INTERVIEW WITH AMBASSADOR PAUL H NITZE 6/12/95
Q: 1945. How seriously was it thought that there would be a real collapse of the world economy and Communist takeovers in Italy, France...? Was this seriously thought likely to happen?
A: It was very, very seriously thought likely to happen, yes. I myself thought the danger was high. That was a bad winter all together. It was cold and the crops were bad, people were unhappy, and the Communists were making strenuous gains here, there and the other place, particularly in Italy and in France, but also in Germany. And I think the majority view was that the Communists would soon be in command in Italy; and that France would be next; then Germany would be third; perhaps England, with a Socialist government rather than a Communist government, would be fourth; and that that was enough to kind of swing the balance that the United States might be left isolated with a Communist Europe and United States a long distance away, busy taking care of its own interests.
Q: Do you remember at that time the arguments about Soviet demands, requests... over Iran and Turkey, and how that was affecting things back here in Washington? ...
A: I do, do remember that... It was also about Greece and I did a particular study on what the world might look like if Greece were to fall under Soviet control as well, along with Turkey, and this rather, well it meant to me at the time that the, that end of the Mediterranean would be untenable for us and the situation would be desperate, yes. And trying to figure out what kind of a policy the United States could adopt in order to assure itself that Europe would not progressively fall into Communist hands. I came to the conclusion it would be very difficult indeed, particularly if Greece were to fall.
Q: So how much of a shock was it when Britain finally threw in the towel? What happened that weekend when the British finally said: 'In six weeks time, that's it.'?
A: Well let me, the important fact was that Dean Acheson, who was important in the US Government at that time , I forget whether this was a period when he'd just resigned and about to come back again or not, but in any case Dean Acheson had long been very much an anglophile, and he thought that the British knew much more about diplomacy and world affairs than we did, and that we should lie in the background and just support England, and the British would, were be the ones to conduct affairs and we to support them. So that having Acheson of that wasn't my frame of mind, so that Acheson and I had a difference of opinion, very serious difference of opinion on that and a number of other things, but he was important enough, more important than I was in any case in US policy. So that the fact that (coughs) England seemed to be unable and had so announced, to continue to play the role that it had before was a very important thing for Dean Acheson 'cos it completely made his policy totally impossible: you couldn't rely on somebody who tells you they've had it and can no longer support the sort of role that they'd, you'd been counting on them to conduct. So the question at issue was what could the United States do, and was to take the role of United Kingdom and grab the full responsibility for the Free World was biting off a considerable chunk of responsibility that hadn't been ours up to that point. But Mr. Truman, of course, didn't have any doubt about it at all. He was perfectly clear in his mind that the US must and could and should pick up the full burden of being, of leadership for the Free World, no matter whatever that required. So he was the person with courage and guts who made the basic decision. I thought it was a right decision, but I can't claim to have been author thereof; it was really Mr. Truman's decision.
Q: The Truman Doctrine ... I understand from your book 'Hiroshima to Glasnost', ... was originally about Greece and Turkey. Can you tell me about this and how it mushroomed after that? Was it a very narrow remit in the first place?
A: Well it was caused by the threat to Greece and Turkey from a variety of, of causes. The guerrillas in Greece and in Turkey, were being backed by Russia, and Russia was overtly bringing pressure upon both those countries and doing everything it could to make life miserable for the Free World. I did a study at that time on, you know, what should US policy be, for the State Department, on what US policy should be in the event Greece fell under Soviet domination along with Turkey, but it was primarily Greece that was in my craw. And it didn't look well at all, because with the, that end of the Mediterranean under Soviet domination it was hard to see how you could maintain, you know, supply lines going down to the Suez canal or any place in, in the, in the eastern end of the Mediterranean. And with that kind of a situation the, the prospect didn't look good at all for Europe or for United States or for anybody.
Q: Back to 1946. Do you remember the Stalin 'election' speech of February 6th, and what impact did that have amongst your circle and amongst people here in Washington?
A: I remember that very distinctly. I read the speech with care and interpreted it as being a delayed declaration of war against the United States. There wasn't any doubt about it, if you read the text carefully, what he was talking about was having three new five year plans to take the next fifteen years in which you've, you've got to not relax at all and the full mobilization of the Soviet Union, no particular section of the economic effort was going to go toward civilian consumption, it was all going to go toward building up military capabilities, barely be going to feed his populace, but was going to give them anything except food for the civilian population. Why this enormous effort for three years - three five year plans? And it could only mean that he was getting ready for the contingency of war with the United States at the end of fifteen years. And I took this up with Dean Acheson - No, I took it up with Jim Forrestal and asked Jim Forrestal what he thought about it, and Jim said, "I agree with you entirely, but that isn't the view of the State Department, and I can't persuade the State Department that there is any serious problem, and it's all Mr. Acheson - your friend Acheson is the problem." I said, "He's not really my friend but I do know him and I will go round and talk to him about it." So I went around to see Acheson and told him what I thought about how I interpreted that speech, how seriously I thought one should take it, and he threw me out of the office, literally, had me evicted from his office - so that I didn't get very far with that effort.
Q: You really have the situation that the man responsible for the defense of the United States is convinced that a speech that Stalin has offered is actually a delayed declaration of war ... am I reading you correctly?
A: That's exactly my view of it. In fact if you read it today you'll see that it is, can't be interpreted any other way.
Q: The Marshall Plan. When originally announced it wasn't really a plan at all?
A: That is quite accurately the situation. There wasn't a Marshall Plan at the time of, of Marshall's speech. He talked about a plan, but it was a chimera. I was quite annoyed about the whole thing. It seemed to me absolutely ridiculous to be talking about a plan when nobody had the foggiest idea about who would do what, with what and to whom in order to get anything organized, and I think I was, yes I, I was the fellow that must do the work if the work was to be done, and it irritated me beyond belief that, that Marshall would talk about a plan when there wasn't any. And Chip Bohlen was, you know, interpreter to the President whenever he negotiated with the Russians, and Chip was close friend of mine, and Chip was kind of bewildered by the situation, but he didn't know exactly what Stalin's speech meant, and he was going off to Moscow, as a matter of fact no, he was going off to an Ambassadorial post as I remember, he was going to be Ambassador to Paris, to the Fr, and he was leaving the next day to go to Paris to pick up his duties there, but his miwas on something else so he wouldn't talk to me about this. I couldn't find anybody much to talk to about this, except for Forrestal. So I talked to Forrestal, Forrestal and I had been business partners (cough) in the years before the war, and very close friends. And Forrestal said, "I couldn't agree with you more, Paul, but you know, I can't swing the US government 'cos the State Department doesn't think this way at all. You've got to go and see your friend Acheson..." have I been through this before?