BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Clark Clifford, author of the new book "Counsel to the President", would you tell us the story of Winston Churchill and the ride to Fulton, Missouri?
CLARK CLIFFORD, AUTHOR, "COUNSEL TO THE PRESIDENT": I certainly would be glad to because it's so prominent in my memory. When we got on the train to go to Fulton -- and the reason we were on the train is because President Truman wanted a chance to get acquainted with Mr. Churchill and if you just flew, you wouldn't get the chance. This way, they spent some four days together going and coming back by train.
LAMB: What year was this?
CLIFFORD: 1946. As we sat visiting at the back end of the train in the president's car, they exchanged compliments and one thing and another and agreed to call each Harry and Winston. Mr. Churchill said, "Mr. Truman, I understand that you play poker." "Yes," the president said, "I've played a lot of poker in my life, Winston." And Winston said, "Well, I've played a good deal of poker too. I first played in the Boer War." That was very impressive. None of us could remember when the Boer War was. He said, "Is there any chance that we might have a game on the trip down?" The president said, "I'll guarantee it. We will."
That afternoon when Churchill was taking a siesta, the president got us all together. There were five or six of us, and he said, "Gentlemen, the reputation of American poker is at stake. I expect every man to do his duty. This is a very smart fellow and he's probably a very good poker player and I don't want him to go back to London and say that he took the Americans at their American game of poker." As soon as dinner was over that night, one of the boys put on a green cover on the table and we started the poker game. We played for about an hour.
LAMB: Let me interrupt you. You had Winston Churchill, the president of the United States, Harry Truman, yourself, who else?
CLIFFORD: General [Harry H.] Vaughan, who was the president's military aide; Charles Ross, who was his press secretary, and the president's doctor, who also was a military man. It was a smaller group than we usually had. But we played for about an hour. Mr. Churchill got up to excuse himself to go to the gentlemen's room and the president looked over at his chips and went through them and then he said, "Look here, men. You're not being very nice to our guest. It looks to me like he's lost about $300."
Vaughan spoke up and said, "Well, boss, you've got to make up your mind. If you want us to play our whole game, in no time at all we'll have this fellow's underwear. In fact, boss, this guy is a pigeon." Vaughan was a very irreverent fellow. Well, the president said, "I want him to have a good time, but let's not bear down too heavily on him."
So we played the rest of the evening and Churchill won some wonderful pots. One time I was sitting next to Ross and we were playing five card stud poker and Ross had an ace showing and he also had an ace in the hole. Churchill had a jack showing. And Churchill kept betting right into that ace all the time, a very dangerous course of action, you see. Churchill finally makes a bet of about $100. Ross, knowing that he had the best hand, took a long last look at that ace in the hole, sighed, and folded his hand and let Churchill win the pot. We were playing what is known as customer poker. We had another wonderful game coming back and the same procedure. When it was all over, by carefully gauging his winnings, Churchill had lost only about $200. But he said it was one of the best times he'd ever had.
LAMB: What was he like?
CLIFFORD: I found him everything to be what I hoped that he might be. Some interesting little bits about it. It was suggested that maybe he drank a good deal. I think the reason that must have started was because he always had a highball in front of him, but he would make it last for three or four hours. He would just take a little sip of it. I didn't find that he drank nearly so much as people contended that he did. One evening after the poker game was over, he sat with Charlie Ross and me, and by that time he'd gotten a little mellow.
He made a wonderful little speech. He said, "The future of the world depends upon America. England has had its day. We've reached our zenith and now we are declining. But we must look with the rest of the world to the United States. You have the vigor, you have the land, you have the natural resources. You must turn out to be the leader of the free world. If I were to be born again, I would have liked to be born in America." Well, I thought it was a wonderful tribute.
LAMB: How old were you?
CLIFFORD: At the time I was about 38 or 39.
LAMB: What were you doing?
CLIFFORD: I was acting as naval aide to President Truman. I came into the White House first and was in the naval aide's office and then became naval aide. For the next four years, I served as counsel at the White House. I had come as a young lawyer and gone down and volunteered for the Second World War in the Navy and ended up in the White House when Harry Truman became president.
LAMB: You were born in Kansas but grew up in St. Louis.
CLIFFORD: My father was a railroad man and was with the Missouri Pacific. We lived in St. Louis, and then he was sent to Kansas to do a study on one of the phases of the operations in Kansas. While we were only there two years, I arrived. I don't remember Kansas because then we moved back the St. Louis and I lived the rest of my life in St. Louis until the war came on.
