Memorandum for the President

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Memorandum for the President

28 December 1948 [Hyde Park]

First of all I want to tell you, Mr. President that when the news of your election reached Europe, there was general rejoicing. It gave to many statesmen and even to the people on the street who felt there might have been a change in our foreign policy, a sense of security that that which is now being done would be continued.

Next, I think I should say that generally there is a feeling that Mr. Harriman has done a very good job and a devoted one. As you know, I have not always felt that he had a broad enough point of view and grasp of the world situation, but he struck me as having greatly broadened and having been capable of growing with the opportunity which you have given him, which after all, is the greatest thing that one can ask of any one. He has chosen a good staff and everywhere I heard good things said of these people. People wrote me about the representatives they considered particularly good in a number of cases. I heard also that Mr. Harriman had handled labor very well.2

France, as he undoubtedly told you, is the greatest headache still. I think he understands what some of the greatest difficulties are. Many of the young men who fought in the resistance movement, or who were taken to camps and forced labor out of the country returned or finished their period of the war, depleted physically and mentally. The food has not been sufficient in energy giving qualities. You can not, for instance even today, unless you are willing and able to buy in the black market get butter and sugar and only small children can get milk. Until one comes back physically, one can not come back mentally and spiritually. Also the constant change of governments, due in large part to a very complicated situation which I will be glad to explain if you are interested, has made life for the working people in the cities very difficult and creates a lack of confidence in the government.3

The hardships are real and the Soviets through their communist party in France have offered both rural and city people certain benefits which they could not well resist. The French are not naturally communists but they find it hard to be staunch in the sense that the British are and so they have accepted many communist things. This does not frighten me for the future but it creates great difficulties for the present.4

This question of economic well-being is exploited by the USSR in all nations and they promise much until they gain complete control, then people are worse off than they were before but up to that time they have hopes of being better off and this is what creates one of the dangers for us. Since we are really fighting ideas as well as economic conditions and the Russians do a better propaganda job than we do because it is easier to say that your government is a government of workers for the benefit of workers than it is to say that a democratic government which is capitalistic benefits the workers more in the end. The only way to prove that to them, I think, is gradually to have more of them see conditions in our country, under supervision of course, and with every arrangement made for them to return to their own country, but the USSR is as loathe to let them come over as we have been to allow them to enter which makes this solution very difficult.

Great Britain is going to pull through because it has stood up under incredible drabness of living and I think will know how to use the aid coming to good account. Our relations with the British must, I think, be put on a different basis. We are without question the leading democracy in the world today, but so far Great Britain still takes the attitude that she makes the policies on all world questions and we accept them. That has got to be remedied. We have got to make the policies and they have got to accept them. Mr. Bevin has been unwise in many ways but I will not put on paper what I would be willing to tell you.5

I hope very much that the situation between ourselves and the USSR can change in the coming year and that we can accomplish final peace settlements. Germany can not return to any kind of normality until that is done, for at present the heap of ruins and disillusioned people in the center of Europe makes it difficult for all around to recover.

I have a feeling that your attitude on Palestine did a great deal to straighten out our own delegation and help the situation from the world point of view.6 The Arabs have to be handled with strength. One of the troubles has been that we have been so impressed with the feeling that we must have a united front in Europe that it has affected our stand in the Near East. I personally feel that it is more important for the French and for the British to be united with us than for us to be united with them, and therefore when we make up our minds that something has to be done, we should be the ones to do what we think is right and we should not go through so many anxieties on the subject.

There are all kinds of hidden reasons why nations and their statesmen desire certain things which are not the reasons they usually give. The most truthful of the statesmen that I talked to while in Paris was Robert Schuman7 of France, but it does require some knowledge of the past and much background to be always on your guard and figure out what are the reasons for certain stands that are taken.

I have great admiration for the Secretary of State and for many of the people in our State Department, but sometimes I think we are a little bit too trusting and forget the past. In giving me as an adviser Mr. Durward Sandifer, a lawyer of great experience and assistant to Mr. Dean Rusk8 in the Department, I could not have been better served, but I still feel it is hard for the Department to accept policies, without certain individuals trying to inject their own points of view and I do not think all of them have the knowledge and experience to take a world point of view instead of a local one and by local I mean the point of view which is affected by the particular area in which they have special knowledge and experience.

