441.11 W 892/7: Telegram
The Ambassador in Great Britain (Houghton) to the Secretary of State
[Received November 3—3:45 p.m.]
344. Chamberlain2 requested me to see him this noon. He was in a highly emotional and excited condition because Howard3 had intimated that the Department soon intended to ask payment for the claims due to the blockade precedent to our entering the war. In such event he despaired of maintaining friendly relations between the two countries. I must realize that the extremely burdensome debt settlement of Great Britain was considered morally unjust by many here. It was almost unbelievable that they should be confronted in the present situation by a new claim. He reminded me that if our claims were recognized, all neutral powers would feel the door was open to similar claims. Although this would be serious, he considered the real danger was the fact that the whole matter of British naval law during the war would be involved in a discussion of the claims. How serious a matter that might prove was difficult to emphasize. He added that they had been led to believe by the attitude of President Wilson at Paris that the whole subject would not be disturbed.
I told him the Department had not instructed me regarding such a move. In a brief discussion of the debt situation I mentioned that we also had to consider public opinion, that if just claims existed someone should meet them.
I do not hesitate to state, however, that I fully agree with the Foreign Minister’s estimate of the result, if the British people, seven years after the war and in their present strained and unhappy mood, [Page 215] are forced to consider a new group of debts originating in at least a partial condemnation of their wartime naval conduct. It will produce a wave of bitterness and anger against us whose duration and effect will be difficult to measure.