LAMB: Harry Truman was from Missouri.
CLIFFORD: He was certainly from Missouri.
LAMB: How did you meet him?
CLIFFORD: I had met him once at a cocktail party when he was running for senator. That was the only contact I had ever had with him. Then, later on, the reason I came into the White House was because his naval aide, Commander [Jake] Vardaman, had been a client of mine and was getting ready to Potsdam with President Truman in the summer of `45 and had me come in from the Pacific ostensibly to look after his office just for the month that they would be in Potsdam. But during that month, I got to know Judge [Samuel] Roseman well, who was counsel at the White House, grossly overworked. By the time the president came back, Roseman said, "Let's keep that young man around here because he's helping me." That gave me that wonderful opportunity.
LAMB: Go back to the Fulton, Missouri, Westminster College speech. How did that happen and what was the speech all about?
CLIFFORD: The president of Westminster College was a man named Bullet [Frank] McCluer. I asked somebody one time why his nickname was Bullet and they said, "Well, you should see him sometime with his hat off." I remember that. Apparently, his head was shaped a little like that. But he wrote President Truman a letter and said, "We're going to have our commencement exercise soon in June. I was thinking of who we might get to speak at the commencement exercise, and I thought of Winston Churchill."
Well, we all laughed a little about it. You see, the odds were about one in a million. But it so happened that President Truman was anxious to spend some time with Churchill. He had met him at the Potsdam Conference. While the Potsdam Conference was on, if you will remember, they had an election back in England, and to the total shock and surprise of everyone, the British people voted Churchill out of office. So the president said, "I always wanted to get to know him better but didn't." The president grabbed the idea of President McCluer of Westminster College, a rather obscure college in a little town named Fulton, Missouri He writes a letter to Winston Churchill.
In three days he has a response back saying, "I would enjoy greatly coming over and making a speech. I would be honored to have you introduce me." The fact is, we learned later, Churchill had a speech that was cooking inside of him and he just wanted very much to deliver it, and what could be better than to deliver it in the United States after an introduction by the president of the United States. So he came on over on good time.
I have one little anecdote in there. I have three daughters. They were getting grown at the time and that morning at breakfast I said, "Girls, today I'm going to meet a man that President Truman calls the first citizen of the world." They said, "Who, Daddy?" And I said, "Winston Churchill." "Oh," they said, "Daddy. That's wonderful. Now be sure you remember exactly what his words were when you met him." I said, "All right, I'll report tonight." Well we lined up in the Red Room. There were only about 10 of us for a luncheon. I remembered what the girls said, and my time finally came. I went to shake hands with Mr. Churchill, and he looked at me with those steely gray blue eyes and he said, "What was that name again?" I had to go home that night and tell. The girls said, "Is that all he said, Daddy?" So I dropped a few notches in the girls' estimation.
We went to Fulton and he made the speech that he'd been wanting to make, and in it occurred that wonderful line, "the iron curtain that the Soviets had stretched from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic." He said that behind that the Soviet Union has created a whole new empire behind the iron curtain. Now, the interesting part of it was that whereas the speech received a good deal of comment in the United States press, there was not too much support for it. The speech really bothered the president a little because he was still trying to work out a base of agreement and concord with Stalin.
He wasn't ready to write off the possibility of a peace between the United States and the Soviet Union, so he pulled back a little from his praise of the speech and all. The fact is -- and I'm not sure if one in a thousand people know this -- in order to even the relationship with the Soviet Union, he sent an invitation to Stalin and asked Stalin to come over and make a speech. He said, "You will be treated just as Churchill was. I will introduce you wherever you choose to make a speech."
Stalin ignored the invitation entirely, you see. But as the time went on -- see this was the spring -- by the end of 1946, the president was totally disappointed in his efforts to work out an arrangement with Stalin. Stalin was defaulting on practically every agreement that he'd made with the United States, whether it was at Yalta or whether it was at Potsdam or wherever it might have been. The Soviets were engaged in the most incessant planned process of expansionism. They moved in and they took control of all of the nations on their western border. All of them, you remember -- Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and later Hungary. At the time, there was nothing to keep the Soviets from marching all the way to the English Channel. Europe was prostrate at the time. Curiously enough, even though the Soviets had lost 20 million people during the Second World War, when the war ended, they had an enormously powerful military machine -- to a great extent due to our efforts. We had sent them everything that a country could need in time of war. They had been through these bitter battles, and they had trained battle-hardened soldiers. They had fine generals, and they would have moved right across.
