File No. 763.72114/3221

The Secretary of the Navy ( Daniels ) to the Secretary of State

Sir: In reply to your letter of December 29, 1917,3 in which you inquire whether it is the intention of the Navy Department to send to the United States for internment all prisoners captured by United States naval forces, I have the honor to inform you that the Navy Department can only affirm what it believes the Government’s policy should be. It will be guided in its method of procedure with regard to prisoners of war by the rules which are finally established by our Government.

The Navy Department believes, however, that our Government should reserve the right to send to the United States for internment all prisoners captured by United States naval forces if it is believed to be a proper policy to do so, or, if adequate arrangements can be made with other cobelligerents, that our prisoners might remain in their territory. But it distinctly believes that we should not sacrifice our rights in the matter for the sake of whatever reprisals we might fear. It may be a military necessity, in case the number of prisoners taken were large, that the prisoners be not allowed to remain on the Continent as it makes so many more useless mouths to feed, and the services of our transports could be requisitioned to bring these prisoners to the United States on their return voyages.

While, in the interests of humanity, reprisal is an act which the Navy Department would only advocate as a last resort, yet it must be borne in mind that this Government has at its disposal a weapon [Page 52] which is quite as efficacious as any which Germany may be able to bring to bear upon any of our prisoners, and although military expediency may cause Germany to undertake acts of reprisal against our forces taken prisoners by them in the hope possibly of increasing the logistic burden forced upon our shoulders by the necessity of feeding all forces at the front, yet it is believed that if we take a firm stand in the matter, the balance of power lies in our hand and that this fact will have its weight with Germany.

Sincerely yours,

Josephus Daniels
  1. Not printed.↩