The Secretary of State to the Secretary of War (Weeks)

My Dear Mr. Secretary: I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter (WPD 938) of October 21, in which you advise me of the decision to constitute into a separate command the troops of the army serving in China under the designation of the “American Forces in China” inform me of the appointment of General William D. Connor to command these forces, and enclose for my information certain instructions issued in this regard.

I have noted with particular pleasure your intention and hope that the new organization of this command, and the instructions which you have taken occasion in this connection to furnish to General Connor will assure a more effective cooperation with the aims of the Department of State and of its representative in China than has existed in the past.

Let me for my own part assure you of the earnest desire of this Department and of the Legation at Peking to do the utmost to bring about and to maintain the desired harmony of cooperation between the diplomatic representation of this Government in China, and the military forces stationed in that country for the purpose of keeping open the means of communication between the foreign legations and the sea, in accordance with the Protocol of 1901. And, as I need scarcely inform you, I am prepared to assume confidently and wholeheartedly a corresponding readiness upon the part of your Department and of the commander of its forces in China, now and hereafter, to cooperate in the utmost harmony with the chief of the American diplomatic mission in China.

[Page 871]

The fact remains, however, that the maintenance of American armed forces in China, however necessary and warranted by Treaty provisions, constitutes in itself an anomalous situation that cannot but present frequent occasions for possible divergence of views as to the duties and obligations of those forces, and as to their freedom of military action, in their external relations with the Government and people of the friendly nation within whose territories they are stationed, and with the military authorities of other countries cooperating in the safe-guarding of the foreign Legations. And the responsibility devolving upon the civil representative of this Government in China is, in this anomalous situation, the more onerous by reason of the fact that the American military forces are maintained in China solely for the purpose of assuring the safety of the diplomatic mission at Peking, and in their relations with the Chinese Government and with the foreign authorities in China are deemed to have no existence as a separate establishment but solely as an organization ancillary to the Legation. It is, therefore, the Legation which, in all matters external to the administration of the military forces, is answerable for their action.

Such being the responsibility of the diplomatic representative, I am confident that you will not misconstrue or fail to sympathize with my very earnest solicitude that there should be on this subject an understanding definite enough to obviate any possibility of dualism in the policy directing the activities of these forces. I am quite aware of the difficulties of attempting to formulate a general rule of discrimination between the military responsibilities devolving upon the commander, with respect to the internal administration of his forces and their employment in military operations, and the political responsibilities of the diplomatic representative, with respect to the external relations of those forces. But without seeking to make too theoretical a distinction between these several responsibilities, I feel that it should be possible to reach a practical understanding which, without assuming for the diplomatic representative any measure of authority in purely military matters, would make it possible for him not only to be consulted but to speak with the requisite degree of authority in matters involving his political responsibility.

A most satisfactory precedent for such a practical understanding exists in the case of the American Legation Guard, a detachment of the Marine Corps stationed at Peking for the immediate protection of the Legation. The commandant of this detachment is under standing orders, dated May 2, 1906, of which the following is the relevant portion:

“The commander of the Legation Guard at Peking is expected to preserve the most cordial relations with the American Minister and extend to him the honors, salutes and other official courtesies to which [Page 872] he is entitled by the Navy Regulations. The commander of the guard should carefully and duly consider any request for service, or other communication, received from the Minister, it being understood that the most earnest and hearty cooperation between the American Minister and the commander of the guard is essential to the proper performance of the duty imposed upon the guard. It should further be understood that, although due weight should be given to the opinions and advice of the Minister, the commanding officer of the guard is solely and entirely responsible to the Commander-in-Chief and to the Commandant of the Marine Corps for all official acts in the administration of his command.”

During June, 1907, the Commandant of the Marine Corps had occasion to interpret these orders in an instruction to the commander of the Guard, in which occurs the following paragraph:

“While the Minister can not exercise any military control over the Guard, as expressly stated in the letter of instructions approved by the Department, this restriction should be broadly construed, and the request of the Minister to the commander of the Guard should be declined for only the most cogent military reasons. In other words, while the Minister can only express a desire and request, said desire and request should, when practicable, have for the commander of the guard similar force as though it were an order.”

The practical value of the understanding thus established and interpreted has been so amply demonstrated by the intervening fifteen years of notably cordial and satisfactory cooperation between that Marine detachment and the Legation, that I venture to commend it to you as a basis for such cooperation as we are seeking to establish and maintain as between the Legation and the Infantry contingent. I trust that you may find it possible to lay down for the guidance of the commander of the newly organized American Forces in China a like rule of the tenor that the commander should, to the utmost extent compatible with his purely military responsibilities, be guided by the advice and the wishes of the principal American diplomatic representative at Peking.

There is one other point suggested by your letter of instructions to the commander of the American Forces in China, upon which I venture to comment, not by reason of any apprehension of a divergence of views between us, but as a precaution against the possibility of misinterpretation on the part of some commander who might in future be assigned under circumstances affording him no opportunity to acquaint himself adequately with your views. I have reference to the statement that the reason for establishing these forces in China is “to maintain national prestige and to support the policy of the United States in the Far East.” The phrase “national prestige” is one which, particularly in a country whose political development is so imperfect as that of China, is susceptible of such various connotations [Page 873] that it would seem prudent to dispose of any interpretations which might in fact be incompatible with the policy of this Government in China. I have no doubt of your full understanding and sympathy with the view that it is no part of this Government’s purpose to impress upon the Chinese Government or people the military power or prestige of this country, or to enter into rivalry with such other countries as may deem it to their interest to make such a display of military power. I take it for granted that in referring to the maintenance of national prestige, in this connection, you had it in mind only that the newly organized American Forces in China should uphold the high traditions and standards of conduct which have generally characterized American forces on foreign service.

Permit me, in conclusion, to acknowledge my appreciation of your helpfulness in this matter, and to convey through you to General Connor my cordial hopes for his success in the administration of his new command.

Sincerely yours,

Charles E. Hughes