The reason they didn't was because of Harry Truman. He sensed the danger. He saw it very clearly. First the pressure started on Greece and Turkey. We received a note in January from the British that said, "We regret, Mr. President, we must terminate our military and economic aid to Greece and Turkey. We can no longer afford it." Well, that presented him with a real predicament. Greece and Turkey constituted the southern anchor to the eastern defense line in Europe and should they go, no telling what would happen.
He had an enormously complex and difficult decision to make. Ever since the day of George Washington in his farewell address, we had been conscious of the fact that George Washington said, "My final advice to you is, do not become involved in entangling foreign alliances." And here now, almost for the first time, the president was faced with this question. He met it. He met it bravely and decisively with what has become known as the Truman Doctrine.
He went up to the Congress in March of 1947. He said, "It must be the policy of the United States to come to the aid of those countries that are threatened by communism either from within or from with out. It shall be our continuing duty and responsibility." He served notice on the Soviets and he gave aid of just the kind that the Greece and Turkish people wanted and that stopped it.
LAMB: Counsel to the President is the book. Our guest is Clark Clifford. I want to ask you about the line right here below your name -- "with Richard Holbrooke." How did that "with" come about?
CLIFFORD: Well it came about in this regard. In the first place, we've been friends for 20 years. I got to know him particularly well during the Carter administration when he served as Assistant Secretary of State for Southeast Asian Affairs. I thought he did a superb job in that position. He left office then after the Carter administration went out and became a banker in New York, an investment banker. We would see each other from time to time. He started 10 years ago to begin quietly and steadily and consistently to tell me I had to write a book.
After a little while, he said, "I can persuade you to write a book. I will help you with the book." I said, "I'm still not ready for it." But as time went on, almost four years ago, I became ready. He said one time to me in what was an understandable remark, "If you're going to write that book you'd better write that book. One just doesn't know how much time you're going to have." I was 80 at the time, you see. So I took the advice. It was good advice, and we went to work on it together. We worked almost four years on it.
LAMB: How did you do that?
CLIFFORD: Well, the first eight months we didn't put a word on paper. I dictated. He would come to Washington with four or five topics. I would have been told ahead of time, so I would be prepared. He would sit where you are sitting and I'd sit here. We had a tape machine on the table and he would ask me questions and then I would answer those questions. I would speak sometimes 15 or 20 minutes at time, maybe a half an hour. I would have gone back and refreshed my recollection. Then after the taping was over, I would have a young lady prepare a transcript of it. The pile of transcripts grew and grew and grew, and they must have ultimately been a foot high.
After about eight months of time had come, he said, "All right, the time has come to turn all this material into a book." That's the way it started. So it came right from within me, and yet he was invaluable in structuring the material into the various chapters of the book. He would come up with a plan and then we'd spend much time together reworking it, changing it the way we wanted.
We also had four separate presidential libraries upon which we could draw. They have a plan started years ago, right after Truman. After a president has gone out of office, he sets up his library. He gets an oral history from the important figures in his administration and they send young people out, trained and they sit -- I think I must have spent 14 or 15 hours with a young man, a representative of the Truman Library when the whole administration was fresh in my memory. Then that gets placed into a transcript and goes into the library -- much of it not to be read for 25 years. I did that with Truman and with Kennedy and with Johnson and with Carter. That is a gold mine of material.
See, with Truman, 40 years had gone by before I decided to start the book, but we went back. We also had the services of a young man, a graduate of the University of California, who was getting his doctorate in American history. The fact is, he devoted it to Vietnam. We employed him full-time for two years in checking every fact that occurred in the book. It's been checked and rechecked. If there's anything that bothers me about a book, it's to read a review and the review could be quite complimentary -- even commendatory- and then it comes to the point where it says, "But it's too bad the book is marred by the following errors," and it will state three or four errors that would be in the book. We wanted very much to avoid that. I hope that we have. No one has yet written in and caught a mistake in the book yet. I hope it doesn't happen.
LAMB: One of the persons in here that you give a lot of credit to is Marnie.
LAMB: Who is Marnie?
