Kennedy named me Ambassador to NATO, where I served until July 14, 1965. I then returned to the practice of the law in my firm, Coudert Brothers, in New York City where I stayed for several years and then retired from that firm.
Since then I have been occupying myself with some writing chores I had undertaken. I forgot to mention in that list that for something between one and two years, I was a representative of the United States for the Marshall Plan with responsibility of heading up the United States mission to the United Kingdom (that is to say Great Britain). I think that is
roughly speaking, my background.
HESS: Mr. Secretary, what are your earliest recollections of President Truman?
FINLETTER: Well, I find it difficult to identify any special date, because I've given you a moment ago my career in Washington, and of course, during that time...
HESS: Do you recall anything about Mr. Truman at the time he was Senator? He came to Washington in 1935 .
FINLETTER: No. I do not recall anything in particular at the moment of Senator Truman.
HESS: He headed the Senate Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, as you know, that was known as the Truman Committee. Does anything come to mind about Mr. Truman's association with the Truman Committee during World War II?
FINLETTER: No, nothing.
HESS: All right. Did you attend the Democratic National Convention that was held in Chicago in 1944?
FINLETTER: The date in 1944...
HESS: The summer of 1944, when Mr. Roosevelt received the nomination for the fourth term.
FINLETTER: No, I did not attend that meeting of the national committee.
HESS: Do you recall your reaction when Mr. Truman was selected as the vice-presidential nominee that year?
FINLETTER: No, I did not know Mr. Truman at this time. I knew of his record and I had nothing very special one way or another of a distinct impression.
HESS: Were you somewhat surprised that this person who was not too well-known was selected for the second spot on the ticket that year?
FINLETTER: I don't remember.
HESS: As you know, James Byrnes, Justice William O. Douglas, Henry Wallace, who was Vice President and wanted to remain, but those three men were in strong contention, they were fairly well-known then.
FINLETTER: I have no recollection of that particular
dispute. I did have very definite impressions afterwards as to Mr. Truman's election as Vice President, and later his succession to the Presidency.
HESS: What are those impressions?
FINLETTER: My impression is, and the more I study the period since the end of World War II, the stronger the impression gets, is that Mr. Truman was one of our greatest Presidents and that he ranks very, very high indeed among all the Presidents in history, including those of recent years.
HESS: Why do you hold that view?
FINLETTER: Because of the character and intelligence of the man, the simplicity and courage of his approach to questions, and the very high ideals put into very practical practice, which was his custom. I have the greatest admiration for him as President.
HESS: Do you recall when you became aware that President Roosevelt's health was failing seriously?
FINLETTER: Whether I have any impressions of that?
HESS: That's right.
FINLETTER: No, I did not. Let's see, what years are we talking about now?
HESS: This was in 1945. As you recall, President Roosevelt went to Yalta just after his inauguration for his fourth term, which of course was on January the 20th of '45. That was held at the White House that year as you will recall they did not hold it on the steps of the Capitol because it was wartime and because President Roosevelt was not in too good of health, and shortly after that he went to Yalta, returned in February, and then died on April the 12th of 1945 .
FINLETTER: Well, during that time I was either serving as Special Assistant to Secretary Hull or had very recently retired from that position to private life and I can't remember at this time having any particular concern about the health of President Roosevelt.
HESS: What were your impressions when you heard of his death in April of 1945?
FINLETTER: Well, the obvious one, the obvious one, the fact that one of our great Presidents had
died and that the job that was going to fall to Mr. Truman was going to be an enormous one. You must remember that at this time I had not known Mr. Truman as well as I subsequently did when he was President, so I therefore could not have been as reassured as I would have been had I known him in the previous years.
HESS: In Arthur Krock's memoirs, Sixty Years on the Firing Line, on pages 220 and 221, he makes the statement that he proposed that you and Adlai Stevenson be put in charge of what came to be known as the "leak office" in San Francisco during the organization of the United Nations. Is that correct?
FINLETTER: I do not know if that is correct. There was a so-called "leak office," however, it served a better purpose than that particular designation of it would give the impression of.
The purpose of this so-called "leak office" was to furnish the press, all of the press, with an impression of what we felt the delegation, the American delegation, was sponsoring on matters of policy during the conference of San Francisco. In other words to get
out as much explanation and interpretation of the American point of view as was possible. The feeling being that it needed more than the mere formalities of the proceedings in order to alert the press of the United States and indeed of the world as to what was going on, as to what the attitude of the United States Government was.
HESS: Who was handling press relations in San Francisco before you arrived, do you recall?
FINLETTER : I do not remember.
HESS: Were you there before Mr. Stevenson?
FINLETTER: Yes, my recollection is that -- this is some years back and these details I may be wrong on.
HESS: That's very understandable.
FINLETTER: My recollection is that Mr. Stevenson came in after the so-called "leak office" had been in full sway for quite some time at the San Francisco Conference.
HESS: What did you know about Mr. Stevenson at that time? You became closely associated with him later on, but
was that your first contact with Mr. Stevenson?
FINLETTER: No, I knew him because he was in the Government at the same time that I was. I was in the United States Government from 1941 to - until this time, and thereafter.
HESS: What was your impression of Mr. Stevenson at that time?
FINLETTER: Well, he became a very close friend of mine during all this time. I had known him before we both went into the Government, but he was a friend and I had great admiration for his record as Governor of Illinois, and I had seen him at his house in Illinois during those years, on one occasion I remember I went out there. He was a friend of mine and a man whom I admired very much.
HESS: Mr. Krock also states in his book that the President sent an emissary to check on Secretary of State Stettinius' performance and report back to him. At the time that you were there, do you recall if you were aware that the President had sent someone to check on Stettinius?
FINLETTER: No, I was not aware of that.
HESS: You, of course, were Special Assistant to the Secretary of State from 1941 until '44, correct? And in his book, Present at the Creation, Dean Acheson has a reference to you, and the reference concerns a memo you worked on that was sent to FDR on July the 10th of '43, on the relationship that should exist between State and other agencies engaged in activities abroad. It dealt with the confusion that then existed in foreign economic policy and the lack of direction that the State Department held. Do you recall anything in particular about that matter?
FINLETTER: Not with any detail at this point, but I do have some general recollections of that situation, and that is that during those years the economic functions of the United States Government in Washington grew very widely, both in depth and in breadth, and the result was that the State Department was to a certain extent swamped by the various individual agencies which had come onto the scene, and since I was in the State Department at the time, I suppose I reflected to a certain extent the State Department view, although
I must say such was not my purpose, my purpose was to represent what was best for the United States Government. And I remember feeling that State should have, and should exercise, a broader control over all the functions of all the various independent agencies and other departments in the economic field or indeed in any field in which State had a legitimate function, for the very simple reason, that was the way things would work better and it was very important that they would work better in the matter of the creation of foreign policy.
HESS: What other duties and responsibilities did you have in the position of Special Assistant to the Secretary of State?
FINLETTER: Well, it's awfully hard for me to describe that to you.
HESS: That's a long period of time too, from '41 to '45.
FINLETTER: And it varied over every sort of subject. When one has to think back as to how matters got onto
the desk of the Special Assistant, one sees that it was entirely the decision of the Secretary of State, Mr. Cordell Hull. If he would say, "Let this that and the other be handled by the Special Assistant, reporting back to me," and so forth and so on, that is how it would be done. It was an ad hoc operation, it wasn't a particular dogma that I could describe, which would allocate certain items to this particular function of the Secretary, and others to other functions of the Secretary.
HESS: What's your general opinion of the handling of the job of Secretary of State by Cordell Hull? How effective was he?
FINLETTER: Well, he was obviously a man of very fine character and I think that fine character is a very important thing for the Secretary of State, and generally speaking I have great admiration for his character. As far as the handling of the foreign affairs of the country, I feel that Mr. Hull was possibly not as self-assertive as other Secretaries have been before and after him, and that possibly it might have been possible for him to have asserted his very important position more definitely.
