File No. 763.72119/1991

The Ambassador in Italy ( Page) to the Secretary of State


2063. Immediately upon arrival of President’s address, morning of 28th, I sought appointment with Minister for Foreign Affairs who could not see me until late in afternoon. Also immediately sent copies to [Committee on Public Information] for translation and it appears in morning papers with brief but favorable comment relating principally to League of Nations.

Baron Sonnino read address, making comment thereon. To statement of issues he assented. To the reference to lessons of Brest [Page 332] Litovsk and Bucharest he suggested: “I wonder he did not add Belgium, perhaps the strongest of all.” The reference to the declaration of position against peace by compromise evidently pleased him. The declaration regarding League of Nations he approved but expressed the view that it is difficult in its complete realization and application. He agreed entirely with the suggestion that this matter of a league of nations must be settled at the peace table, saying that if formed now it would be only an alliance of the Entente powers and if not formed until afterwards it would be most difficult as Germany would refuse to be bound. He thinks a matter to be considered is the number of small powers who might combine with one side or another thus constituting a majority.

Touching the five numbered paragraphs containing details of the President’s practical program he said that he thought the matters set forth therein less simple than they appeared. To the first he assented fully. The second he thought difficult to realize in actual practice. The principle, however, he evidently approved. The third he thought hardly practicable in the nature of things. The fourth he expressed his assent to in general terms. The fifth he thinks difficult to realize in practice and questioned the soundness of publishing to the world all conventions saying that in the past there have been instances where secrecy contributed greatly to the promotion of peace and justice. He cited the agreement of Plombières. Had that been published the creation of United Italy would have been prevented. He also cited the case of France and Russia in whose agreement secrecy was necessary. Also said the Triple Alliance contributed to the peace of Europe for a generation, its secrecy and indeed mystery having been one of its important factors because others did not know how far the convention went. Moreover, secrecy is often a great protection to weak states.

Regarding the references to the definitions of their purpose by statesmen and the disappearance of national purposes before the common purpose of mankind he observed, “Statesmen must follow but must also guide the people and prevent their going forward too far.”

Regarding the last paragraph of the address, he began by saying that there is a difference in the height of nations, that is, as I understand, [garbled passage] in their ability to understand principles. He said that he hardly thought these so well understood by the people generally as the President thought; that they take concrete views. A fight starts over some matter or another but as men get into it the causes are lost sight of and the aim is to knock on the head the man who tries to knock you. The people now, he thinks, are inspired by the wish to knock Germany on the head rather than by principles, however sound.

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He then branched off and discussed the whole matter philosophically, repeating the comments made above. He said: “Practically it means the end of these attempts to secure peace by compromise; it means fighting it out to the end.” He then [added]: “In principle I approve of it but it appears rather theoretic. We are a long way still from that at which this aims but we must strive towards it.”

We cannot, however, brush aside and obliterate all that is between us notwithstanding the ideal, we must recognize the reality of things, we must study these complex questions carefully, we cannot accept the present situs as near the end, simply assuming that what now exists geographically, etc., represents right. Even in questions of nationalization [nationality?] we must consider the work of these last years in getting rid of (?) other questions by forcing them out of regions where they were placed [sic]. As for example in Alsace and Lorraine triangle and Albania. To accept in such cases the present situs as a basis would be to put a prize on prepotency. Important to consider in any event defensive frontiers. There is, he argued, a predatory [prescriptive] right of nations not going back indeed to ancient times but taking account of long-standing right sufficient to be considered predatory [prescriptive]. In Latin the term justice is based on use. The question of geographic situation he declared important to consider in conjunction with this predatory [prescriptive] right and the question of defensive frontiers. On this point he reverted to his illustration of fastening one’s door to be able, to keep out one’s enemies who have prepared secretly to attack when more police authority may be so far off that one may be destroyed before its arrival. Therefore there must be defensive geographic frontiers.

We should push forward and eliminate all questions possible which now cause wars and we may [decrease] the number of these, working steadily [toward] that end, but can hardly abolish special agreements or understandings which tend to protect weaker states and avoid collisions.

Diplomacy is necessary. There is good [and bad] diplomacy, but diplomacy has accomplished much good and prevented much trouble in the past and will do the same in the future. Politics is admirable and its function is to find the least bad way. “The aims of Italy,” he said, “are not irrational but are simply liberty, the independence and reasonable security of our people. We must be able to go to sleep at night with reasonable security. This security does not mean offense against one’s neighbor.” He added that Italy’s aims in the east are, in a nutshell, that if others take a privileged position there Italy feels she has a right to claim an equal share with them, that [Page 334] is all. “The Italians aim but for a position of equality and free competition with all the world, trusting to gain such place as we may deserve and in such free competition to work towards the aims of civilization and progress according to our abilities, intellectual, moral and physical, that is, our industry and capability.”

In closing he repeated, “We should strive towards what the President aims at but the matters involved are of great complexity.”

I asked if he would prepare and give me a memorandum of his views but he excused himself saying that to do so would require great study of the whole address and he is not well at this time.

I have given Baron Sonnino’s first impressions, as he called them, at such length because from these can be formed a judgment on what he really thinks and he is likely to hold the same views later on.

Nelson Page