CLIFFORD: Well, Marnie and I on Oct. 3 of this year will have been married 60 years. Same wife for 60 years. All through my career, when I was a young lawyer, I was a trial lawyer and she used to be my standard juror. When I began to work for presidents, she was my ordinary member of the public. I'd try out speeches on her, and she'd say, "That one's not going to fly." I used her all through the years. So when we started on the book, she became the ordinary reader, read every word. She had good suggestions and was very frank -- sometimes I thought maybe a little too frank. She proved to be really quite invaluable in the writing of the book. That's why I paid her the tribute.
LAMB: Would you tell the story of how you met?
CLIFFORD: Yes, I will. I came to the bar in St. Louis on the first of June 1928. It was a reasonably busy time. In the summer of `29, though, the work slackened off a good deal in the law firm. I was messenger and kept the books in order. That's about all I was at that particular stage. Another young man and I talked about the fact that things were so slack and we might get leave to go to Europe for a while that summer. It would probably be the only chance we'd ever get. The management of the law firm said, sure that's all right. There's not going to be very much doing this summer. So we took off and planned a trip, just the two of us.
His name was Louis McKuen so we called our trip the Louis and Clark expedition. We were entirely on our own and on a very low budget. We stayed at pensions and paid 25 cents to get a bath and things like that. We planned one time in Germany to get up and get the 8 o'clock boat and go up the Rhine -- I think it's from Cologne to Mainz -- and see the old German castles and all. But that night before we'd been out with a group of young German people at a beer garden, and my friend had looked at the wine while it was red and I couldn't get him up at 8 o'clock. But we got the 9 o'clock boat. On the 9 o'clock boat we got on, here was the prettiest group of girls I thought I had ever seen, about eight or nine of them, on a Wellesley tour from the United States. We sat off and watched them for a while and then after a bit we went up and said, "You know, we haven't spoken English with anybody for so long, we hope we don't think we're rude if we come up and introduce ourselves." They said, "Of course not."
By the end of the day, Lou had picked out a perfectly glorious redhead from Pittsburgh and I'd picked up a tall willowy blond from Boston named Margery Pepperell Kimball. We'd really got to be good friends that day, so we got a copy of their itinerary. They had to be at certain places. From that time on for the next five or six weeks, every place they showed up, by accident Lou and I showed up, and we would call and the four of us would go out and have dinner together. We had the best time four young people ever had about in their life.
But at the time, Marnie -- her nickname for Margery -- told me about the third date we had, "I must tell you ahead of time that back home I'm practically engaged to Alan" somebody or other -- some dope back in Boston. I said, "Well, I must tell you, too, that there's a girl named Dorothy back in St. Louis, but at least we'll have a good time this summer." I go back to St. Louis. Something had changed after that three months abroad, and the arrangement with Dorothy began to drift off, you see. It began to deteriorate. But I wouldn't get in touch with Marnie because she said when we got back, it wouldn't be long before she'd be married. A year goes by.
I'm walking back from the courthouse to my office in St. Louis. I run into a friend of mine, and he said, "I was in Boston last week and I ran into a friend of yours." I said, "What's his name?" "It wasn't a him. It was a her." I said, "Well, what's her name?" He said, "Marnie Kimball. " I said, "What's her married name?" He said, "She doesn't have any married name." I said, "Are you sure?" He said, "I'm sure." In five minutes, I'm on the telephone back in the office calling, but she wasn't in that afternoon. But the next morning, I got her on the phone. We had a talk. It was getting near Christmastime, and I said, "If you were to invite me, I'd come up and pay you a visit between Christmas and New Year because things slacken off in the law business then." She said, "Well, I invite you." I went. From the day I arrived, it started right up again where it had been. She had gone back and the same thing had happened to her with Alan that happened with Dorothy and me. We picked it right up and one more visit up there and we agreed that we had postponed it much too long. Our parents both happened to be in New York at the same time and they met and had dinner together and they liked each other. So on October 3, 1931, we were married.
LAMB: In the opening of the book you tell a rather long story about General Marshall and your involvement in the Truman administration and the decision to recognize the state of Israel. I don't know that you want to go through every word of it, but who was George Marshall?
CLIFFORD: President Truman referred to him as the greatest living American. He had been commander-in-chief of all of the forces of the Second World War. A man with splendid intellect, a devoted dedicated patriot, an enormously valuable man to be at the head of the military in that Great War. He came through with a spotless reputation and was admired practically by every American. So the president needed him in his administration and made him secretary of state. A very erudite decision on the part of President Truman because President Truman during most of that first term had a Republican Congress and Marshall stood just as well with the Republicans, of course, as he stood with the Democrats.
