Thursday, October 22, 2020

At dinner with Stalin

‘Marshal Stalin stressed in his remarks his feeling that the three Great Powers which had borne the burden of the war should be the ones to preserve the peace. He said it was ridiculous to think that a country like Albania should or could have an equal voice with the United Kingdom, the United States, or the USSR. It was they who had won the war.’ This is from the diaries of Edward Reilly Stettinius Jr. written while he was attending the Yalta Conference. Born 120 years ago today, he was Secretary of State under Roosevelt in the latter part of the Second World War,  and went on to become - albeit briefly - the US’s first ambassador to the United Nations.

Stettinius was born in Chicago, Illinois, on 22 October 1900, to a mother of colonial English ancestry and a father of German descent. He grew up in a mansion on the family’s estate on Staten Island and graduated from the Pomfret School in 1920. Although he attended the University of Virginia until 1924, he spent much of his time helping poor Appalachian hill families and working with employment agencies trying to assist poor students at the university. By 1926 he had opted out of college, and taken a job at General Motors working as a stock clerk. That same year, he married Virginia Gordon Wallace, daughter of a prominent family from Richmond, Virginia, and they had three sons.

Stettinius rose rapidly at General Motors becoming, in 1931, vice president in charge of public and industrial relations. He worked to improve unemployment relief programs, and served on the Industrial Advisory Board of the National Recovery Administration. By 1934, though, he had joined U.S. Steel, the country’s large corporation, and he became its chairman in 1938. From 1939, he served on the National Defense Advisory Commission, as chairman of the War Resources Board, and later was administrator of the Lend-Lease Program. In 1943, Franklin Roosevelt appointed him to the role of Under Secretary of State, with promotion to Secretary of State in late 1944.

The following year, Stettinius was a member of the US delegation to the 1945 Yalta Conference, and he chaired the US delegation to the San Francisco conference which brought together delegates from 50 Allied nations to create the United Nations. Thereafter, he was appointed the first US Ambassador to the newly created United Nations. However, he was only in the post a few months before resigning in protest at President Truman’s refusal to use the UN as a forum to resolve growing Soviet-American tensions. Subsequently, he headed the Liberia Company, which encouraged US firms to invest in the development of the African country. He became rector of the University of Virginia until his death in 1949. Further information can be found at Wikipedia, Office of the Historian, American National Biography (log-in required), and

In 1975, New Viewpoints published The Diaries of Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., 1943-1946 as edited by Thomas M. Campbell and George C. Herring. In their introduction the editors state: 

‘A diary naturally reflects the personality and needs of the man who compiles it. Stettinius intended his diary primarily as a record of his official activities, not as a source of intellectual satisfaction or emotional release. Hence it is confined largely to public matters and tells little about his private life. The diary sometimes offers sensitive and perceptive comments on public affairs in World War II, but in general it takes a cautious, even uncritical approach, reflecting the cautiousness of Stettinius’s personality and his concern for the reputations of the men around him. A sometimes insecure man who stood in awe of many of his associates, Stettinius liked people and desperately wanted to be liked, and his diary lacks the candid, frequently acerbic appraisals of men which typify the diaries of John Quincy Adams and Henry Stimson. He deals only sparingly with the power struggles that were going on around him, and indeed plays down his own conflicts with his associates.

Nevertheless, the Stettinius diary forms an important and revealing record of American diplomacy during and immediately after World War II. The summaries of conversations with U.S. officials and foreign diplomats nicely supplement the official documents published by the Department of State. The transcripts of phone conversations are a particularly valuable source, and frequently catch prominent officials in candid, unguarded moments. The diary provides significant information which cannot be found elsewhere, and it reveals much about the manner in which decisions were made in the State Department and the government as a whole.’

Here are several extracts from the diary.

9 June 1944
‘The president [Franklin D. Roosevelt] has made up his mind that it would be a mistake for him to “mix in” with the question of the Polish primer minister going to Moscow. He has come to the conclusion that Stalin would misunderstand this in view of the president’s statement to Stalin at Tehran that this was a political year. The president has authorized me to tell the Polish prime minister that he cannot send the message to Stalin but for me to make the suggestion that the Polish prime minister make arrangements to go to Moscow through President BeneŇ° of Czechoslovakia. 

The prime minister thought that perhaps an approach might be made at this level, but he wondered whether, if the approach was made at the military level, the Soviet authorities might accept with alacrity military collaboration, but as their armies advanced, they would go ahead independently on the political level and organize the administration in Poland along their own lines without consultation with the Polish government-in-exile. No final decision was made as to the advisability of making this second approach.’

