Uncle Sam's Ottawa Ace
Washington sends a number one diplomat to Ottawa on the eve of a new drive for Western Hemisphere solidarity
JUST AT dawn on the bleak morning of September 1, 1939, four troubled men ran up the long flight of stone steps to the State Department building in Washington. Across the street, in the White House, a fifth man, lying in his bed, had been talking by telephone to his ambassador in Paris, and learned that the Germans were invading Poland.
The four men, who had been roused by the President, hurried down the empty, echoing halls of the State Department to the cable office. They were Secretary of State Hull, the lean, sad old Southerner who is made of native hickory; the exquisite Sumner Welles, who, for a brief, vain moment, was to become the world’s last hope of peace; Adolph Berle, the mental prodigy of America; and, last among them, a tall, brisk young man with smooth hair just verging on red, a reddish face and vivid blue eyes that can instantly assume the color and temperature of ice.
The young man, junior to the Secretary of State and his two assistants, was Jay Pierrepont Moffat, only a high official then, a skilled expert, a brilliant technician in affairs of state. Neither he nor the man across the street in the White House knew what was ahead of him, here in Canada.
The events of that day, the beginning of Europe’s collapse, forced the man across the street to abandon all his old plans and conceive new ones on gigantic lines. No New Deal now, but a new world had to be built, and quickly, if Europe was going under. He needed skilled workmen to execute his blueprints.
To anyone who had looked at a map of North America, it was clear that any plan involving the future of the United States must also involve the future of Canada. Whoever went to Canada to represent the United States and speak for it to the Canadian people, must be something more than a routine ambassador, must be a trained craftsman in the art of diplomacy, must understand and be able tq interpret the restless, soaring mind of Franklin Roosevelt. Jim Cromwell might do for a few months until the plan ripened, but when the time came to start the main job, a big man straight from headquarters must be spared, a man who has seen the whole picture from the inside, since the beginning. The President thought of Jay Moffat.
Mr. Moffat was urgently needed at the State Department, but when France appeared near collapse, Mr. Roosevelt could wait no longer. Without warning, he ordered Mr. Moffat to Ottawa. In a few days the new minister was packing his luggage.
A Prince of Listeners
AN HOUR before he left Washington, I talked to him in one of those curious white baroque offices in the State Department. Mr. Moffat is delighted to see you. He jumps up with enthusiasm to meet you in the middle of the room. You observe at once that he is a young man, younger even than his bare forty-four years, a healthy man, bubbling over with energy and drive. His smile Hashes at you quickly, and his vivid blue eyes light up suddenly.
But when you ask Mr. Moffat anything about himself or his business, the smile remains undimmed but a thin, opaque film seems to drop down over his eyes like a curtain. The eyes are friendly, even boyish, but they tell you ho more than pebbles on a sea shore.
There is no use pressing him for an answer. Why was he going to Ottawa? What mission was he undertaking? Across the street the White House had just announced its plans for a self-contained economy in the Western Hemisphere—where did Canada fit into this rather breath-taking picture? Mr. Moffat shook his head faintly and began to ask questions about Canada.
He is a great listener. He has learned to listen in most of the civilized languages and in most of the civilized countries, until he is a master at it, soaking up information like a dry sponge, effortlessly. He is that best of all possible listeners—a man who makes you feel as if you knew something of importance. This is the way he must have listened to many of the great figures of the world, storing what they said neatly in the card index system of his mind. No doubt he would listen just as intently to his barber or gardener —and learn something from them, too. If Mr. Moffat can ever bring himself to the indiscretion of writing his memoirs years hence, it will be a pretty complete record of our times.
Mr. Moffat wanted to know all about Canada, its foreground and its background. He sought this information in that jolly, informal fashion which makes the State Department at Washington one of the most attractive, informative and dynamic places in the world. Diplomacy down there works in its shirt sleeves, like the man in the White House, with its feet on the table. But while Mr. Moffat wanted to hear about Canada, he didn’t propose to talk about it. Very charmingly, but very firmly, he had nothing whatever to say. He was no politician, anxious to get his stuff in the papers for the folks at home. He was a professional diplomat who had spent most of his life learning how to know, not to speak.
Yet there can be no great mystery about his mission to
Ottawa. He will not talk, but everybody else in Washington will. Even the President has dropped broad hints.