I learned in `47 as I was working for President Truman as counsel, that the State Department and the services -- this is before the Defense Department, but the Army and the Navy, the military and all -- were opposed to the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. That it was wrong and because the sides were getting clear, with the Jews on one side and the Palestinians on the other, Arabs mainly, they thought we ought to be on the side of the Arabs. The State Department was solidly on the side of the Arabs. So were the military. So was General Marshall. As we got on into the spring of 1948, the president and I had talked a lot about it.
We both felt the same way. I strongly supported the creation of a nation for the Jews in Israel, and the president did, too. His reasons were exceedingly persuasive. I felt them just as he did. In the first place, he had a basic abhorrence of intolerance and discrimination. He despised the fact that the Jews had been discriminated against during their whole existence. He said one time, "If I can do anything to try to get rid of that discrimination, I shall do it." That was one of his thoughts. Second thought was, I remember him saying one time, "When the Second World War was over, everybody in the world had a place to return to, a home, except the Jews.
They had no place to go." Third was he felt very strongly about the murder of 6 million Jews by Hitler and the Third Reich. He said, "Every human being should feel some part of the blame for this inhumane bestial act on the part of Hitler." Also another reason that we discussed from time to time was back in 1917, a man was foreign secretary named Lord Balfour. There had been a paper issued called the Balfour Declaration.
LAMB: The foreign secretary from Great Britain?
CLIFFORD: Great Britain. It was interpreted by many to be a commitment on the part of Great Britain someday to assist the Jews in having a homeland. Others have interpreted it differently, but he and I both interpreted it as being a commitment on the part of the British, and we thought they ought to live up to the commitment. Also, he was a great Bible student, a wonderful Bible student--curious enough, particularly the Old Testament.
LAMB: Harry Truman?
CLIFFORD: Harry Truman. There was language in Deuteronomy, he said, in which the Bible promised the Jews. The language went something like, "The day will come when you will be led into the land of your fathers and it shall become your own." He believed that he was going to do everything he could to help them get their homeland. It finally came down to a great question on about May 15 when they were prepared to announce their independent status as a nation, as to whether we should recognize them or not. State, the military and all were opposed to it. So the president called a meeting in his office. General Marshall was there. His secretary of state Bob Lovett was there as undersecretary of state. Two or three top Middle Eastern experts were there.
Two weeks before that meeting, the president called me in and he said, "I'm going to have this meeting with General Marshall. I want you to prepare for it. Prepare just as though we were making an argument before the Supreme Court. Give every argument you can in favor of our recognizing Israel. Prepare it well. You know how I feel. You know we agree on it. Make it as persuasive as possible."
LAMB: Let me interrupt to ask you about General Marshall. What kind of person was he to talk to?
CLIFFORD: Stiff and formal. I never heard him call anyone by the other fellow's first name. He never referred to Bob or Tom; it was always just by the last name. I found him very stiff. He'd always been very pleasant with me up until that day, but I found him very formal and, from my standpoint, difficult to know.
LAMB: What was President Truman like in a conversation like this?
CLIFFORD: Oh, just the way he had always been, just a farm boy from Missouri. The same boy, who one evening at dinner his 94-year-old mother said, "There's something you all up here don't know. Harry could plow the straightest furrow in Jackson County." That was the ultimate accolade.
LAMB: What did he call you?
LAMB: What about Bob Lovett? You make some strong positive statements about Bob Lovett in here. What was he like?
CLIFFORD: A direct antithesis of Marshall -- easy to get along with, wonderful sense of humor. I'm not sure I ever heard Marshall get a witticism off or did I ever see him laugh at one. He was a very serious man. Lovett had a spicy sense of humor and made life much easier for me because I spent so much time working with the State Department.
LAMB: How old was he in those years?
CLIFFORD: I was 38 or 39, and he must have been middle 50s.
LAMB: You had Harry Truman, General Marshall, Bob Lovett, yourself and a few other people around, and you're about to make the decision on whether or not to recognize the new state of Israel.
CLIFFORD: And that day is only two days off.
LAMB: You don't even know what the new name of the new country is going to be.