28 July 1944
‘Mr. Metcalf of Time came in and said he wanted to discuss the Argentine situation and asked whether or not we were prepared to go all out [on] economic sanctions. I told him that that was an unfair question and that he was just trying to get a scoop. I told him with a smile, “No comment. I’m a diplomat.”

He then asked several questions about the postwar discussions. I told him there was nothing to be said other than we were going to have the discussions and that I was going to head up the American group.

Mr. James Reston came in for general background discussion. He asked if we had made up our minds as to the partitioning of Germany. I said that that was something under discussion and study and I could see nothing gained by discussing this matter in the American press.

He then asked about the new ambassadors to be sent to exiled governments. I told him that matter was “moving along” but that there was nothing I could say on the subject at this time.

Mr. Reston then said that lately he seemed to be getting very little satisfaction from me, or any help or guidance.’

10 November 1944
‘I . . . finished up some work in the car on the way to the Union Station to meet the president [Franklin D. Roosevelt] who was coming in at 8:30 from Hyde Park in his special train.

The sky was overcast and it was raining fairly hard when we got there. I went into the train to greet the president. All members of the cabinet were there, together with the heads of many of the agencies.

The car was surrounded by radiomen, MP guards, and a host of Secret Service agents.

After greeting the president, I got back into my car and waited for the procession to begin. . . .

At exactly 9:00 the first car left the station loaded with Secret Service agents in their armoured car. The second car contained the president, and seated with him in the back of the car were Vice-President Elect Harry S. Truman, and Vice-President Henry A. Wallace. The only other occupant of the car, beside the driver, was Johnny Boettiger, the president’s grandson. The next five or six cars contained newsmen, and following them were the greeting committee of cabinet members and so on. We were about the tenth car. 

The procession stopped at Columbus Memorial fountain  where commissioner John Russell Young extends to the president Washington’s official homecoming welcome. The president responded with a few minute’s talk [sic] on how glad he was to be back, but he didn’t hope to make Washington his permanent home.’

The president entered the room at 2:10 pm, and the entire cabinet rose and clapped. The president was very cheerful and looked well. The president said he was like the old man Dante wrote about, who had gone to Hell four times. 

The president said the past campaign had been the dirtiest one in his entire political career.

The president turned to me and said he had been out of touch with foreign relations and was there anything new. I told the president there was much I would have to report to him and hoped to have a private talk promptly; stating to him that we had me with the Latin American ambassadors yesterday and that we had made good progress and I was sure we would get their full support on the world organization. I told the president that we had taken them to the Blair House afterward. The president asked whether we served liquor, and I said, yes, but always after five o’clock. He then said, “You must invite me over some time!” ’

14 November 1944
‘I met with Nelson Rockefeller [coordinator of Inter-American Affairs] and a group of his chairmen from various Latin American countries. The meeting was brief, and in the main we discussed Argentina. It was their general feeling that if the British supported us, we could force out the present Argentine regime in a matter of weeks. However, they did point out that it would be necessary for the British to cooperate with us honestly and not say to the Argentine people, “We are awfully sorry we have to do this, but the United States is forcing us to take this position.” These men pointed out that in this way, the United States would be further criticized and be considered a brute, and Great Britain, the poor innocent party to the deal. I assured Mr. Rockefeller and his chairmen of the State Department’s whole-hearted support.’

4 February 1945
‘I attended a dinner which the president gave for Mr. Churchill and Marshal Stalin at Livadia Palace [Yalta]. During the greater part of the dinner the conversation was general and personal in character. But during the last half hour the subject of the responsibilities and rights of the big powers as against those of the small powers came up. Marshal Stalin stressed in his remarks his feeling that the three Great Powers which had borne the burden of the war should be the ones to preserve the peace. He said it was ridiculous to think that a country like Albania should or could have an equal voice with the United Kingdom, the United States, or the USSR. It was they who had won the war. He said he was prepared to join with the United States and Great Britain to protect the small powers but that he could never agree to having any action of any of Great Powers submitted to the judgment of the small powers. The president and prime minister said that they agreed that the Great Powers would necessarily bear the major responsibility for the peace but that it was essential that they exercise their power with moderation and with respect for the rights of the smaller nations.

After Marshal Stalin and the president had left, I talked with the prime minister and Mr. Eden briefly on the voting question. The prime minister reiterated that he had been inclined to the Russian view on voting procedure because he felt everything depended on maintaining the unity of the three Great Powers. Without that the world would be doomed to inevitable catastrophe and anything that preserved that unity would have his vote. Mr. Eden took vigorous exception to the prime minister’s statement on voting procedure and said he believed the United States formula was the minimum essential to attract the support of the small nations to the organization, nor did he feel that the British people themselves would accept a ruling of unqualified unanimity.’

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