Paris Peace Conf. 185.115/11

The Third Assistant Secretary of State ( Long ) to the Assistant Secretary of the Commission to Negotiate Peace ( Harrison )

Dear Mr. Harrison: I am enclosing a memorandum on the Pacific Islands. There are two copies. I hope you will be very careful with them, as they are very confidential thoughts expressed very frankly. One copy ought to be delivered to Mr. E. T. Williams for his attention and for him to take up in the regular manner with the Secretary. I have spoken to Mr. Williams about it, and he is just about to sail, so that he should be there by the time this reaches you.

The other copy I want you, if you will be good enough to do so, to deliver to Mr. Gordon Auchincloss and ask him to bring it to the attention of Colonel House.

I am [etc.]

Breckinridge Long
[Page 512]

Memorandum by the Third Assistant Secretary of State (Long) on the Disposition of the Ex-German Islands of the Pacific Ocean Now in Possession of Great Britain and Japan14

Under British Occupation

The British took possession in 1914 of all the German-owned islands in the Pacific Ocean south of the Equator. These islands lie in two localities:

Between the 140th and 160th degrees of latitude, and between the Equator and five degrees south, and the Island of Nauru just east of this section and north of the Equator.
The Samoan Group.

Referring to these in order, the United States has little or no interest in the ownership of those designated as being in Group (A) above. As regards the Samoan Group, (B), the United States has considerable interest. Part of the Samoan Group are in the possession of the United States, including the Island of Tutuila and its harbors. Great Britain has a great number of islands lying to the west, southwest, south, and southeast of the Samoan Group, including the Fijis, Palmerstons, Tongas, and Cooks. North of the Samoan Group, it has only Fanning and Washington Islands, the former being its cable station. Also north of the Samoan Group, and between it and the Hawaiian Group, are the Palmyra Islands and a small island just west of due north of Palmyra (United States possessions). The only other islands lying between the Samoan and the Hawaiian Groups are the Guano Islands, of which there are quite a number, some of them of doubtful existence, some certainly existent, and some certainly non-existent. (The existence or nonexistence of these islands is shown by a map delivered to Mr. Harrison for the Secretary.) These Guano Islands—some of them have been claimed by the United States, some by Great Britain, some by both, and some today are of doubtful sovereignty. Generally, they are not valuable. From a naval or strategic standpoint, they are not very valuable, except insofar as they might be fortified or used, some of them, for naval bases. In them the United States has an interest. Their possession will not be very strongly contested by Great Britain, and because of their very close juxtaposition to the [Page 513] Samoan Group and their interposition between the Samoan and Hawaiian Groups, they become of strategic importance to the United States. It is recommended that an effort be made to have ownership of these islands transferred from Great Britain to the United States.

Under Japanese Occupation

The Ex-German Islands lying north of the Equator were taken possession of and are now held by Japan. These islands consist of three principal groups: the Marianas, the Carolines, and the Marshalls, and a few scattered outlying islands in the same vicinity, and all lying between the 130th and the 170th degrees east latitude, and between the first and the twenty-first degrees north longitude. Principal among the outlying islands not connected with any of the groups is the Island of Yap, which is the southeastern terminus of the cable connecting Yap with Shanghai, and which was once a German cable now in possession of the Japanese. Yap is also connected by cable now with Guam. Guam lies between the Marianas on the north and the Carolines on the south, with Yap to the southeast. It is practically surrounded by islands now under occupation by the Japanese. Guam is a cable station of great importance to the United States. Our Pacific cable runs from Manila to Guam, and from Guam to San Francisco, touching at Midway and the Hawaiian Group. The cable line runs from Guam north to Yokohama, emerging, however, at Bonin Island, which is the extent to which the United States owns the cable northward. Notwithstanding the fact that the United States owns the cable to that point, landing is there made upon Japanese soil and operators other than Japanese are not allowed on that Island. Consequently, Japan is in control at that point of the American cable. As has been stated, Guam is also connected with Yap, and, consequently, can communicate through Yap directly with Shanghai over the German cable. This makes Guam the principal cable station in the Pacific Ocean. The cables from Manila, Shanghai, Yokohama, and San Francisco center there. Its utility to the United States as a cable station is jeopardized by the fact that it is practically surrounded by islands under foreign jurisdiction and control. The Ex-German Islands now under Japanese occupation have been closed to foreign trade. Vessels flying the American flag and belonging to American interests which formerly did a large copra business in these islands have been precluded from landing and from continuing their business (except that permission has been granted for one specified steamer to call at two specified islands—one in each group—to collect copra there deposited). So that because of the fact that American vessels have been denied the privilege of coasting between and stopping at the islands in these three [Page 514] groups, we are without information as to what has been done by way of defense and fortification in those islands. It has been rumored that the Japanese have fortified to a considerable extent a few of them. This may and may not be true. If it is true, our cable station is already jeopardized. If it is not true, it can easily be true, and the utility of our station is thereby jeopardized.