HESS: Do you think that President Roosevelt wanted someone in that position who was self-assertive?
FINLETTER: Well, I can't answer that. This involves an intimate knowledge of President Roosevelt's thinking at that time, which I did not possess because I wasn't of high enough rank to be in the President's innermost council. But my impression of the situation, based on inadequate evidence, was that he wasn't so enthusiastic for a more vigorous assertion of authority by the State Department or its Secretary.
HESS: Many historians have pointed out, as you well know, that President Roosevelt liked to be his own Secretary of State, as well as his own Secretary of Defense, he liked to run things rather than leaving it up to the department. Do you think that's a fair assessment?
FINLETTER: I think in broad terms that's accurate.
HESS: All right, now moving along to the subject of the President's Air Policy Commission. You were appointed Chairman of the President's Air Policy Commission in 1947, why in your opinion, were you selected for that position?
FINLETTER: I haven't the slightest idea. I think that I had been in Washington for several years, I was known to the people who were advising the Secretary of State and the President, and I suppose, somebody suggested my name. I don't know whether I had demonstrated any particular qualifications for it, I really have no idea. I can't answer the question.
HESS: Did you have any association with air matters before this time?
FINLETTER: I'm trying to think. I do not think so. I do not think so.
HESS: As you know, we have the records of the commission at the Truman Library, fifteen linear feet, but I'd like to ask one or two questions about the findings of the commission. The commission issued its recommendations on January the 1st of 1948, and at that time predicted that Russia would not develop an atomic bomb before 1953, and as you also know, the President announced on September the 23rd of '49, that an atomic explosion had taken place within the USSR "within recent weeks." Why in your opinion were the Russians able to
develop the device so much quicker than you had expected?
FINLETTER: It's impossible to answer that question. I can simply state that the Government of Russia was determined to do away with the American monopoly of big atomic power, and that they are able people and they succeeded. Of course, my statement was based on information from all sorts of intelligence sources and I think that probably the answer is that the data that I gave was not one that was my own personal data, but that of the concerted view of the intelligence agencies in the Government. To get an answer to that question, you'd have to make analyses of each of the intelligence agencies of the Government, what information they had and how they got it and what their judgments were.
HESS: At the time that the President made his announcement of the explosion, he said that an atomic explosion had occurred within Russia and shortly after his retirement in February of 1953, .he told a reporter that he did not believe that the Russians had developed a bomb, as such.
He did not think that it was a bomb that exploded in 1949,
a deliverable type of bomb, but was an atomic device. Do you recall anything about that in 1949, as the discussion?
FINLETTER: No. I do not.
HESS: One paragraph in the report was as follows:
When my eye landed on that I thought of the massive retaliation as advanced by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. Most of the international difficulties that we've had since have not dealt with the big wars, they have dealt with brushfire wars. What was the thinking at this time? Was the thinking that we would have to develop massive retaliation or for fighting small conventional wars?
FINLETTER: I think that the theory was that the so-called massive retaliation, which is simply a cliché method of stating the counterattack atomically, was intended only to prevent an atomic attack on the United States. But as far as the so-called smaller wars business is concerned, certainly the commission of which I was chairman, never suggested for a moment, that atomic weapons be used in retaliation in smaller wars. This was an attempt to prevent the big wars. The small wars were another problem, and that was only one part of our problem but it did not have anything to do with the notion of using strong atomic power in order to win small so-called brushfire wars.
HESS: Your activity as minister in charge of the ECA Mission to the United Kingdom, a post that you held in 1948-49, has probably been covered quite adequately by Professors Wilson and McKinzie, but just one brief question. Why were you chosen for that position?
FINLETTER: Well, I really can't answer these questions, I don't know. Let me see, this -- what was the date of that?
FINLETTER: January 1, '48.
HESS: Well, see, your appointment to ECA was in May of 1948 and you left...
FINLETTER: Running through December 31st, right?
FINLETTER: Running to next January 1st, right?
HESS: I'm not sure.
FINLETTER: No, I think it went beyond that, I've forgotten what the date was I got out.
HESS: I know you left for Europe in June of '48; you were appointed in May of '48 and you left for Europe in June of ' 48 .
FINLETTER: I've forgotten when I retired from that.
HESS: Well, it was some time in 1949.
FINLETTER: In Ď49.
FINLETTER: Now what was the question?
HESS: Why were you chosen.
FINLETTER: Why was I chosen, I have no idea.
HESS: You just kept getting selected all over the place.
All right, now, the political events of 1948, you were out of the country during this particular time. You were appointed in May of 1948, you went over to Europe to ECA in June, so you were gone during all that period of time, but just a couple of questions on the events of 1948, since they do play such a major role in the Truman administration?
There was an effort before the convention on the part of some Democratic factions to see that someone other than Mr. Truman was selected as the nominee. The Americans for Democratic Action, the ADA, had tried to get General Eisenhower to run on the Democratic ticket, that was one of the things that was attempted. James Roosevelt, out in Los Angeles, was trying to get someone other than Mr. Truman. But just as an opinion, was there a possibility in your mind that the President could have been prevented from receiving the nomination in 1948 if he had so wanted it?
FINLETTER: No, I don't think it would have been possible to refuse him the nomination.
HESS: At the conclusion of his acceptance speech in Philadelphia, the President announced that he was going to call Congress back into special session, just what is your view of that action, do you think that the President really expected Congress to come back and perform and to do what he was telling them to do during that special session, or was he setting them up as something to attack during the campaign?
FINLETTER: Well, as to my memory -- recollection of those. Since I was out of the country at that time , obviously my information on that was very minimal, and I have really no answer to that question.
HESS: All right, what do you recall of the events of election day and what were the reactions of the British people to Mr. Truman's victory?
FINLETTER: Well, my recollections are rather sharp of the events around my office in London at that time, and that was one of great pleasure at this re-election
of Mr. Truman.
As far as the British people are concerned I have no particular special information on that subject. I think that, however, from my knowledge of the British people, the chances are they respected very much by this time the quality of the then President of the United States and had a very high regard for him.
HESS: You say there was great pleasure around the office, was there also some surprise?
FINLETTER: There was some relief from worry, because after all these are pretty touch and go some of these elections, and I think the main reaction was one of relief.
HESS: What was your reaction, did you think that the President would win in 1948?
FINLETTER: I just didn't pretend to know. Here I was sitting in London completely removed from the American scene, I had no idea.
HESS: And then in April of 1950 you became the Secretary of the Air Force, and served in that position until the end of the Truman administration. Here comes my
old question again, why were you chosen?
FINLETTER: I haven't the foggiest idea. Well, I thought the one possible reason, the fact that I had been Chairman of the Air Policy Commission, that might have had something to do with it, that's the only thing that I can connect to it.
HESS: At the time that you became Secretary of the Air Force what was your evaluation of the strength and of the degree of preparedness of our armed forces and of the Air Force in particular. Just what were you taking over at that time?
FINLETTER: Oh, that's a very difficult question, I find it difficult to answer it. I had great respect for the technical qualifications of the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General [Hoyt] Vandenberg, and I had a high regard for many of the leading officers of the Air Force, but I think if I had to answer that question, which is really almost impossible to answer, I would say that my reaction was that this was an enormous problem and it had by no means been solved and that greater efforts to solve it were necessary.
HESS: Was there an awareness in the Pentagon and in the Government as a whole, that the Communists might try to test our defenses in some part of the world? Now this was in April of 1950, two months before the invasion in South Korea. What was the attitude around the Pentagon when you arrived?
FINLETTER: I have no recollection of any outstanding suspicion, well-founded suspicion, that the Communists were out to test us out. I have this impression, after the fact, that some of the Pentagon activities later, such as the counterattack made by General MacArthur, were new developments and something that was not in Air Force thinking at the time that you were referring to.
