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Donovan's Original Marching Orders

Coordinator of Information (COI), 1942, establishment of,
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CONFIDENTIAL

Donovan

seminate information bearing on national security and also to carry out "supplementary activities" as requested by the President. We know also, from the drafting of the order, that Ben Cohen thought the new COI would not interfere with the "morale function" of La Guardia's office or the need for the projected Economic Defense Board. Thirdly, as just reviewed, Donovan was quickly involved in a whole host of activities which could not possibly have been touched upon, spelled out, and agreed upon in the conference that Donovan had with the President on 18 June.
The conclusion here is that Donovan was given a charter marked by vagueness, contradiction, and open-endedness. The vagueness is clear on the face of the 11 July order, and Smith had pointed this out to the President a week before it was issued. It was so vague even on the basic function of the Coordination of Information that some people concluded, honestly presumably, that his job was simply to "digest" others' reports to the President. The most patent contradiction contained in the order, although not spelled out, was the authorization to conduct world-wide radio broadcasts even though Nelson Rockefeller clearly had a monopoly on such activity as far as South America was concerned. The openendedness-the coordination of data bearing on national security-Donovan was clearly quite prepared to exploit to the full, and it is not surprising that people like Breckinridge Long were soon accusing him of poking his nose "into everybody's business."
This conclusion raises the question of President Roosevelt's understanding of what he was doing when he issued such a charter to the Colonel. For an answer, the writer can only fall back on others' analyses of FDR's administrative principles and procedures, and here there are at least two schools of thought. James MacGregor Burns has described the President as ". . . avoiding commitments to any one man or program, letting his subordinates feel less the sting of responsibility than the goad of competition, thwarting one man from getting too much control. . . ," and it was this approach that "prompted him to drive his jostling horses with a loose bit and a nervous but easy rein."55 On the other hand, Dean Acheson has rejected as "nonsense" the idea that Roosevelt liked "organizational confusion which permitted him to keep power in his own hands by playing off his colleagues one against the other;" instead, says the former Secretary of State, under FDR, "civil governmental organization ... was messed up ... for the simplest of reasons: he did not know any better." 56
Let the last comment on the President's style go to William O. Hall, who, thirty years after the events narrated here, observed that "Donovan was a pusher, an empire-builder, a man with a sense of mission, whose activity had "the effect of stirring up the military and the State Department, and FDR was happy to see this."57
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55 James MacGregor Burns, Roosevelt: The Soldier o f Freedom (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York, 1970), p. 53. More recently, John P. Roche noted in his King Features Syndicate column (Washington Post, 22 May 1973) that: "[Roosevelt's] technique, to simplify, was always to give subordinates overlapping jurisdictions. Thus Jesse Jones of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, Harry Hopkins, and Secretary of the Interior Ickes (to take one hypothetical case) would each be given the impression by FDR that he was in charge of some major aspect of domestic policy. Invariably the three would get into a fight on any significant policy question and-since it was impossible to settle it among themselves-the President would wind up as the arbiter."
56Acheson, Op. cit., p. 47.
57William O. Hall, private interview, Washington, D.C., 16 September 1970.
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Posted: May 08, 2007 08:38 AM
Last Updated: Aug 11, 2011 01:18 PM