Military Review

The Mystery of Dr. Harry Dexter White


Whether the head of the US delegation at the famous Bretton Woods conference was a Soviet agent is unclear

At one time, on the screens of Soviet cinemas, the film by French director Iva Champi, “Who are you, Dr. Sorge?” Was very successful. The main character of the film is a German journalist Richard Sorge, who was in Japan during the Second World War. In fact, he was the most mysterious "Ramsay", which the German intelligence was looking for for a long time - a resident of the Soviet military intelligence, the head of an extensive intelligence network in a country that fought against the USSR. Even after the enemy intelligence figured out Sorge, few could believe that the cheerful, sociable and successful Richard was a Soviet intelligence officer.

Mysterious Harry Dexter White and Soviet Intelligence

I remembered this film, reflecting on such a historic event as the Bretton Woods Conference. This year marks 70 years since its inception. This conference was held in July 1944, in the state of New Hampshire, in a place called Bretton Woods, delegations of 44 states gathered. There was a Soviet delegation there. This conference, as is known, had a serious impact on the post-war structure of the international financial system.

One of the key figures of this event was Harry Dexter White, who led the American delegation at the conference. Today, many believe that Dr. White (yes, yes - it was the doctor who had a doctorate in economics) during the Second World War was an agent of Soviet intelligence. Too many documents and facts testify to this. But when it was reported to American President F. Roosevelt that there was a suspicion that G. White was working for Soviet intelligence, the president rejected those suspicions.

Roosevelt, as is well known, passed away in April 1945 of the year, and until the last day he completely trusted this high-ranking American official. Many in Washington could not believe White’s betrayal even after he, as a suspect of collaborating with Soviet intelligence, began to be interrogated by American "competent authorities."

Let's try to understand this mysterious stories. About G. White, the controversy is still continuing, although his name is well known to historians, economists, and journalists. Several books have been written about him. Today it makes sense to recall him in connection with the anniversary of Bretton Woods. Reflecting on G. White, we will once again recall the fateful conference, its goals, participants, decisions. We will also try to draw conclusions that may be useful to Russia in today's difficult international situation.

White's biography

First, we’ll give White a short biographical note for those who are not familiar with this person. Father and mother of Harry Dexter White were born in a Jewish town in Lithuania, which was then part of the Russian Empire. At the end of the 19 century, a rather massive exodus of Jews from Russia to America took place. White's parents, who left the Russian Empire in 1885, found themselves in this stream of immigrants. Harry was born in America in 1892 year (in Boston), becoming the seventh child in the family.

The family was in extremely cramped material conditions. Possessing outstanding abilities, Harry began to energetically climb the social ladder. In 1917-18 in the rank of lieutenant took part in the First World War. After graduating at the age of 30, he began studying economics at Columbia University and graduated from Stanford.

He received a doctorate degree in economics from Harvard in 1930 for his dissertation on the topic “French National Accounts, 1880 — 1913” (The French International Accounts, 1880-1913). In 1933, this work was published by Harvard University Press. The young doctor of economics White taught four years at Lawrence University in Appleton (Wis.). It was during these years began to establish close ties with professors of the University of Chicago.

The University of Chicago has not always been a hotbed of liberalism.

America was experiencing the Great Depression, unemployment in all sectors of the economy sharply jumped, there were reductions in the state apparatus. But, according to White’s biographers, under these difficult conditions, thanks to the patronage of the University of Chicago professors, in 1934 he got an interesting and prestigious job in the Department of the Treasury.

Here you should pay attention to one interesting nuance. In those years, the University of Chicago was not a stronghold of economic liberalism (as it is today), but of leftist and even frankly socialist views. The US Treasury was also a concentration of left-wing people.

Most likely, White put up with the ideas of socialism, so it was easy for him to get the necessary recommendations, and then strengthen his socialist beliefs within the walls of the Ministry of Finance. And where possible, he tried to influence decision-making that contributed to the implementation of the "new course" of President F. Roosevelt.
As you know, the policy called the “new course” relied on the ideas of the English economist J.M. Keynes and provided for active government intervention in economic life. And at that time such a policy was regarded as “almost socialism”.

In addition, industrialization was carried out in the USSR in the 1930s, and the successes of the Soviet Union against the background of the economic depression in the West looked especially impressive. Many thoughtful economists in the United States recognized the superiority of the socialist model of the economy over the capitalist, although they tried not to talk loudly about it. It is safe to say that White was one of these economists. The successes of economic construction in the USSR could not but strengthen the socialist views of White. By the way, White preserved undisguised admiration for the Soviet Union and socialism until the end of his life.

Jobs at the US Treasury and IMF

At the time when White came to the Ministry of Finance, the new 52 Minister, Henry Morgentau, Jr., took charge of this department. The new minister became one of the key figures in the team of President F. Roosevelt, he stayed in his post until the summer of 1945, i.e. his career almost coincided with the presidency of Roosevelt.

White perfectly fit into the team G. Morgentau. Within the ministry, after the arrival of the new minister, a monetary research department was created, White was the first head of this new unit. From December 1941 (immediately after Pearl Harbor and the United States entered the war), White was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. He began to oversee issues related to international affairs, coordinated the work of the Ministry of Finance and the US State Department.

It can be particularly noted that White oversaw the work of the Currency Stabilization Fund, the implementation of Lend-Lease programs, and the financing of sensitive political, intelligence, sabotage and military operations outside the United States. He had access to large amounts of classified information on the economy and finance of the United States and other countries.

The final page of White’s work biography is his work as director of the International Monetary Fund for the United States (while he remained on the staff of the United States Department of the Treasury). He was in this position for about two years.

This was not the best period of White's work in the field of finance. President F. Roosevelt passed away, whose ideas were consonant with White. His chef Henry Morgentau resigned as minister. A reliable "cover" disappeared, and the clouds over White's head were gathering.

19 July 1947 Mr. White was recalled from the post of Director of the IMF, and a little earlier dismissed from the Ministry of Finance in connection with suspicions of collaboration with Soviet intelligence. Endless interrogations began. White has to experience great psychological overload.

16 August 1948, at the age of 55 years, Harry White dies as a result of a heart attack in his country house in New Hampshire (by the way, in the same state where the Bretton Woods conference was held). It is believed that if he survived, in the autumn of that year he could be convicted of spying for the benefit of the USSR.

Thus, the Treasury Department was White’s main and last job. He stayed in its 11 years for years, and if you count the last two years of the IMF’s directorship - 13 years. Very little. But these were very busy years.

For such a short time, White managed to leave a mark in modern world history (not just financial). Mainly due to two large shares in which White’s special role is difficult to challenge.

The first action is the development of the so-called “Morgentau Plan”, which determined the post-war structure of Germany. As well as White’s follow-up actions related to this document.

The second action is participation in the 1944 Bretton Woods conference.
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