HESS: Where were you when you heard of the invasion late in June and what were your thoughts?
FINLETTER: I cannot remember exactly where I was physically at the time that that notification came over through the air, I think it was London, but I'm not absolutely sure.
HESS: Do you recall what you were doing there at the time?
FINLETTER: This was what date?
HESS: This was late in June of 1950.
FINLETTER : No I cannot.
HESS: I think it was the 24th our time. Well, far more importantly than where you were physically, what were your thoughts when you heard of the invasion?
FINLETTER: It is hard to reconstruct it. I think probably a very trite answer is all I can give you; one of very great disturbance and trouble at the prospects ahead.
HESS: As you know, the President was in Independence, Missouri the weekend of the invasion and he flew back to Washington on Sunday afternoon and you were present at the meeting at the Blair House that evening. What do you recall about that episode, what was the President's attitude, what was suggested?
FINLETTER: Well, as to what was suggested is quite an order, but I remember the format of it. We sat around the big room on the ground floor of the house...what's the name of it?
HESS: The Blair House.
FINLETTER: The Blair House, and there were about twenty people present at the meeting. The President presided and went around and enforced a very strict discipline on the procedures and so forth and so on. There was a sense of very great earnestness and concern at the importance of what was happening. And I think one impression that I had there was that this group of men were acting very responsibly and very intelligently in their answers to the President's questions, and their recommendations as to what should be done.
HESS: What do you recall, what recommendations were offered?
FINLETTER: I can't remember the details of all that.
HESS: Did anyone suggest at the time not going into Korea?
HESS: Not taking any action?
HESS: Was it even broached. Was the possibility mentioned?
FINLETTER: Not that I remember.
HESS: All right. In his Memoirs, in Volume II, page 335 , in referring to that meeting, Mr. Truman has:
The reply that you gave the President is not recorded in the book. Do you recall, at this late date, what your answer was to that question?
FINLETTER: No, that's a highly technical question, which we were very familiar with, General Vandenberg, and I, at the time, but which no longer stays in my memory in detail.
HESS: All right. Now several meetings were held that week; the next night, Monday night, you met at Blair House again, and on Wednesday night the National Security Council met, and on page 349 of the Memoirs Mr. Truman has the following:
Do you, at this date, think that the misunderstanding that later arose between the President and General MacArthur might have been avoided if your suggestion about closer relationship and closer contact had been taken and acted upon at that time?
FINLETTER: Well, it's very hard to answer that question because it's second-guessing the President, and on that particular occasion I had great respect for him.
Certainly his reply was correct, he did need the Chiefs of Staff in Washington, and I can perfectly well understand the importance of holding them there. I would have some doubt as to whether sending the Chief of Staff of the Air Force or -- and of the Army or the Navy whoever, would have had the effect of changing the decisions of General MacArthur, but that's just a guess as to the nature of the men involved.
HESS: Why would it have been ineffective, wasn't General MacArthur open to suggestions from Washington?
FINLETTER: Well, I'm not really getting into that but I think he was a very strong individualist and I think he had his own ideas as to what was right and I think he certainly always showed that, and I'm really making an after-the-fact appraisal of his character.
HESS: What were a few of the first problems that the emergency in Korea brought about and how did you handle them?
FINLETTER: Well, I suppose the first emergency that occurred was the defeat of the United Nations forces and their being driven back into the Pusan perimeter. And what could be done about that was strictly a military question, and a perfectly obvious one, the forces of the north were driving very seriously down into the Pusan area and the question was how they could be stopped. Well, events gave an answer to that, they were stopped. And then came a very brilliant victory for which the credit must go to General MacArthur, and that was the counterattack, which was
made there, and that was a double counterattack, as you remember. It was on land up through the perimeter through which the United Nations forces had been driven, and up toward the line of the 38th parallel, accompanied by a brilliant attack by sea around to the west of Korea, which came in behind the retreating north forces, and succeeded in driving the -- at least stabilizing the line for quite some time at or about the 38th parallel.
HESS: That took place on September the 15th. Were there those in high levels of Government that advised against such a move, such an invasion by General MacArthur?
FINLETTER: The invasion when?
HESS: On September the 15th?
FINLETTER: You mean the one that followed, the attack in the north.
HESS: The Inchon movement.
FINLETTER: Oh, the Inchon movement was defensive initially, the counterattack that I've just described went through its first phase was strictly defensive, it was to
restore the line where it started, namely at the 38th parallel. That was phase one, but there was phase two, which was the counterattack that went over the parallel and drove toward the north and northwestern border. As to that, I can't remember just what the discussions were. The truth of the matter is they were carried on at a very high level and pretty much rapidly, because decisions are to be made rapidly and the first -- the person making the first recommendations of course, was General MacArthur, who recommended that we go over the 38th parallel.
HESS: What was your view on that?
FINLETTER: I know what my view since has been, I can't just...
HESS: What are your views now?
FINLETTER: Well, my views are that was a distortion of the purposes of the UN operation, that it was a defensive operation and not an offensive operation, and that in retrospect, of course, my views are that it was a disaster because it was a ghastly miscalculation.
Second Oral History Interview with Thomas K. Finletter, New York, N.Y., February 15, 1972. By Jerry N. Hess, Harry S. Truman Library.
HESS: Mr. Secretary, to begin today's interview just what seemed to be Mr. Truman's attitude and his reaction to the events at the meeting at the Blair House on Sunday night, June 25, 1950?
FINLETTER: Well, in general terms I would say that his attitude was one of trying to stimulate all of the people who were being asked questions or asked their opinion to a full and frank statement of the situation. In case he felt that the answer was being cautious or possibly over- discreet, he would press the person to make a clear statement of what it was all about. It was a calm attitude. In my opinion -- this of course is some time ago, but nevertheless my recollection is one of calm determination more than anything else and a very intelligent approach to the problems which came up from the testimony of the various members of the administration.
HESS: Did Mr. Truman offer any suggestions on his own as to what he thought should be done?
FINLETTER: No, it's hard to answer that, but my recollection is rather firm that he was not exposing his point of view at all. I think I knew why that was.
FINLETTER: Well, he didn't want to stop people from expressing their point of view.
HESS: If they had a somewhat different opinion.
FINLETTER: So, he was leaving the subject open for full and frank discussion by his advisers.
HESS: Do you recall at that time if anyone suggested not taking any action and not going into Korea?
FINLETTER: I have no recollection of that.
HESS: All right. Now, as I understand...
FINLETTER: I think that, if I may continue with that answer, I think that the attitude of everybody was the obvious one and that is it wasn't up to those present to say whether or not it was a good idea to discuss these matters and to get the advice of the various members of the administration. That was
accepted. And I think that President Truman was trying to stimulate the fullest and frankest kind of statements of opinions from his advisers.
HESS: As I understand in the original discussions it was not contemplated to send land forces, but it was thought that air and naval bombardment in support of the South Korean troops would be adequate. Do you recall that?
FINLETTER: I have no recollection of anything as definite as that, in the negative way in which you have put it, which is that ground troops were not to be used. I have no recollection of any statement to this, of any flat statement to this effect. There may have been some statements speculating about the extent to which air power and naval power could carry the burden of the operation, but that is not my recollection. My recollection is that what was being considered was an operation of all three branches of the service together to do what was necessary.
HESS: Do you recall what you and General Vandenberg thought about the effectiveness of air bombardment
at that time? Do you think that the Air Force and the Naval Air Force perhaps could handle the situation?
FINLETTER: I doubt very much whether General Vandenberg thought that because that was giving an optimism to the capacity of air power which I don't think he shared.