I should like to say a word to you when we meet on the subject of the bipartisan policy and the representatives of the other party.9

I also learned that the Philippine representatives were very much affected by the Equal Benefits Bill which is in Congress and I think if this goes through we will have a remarkable rise in their loyalty.10

The thing above all others which I would like to bring to your attention is that we are now engaged in a situation which is as complicated as fighting the war. During the war my husband had a map room and there were experts who daily briefed him on what was happening in every part of the world. It seems to me now we are engaged in the war for peace in which there enter questions of world economy, food, religion, education, health and social conditions, as well as military and power conditions. I have a feeling that it would be helpful if you could build a small group of very eminent non-political experts in all these fields whose duty it would be to watch the world scene and keep you briefed day by day in a map room. No one man can watch this whole world picture or have the background and knowledge to cover it accurately. It must be achieved by wise choice of people in the various fields to do it well and understandingly.

I have a feeling that our situation in Europe will be solved in the next year without too much difficulty. Our real battlefield today is Asia and our real battle is the one between democracy and communism. We can not ruin America and achieve the results that have to be achieved in the world, so whatever we do must be done with the most extraordinary wisdom and foresight in the economic field. At the same time we have to prove to the world and particularly to down trodden areas of the world which are the natural prey to the principles of communist economy that democracy really brings about happier and better conditions for the people as a whole. Never was there an era in history in which the responsibilities were greater for the United States, and never was a President called upon to meet such extraordinary responsibilities for civilization as a whole.

I think you are entitled to the best brains and the best knowledge available in the world today. Congress must understand this picture but it can not be expected to follow it in the way that it has to be followed, for the knowledge must come from a group which you set up and from you to them. You need something far greater than political advice though that is also an essential in the picture at home as well as abroad. The search should be for wise men of great knowledge and devoted to mankind, for mankind is at the cross roads. It can destroy itself or it can enter into a new era of happiness and security. It seems to me that you are the instrument chosen as a guide in this terribly serious situation and if there is anything which any of us can do to help you, you have a right to call upon us all.


1. Harry Truman to ER, 21 December 1948, AERP.

2. In April 1948, Averell Harriman resigned his post as secretary of commerce and accepted Truman's appointment as the US special representative in Europe for the Economic Cooperation Administration, a position which carried with it the responsibility of coordinating the Marshall Plan. November 19, Harriman flew in from Paris to address the AFL national convention, where he told the delegates that American labor had played "the key role" in "this great enterprise of leading the world to freedom and peace." He then emphasized how critical labor support was to the successful implementation of the Marshall Plan and world peace, telling this audience that while Europe wanted to trust the United States, it found "this unprecedented program of peacetime international cooperation" hard to understand. "No group," Harriman declared, "can speak so convincingly and so effectively as can American labor in building confidence (in Europe) in the American people and their objectives." For an example of ER's prior reservations concerning Harriman's abilities, see Document 219 (Felix Belair, Jr., "Harriman Named Aid Chief Abroad," NYT, 22 April 1948, 1; HSTE; "Labor World Role Seen By Harriman," NYT, 20 November 1948, 7).

3. De Gaulle withdrew from government in 1945 when the French elected a Constituent Assembly October 1945 and then reentered politics in 1947 to challenge the Communist-Socialist Left. The Left, reinvigorated by their work in the resistance, contested among themselves for political supremacy—only to be successfully challenged from the Right in 1947. Like the Third Republic, instability characterized the Fourth Republic as numerous parties vied for power and no single party received more than roughly a quarter of the vote. Political parties formed temporary coalitions that constantly underwent realignments and resulted in cabinets which lasted on average less than six months (Wright, 396-410).

4. During the early years of the Fourth Republic, the Communist Party consistently received one quarter of the vote in France, making them the most popular political party in France after World War II. Historians have attributed much of their success to the party's effective use of their image as the heroes of resistance: the French government expelled party members in 1939 and therefore the Communists were free from the taint of Nazi collaboration from which the political parties in power in 1940 suffered. By 1947, the French Communists established themselves as champions of the working class, demanding mandatory wage increases and organizing strikes in a variety of industries at a time when their Socialist rivals called for wage freezes and patience to resolve the economic crisis. The failure of the centrist coalition in power to improve the French economy won the Communists a great deal of popular support, but the party's militancy also rendered them politically ineffective, as their erstwhile allies, the Socialists, refused to work with the Communists after1947 (Wright, 399, 403-4).

