Memorandum of the Chief of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs of the Department of State (MacMurray)

When calling on the afternoon of December 3rd, Mr. Debuchi, after speaking on the “Picture Bride” question,47 went on to say that his Embassy had received from the Japanese Government an instruction to the effect that while the Japanese were most desirous of reaching a satisfactory settlement of the Tientsin incident, they felt that the question of the presence of American soldiers in the Japanese Concession on the evening of March 12th was of such importance that a satisfactory understanding on the subject must precede any further action on their part, Mr. Debuchi intimated that he was himself greatly disappointed at this frustration of his personal efforts to reach a satisfactory settlement of the question, and professed to understand fully how difficult it would be for our Government to admit the presence of American soldiers in the Japanese Concession on the night of March 12th, in view of the denial made at the time by the Commandant of the American Expeditionary Forces at Tientsin.

I told Mr. Debuchi that it was not a question of difficulty or embarrassment for our Government in admitting any proved facts; [Page 441]that this particular case was one of those in which there was an irreconcilable conflict of evidence; that the Japanese had their witnesses in favor of their version, and we our witnesses in favor of our own version; that the Japanese had conducted a secret investigation of whose methods and results we were not informed, whereas we had conducted an open and public investigation at which Japanese witnesses were entirely at liberty to testify, but that no evidence in favor of the Japanese contention had been adduced at the time; that there was no outside evidence except that of a Chinese employee of the French Municipal Police—which Mr. Debuchi was quite ready to admit would carry very little weight in the mind of any one familiar with China; we were entirely open-minded towards any evidence that could be produced but we simply and absolutely did not believe that our soldiers had been in the Japanese Concession on the night in question.

I then said that this was not, after all, the real question at issue; and that if I might speak with entire frankness I would tell him that we were heartily disappointed with the failure of the Japanese authorities to meet us halfway in endeavoring to adjust the controversy by making frank and formal acknowledgment of their having been wrong in the incidents which occurred on the night of March 11th (which the Japanese had at no time denied), in the same spirit in which our Commandant had made apology for the subsequent conduct of certain of our soldiers in the grounds of the Japanese Consulate-General; and that in view of what is admitted to have happened on March 11th, we could only consider that the Japanese insistence upon a collateral question as to the events of March 12th was an attempt to draw “a red herring across the trail”; that we had taken the initiative in trying to settle the matter by frank acknowledgment and apology for such wrong’s as were considered to have been committed by either side, and that we now found such a settlement blocked by the Japanese insisting that as a condition precedent we should admit something which we honestly did not believe had taken place.

Mr. Debuchi then said that as for acknowledgments and apologies, the Japanese Vice-Consul in charge had—although two months after the incident, he regretted to state—called formally upon our Consul-General and expressed in the name of the Japanese Government his regret for the Tientsin incident as a whole. I reminded him that in previous conversations I had pointed out and he had admitted that this expression of regret was in such general terms as to be utterly meaningless, as it did not acknowledge or disavow the acts complained of. Mr. Debuchi admitted that the expression of regret conveyed by this inexperienced young official was by no means [Page 442]satisfactory, but asked me to consider that it was sufficient evidence of the friendly disposition of the Japanese Government: and he urged that, having gone thus far, the Japanese were entitled to insist upon their view as to what happened on March 12th as a condition precedent to making any such formal and explicit exchange of apologies (between the Department and the Japanese Embassy) as had previously been suggested by us.

He then ventured the information that our Consul-General (Mr. Heintzleman) himself was not so sure of the fact that American soldiers had not entered the Japanese Concession. I answered that if he referred to Mr. Heintzleman’s conversation with Vice-Consul Kamei,48 I felt that he misinterpreted what Mr. Heintzleman had stated: that there had been no admission of anything more than an abstract possibility of American soldiers in the Japanese Concession, coupled with Mr. Heintzleman’s statement that his investigation had revealed no evidence to support the Japanese statement.

Mr. Debuchi then said that he was extremely sorry that the question could not be brought to a satisfactory settlement, and that he supposed the only thing left to do was for both of us to drop the question entirely and let it be forgotten. I answered that I did not like to feel, even yet, that the case would prove to be beyond the possibility of settlement on a more satisfactory basis.

  1. For correspondence relating to this question, see pp. 415 ff.
  2. See Mr. Heintzleman’s letter of July 14 to the Minister in China, p. 433.