So that in these islands the United States has a very material interest. In time of war the cable could be very easily cut by ships operating from any one of the islands lying north, south, southeast, or southwest of Guam. If the cable were cut at that point, our communication with the Philippines would be not only interrupted, but prevented. Besides serving as a menace to the continuity of our cable communication with the Philippines, these islands also form a screen separating the Philippines from the Hawaiian Group and from the United States. Any boat going to the Philippines, unless it passes through Japanese waters, must pass either through or close to the islands on the north or south of Guam (all now under Japanese occupation). It would be impossible to send any military forces to the Philippines with any safety, if the convoy were directed through the usual channels. Also, they would be a constant menace to naval ships moving through the Pacific and between the Philippines and the United States.


Japan will undoubtedly claim possession of the islands she now occupies, formerly German. England will undoubtedly do the same as regards those islands which she now occupies. While the United States has an interest, and while it would be greatly to the advantage of the United States to own Samoa and the Carolines and the Marianas, the United States can not make a direct claim to them or to any of them. Immediately that a claim is made, we admit the right of both England and Japan to claim.

It is conceivable that if the United States took the position that some or all of the Pacific Islands should be returned to Germany, the United States could, after the Peace Conference adjourns, come to some arrangement with Germany which would transfer the Marianas, the Carolines, and the Samoan Group to the sovereignty of the United States. If a war indemnity is demanded and obtained from Germany, the payment of the indemnity, or a part of it, might be offset by a transfer of these islands to the sovereignty of the United States. Of course, this could not be done morally while the Peace Conference sits. The insistence of the United States upon the return of the islands to Germany would be unpopular and would not be understood in this country. (Let us hope not in [Page 515] Japan or in England.) No other procedure which would insure to the United States the possession of those islands which are so material to our present possessions and future safety appears at the present time.

It is, therefore, recommended:

  • First, that the United States take the position that the Carolines, Marshalls, Marianas, Yap, and the Pelew Islands and the Samoan Group be returned to Germany by the Peace Conference.
  • Second, that after the Peace Conference adjourns the United States immediately enter into negotiations with Germany to obtain possession of the Marianas, Carolines, Yap, and the Samoan Group, and such others as may be desirable or obtainable.
  • Third, that the Guano Islands lying between the Samoan and Hawaiian Groups be arranged for transfer from Great Britain to the United States, or that such of them as are claimed by Great Britain shall be assigned by her to the United States.

Since Germany, under the terms of the armistice, has surrendered practically her whole navy to the Allied command, she is no longer a naval power, and for many, many years can not hope to be. England and Japan are great naval powers. The possession by England and Japan of many islands throughout the Pacific which can be used for naval bases and which are situated at strategic points is a constant menace to the United States and to its dominant position in the Pacific. The argument that the return of the islands to Germany will place her in a position to disturb the peace of the Pacific has now no foundation, and fails utterly.

Note.—In connection with this memorandum please see map showing the sovereignty of the Pacific Islands in colors, and map showing the existence and non-existence of the Guano Islands of the Pacific, and two volumes confidentially printed as follows: “Notes on the Sovereignty of the Islands of the Pacific” and “Notes on the Guano Islands of the Pacific,” all of which were delivered to Mr. Harrison for the Secretary of State.

B[reckinridge] L[ong]
  1. Printed from the copy filed in the Breckinridge Long papers. It bears the notation: “Prepared by me for the U. S. Delegates to the Peace Conference. BL.”