In general I must say that the attitude of the Air Force officials with whom I was in constant touch, did not go into these beliefs as to the excessive ability of the Air Force to do everything. That was not their attitude at all. They felt that air had a very, very important role and a role which was constantly increasing, but, nevertheless, there was no such idea that air could handle the whole aspect of a military operation. I never heard any Air Force officer say that.
HESS: All right. Now I'd like to go back just a bit before the invasion of Korea, and discuss the general subject of the strength and the situation of the armed forces at that time.
Before the invasion of South Korea, the armed forces had undergone a sizeable reduction and defense appropriations were cut back. During that period the Air Force
seems to me to have fared quite a bit better than the Army or the Navy and had not been reduced as much proportionately. Now if you agree with that statement, who should be credited with holding down the cuts in the Air Force appropriation?
FINLETTER: Well, I do agree in general with that statement that air power was recognized as being of prime importance or at least a very high importance, and that there was less of a desire to economize on air power than there was on the ground forces and possibly even on the naval forces, although I'm not quite so sure about the latter. I think that one of the people who I think would be entitled to a great deal of credit for what proved to be a wise attitude with respect to air power as revealed by the needs of the future, is the former Secretary of the Air Force, Stuart Symington, who was a very able proponent and supporter of strong air power and I think his services were excellent. Of course, it is true that General Vandenberg also, as would be expected, being the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, was a powerful advocate, but I think that this was a job which was in very large measure up to the
civilians, because it was the civilians who had to take the demands of the various services and exercise their judgment as impartially as it could be under the circumstances, for the purpose of advocating improvements in their own branch of the service.
HESS: Were the reports and recommendations of the Air Policy Commission which you headed, responsible in some measure for the situation?
FINLETTER: Well, it's hard to say that, but I can't believe that the Air Policy Commission report had no effect. After all it was not very old by this time. It was released as I remember in the end of 1947 and this date we're fixing, we're now talking about the invasion in Korea, I've forgotten the exact date of that
HESS: I think it was June 24th of '50.
FINLETTER: Yes, anyhow, it was a relatively short period after the Air Policy Commission report and I can't help but believe that that did have some influence. It was well-received at the time.
HESS: Speaking of Mr. Symington, he had a man on his
staff at the time he was Secretary of the Air Force, a Mr. Stephen F. Leo, and he held the position as Director of Public Relations. When Mr. Symington went over to the National Security Resources Board, Mr. Leo went with him, and according to the Official Register at the time that you were Secretary of the Air Force, no one held the title -- the specific title of Director of Public Relations. Was part of Mr. Symington's success brought about by presenting the views of the Air Force through a Director of Public Relations? Was he image-conscious in this way?
FINLETTER: I have no recollection of that at all. I think that Mr. Symington, Secretary Symington, was a first-class exponent of anything that he took on, he was a very capable official, and I think he could have -- I'm not criticizing his appointment of this gentleman, but I think that he could have handled that job, and he did -- in the final analysis it was the Secretary that handled the job of what are unfortunately called public relations.
HESS: Just how image-conscious was Mr. Symington?
FINLETTER: I don't quite know what that means.
HESS: Well, did he like to present the view that the Air Force was perhaps somewhat more important than the other services?
FINLETTER: Well, I think that he may have felt that air power was something recent which had not yet been fully given the responsibilities that lay before it, but it was something new, it was something which required special attention. I know that was my point of view and I saw Mr. Symington intimately during all this time and it's my impression that he and I saw alike.
HESS: What is your opinion of the manner in which Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson acted to meet the problems which arose at the time of the Korean invasion?
FINLETTER: It's very hard to answer that question without a full documentation of the various proposals and Mr. Johnson's reactions to them, but I have the general
impression that he was engaged in the economies of the armed services to an unnecessary degree and that he felt that it was a safe period in American history to carry on reductions, or certainly not to increase the strength of the armed service, with which at the time I did not agree with him, so far as air power which was my field, was concerned.
HESS: There is some difference of opinion concerning Mr. Johnson's carrying out of the reduction of the Armed Forces, whether or not he was just following orders; following the orders of President Truman, following the recommendations of the Bureau of the Budget, or whether he was carrying these out with a gusto that would show that he too thought that the Armed Forces should be cut back.
FINLETTER: Well, I think I would answer that by saying that my impression is that Mr. Johnson was more committed to economy than in my opinion was necessary at the time, for the creation of a strong military posture on the part of the United States.
HESS: Why do you think he had these views, was it for
perhaps for political reasons? To balance the budget for political reasons?
FINLETTER: I have no idea what his motives were. I have no doubt he was doing what he thought right and certainly there is and always has been a certain amount of waste in the armed services and I think that he -- I didn't happen to think that he gave it quite enough attention in the business that I was concerned with, which was air power, because it did seem to me that air power was entering on a new phase in the year 1947, 1950, and so forth, and that it was a time when it was of the highest importance to the United States to have a very powerful air power.
HESS: What phase did you see emerging?
FINLETTER: Well, we're off the subject of Korea now, but in the broadest sense it seemed to me that the policy of the United States at that time should have been first to have concentrated on efforts to prevent another great war from happening. In other words, peace should have been the number one project, and, second, that there was a heavy responsibility on the
part of those who had anything to do with the military defenses of the country to see to it that our military defenses were really in aid of peace and not in aid of mere military adventure. That latter idea is fortunately completely impossible under the leadership of a man like President Truman, so it didn't arise, but the question of doing ones job, in getting an efficient military establishment, and a powerful military establishment, one capable of standing up in a world in which we have some very powerful adversaries, notably Russia, was something which required the very best brains and attention and planning of those who had anything to do with the armed services.
HESS: As you know, Secretary Johnson resigned early in September of 1950, just a few months after the invasion. What brought about that resignation?
FINLETTER: Well, I cannot answer that question for the simple reason that it had to do with Mr. Johnson's personal reactions to what was being done by President Truman and to President Truman's advisers' opinions as to whether what Mr. Johnson was doing was fairly the right thing to do. I think that was just a
question of disagreement.
HESS: Do you think Mr. Johnson would have liked to have remained as Secretary of Defense?
FINLETTER: I have no idea. My relations with Mr. Johnson were never that close. Mr. Johnson was not a very easy man under all circumstances to negotiate with about the problems where there was possible differences of viewpoint.
HESS: How often did you see Mr. Johnson?
FINLETTER: Well, one saw him all the time. After all there were meetings of the Secretary of Defense with the Secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force, and they were in constant -- constant meetings. I saw him I can't tell you how often, It was very -- I should say nearly every day there would be some occasion for at least seeing him either in a big meeting, and on occasional cases of talking to him alone.
HESS: Would there be times when you would try to bring him around to a view that you held on how things should be done if he would not want to see things
FINLETTER: Well, my views had been expressed in the Air Policy Commission report to which you referred, in rather, in rather broad general terms, and it was known that I did believe very strongly in a powerful air power in the phase of history through which we were passing. And your question in effect is did Mr. Johnson share that view? I'm not at all sure he did, but I know it was my job to present it and that's what I did.
HESS: What seemed to be his view, what type of an armed services or armed forces did he seem to think we should have?
FINLETTER: I really couldn't answer that completely. I think economy was very understandably important to his thinking, but I don't think he gave the same attention to the needs for a powerful military establishment at this particular phase in American history.
HESS: Did his views on economy and economizing, and cutting back the Armed Forces, change after the Korean invasion?
FINLETTER: I have no record of it.
HESS: Did he still think we should cut back even after we were attacked in Korea?
