Volume 7 1941~1945

Doc No.

No. 597  NAI DFA 417/1

Letter from John J. Hearne to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
'Mr. Sean Lester'

OTTAWA, 28 May 1945

I have the honour to report that Mr. Seán Lester was in Ottawa from Saturday morning the 26th to Sunday morning the 27th May when he left for Montreal.

Mr. Read gave a luncheon for him at the Chateau and kindly invited me. The others present were officers of the Department of External Affairs. He dined with us on Saturday evening.

Mr. Lester came to Ottawa from San Francisco. He was accompanied at San Francisco by Mr. Loveday1 and Mr. Jacklin. He was deeply disappointed at his reception there. Shortly after his arrival Mr. Lester was approached by a junior officer of the Department of State – whose name he did not mention – and requested to re-organize the League of Nations Delegation with a view to freeing it of any member who was a national of a neutral country. That meant simply the Acting Secretary General's own resignation from the Delegation. He was informed, however, that that would not involve his having to leave San Francisco. He might, if he so desired, remain in a personal capacity.

The Acting Secretary General asked the officer who came to see him whether he represented Mr. Stettinius and the reply was: 'Not exactly'. Asked whether he represented the Department of State he answered similarly. He added that the point would be raised in the Executive Committee and that they wanted to prevent any embarrassment.

In reply to this officer Mr. Lester stated that he did not see how his nationality could enter into the matter as he represented the League which had a separate international personality. If he were forced to resign from the Delegation he would not wish to remain in San Francisco. He would consult with his colleagues and with members of the Supervisory Committee who were attending the Conference.

Mr. Lester then went to see Sir Alex Cadogan2 who pooh-poohed the idea of Mr. Lester 's resignation. He assured him that Mr. Eden would not hear of it.

The question of Mr. Lester 's position was in due course formally raised by the Russian Delegation at the Executive Committee of the Conference. Mr. Eden spoke strongly in favour of the composition of the League Delegation as it was, and the matter was dropped.

Mr. Lester was very pessimistic indeed about the results of the Security Conference. He had found little enthusiasm for the proposed new system even amongst the Delegations in San Francisco. He himself regarded the Dumbarton Oaks scheme, however amended, as a retrograde step. It held no appeal for the masses of the people in any country, and there was no pretence even of building a structure based upon international morality. The League had been sustained for years by a certain indefinable but unmistakeable moral authority deriving not only from the faith and idealism of its founders and from world wide popular support. The strongest force in the world was the moral conscience of mankind. At San Francisco you had a belated lip service to ideas of international justice etc. shamefacedly dragged in as an after-thought in the discussions and as concession to a growing reaction. There was no real belief in morality as the bond of international society. Most Christians were not good Christians, but where would men be without Christianity as, at all events, a standard to which their conduct should conform. The fact that laws are broken is no reason for repealing them. But the framers of the new world system did not even pretend to acknowledge any objective moral standard or law binding upon Nations as upon individuals.

Mr. Lester did not meet Mr. Molotov at San Francisco, but saw him once in a corridor in the Opera House. Mr. Molotov, he said, had handled the press admirably. His good humour was disarming. But no one with whom he spoke had any other feeling towards Russia than that of misgiving, or fear. He himself had spoken to Mr. Eden in London of the general uneasiness he had found everywhere on the question of Russia's ambitions and designs. Mr. Eden had, however, referred him to the progress they had made with Russia during the last months of the war in Europe. At the earlier Big Three Conferences the Russians had simply ruled out discussion on questions they did not desire to have raised. But at Yalta they had all put their cards openly on the table. The turn of events had brought Russia a long step on the road to cooperation.

Mr. Lester thought that the British had made up their minds that there was no longer any country in Europe to which they could look for support sufficient to maintain a balance on that continent, not, at any rate, for a long time to come. Great Britain herself was, alone, no match for the Soviet Union. (In this connection I should add that Father LeRoy3 who spent Wednesday evening the 23rd May with us held forth strongly on his view that no Power or combination of Powers in the world today could defeat the Soviet Union. His further view was that there was no hope for the future except in 'learning to live with Russia').

Mr. Lester disagrees with Fr. LeRoy's view about the military strength of Russia vis à vis the other Great Powers, and is filled with foreboding about the prospect and consequences of 'learning to live with Russia'.

I tentatively asked Mr. Lester whether members of the League Secretariat might be offered posts in the new administration. He replied that he himself would have nothing to do with it. His immediate anxiety was to finish his own work as soon as practicable. That would take about a year, he thought. He appeared worried about his personal position in the future.

I told Mr. Lester that Mr. Phelan had written to me before the 25th April to say that he would be too busy in Montreal to go to San Francisco! 'Are you serious?' 'I'll show you the letter '. Whereupon, all the worries and anxieties of life seemed to fall from the weary Acting Secretary General like a garment. He gave himself up to a paroxysm of laughter that was good to see and to hear. Seán Lester was suddenly twenty years younger. 'As Frank Cremins said about the carpet', he said, 'can you beat it? Phelan was at the end of the long distance telephone in Montreal for days while I was at San Francisco, waiting to hear how I was faring. I told him! He has an uncanny instinct for knowing where not to be!'

Fr. LeRoy's explanation of Mr. Phelan's absence from the San Francisco Conference was that Russia would never have anything to do with the I.L.O. so long as its organization included an employers' group. That is not a sufficient explanation, for Mr. Carter Goodrich the Chairman of the Governing Body and other members of the Governing Body, as well as Mr. Wilfrid Jenks the Legal Adviser are at San Francisco. The I.L.O. was officially invited.

Mr. Lester says that Carter Goodrich is one of those trying hard to be appointed to the chief service post in the new Security Organization.

[signed] JOHN J. HEARNE


Mr. Phelan now informs me that it is really not correct to say that the I.L.O. was officially invited to San Francisco. The 'invitation', which came from Mr. Stettinius, said simply that the sponsoring Governments would be glad if representatives of the I.L.O. would be able to be in San Francisco during the Conference. Mr. Phelan feels that Mr. Lester made a mistake in going to San Francisco at all. (He was put on the ninth row of a gallery in the Opera House from which he was barely able to see the platform).

[initialled] J. J. H

1 Alexander Loveday (1888-1962), British economist who worked for the League of Nations.

2 Sir Alexander Cadogan (1884-1968), Permanent Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs (1938-46).

3 Unidentified.