A United Western World
rT'HE President’s plan—reputedly conceived by the amazing Mr. Berle—calls for an independent trading area embracing all the W’estern Hemisphere, to bulwark it against German economic penetration. It calls for the joint military defense of this hemisphere by all its inhabitants. It calls also for continual and increasing aid to Britain as the outer fortress of the democratic system, as the front line of America’s defense.
The President’s announcement of economic plans covered the South American nations and “other nations” facing the same problem of trade surpluses. That, of course, included Canada. We were invited to co-operate if we needed help. But the plan, as it must, goes much farther than that.
Canada is the United States’ closest neighbor and best friend. Canada is the United States’ undefended northern
border. In a world like this, the stability and the security of Canada are essential to tiie United States. In plain terms, the United States must defend Canada from attack, as it has guaranteed to do. and it must help to shore up the Canadian economy, if it comes to that.
Let us be clear about this. No one of importance in the United States wants to interfere in Canada’s internal affairs, or in our relations with the British Empire. American policy toward Britain is parallel to ours. Nor does anyone of importance want political union with Canada, for Americans have more political problems of their own than they have ever been able to digest. But the United States does want co-operation in a military sense and in an economic sense, and, being larger, is prepared ultimately to give more than we can offer in return.
Twe I ve - YearOl d ’s A m bi t ion
IN SUCH a situation the United States’ representative here will execute a mission which should mark a completely new phase in the relations between the two countries. This phase should develop fast, and the American developer-in-chief is to be Mr. Moffat. It is true that Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. King are supposed to do a lot of their negotiating direct, by daily telephone, with excellent results, but in the next year or so there will have to be military discussions, economic discussions, financial discussions, all bristling with detail and all requiring discretion, knowledge and experience. For that Mr. Moffat is admirably fitted.
He has long been preparing himself for just such a job— training, indeed, since he was a lad of twelve. By that age
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young Moffat had decided that lie was going to be a diplomat. Just why he selected that line instead of the usual twelve-year-old ambition to punch cows or run a locomotive, he doesn’t know.
Perhaps it was part of the brownstone conservatism of his New York family home. Perhaps because diplomacy and the hunger for distant places was in his blood. His great ancestor, John Jay, signed the peace treaty between the United States and Britain after the Revolutionary War, and was with Benjamin Franklin at the court of the French king. Some member of the Moffat family —old Scottish and Huguenot stock—was in the diplomatic service through six generations.
Young Moffat was given the kind of education that goes with the brownstone tradition—Groton, then Harvard. And having chosen his career early, he was able to specialize at college in languages, political science and the other subjects that would be useful to a rising diplomat.
He was still a green youngster when he turned up at the Hague as private secretary to the American minister. By 1919 he had reached the U. S. embassy in Warsaw just in time to see the Bolshevik armies swarming into the city’s suburbs and their defeat by Marshal Weygand who, this time, was not called in too late. They used to watch the circle of the Russian bivouac fires from the embassy roof, but that wasn’t exciting enough for young Moffat. Wandering too far out of town, he found himself cut off behind the Bolshevik lines, and, hiding in a freezing freight car, didn’t get back to the embassy for five days. To the youth from the brownstoneGroton-Harvard world, diplomacy began to look interesting.
But in a diplomat’s life Bolsheviks and freight cars are rare treats. By 1921 Moffat was in the quiet of Tokyo, learning many things about the Orient, and, among others, the supreme requirement of diplomatic manners. Sitting one night at a large and stuffy dinner party with Japanese hosts, he felt the building begin to shake—a preliminary spasm of the great earthquake of 1923. As neither the Japanese nor the Americans wanted to be the first to show alarm and dodge under the table or out the door, all the guests sat through the entire quake, pretending not to notice it, and all scared to death.
Moffat’s diplomatic education was progressing. Today he can sit with a world tumbling down alxmt his ears and never appear to notice it.
They whisked him off to Turkey next, but then, just as life was becoming adventurous. they brought him back to Washington to learn another phase of his business. At a desk inside the White House he devoted himself for two years to the art of the stuffed shirt. Down there they call it Protocol—the management of precedence at ceremonial occasions. It seemed a waste of time learning who should sit on the President’s right hand and which dowager should enter the room first, but it was part of the job. and it gave him his first look behind the Washington scenes, in the smug, respectable era of Calvin Coolidge.