FINLETTER: Well, I can't imagine that he did, because the situation became very critical after the events of this Sunday which we were talking about a short time ago, the United States suffered -- the United Nations forces, under United States leadership, suffered a disastrous defeat. They were driven back into the Pusan perimeter around the south of Korea in what came close to being a total disaster, and it was only thanks to a magnificent defensive operation by these untried troops. And I give full credit here especially to the ground forces, and the Navy of course; and the Air Force helped. But nevertheless the ground forces were the ones who bore the brunt of this attack and who did manage to stabilize it around the Pusan perimeter, from which as you know later they went out in a combined sea and air counterattack which restored all the losses that had been occurred, and restored the line of battle to the 38th parallel, the division line between North and South Korea. In other words, the damage was not only
stopped but was recouped, very quickly after the events which we have been discussing.
HESS: That maneuver was called the "break-out and link-up," when they broke out of the Pusan perimeter and linked up with MacArthur's forces that went in at Inchon. Just one question about that incident.
FINLETTER: Yes, it was a double operation.
HESS: That's right. Moving out from Pusan and then moving over from Inchon, breaking out and linking up.
FINLETTER: Coming by sea to the west and straight up from Pusan...
HESS: That's right.
FINLETTER: ...straight up the Korean peninsula.
HESS: Just one brief question about General MacArthur's landing at Inchon: In the years after World War II, and preceding this invasion, there were several generals who mentioned that they thought that amphibious landings were a thing of the past and who opposed General MacArthur's plans for the amphibious landing at Inchon. Do you recall anything about that?
FINLETTER: No, I don't. No, I don't, because these were matters of the very highest strategy to which we were kept informed, but only to the extent necessary to enable us to do our respective jobs as Secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force, but those decisions were at the presidential level, and acting on the advice of the highest military authorities. And I have no clear recollection of it.
I do remember certain recollections of the discussions that went on on this subject, but I think that the answer that we all had was a perfectly simple one. It was first of all to stabilize, and secondly to give the heartiest approval to the idea of the double counterattack to the west by sea and straight up the peninsula to the 38th parallel.
HESS: General Bradley, himself, in congressional testimony on the Hill, the same time that he referred to the admirals as the "Fancy Dans," had mentioned that in his view there would never be a large amphibious landing again. He thought that the Marine Corps' type of fighting was a thing of the past.
FINLETTER: Well, if he had that idea, he didn't succeed
in putting it over, because after all, the person who made the final decision on that was General MacArthur, on instructions of the President of the United States.
HESS: Several of the generals, both in the Army and the Air Force, were opposed to having the invasion at Inchon. I believe General Vandenberg was also opposed. Do you recall anything about General Vandenberg's views?
FINLETTER: No, I don't remember that.
HESS: Secretary Johnson's Deputy Secretary of Defense had been Stephen Early, and as you know, Mr. Early had been Press Secretary for President Roosevelt. Did you have occasion to work with Mr. Early and what seemed to be his duties in the Pentagon?
FINLETTER: Oh, I think that in the main I was dealing with my fellow secretaries, the Secretary of the Navy and the Secretary of the Army, and while I saw Steve Early at various large meetings, I never had any personal negotiations with him. I always would go to the Secretary if I had anything to say; Secretary of the Army or the Navy, or of Defense as the case might be.
HESS: Do you think Secretary Johnson had any ambitions of running for President?
FINLETTER: I have no idea about that, I suppose it's awfully hard to have a high post like that without getting some such ideas.
HESS: Why was General Marshall selected as the next Secretary of Defense in your opinion?
FINLETTER: Well, you're asking me to give an almost psychological answer: My feeling is that Mr. Truman has a very high regard for General Marshall, and that General Marshall was precisely the kind of man that Mr. Truman liked to have in charge of anything as important as the Defense Department, and I think it was just an example of his very good judgment.
HESS: What type of a job did General Marshall do?
FINLETTER: Oh, a superb job, superb job. A man of great power and great intelligence, great distinction.
HESS: Was he somewhat easier to work with than Mr. Johnson?
FINLETTER: Well, the answer is yes. The answer is yes.
It was always very easy to talk to him and it wasn't necessarily at all easy to talk to Mr. Johnson.
HESS: All right, on October the 7th of 1950, this was after the "break-out and link-up" on Pusan and Inchon, a resolution was passed within the United Nations authorizing the U.N. forces to move north of the 38th parallel and "to insure conditions of stability throughout Korea." In other words, move north of the 38th parallel. Now, the resolution of June the 27th of 1950, just after the invasion, spoke only of repelling the invaders from the region of South Korea to the 38th parallel. Did you attend any of the meetings in which it was decided to enlarge the scope of the conflict from just South Korea to all of Korea? What were your views and recommendations?
FINLETTER: Well, I can answer the second part of your question easier than it is to answer the first, but I'll try to give you an answer to the first.
At this time there was created, during the event that you have been asking about, an interdepartmental committee which met quite regularly to consider major questions of combined military and political (in the
big sense) importance: I was the representative of the Defense Department on that committee and...
HESS: Who were the other representatives?
FINLETTER: Oh, I cannot remember the personnel from so many years ago. Dean Rusk I remember, I think, and I can't remember who the others were, and these were large meetings because I, for example had people back of me, and I'd be at the table, but there would be people back of me from the Defense Department, from the three services and so forth, and it was a well functioning organization.
And it discussed all of these -- there were discussed at this meeting all of the questions that you are now mentioning, the various telegrams for example, both to and from General MacArthur and the Government in Washington, would be considered there and so forth. I can tell you what my own attitude on that was. It was very strong that there should have been no invasion of North Korea whatsoever, it might have been minor, very minor little discrepancies, they didn't have to stand absolutely without putting their foot over the 38th parallel, but they were not to go over the 38th
parallel in any important sense whatsoever was my opinion, and it was expressed early at this meeting and of this body that I've just been talking about, and the various other discussions that took place in Washington.
I never had the slightest doubt about that, it seems to me in retrospect, that it was very surprising if I felt anything else because this was an operation under the United Nations which was not supposed to be in the business of making aggressions, but of stopping aggressions, and that we should have held to our principles because if we didn't hold to our principles, we were on very weak political ground. And secondarily because I think the important thing is that we were on the wrong ground if we did go over the parallel. It wasn't apt to be very successful because it, even then, it seemed to me to be a major and difficult operation to carry out and one which was fraught with danger, all of which it proved to be, and created probably the greatest defeat that was ever suffered by the United States military led forces. It was a disastrous defeat that took place, because the defeat of our invasion was brutal and cruel and extremely costly in
men, and in standing for American judgment in such matters.
HESS: I have read that our intelligence forces were advising that if a move was made north of the 38th parallel that Red China was likely to feel threatened, and would enter the conflict; just exactly what they did the following month, in November. Do you recall at this late date if there were intelligence reports of this nature and if so why were they ignored?
FINLETTER: I do not recall now any specific statement to that effect, but it was so obvious that it seems to me to be almost unnecessary.
HESS: Also you may recall that in August General MacArthur had written a letter to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the one that Mr. Truman told him not to allow it to be published. But the type was already set on David Lawrence's U.S. News and World Report, so General MacArthur's letter to the Veterans of Foreign Wars was published and it was mainly on his views of why we should move north and enlarge the conflict. Do you recall anything in August concerning discussions about General MacArthur's letter to the VFW?
FINLETTER: I have no recollection of it.
FINLETTER: But this issue was constantly up, you couldn't have anything to do with the United States' position in this war without running up against this question as to how far did we go after the successful Inchon operation.
HESS: Why do you think they changed their plans?
FINLETTER: I have no idea. I don't know. I think that one influence probably was the one that you just referred to, which is that such was the view of General MacArthur.
Now there also is another unfortunate piece of dogma in the thinking of some people who have to do with these affairs, and that is that great attention must be given, special great attention and approval, must be given to the ideas of the man in the field. It's just sort of a trite observation that because the man is in the field he knows the conditions with which he has to deal better than anybody else, and therefore he should get top priority for his views. That was sort of a current
standard cliché of thinking on the subject which -- and I think that may have -- I think first of all that's a very wrong point of view because I don't think that the man in the field is apt to have the broad view of the political requirements of any given situation and it's a great deal better than the man who has the real broad view and the real responsibility, namely, in the case of our Government, the President of the United States should be the one who should make these decisions and not at all feel that he had to follow the advice of some subordinate in the field who knew only a few of the general considerations which would bear necessarily on so important a decision as this.