5. ER had previously criticized British foreign secretary Ernest Bevin for expecting the United States to follow Britain's lead, particularly in discussions concerning Palestine. When, on February 25, 1947, Bevin criticized Truman before the House of Commons for allowing American politics to come into play in the Palestine issue, ER defended the president from what she considered Bevin's "extraordinary outburst":

Mr. Bevin will remember that it was at the British Government's request that a commission of inquiry composed of British and Americans restudied the question of Palestine. At the time, it seemed to me an utterly unnecessary commission, since we already knew, as did Great Britain, all there was to know on that subject. Therefore, there could be only one reason for request—namely, that Great Britain desired to have the United States accept some responsibility for any future policy. From later developments it was made clear that we, at least, had not understood that we were assuming any military responsibility, but had thought that the report of the commission would carry some weight …

It looks strangely like looking for a whipping boy, however, when Great Britain's Foreign Secretary suddenly accuses the President of the United States of having made agreement impossible by restating a stand from which he has never deviated (Charles E. Egan, "Cites Entry Plea: Briton Says He Begged U.S. Not to Press for Opening Holy Land," NYT, 26 February 1947, 1; MD, 27 February 1947).

For further examples of ER's view of Bevin's policies, see Document 129 and Document 198.

6. In a speech at Madison Square Garden on October 28, Truman recommitted himself to the boundary lines set in the UN Partition Plan for Palestine of November 1947. "Israel," he said, "must be large enough, free enough and strong enough to make its people self-supporting and secure." Truman's remarks were a direct repudiation of his secretary of state, who had come out in favor of the Bernadotte Plan, which called on Israel to return the Negev to the Arabs in exchange for the Galilee. For more on Truman's views on Palestine see Document 330 and Document 353. On the Bernadotte Plan see Document 374 and n9 Document 380 (Lash, Years, 136; "Truman in Strongest Plea for Israel Backs Boundaries in First U.N. Plan; Crowds in City Street Welcome Him," NYT, 29 October 1948, 1; "The Text of Truman's Address at Madison Square Garden," NYT, 29 October 1948, 4).

7. Robert Schuman (1886–1963) served as French prime minister from November 1947 to July 1948 and again in September 1948. He resigned less than a week after taking office the second time, when the National Assembly passed a vote of "no confidence" in his cabinet. Shortly thereafter he served as French foreign minister until his resignation in 1952. As foreign minister, Schuman championed European economic integration and called for the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community, a precursor to the European Economic Community (Lansing Warren, "Schuman Cabinet Falls, 295 to 289, Accenting Crisis," NYT, 8 September 1948, 1; "Schuman Dies at 77; Dies at 77," NYT, 5 September 1963, 1).

8. On Dean Rusk, see n18 Document 329 and Biographical Portraits.

9. For ER's belief in the importance of a bipartisan approach to foreign policy, see Document 179.

10. On July 26, 1941, President Roosevelt organized the US Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE), placing Filipino troops under the direction of US Army General Douglas MacArthur. A provision of the Philippines Independence Act of 1934—the act of Congress that ultimately promised independence to the Philippines on July 4, 1946, but established the archipelago as a commonwealth until that date—granted the president the right to call the Philippine army into service of the US Army during the ten-year transitional period. The regular Filipino troops swore oaths to the United States and were inducted into the US Army, leading them to argue after the war that they were entitled to the same benefits as all US soldiers. In February 1946, Congress passed the Rescission Act, which explicitly excluded Filipinos from the benefits promised under the GI Bill. Truman agreed to sign the bill, but not without declaring that "the passage and approval of this legislation do not release the United States from its moral obligation to provide for the heroic Philippine veterans who sacrificed so much for the common cause during the war." Although individual congressmen have continued to advocate bills extending equal benefits to the Filipino veterans of World War II into the twenty-first century, Congress has yet to pass such a bill (OCAMH; John H. Crider, "Command Unified," NYT, 27 July 1941, 1; "Truman Hits Curb on Filipino GI Aid," NYT, 21 February 1946, 8; Daniel K. Inouye, "Statement Before the House Subcommittee on Health, Committee on Veterans' Affairs," 13 June 2002, http://veterans.housegov/hearings/schedule107/jun02/6-13-02/dinouye.html, accessed 2 February 2006).

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