Release from Protocol came in 1927 when he was sent up to Ottawa with Mr. Phillips, the first American minister, to open the legation, and after that he took time off to marry. He married into the diplomatic service, keeping the record unbroken. His wife is the daughter of Joseph Grew, the present American ambassador to Japan. Altogether, five members of the family are connected with the service.
Mr. Moffat was off to Switzerland, and at Berne and near-by Geneva he saw the budding growth of the young League of Nations, soon to wither, and met the
giants of those times who thought they were building a brave new world. But it was now clear to the State Department that this young man was wasting his talents in such jobs as these. They took him back to Washington, and shortly his great chance came. He was made chief of the division of Western European affairs under Secretary of State Stimson. (Republican bosses or Democrats are all the same to the career man.)
A Widening Parish
TN THE State Department they have
what they call a Manchu Rule, by which no man remains in Washington more than four years. So they sent Mr. Moffat as consul-general to Australia for two years, but he was back in 1937 at his old desk, with an enlarged territory— practically all Europe and most of the British Empire.
By the time of Munich he was sitting up nights with Welles and Berle beside the end of the transatlantic cable. If you read The American White Paper by Joseph Alsop and Robert Kintner, you will see that Mr. Moffat was part of the inner circle which surrounded the President at the time when he was trying to save the world from war without committing the United States to anything—and without a gun. It was Berle and Moffat who wrote the first draft of the President’s last desperate appeal for peace just before Munich, and that document should be interesting to Canadians.
Roosevelt rejected the Berle-Moffat draft because it contained this phrase: “If. therefore. I am asked by the parties in interest to offer my good offices to help them work out a settlement, I shall accept.” That was a commitment in European affairs, and the President wasn’t making any, perhaps couldn’t, in the existing state of public opinion. If he had been able to, the history of our times might have been different.
It would be unfair, of course, to deduce anything concerning Mr. Moffat’s convictions from a brief sentence in a rejected draft, written under instructions and in collaboration with another man. Still, the incident, the proposed commitment, is worth considering in gauging the character of the man who comes to us from Washington. We are not likely to get any other indications from him.
Seeing Europe with Sumner Welles
T> Y LAST spring Mr. Moffat’s reputa-*-* tion for a smiling but deathly silence was so well established with the President that he was chosen from among all other possible assistants to go with Mr. Welles on that mysterious last-minute tour of the European capitals just before Germany lunged westward. He was at the side of the glacial Mr. Welles when they met Mussolini, Daladier, Chamberlain and Ribbentrop, who, though quite able to speak English to the Americans, chose to speak German only, thus confirming a general opinion concerning him.
If you could pry out of Mr. Moffat what he heard in Europe last spring, you might understand the meaning of recent events better, and perhaps where they lead. When you question Mr. Moffat, sitting back in his swivel chair in his handsome panelled office across the street from the Parliament Buildings, he continues to smile, but the thin opaque film suddenly slips across the vivid blue eyes. Mr. Welles, says he, preserved a sublime silence on his return. How could the assistant of a master of silence do otherwise?
There is nothing stiff and stuffy about Jay Moffat, however. He puts on no airs and looks less like a diplomat than one of those brisk, able businessmen who
are America’s real ruling class. When you meet him in the State Department, he will walk down the hall to show you to the elevator. The doors of his office in the Ottawa legation are open, and you can hear the typewriters in the offices outside, the voices of clerks and stenographers. His little boy and girl go to the public school.
He is easy to meet, friendly but not gushing. He slaps no backs, makes no luncheon-club speeches. He remains what he started out to be at twelve, back in the brownstone-front days — a professional man who has studied his profession and practiced it in many places without benefit of influence or politics. He has a genuine
attachment to Canada, and finds himself completely at home among us.
As he can retain his present post the rest of his life, under the rules of his department, Mr. Moffat may be among us for some time, as he is still only forty-four years old. Before he leaves here he may have witnessed and helped to produce a far-reaching change in the relations between his country and ours. Certainly he will have little time for his old farm in New Hampshire, which is his hobby, nor for his prized collection of diplomatic memoirs. And whatever it is that lies behind the opaque film and the vivid blue eyes, no Canadian is likely to escape the results of it one way or another.