893.00/8061: Telegram

The Minister in China (MacMurray) to the Secretary of State


32. Your 9, January 11, 6 p.m.

My answer to your third inquiry is affirmative, especially in view of telegram from Hankow January 12, 4 p.m., transmitted in my telegram 29, January 14, 1 p.m.41 Conditions are so inflammable in Shanghai that there is certain to be an explosion if the Nationalists extend control to that area unless the leaders of the Nationalists are convinced definitely that the limit of tolerance has been reached by the foreign powers and that the powers are prepared wholeheartedly to unite on a stand for the protection of their nationals and interests in Shanghai. The situation is one in which, it is my firm belief, the only possible escape from the necessity to employ force is an obvious readiness to employ it. With that in view there can be no distinction, I think, between defending the International Settlement and defending the lives and the property of residents. The forces for the purpose must, in case of need arising, defend what they are able to without differentiating among the nationals involved and without regard to questions of boundary. To distinguish between concerted attack by organized forces and mob violence would prove to be equally impossible. Throughout their recent campaign the characteristic tactics of the Nationalists have been to filter their men into hostile territory where later they would assemble as an organized and armed force. When in the midst of dealing with mob violence within the Settlement it is altogether likely that foreign forces would suddenly find themselves confronted with such Nationalist units. Therefore scope of any defensive measures to be taken to safeguard American and other foreign lives and property ought to be left to discretionary judgment of the military commanders.
In all probability the immediate situation of Americans who are in the interior, particularly in the part of the Yangtze Valley now under control, would be affected unfavorably if we joined other powers in defending Shanghai. However, my opinion is that this danger would in fact not be any greater than that which would be produced by a failure on our part to participate in such defense, which would inevitably carry with it a conviction that we are not ready to look out for our own. On the other hand the probability [Page 48] is that the situation of Americans in the interior would be improved in the long run by demonstrating resolution to protect our nationals.
Instructions have been issued by the British Government to its consuls within the area controlled by the Nationalists to advise all British subjects in interior places to concentrate at ports where protection can be given them. I understand that heed is not very generally given these warnings except in Szechuan and along the middle Yangtze in those places which have been affected more immediately by aggressive Nationalist action. I have given discretion in the matter already to consuls within Nationalist territory and now contemplate, whether it is decided to defend Shanghai or not, giving warning to Americans resident in the river region above Nanking that they should gather at places where their protection is possible. However, in view of grave responsibility which is involved in advising the abandonment of their institutions and livelihood and of the doubt whether in removing to a river port they would not expose themselves to an at least equal personal danger, I believe that until the possibility of serious trouble at Shanghai appears to be more imminent and certain it is premature to give such advice.
With regard to protective measures at Shanghai I understand that the British Government has as yet not arrived at a decision on what to do. This whole question has been discussed with me by my British colleague with utmost frankness. … I for my part am firmly of the opinion that the British, however reluctant they are to face the issue, must eventually decide to defend Shanghai at all costs; this not alone because of their enormous interests at Shanghai but also because of political and economic consequences to them elsewhere both in China and India if they surrendered their position at Shanghai. I am informed by the Japanese Minister that he has received no definite instructions in regard to the matter, but that he himself believes his Government intends to send for the defense of Shanghai at least as many men as the British or we do. He states further that his Government has not indicated any tendency to distinguish between maintaining the integrity of the Settlement and protecting Japanese and other lives and property. The French military attaché declares his Government is determined to defend its Shanghai Concession at all costs and doubtless is acting independently for that purpose, but unquestionably in the event of actual trouble it would be necessary for the defense of the French Concession and of the International Settlement to be coordinated. The Italian Minister indicated to me that while his Government has only a small landing force available it is prepared to join the British, Japanese, and ourselves in any defensive measures that may be undertaken.
I know you understand that an attempt to foresee the possible developments at Shanghai cannot be more than a calculation of eventualities which are likely to arise in a situation having several indeterminable factors. My best surmise as to the probabilities is all I can give you; and I may err perhaps on the side of apprehension. However, in a case potentially involving the lives of thousands of American nationals, I submit that we must face deliberately the most serious contingencies and plan for the possibility of the worst one that may eventuate. I am the more disposed to take this view because I have a well assured conviction that our best security for avoiding possibility of burning and looting of a port which is one of the foremost in the world and the massacre of a number of our nationals, with the various consequences which might result, is to be found in our possible joining with other interested powers in giving a resolute and wholehearted cooperation to make what indeed would be the last ditch stand in China as to foreign rights and foreign interests. We have our moral and legal responsibilities for China jointly with British and other nationalities participating in the International Settlement. So that we may at once know where we stand, I cannot recommend too urgently that the Department endeavor without delay to obtain assurances concerning the attitudes of the British and the Japanese, the powers principally involved. Unquestionably the hands of those responsible for maintaining law and order in Shanghai would be strengthened if you would let it be known generally, at the same time as inquiry is made as to the attitudes of those Governments, that our Government is ready to carry out its part in defending Shanghai in case use of force against the safety and the interest of our people should compel us to resort to force in order to protect them.
  1. Telegram in three sections.
  2. Post, p. 241.