CLIFFORD: We have no idea what the new name is going to be. We guessed a little. I guessed it Judea. I thought they might name it Judea, and there would be a biblical basis for naming it Judea coming from the Old Testament. We met that afternoon. Marshall spoke first, spoke at considerable length about why we should not recognize Israel. He gave all the reasons. He then was backed up by Lovett, who made an excellent presentation, giving all the reasons -- and there were some good cogent reasons from a military standpoint, oil standpoint, a number of factors of that kind.
Then came my turn, and I made my speech. It was about a 20-minute speech. I'd worked on it hard. It came off well. As I was delivering it, I looked at General Marshall, and his face was getting a little redder, a little redder, a little redder all the time I spoke. When I finished, he really actually exploded. He said, "Mr. President, I don't understand what's going on here. The fact is, I don't even understand why Clifford's at this meeting." The president said, "Well, he's here, General, because I asked him to be here." "But," he said, "We didn't come here to discuss these emotional factors." I'd gone through all of these factors. He said, "We have a very complicated foreign international problem, legal in nature to solve, and let's keep right on that." "Well," the president said, "I hope that's what we're trying to do." Marshall said, "We must not recognize them."
And then he turned to the president -- and this was the most curious statement I've ever heard an individual make to a president of the United States. He said, "Mr. President, if you follow the advice that's been given to you by Clifford, I would be unable to vote for you as president in this coming November election." Well, I want to tell you there was a stillness, a sense of shock after that, because Marshall was not accustomed to making idle comments. Lovett spoke up to get over that dreadful moment and said, "Well, there are other things that we must discuss." Maybe I said something and so we tried to finish it off, but we never quite recovered from that.
As Marshall stood, the president said, "Well, I'm greatly impressed by your argument, General, and I'm inclined to lean in your direction. Just let me think a little more about it." And off they went, you see. I turned to the president, and I said, "Mr. President, it got pretty rough." He used an old Missouri expression. He said, "It was rough as a cob." And I said, "Yes, I think it was. I'm afraid I've lost this case, but I guess I can't expect to win them all." He said, "Let's don't give up. Let's let the dust settle just a little now. Let's see what happens."
Well, that was a pretty astute remark because I got back to my office and about an hour later the phone rings. It was Bob Lovett, and he said, "My God, that was a dreadful meeting." I said, "It sure was." He said, "Now, let's not have a break between the president and General Marshall. That would be very bad for them both." I said, "It would be fatal for the president." "Well," he said, "maybe the president is going to give a little." I said, "I can't believe he will." He said, "I'll tell you what you do. On your way home tonight, stop in at my house and have a drink and let's talk about it."
So I stopped in. We had a drink and talked to him about it until about 10 o'clock. He said, "Now, here's the areas in which President Truman can give some and we could work out a compromise." I listened to him. When he finished I said, "He won't give in any of that. He's not going to give an inch. I know the man well. General Marshall is going to have to give. There's where the ultimate end of the dispute will arrive." He said, "It's going to be hard." I said, "I understand." Well, we stayed on the phone with each other constantly. The next day was Thursday. They were going to announce themselves as a new nation at the end of Friday.
Friday morning he called and said, "Let's have luncheon today and maybe we can still find some way to work it out." We had luncheon and the time is going on -- 6 o'clock that evening they're going make the announcement. Then a new thought came into the talk. I said, "Bob, the president doesn't need General Marshall's support in this. All he needs is Marshall's forbearance. If Marshall does not do anything, if he just will not publicly oppose the president's decision, that's all the president really needs from Marshall." "Well," he said, "all right. I'll go on that line." Back and forth we go over it. It got to be 5:15. The Jewish representative called and said, "How do you think it looks?" I said, "Well, I think we're making progress. We're going to be hearing shortly. I think you can start sending your man over with the request for recognition."
The phone rings in about 10 minutes. He said, "You know, we've never done this before. Could you help us a little in preparing it?" "Well," I said, "I haven't done it before either." So I called this specialist at the State Department, got the right kind of language from him, passed it on to the Jewish representative. They started a fellow over to the White House. About half way over, on a shortwave radio, they learned for the first time the name of the new nation was going to be Israel.
So they sent somebody after him and they caught that fellow. All they had said before was that we want you to recognize the new Jewish state. Well, when it finally got to President Truman, he then knew it was Israel. He drew a line through that and wrote in Israel. So on that little historic four-line memo, which says, "Hereby, I, as president of the United States, extend de facto recognition to the new nation of Israel." At 6 o'clock, they announced that they were a new nation. At 11 minutes after 6:00, along came the United States, the first nation in the world to recognize the new state of Israel.