HESS: In the middle of the month of October 1950, on October the 15th, President Truman met that man in the field. He went to Wake Island to confer with General MacArthur. What do you recall about that meeting and why was it held in Wake Island? When did you first hear that President Truman was going to go to Wake Island?
FINLETTER: Well, I can't answer the last question as to
just what the date was when I heard about it. I suppose like everybody else in the Government it was no doubt kept very quiet amongst a very few people in the White House for some time, but...what was the second part of your question?
HESS: Just what do you recall about that meeting? Now, Frank Pace, who was Secretary of the Army, General Bradley who was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, accompanied the President to Wake Island. Were you asked if you would like to attend?
HESS: Why do you think that the President went to Wake (this is just another subjective question), but why didn't he call MacArthur back to Washington. Do you recall anything on that?
FINLETTER: Well, I can only guess at that. You're asking me to guess as to the reasons why the President made a certain decision, but I can see the sense in it. It was that the Far East was a hot spot at the moment and that it would have been highly undesirable to bring back the commander in chief of the American side of
that problem back to Washington, and it was a great deal better for the President to go out there, or go near there and to be able not to take the American commander in chief of the American forces away from his job. I think that it was the right thing to have done.
HESS: After the meeting was held and the people returned to Washington did you hear any inside information on the views held by people who attended the meeting?
FINLETTER: I don't remember any.
HESS: Okay. Not long after that conference, the Chinese Communists came into the fighting, why in your opinion did they make that move, did we do anything that was wrong? Do you think that they came in because we went above the 38th parallel?
FINLETTER: The answer to that is, yes I think that is the reason they came in. They were not interested in having the United States establish military power on their borders on the mainland of Asia. All this simply goes back to demonstrate that the original decision to go above the 38th parallel was in error.
HESS: Then early in December came another big push, and we were pushed down to the south again.
FINLETTER: But not in such catastrophic form as previously. We were pushed down more or less to a stabilized line along the 38th parallel.
HESS: And in April of 1951 General MacArthur was dismissed. What do you recall about the background and were you in favor of his dismissal?
FINLETTER: That was not my affair. This was the affair of the President of the United States and I wouldn't have - I don't think had an opinion on the subject because I wouldn't have had access to all the information that the President had, but above all I wouldn't have known what he thought of the matter, it was his decision and this is one of those solitary decisions that has to be made by one man.
HESS: When did you first hear that MacArthur was going to be dismissed, do you recall?
FINLETTER: I cannot remember.
HESS: The announcement was made in the middle of the
night on April the 11th.
FINLETTER: I don't think there was any -- I think it was held a secret until the decision was the only way to have handled it.
HESS: Did you know anything about it before it was released.
HESS: ...from the White House?
HESS: Did you know anything about who among President Truman's advisers advised him to take that action and who might have advised him not to take that action?
FINLETTER: No, I don't know that.
HESS: All right. What's your view of the decision, should he have been dismissed?
FINLETTER: I think it was right. I think it was right. He and the President had different concepts as to the handling of the war and this was a case where the President's views were the controlling ones. It was necessary to get
somebody who was in accord with the President's attitude on the matter.
HESS: All right, and then in the fall, in September, General Marshall resigned as Secretary of Defense and was replaced by Robert A. Lovett. What is your evaluation of the manner in which Mr. Lovett handled the position of Secretary of Defense?
FINLETTER: He did a splendid job, a first-class official.
HESS: How would you evaluate him along with General Marshall?
FINLETTER: I wouldn't make any comparisons, they both were splendid Secretaries of Defense.
HESS: Was it somewhat easier to discuss matters with them than with Secretary Johnson?
FINLETTER: Oh, yes, there was no problem at all about discussing anything you felt you should discuss with either of those two gentlemen; that is Secretary Marshall or Secretary Lovett.
HESS: All right, after we moved the war north of the 38th parallel, and the Chinese Communists came in, how should we have handled matters between there and the time that the truce was drawn at Panmunjom in 1953?
FINLETTER: Well, the immediate problem we had was to save our troops. Our troops were now subject to a violent counterattack by the Chinese in very large numbers, and the major problem was a military one. It seems to me that we should have gone back to where we were before we made the mistaken decision to go over the 38th parallel and to have tried to have settled the war on the basis of the division of Korea at the 38th. In other words, we should have gone back to the purpose for which the United States had fought in the United Nations operation.
HESS: Did you ever tell that to President Truman?
FINLETTER: I cannot remember, I saw President Truman, of course, fairly often during all those times and needless to say, one doesn't lecture the President of the United States, but nevertheless, I always spoke my mind to him, which is what he wanted. And I'm sure I expressed substantially similar views to what I'm expressing now. I may not have gotten into personalities
such as we are, but I certainly have no doubt that I expressed my view as to the general philosophy, because I had a good deal of experience with it both in this committee to which I referred a short time ago, and generally speaking, because of my responsibility as Secretary of the Air Force:
HESS: When you were Secretary of the Air Force, approximately how often did you meet with the President?
FINLETTER: Oh, quite often, I can't give you any figures, it would vary, but it was -- occasionally alone -- but usually it was two or three people when the President wanted to consult about something or another.
HESS: How accessible was he? If you had something that you wanted to take up with him, just how accessible was he?
FINLETTER: Extremely. Extremely. But needless to say, one was very reticent about asking for an appointment with him because you can't burden the President of the United States with your individual problems that you're supposed to handle very largely by yourself. But nevertheless, he was most accessible to his advisers.
HESS: Your counterparts in the other services who served during the same period that you did are Francis Matthews and Dan Kimball at the Navy Department, and Frank Pace who served as Secretary of the Army. Just what is your general evaluation of the manner in which those men fulfilled the duties of their position?
FINLETTER: I think they did it really very well. They were splendid people to work with, very competent.
HESS: The men who served as your Under Secretaries were John A. McCone and Roswell Gilpatric, and the men who served as your Assistant Secretaries were Gilpatric, Eugene M. Zuckert, Harold C. Stuart, Edwin V. Huggins, what kind of men were they?
FINLETTER: These were all good men. Some of them especially qualified.
HESS: Who would you place in the especially qualified category?
FINLETTER: Well, in the first list that you read me was...
HESS: John McCone and Roswell Gilpatric.
FINLETTER: Those two I would put very -- right at the top of the heap.
HESS: All right, the major change in our military setup during the Truman administration was the unification of the Armed Forces into the Department of Defense. As you know, during the change-over, there quite often arose statements by naval officers and members of the Department of the Navy, voicing concern that if unification were imposed, the Navy might lose all of their air activity to the Air Force and perhaps the Marine Corps to the Army. From your vantage point did you think that their fears were justified? Would the Air Force have preferred to have taken over all air activity?
FINLETTER: On the first question, they were not justified, they were understandable, that is that they would be worried about losing -- we're not speaking of the Navy now -- the Navy people were understandably concerned with the fear that the then big role of the Navy might possibly be weakened and I want to point the fact that it wasn't.
HESS: General J. Lawton Collins during that particular time,
had the "Collins plan" which pointed towards the absorption of naval and Marine aviation into the new Air Force, and if not outright abolition at least a great reduction of the Marine Corps, as just a nonentity for a few ceremonial duties, do you recall anything in particular about J. Lawton Collins' plan, the Collins plan?
