441.11 W 892/51: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Great Britain (Houghton)


93. Your 117 of June 7.

Chamberlain’s language was most unfortunate, whatever his intention. In connection with such circumstances as (a) his attitude as reported in your telegram of November 3, 1925,18 (b) the fact that, except by a noncommittal oral message delivered by Chilton, he has failed to reply to my aide-mémoire of April 7, (c) the fact that since [Page 234] May 18 he has known that I desire to make rapid progress during the summer by sending someone to London, but for more than two weeks gave no answer, and (d) the fact that Howard had strongly recommended that my program be accepted, his language inevitably conveyed the impression that he was not only unprepared to cooperate actively, but that he was obstructing progress deliberately. The further report in your telegram of June 7 does not alter this impression materially, except that it helps overcome my reluctant belief that Chamberlain intentionally was discourteous.
It is difficult to understand how there can reasonably be any doubt in London about the purpose of Phenix’s visit. It had never been connected with the Navy negotiations and it was planned to take place simultaneously with the latter in the interest of the British, who wished to be able, in case there was publicity in England, to direct attention to the Navy negotiations, thus covering the work of Phenix in London. The decision of the Navy not to participate this summer in a conference with the British authorities completely surprised the Department, which had pointed out the desirability therefor. The British Embassy was promptly advised informally of that decision and of the Navy’s reasons, which were that their cases were not ready for presentation. Department’s 73 of May 14 conveyed the same information to you.
From our point of view, Chamberlain’s second point as to the completion of the work in Washington before anything was done in London, is no more substantial. The procedure suggested in my aide-mémoire of April 7 has never been formally accepted by the British. They have done nothing but authorize Broderick to examine our records. Since I regarded that as some progress, I arranged to make our files available to him. It soon appeared, however, that many months would be necessary for Broderick to go over all the papers and that such a policy would really waste his time. I then had prepared synopses of the cases, copies of which have been furnished him and he has gone over many of them with Phenix. About 800 have been submitted to Broderick. Since these cases seemed to be typical, and in view of the importance of being able in December to report real progress, it did not appear necessary to postpone commencement of the work in London until Broderick could see all the summaries, particularly since no progress was being made toward actual settlement. He, for instance, had no authority to bind his Government, and I was insufficiently informed as to the disposition of the subject matter of the various complaints or claims to enable me to decide the Department’s position. Therefore, it was my plan that Phenix should take with him the thousand or so summaries that would be ready when he left and start work on them in London this summer [Page 235] while Broderick was examining our records here. The remaining summaries when ready would be sent Phenix and simultaneously given Broderick. The two Governments would thus have in the autumn sufficient information to proceed with the question of what acceptable bases of settlement could be found. The summaries should all be prepared by August. This seemed a most expeditious procedure.
There was nothing ulterior in the proposed trip of Phenix. The main purpose of the trip would have been to obtain information in regard to specific cases for use as the basis for eliminating cases from further consideration wherever such a cause seemed justified. For example, I was in general disposed to agree to regard as satisfactorily closed any case where the London records revealed that the subject matter, or its value, had been released to the claimant. A secondary purpose was to ascertain, if possible, what satisfactory formula could be devised to cover cases deserving further consideration. I realize the political difficulties in London surrounding this question, but I realize also that in Washington there are corresponding difficulties. I have earnestly hoped to find a common basis upon which a satisfactory settlement can be negotiated. I have never intended that either Government should be irrevocably committed by anything Phenix might do or say in London, but I could get a definite idea of what the next step should be from his report and your recommendations.
You will recall that when you were in Washington this entire question was discussed at length with you and that you strongly urged that Phenix be sent to London. Howard warmly endorsed the same idea in talking with me March 29 and subsequently. Chilton, in replying orally to my aide-mémoire, agreed that an examination in London might be necessary but stated that his Government preferred first exploring the matter here. As above stated, Broderick has been going through our records for his Government’s information. I have never raised any question about his examination even though, so far as official word from the Foreign Office is concerned, it is more ill-defined and vague as to purpose than that proposed for Phenix.
For definite information regarding the nature of the proposed mission of Phenix see my aide-mémoire of April 7 sent with instruction 469 of April 9.19 The Department has been doing the work indicated in paragraph 6 of the aide-mémoire. The object of Phenix’s examination of the records in London is outlined in general terms in paragraph 7. The preliminaries described in paragraphs 6 and 7 must precede and not follow the procedure in paragraph 8. [Page 236] See also my 73 of May 14, and my 86 of June 1. The scope and purpose of the proposed examination in London is defined as clearly as is now possible, in these communications. It is all very informal and simple, and I see no reason for Chamberlain to be disturbed.
As stated in my 90 of June 5, I understand Howard cabled London at length after his interview with me. In the circumstances I prefer at present to leave the matter for settlement between the Foreign Office and Howard. He is deeply impressed with our earnestness of purpose and with the unfortunate impression created here by Chamberlain’s apparent attitude throughout, and upon receiving Howard’s report Chamberlain should be equally impressed. I am inclined to the belief that the incident may result in clearing the atmosphere and promoting an ultimately satisfactory adjustment of the whole question. Certainly the British cannot misunderstand the importance which we attach to the matter.
If Chamberlain approaches you in regard to Howard’s message, you should merely say that you have received a telegram containing my reply to his remarks to you, which indicates that I have been greatly disturbed thereby, and that subsequently you received a second telegram in which, complying with the urgent request of Howard, I instructed you to withhold delivery of my message pending further instructions. Beyond this you are to make no comment to Chamberlain at this time on my telegrams Nos. 89 and 90. However, you may in your discretion, use as coming from yourself as much of the first six paragraphs of this telegram as you think would help give Chamberlain an accurate understanding of our position.
  1. Ante, p. 214.
  2. Instruction not printed.