LAMB: And after it was over, General Marshall later accused you or the president of doing this for what reason?
CLIFFORD: General Marshall did something really quite unusual. He felt so strongly about this, and he was really quite embittered by the meeting that we had. The fact is, he never spoke to me again after that meeting. I served some years after that, and so did he. He went back and he dictated a memorandum for the file. He said, "Clifford is attempting to persuade the president."
He wrote it out exactly, and even went so far as to write, "I told the president that if he followed Clifford's advice, I couldn't vote for him in November." He put that in the file which was really quite unusual. He said, "It is clear to me that this is a political move," This was May. He said, "With the election coming in November, this is an obvious bid for the Jewish vote. I don't intend to stand for it because it's not right." General Marshall was dead wrong on that because it wasn't a bid for the Jewish vote. We didn't know how the Jewish people felt at the time.
The fact is, there were Zionists -- they were the ones who were in favor of the Jewish state -- and there were non-Zionists, and some of the most prominent Jews in this country were against it because they thought the time was wrong. There was a war going on at the time, and they thought if you try to start the new Jewish state at this time, it won't survive and we will have lost our chance. Wait until the time it better. So I just differed with General Marshall. It wasn't a political decision. I won't say that there's any decision that a president makes that doesn't have some political cast to it. Anything the president does has politics in it, but this was not a political decision.
LAMB: Let me ask you again if you don't mind doing it briefly so we can get some sense of this cover. I'm going to name the president and have you give a very short reference point as to what did for that president and what your relationship was with that president. Harry Truman.
CLIFFORD: Harry Truman came into the presidency under curious circumstances. He hadn't been a senator for a very long period of time. Franklin Roosevelt was running for his fourth term, and he carefully selected somebody whose only usefulness would be to help him get elected. There were a number of people saying that it's un-American to elect a president for a fourth term, and Roosevelt felt some concern about that. But he selected, finally, Harry Truman, who came from the right part of the country, was a Baptist, was a 33rd Degree Mason, had been chairman of the War Investigating Committee. He selected him solely for that reason and was triumphant in that particular election in 1944. However, after having won, President Roosevelt paid no attention to President Truman at all.
He didn't invite him to cabinet meetings, didn't invite him to meet important guests for the three months that President Roosevelt still served. Harry Truman started in with very little preparation to be president. Those early days were hectic beyond belief. He would just get through the day. The Roosevelt people were leaving in droves. There had been this great figure of Roosevelt, who had been president for over 12 years and now in comes this smaller fellow, not very well known from Missouri. They really wanted not part of it, but President Truman weathered those early years. The wonderful, wonderful faculty about the man was his ability to grow. You could see him grow day by day by day. One other wonderful thing not known.
He told me one time when we were on vacation when I said to him, "Your understanding of American history constantly amazes me. I don't understand how you acquired it." He said, "When I was a boy, my eyesight was so bad I couldn't engage in sports. I couldn't see the ball in baseball or tennis or basketball. But I had access to the Encyclopedia Britannica. I read every article in the Encyclopedia Britannica on American history." He had the best working knowledge of American history of any president, with the possible exception of Woodrow Wilson, who wrote a fine book on American history. But constantly the president was referring back in his memory to similar incidents under which our country had been subjected.
LAMB: And you did what for him?
CLIFFORD: I served as counsel at the White House.
LAMB: For how long?
CLIFFORD: Four years. Much of my time was spent writing speeches. I served as liaison with the State Department and with the military. I was given the assignment early in my first year as counsel to prepare a plan of unification for the services, and I gave a great deal of time and effort to that. So I was fulfilling those functions and doing whatever else the president asked me to do.
LAMB: Your relationship to General Eisenhower?
CLIFFORD: Well, while I was serving in the White House as counsel, he came back when the war was over and became chief of staff of the Army. I saw quite a lot of him during that period, and we became good friends. I liked him a lot -- a very likeable man. I was pleased when he became president of the United States. He was a good choice at the time.
LAMB: You didn't work for him?
CLIFFORD: I never worked for him, no. But between Roosevelt and Truman, we'd had 20 years of the New Deal and the Fair Deal, and we needed a period to digest all of the important changes that had been made and President Eisenhower gave us that chance.
LAMB: Your relationship with John Kennedy?