FINLETTER: No I don't. I doubt very much that General Collins had that idea, because it seemed such a foolish idea to say that the Marine Corps with its magnificent record should have been made sort of a ceremonial honor guard, doesn't seem to me to be very bright. But I think this is the sort of thing that comes out. I think it's good that the individual services are jealous of their right to serve the country. I think it's a good thing. This creation of the Department of Defense went over without causing any of the difficulties that some of the people understandably felt.
HESS: Do you think that it would endanger what we might call esprit de corps, if unification went too far and you did not have a Marine Corps and a Navy, identifiable
organizations that the men could identify with?
FINLETTER: Yes, I think if you took out all the idea of morale and so forth you might do damage to the end product.
HESS: All right, now our next general topic has to do with the political events of 1952. Before we get on that, do you have anything else that we should cover, anything else that we should say about your duties as Secretary of the Air Force?
FINLETTER: No, I think that you covered it very well.
HESS: All right. Dealing with the political events of 1952 , when did you first become aware that President Truman did not intend to run for re-election that year?
FINLETTER: I cannot rightly answer that question, I don't know.
HESS: He made his public announcement on March the 29th of 1952, at the Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner at the National Guard Armory. Did you know anything about his decision before that particular time?
FINLETTER: No I didn't.
HESS: Do you recall that meeting?
FINLETTER: Yes, I remember it now.
HESS: Were you there that night at the dinner?
FINLETTER: I don't think I was.
HESS: What were your views when Mr. Truman said he was not going to run?
FINLETTER: Well, I regretted it, I thought he was a magnificent President and I wished he would continue for another term.
HESS: Do you think he could have won?
FINLETTER: He was quite a vote-getter.
HESS: After Mr. Truman removed himself from the race, who did you think would be the best nominee for the Democratic Party? This was in March of '52, say in the spring of '52, who did you think was the best man for the job?
FINLETTER: I don't think I was thinking in those terms.
And I don't think I was in politics in that sense. For example in the '52 campaign, I did almost nothing because it didn't seem to me that it was appropriate to be engaged in politics when I was Secretary of the Air Force, I had too much to do. And I, therefore, did not take any part in the campaign. Adlai Stevenson I knew at that time, and I liked him and admired him very much, but I don't think I ever saw him except as a friend, because after all he was in the Government in Washington and I knew him then, but I didn't have anything to do with this campaign.
HESS: The convention was held out in Chicago that year, did you go to the convention?
FINLETTER: In '52, I doubt it.
HESS: In your general opinion, what seemed to be the relationship between President Truman and Governor Stevenson in 1952?
FINLETTER: I have no idea.
HESS: What could the Democratic Party have done to have won in 1952? Did the Democrats make any particular
mistakes, anything that could have been rectified?
FINLETTER: No, I think their main trouble was the popular appeal of their opponent.
HESS: Their main trouble was the Republican nominee.
HESS: All right. What do you recall of the transition from the Truman administration to the Eisenhower administration?
FINLETTER: I remember just mainly that on January the 20th of the following year we all got out and went to our homes, and that's about all I know of the transition.
HESS: Mr. Truman had met with the General before this time, and had extended his assistance in making a smoother transition. In some departments, in some agencies, the Republicans sent in people to see how things were going, see how things were being done, to try to make a smoother transition. Did you have anyone come in over at your office
FINLETTER: I don't remember anybody coming over to check up on the transition of the Air Force.
HESS: Sherman Adams dealt with the transition for General Eisenhower. Did you see Sherman Adams any at this time?
FINLETTER: I don't recollect it.
HESS: Did it seem like a smooth transition?
FINLETTER: Well, it just happened. One side withdrew and the other side just takes over, it's no more complicated than that.
HESS: Who replaced you?
FINLETTER: I can't remember.
HESS: All right, and after the...
FINLETTER: That shows how much consultation there was.
HESS: A few years after the Truman administration was out, the Democratic Advisory Council was set up. If I understand correctly, it was set up after the 1956 election, is that right?
FINLETTER: I believe so, yes.
HESS: I'd like to read just a quote before we get into
a few questions about the Democratic Advisory Council.
HESS: And this is from the book Politics Without Power: The National Party Committees. It's by Cornelius P. Cotter and Bernard C. Hennessy. The quote is on page 213 and 214:
All right, you are mentioned in this book as being a second most important figure in the DAC, next to Mr. Stevenson, what would you say about that?
FINLETTER: Well, I think that's too flattering.
HESS: That's too flattering.
FINLETTER: Yes. I think that the DAC didn't operate by ranking people that way. I think everybody that was interested in that wanted to strengthen the Democratic Party so as to give us a chance to win the next election.
HESS: Do you think it was the "creation of the friends and supporters of Adlai Stevenson?"
FINLETTER: No, it was not. Stevenson was an obvious person, having just run for the Presidency, he was not to be ignored, but it was no special group for Stevenson, and the first person who would have denied such arrangement and who would have refused to participate in it on that basis would have been Adlai Stevenson. He wasn't doing this as something which was for him. The fact is he was already becoming reluctant to run for the Presidency and he was really doing it as a good Democrat and as a good American.
HESS: Can you tell me of the formulation of the DAC; who spoke to whom, what were the early ideas that led to this organization?
FINLETTER: I'm sorry I cannot remember that other than the
broad generalities that I've just given you now. There were a lot of people that did feel that Adlai Stevenson's career was not over with the defeat of '52, and wanted to help him, but they were more interested, I think, in doing something for the Democratic Party. They would hope that Stevenson would be the nominee, and indeed he was, eventually, but it was not just a Stevenson operation at all. It was a part -- something to provide an opposition to the party in power.
HESS: Who did you work with in the DAC?
FINLETTER: Oh, I just worked with all of them. It was a rather smallish group you know, I remember Mrs. Roosevelt was a member, and Herbert Lehman was a member and then all sorts of...
HESS: Who decided who would be members?
FINLETTER: Oh, I think just the consensus that anybody of the stature I've just mentioned -- of course would be a highly desirable person.
HESS: Do you recall when it was discussed to ask Mr. Truman if he would like to be a member? Do you recall anything about that?
FINLETTER: I don't recollect any discussion of that idea. I think the feeling was that you don't ask a former President of the United States to join a smallish committee of this kind.
HESS: He was a member.
FINLETTER: Yes, I know, but only -- he wasn't a very active member.
HESS: No? Was it thought that he should be asked, to make it more representative?
FINLETTER: My recollection is that President Truman did not take a very active part. Indeed it would have been somewhat peculiar I think in a way if he had, having just been...
FINLETTER: The President of the United States doesn't come down and join a committee of twenty or whatever it was, people, who are merely trying to serve the cause which everybody knew he would be willing to help in and there was always the feeling that one could go to him if one had to, but there wasn't any feeling that he should
just sit in on these long and sometimes difficult meetings that we had. Difficult in the sense they were time-consuming and involving work and so forth.
HESS: Just in a capsule version, can you tell me how you tried to further the cause of the Democratic Party, just what policies you took?
FINLETTER: Well, there were papers prepared by experts, I can't give you a chapter and verse on this now, but whenever -- obviously the feeling was that there should be position papers -- a broad policy for the party to adopt and these of course. were worked on by a staff and by consultation in meetings of the Advisory Council itself.
HESS: As I understand, the Committee on Foreign Policy was chaired by Dean Acheson, for a period of time anyway, and then the Committee on Domestic Policy was chaired by Kenneth Galbraith.
HESS: Do you recall any other particular committees?
FINLETTER: No I don't.
HESS: The counsel for the Democratic Advisory Council was Charles S. Murphy who served as Mr. Truman's Special Counsel.
HESS: What do you recall of Mr. Murphy's services on the committee, anything in particular?
FINLETTER: I've forgotten really.
HESS: Did you ever have occasion to work with Mr. Murphy at the time that he was Special Counsel to Mr. Truman?
FINLETTER: Well, I knew him very well, and I did work a little with him from time to time, but I don't remember any particular issues on which I consulted him.
