The Secretary of State to President Wilson

My Dear Mr. President: You have undoubtedly read the enclosed message from General Bliss89 giving the opinion of the Supreme War Council that we should declare war against Turkey but not at present against Bulgaria. From the fact that it is signed by Sackville-West I assume that it represents in substance the views of the British Government. As you have also seen the Italian Government [Page 125] favors a declaration against both, and I have been unofficially advised that the French Government holds the same view. I think that we may assume, therefore, that all the Entente Powers favor a declaration against Turkey, but that Great Britain thinks that it would be wise to delay action against Bulgaria and that is also Bliss’ opinion.

In considering these replies I think that we should observe the failure to recognize the humanitarian side of the question. Thousands of Armenians and Syrians are being kept alive today by the distribution of supplies purchased through funds sent to our missionaries in Turkey, which amount to one or two millions of dollars a month. If a state of war is declared that relief will come to an end, our missionaries will be expelled or interned and the great missionary properties will be confiscated. I am not arguing the undesirability of a declaration but only pointing out the consequences which appear to have been ignored, possibly through ignorance, by the Supreme War Council and the Governments which have given their opinion. Their point of view seems to have been entirely military and their opinion based practically on the encouragement of resistance by the Georgians, Caucasians and others to the Turkish advance in the Caucasus and upper Euphrates. Whether that is sufficient aid in winning the war must be decided.

In any event the time has arrived when a definite policy for or against a declaration against the Turks must be formulated as the Senate Committee will expect guidance in regard to the resolution before them. Furthermore I think nothing can be gained now by delay in reaching a decision.

In regard to our attitude toward Bulgaria Great Britain seems disposed to have us postpone action until we have seen the effect upon that country of a declaration against Turkey. I see the possible strategic advantage to be gained by such a course, but I am not at all sure that the Committee will, and I am not at all sure that British diplomacy is now more adroit than it has been previously in dealing with the Balkan situation.

It has been my impression that the chief advantage to be gained by declaring war against the two Governments which we are considering was the effect that a declaration against Bulgaria would have upon the Greeks and Serbs; and that the peculiar reason for a declaration against Turkey was that war against a Christian nation without war against a Moslem nation would cause general criticism in this country and possibly could not be prevented in view of the temper of the Senate. Undoubtedly the presence of the Bulgarian Minister in this capital has been one of the principal reasons for the present agitation, and I do not think that we can ignore it.

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I think that I should add that an argument against any declaration has undoubtedly weighed with some of the Committee in that neither Turkey nor Bulgaria have committed acts of war against this country since the declaration against Austria-Hungary. In view of this fact, what plausible reasons could be urged for a change of policy at the present time? In this connection would not it be said with reason by Germany that we had not declared war against Turkey or Bulgaria because we hoped to separate them from the Central Powers and that having failed in our diplomacy we had abandoned the effort and purposed to coerce them? This might possibly encourage the Germans and subject us to their ridicule.

As I expect any day to be asked to appear again before the Senate Committee and tell them of the views of the other Governments and of the War Council, I would like to be advised what I shall say to them.

The following courses seem open:

No declaration against either country on the ground that we could not declare war against Bulgaria without declaring against Turkey, and that to declare against Turkey would be to remove the protection and relief which we have furnished to thousands of refugees in Turkey.
A declaration against Turkey alone, on the ground that it would encourage the resistance in the regions of the Caucasus, and would constitute a threat to Bulgaria which would bring her to terms.
A declaration against Turkey and a severance of diplomatic relations with Bulgaria which would emphasize the threat as to the future.
A declaration against both Turkey and Bulgaria on the ground that every nation which is an ally of Germany should be classed as a foe.

I do not include as an alternative a declaration against Bulgaria alone because I think that the Committee would be radically opposed to that action.

If you would be good enough to indicate the attitude which you think that I should take with the Committee I would be greatly obliged.

Faithfully yours,

[File copy not signed]
  1. See telegram No. 3825, May 7, 1918, from the Ambassador in France, Foreign Relations, 1918, supp. 1, vol. i, p. 227.