CLIFFORD: I'd been his lawyer for six years before he became president. I'd gotten to know him well. We'd been through a number of experiences together, some of them relatively hairy experiences together. Then when he became president, he called me over for lunch and he said, "All my background has been in the legislative branch and yours is in the executive branch. I want you to write a full book for me on how a president takes over as a new president." I did.
Some 60-page memorandum I wrote for him. Then he used me a great deal. One interesting little bit was, his father insisted that he make Bobby, his brother, attorney general. President Kennedy told me one day, "I don't want to make Bobby attorney general. He's never practiced law for a day in this life, and I don't want to make him attorney general." His father said to him one day, "Jack, we worked our tail off to make you president, and Bobby is going to get his chance, too." Well, Bobby became attorney general, you see. But when the president would call Bobby over to talk with him about some rather complicated matter, he would also call me in. That was all right with the president and that was fine with me. To be a little slangy, I must say it laid an egg with Bobby. He didn't appreciate so much, so I was never very close to Bobby, but as time went on, I became closer and closer to President Kennedy and he used me a great deal.
LAMB: Your relationship with Lyndon Johnson?
CLIFFORD: I'd known him before he became president. I guess I'd known him for 30 years or something like that in Washington and had been an adviser to him. The day after he became president, he called me over and we sat and talked for close to six hours together about the presidency and how the White House was structured and how it ran. He used me a great deal for the first two or three years or so and had some different jobs that he wanted me to take.
None of them were suitable for me, so I ducked those. Then he came to one that was suitable for me in 1967. He said he wanted me to become secretary of defense when Bob McNamara left. So when Bob McNamara left, I became secretary of defense at the most critical time in the war in Vietnam. It really was a dreadful time. All those days and days and days, struggling but trying to find how to extricate ourselves from that dreadful war over in the jungles of Southeast Asia.
LAMB: You write a lot about that in the book.
CLIFFORD: I write a lot about it in the book.
LAMB: Richard Nixon?
CLIFFORD: I didn't know him very well because he was a Republican. I never worked for him. I was honored at one stage to be on the list of those that he published that he particularly did not like.
LAMB: His enemies list?
CLIFFORD: His enemies list, that's right. When he came in as president following President Lyndon Johnson, he took exception to an article that I had written in Foreign Affairs magazine and in a press conference said, "My one hope as far as the war in Vietnam is concerned is that we can do it better than Clifford did." Any comment that he had with reference to me was uniformly uncomplimentary.
LAMB: In the middle of all this you've been going through your own personal -- I don't know if you would call it a crisis -- difficulty over this situation with the bank here in town. Has that blotted the fun that you were expected to have with this book?
CLIFFORD: Well, it has taken something away from it but not too much because we put so much in the book and then we've been so gratified at the reception of the book. The bank situation is not too complicated. After representing a group of very wealthy Arabs, they asked that I take over the chairmanship of a group of banks here in the East, which I did nine years ago, and I've run those banks for nine years successfully, honestly, with a high level of activity. And secretly a foreign bank was illicitly acquiring some of the stock in our bank in violation of American law. When that became known -- and the Federal Reserve was antagonized greatly by learning that -- everybody connected with it was under suspicion, and that included me, unfortunately. But I've been assisting the Fed and other agencies in the investigation, and it is my conviction that when the matter is concluded that my associates and I will not be found to be guilty of anything.
LAMB: All the material you prepared for this book, how much was left out?
CLIFFORD: We had decisions to make. If we'd taken everything from this great stack of manuscripts that we had maybe the book would have been half again as long. So as we would go through different phases of it, we would have to gauge the importance of the subject, how the public might respond, so there was a selection process going on all the time as we wrote the book. There's about half that's been left out, and we hope that we have picked out those areas that would be most interesting to the public.
I want very much for the book to be widely read. I would hope that young people would read it, college students would read it. I would hope that even high schools students would read it. I would hope to some extent that it would inculcate in the minds of our younger people a desire someday to take part in our government. Our government needs the best people that we can get, that we could draw into government service. We don't always get that, you see. But if people will read the book, they'll learn a lot about their country. They'll learn a lot about how decisions are made. They will learn a lot about the personalities of the presidents and how they went about their duties. I want the people to understand their government better. The better they understand the government, in my opinion, the greater will be their love of their country.
LAMB: This is what the book looks like. It's called "Counsel to the President: A Memoir" by Clark Clifford with Richard Holbrooke. Thank you very much for joining us.
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