HESS: What would be your general evaluation of his effectiveness?
FINLETTER: I thought he was an effective lawyer.
HESS: What do you recall of the difficulties of getting some of the prominent Democrats with congressional or southern connections to become members of the
FINLETTER: Well, my impression of that is that that was a fact of life and it was perfectly true that -- and I sympathize in a sense with the feeling by people who occupy high position in the House and the Senate that, "Who are these outsiders here that seem to be announcing party policy," and so forth. "We've got a national committee and we've got ourselves as the elected representatives of the people, what are they doing here?" And the answer on the other side was, "We're merely trying to help. We're trying to help you by making available to the Democratic Party the views of some people, who after all have had something to do with party and governmental affairs." But I think there is no doubt about it there was a slight conflict there between the high ranking people in the Senate and the House with this group.
HESS: Did you believe that a widely representative group could be created; liberals, conservatives, northerners, southerners, congressional leaders, and party leaders?
FINLETTER: Not congressional leaders. No, I don't think
you could -- there was no suggestion that congressional leaders could operate outside their congressional duties. One would have welcomed it, but I mean...
HESS: They were asked, but not many joined.
FINLETTER: Yes, that's right.
HESS: Hubert Humphrey for one.
HESS: ...came down. John Kennedy a little bit later came in.
HESS: But several of the people on the Hill who were asked, Sam Rayburn, Lyndon Johnson, did not join. If some of the so-called more conservative congressional leaders had joined -- this is theoretical -- had they joined, might not that have made it more difficult for the council to put out a liberal program?
FINLETTER: Well, I suppose it might have, but after all, different points of view could be expressed in these documents, they didn't all -- even as constituted, they
didn't all think exactly the same.
HESS: I think that the meetings were held up on the 11th floor of the LaSalle Building on Connecticut Avenue in Washington, and I thought you might like to know that Charles Tyroler still has that office.
FINLETTER: Does he really?
HESS: Yes, he does. And the same table is in that large outer office with the name plaques on it, showing where the different men sat, Averell Harriman's name plaque and so on around. Mr. Tyroler was Executive Director of the council.
HESS: Do you recall any particular reason why he was chosen?
FINLETTER: No, I've forgotten why that was, he was, as I say, recommended by so many people.
HESS: And he still has that office. Philleo Nash, who was a White House staff member, was in that office some time back when we had our interviews.
All right, anything else on the DAC, the Democratic Advisory Council?
FINLETTER: No, nothing.
HESS: The DAC was established following the 1956 election and a Democrat, Mr. Kennedy, was elected in the next election. Do you think the efforts of the Democratic Advisory Council helped in any way towards getting Mr. Kennedy elected?
FINLETTER: Well, that's awfully hard to answer. I think it would not be correct to claim any credit for them, but I can't help but thinking that the Democratic Council was a good institution.
HESS: And he was a member.
FINLETTER: Yes. And it helped the party, and gave an even more serious note to the functioning of the party and so forth than the regular statutory people who were serving the country in the House and the Senate.
HESS: In discussing the Democratic Advisory Council I brought up the name of Mr. Dean Acheson, who of course was Secretary of State for Mr. Truman. You were in the
Pentagon and not in the Department of State but what is your evaluation of Mr. Acheson as Secretary of State during the period that you were there?
FINLETTER: I have high regard for him.
HESS: He was at the Blair House meeting the night that you were there.
HESS: How would you evaluate his advice.
FINLETTER: Well, nothing except a broad generality that I have a great respect for his opinions. I don't remember him particularly at the Blair House meeting.
HESS: All right. Now the Truman-Stevenson relationship in 1956. In his book Mr. Citizen, Mr. Truman states that the reason behind his support for Averell Harriman in 1956 was not because he thought that Mr. Harriman could win the nomination, but rather to "make it easy for Stevenson to disassociate himself with me politically." To me that sounds as if in Mr. Truman's view he thought there was some disharmony between himself and Mr. Stevenson. Were you aware of any disharmony?
FINLETTER: No I was not.
HESS: At any time?
HESS: All right. You were a captain in the field artillery in World War I, correct?
FINLETTER : Yes.
HESS: So was Mr. Truman. Did you ever discuss that with him?
FINLETTER: No, I never did.
HESS: Did you ever go down to Key West or were you ever aboard the Williamsburg with the President?
HESS: And in 1945 you wrote a very interesting book, Can Representative Government Do the Job? And you advocated amending the Constitution to require simultaneous elections of the President and both houses of Congress. Correct? If I have my quote correct from your book.
FINLETTER: Yes, that's my recollection.
HESS: Mr. Truman had a good deal of difficulty with the 80th Congress, as he was a Democrat and the 80th Congress was Republican. You may recall that Senator Fulbright in fact at that time called upon President Truman to appoint a Republican as Secretary of State and then resign so that a Republican would be President. Did you ever discuss your views on representative government and on the Constitution with the President?
FINLETTER: Never did, never.
HESS: Never did.
How would you rate the Presidents of recent years, Mr. Roosevelt to the present, in terms of administrative ability and intellectual ability and just as men?
FINLETTER: As good Presidents. Well, I'd rank Mr. Truman very high, the way I'd start off with. I wouldn't like to get into a contest here as to which one is one, two, three, four and five and so forth. I think we were very fortunate in our Presidents.
HESS: In your opinion, what were President Truman's major accomplishments during his career?
FINLETTER: Oh, I think the main accomplishment is that having been catapulted into the Presidency by the death of Franklin Roosevelt, he rose to the responsibilities of the office in a magnificent way, and I think will go down as one of the most successful and wise men of high character to ever occupy the Presidency.
HESS: All right, what were Mr. Truman's major failings, if you had to pick one or two things that went wrong during his administration what would they be?
FINLETTER: I find it difficult to think of one. I'm sure he didn't do everything perfectly, because nobody could, but I really wouldn't like to put my mind on trying to find out something that he did which wasn't perfect.
HESS: What is your estimation of Mr. Truman's administrative ability?
FINLETTER: I think it was very high, very high, because he had the ability to make people respect him and work for him.
HESS: What is your favorite memory of Mr. Truman, looking
back over the years and thinking about Mr. Truman, thinking about a favorite memory, what comes to mind?
FINLETTER: Oh, I canít think of anything except my great satisfaction in the meetings with him as President, because I did see him quite often and alone and on many occasions, both in the White House and on trips and so forth and so on. And I think my major recollection of him is this very fine and great man with whom it's such an honor to be associated.
HESS: Do you have anything else to add on Mr. Truman, on your duties either as Secretary of the Air Force, Chairman of the Air Policy Commission, any other thoughts?
FINLETTER: I don't think so, no.
HESS: Well, thank you very much for your time.
FINLETTER: Well, thank you very much, I've enjoyed this.
HESS: Very good.
Early, Stephen, 47
Finletter, Thomas K.:
and government offices held by, 1-2
MacArthur, General Douglas, dismissal, opinion of, 58-59
NATO, ambassador to, 2
Secretary of the Air Force, appointment as, 21-22
Special Assistant to Secretary of State, responsibilities of, 11-12
Kimball, Daniel, 62
decision to cross 38th Parallel, 29-30, 49-52, 60
Inchon landing, 45-47, 53
Marshall, General George C., 48-49
Massive retaliation, theory of, 17
Matthews, Francis (Frank), 62
Murphy, Charles S., 75
Nash, Philleo, 78
Pace, Frank, 62
and Democratic Advisory Council, 72-73
and the 80th Congress, 82
and Korean War, 24-26
Presidential election, 1948, British reaction to, 20-21
Presidential election, 1952, decision not to seek re-election, 65-66
and Wake Island meeting, 54-56
Unification of the Armed Forces, 63-65
Zuckert, Eugene M., 62