893.0146/88: Telegram

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


805. My 558, July 23 [22], 10 a.m.

The commander in chief has sent me a telegram in which he requests my views concerning his contemplated recommendation that in his judgment the present is an opportune time for commencing to withdraw all the marines from Tientsin, the departure of the first detachment to be at the end of November and the remaining detachment to leave next January, to be followed, if conditions in China justify, by the withdrawal from Shanghai of the Fourth Regiment.
My reply to this is as follows:

“November 1, 11 a.m. Your communication 0025–2300. It is probably unnecessary, considering the conversations which we had last May and September, for me to discuss in detail at this time the several matters of opinion and of fact set forth in your message in regard to which we have agreed very frankly to disagree. My attitude toward this question, as you are aware, is that the maintenance of forces at Tientsin is essential because that is the only practicable place in North China at which the protection of American [Page 317] citizens will be enforced in case of need, in pursuance of the policy of the administration adopted when the Third Brigade was detailed there. I have no intimation that this policy of our Government is to be reversed. Unless it is to be reversed, this policy can be enforced only by the maintenance at Tientsin of forces sufficient to cope with any peril to Americans which may be prudently and reasonably anticipated. In the present disturbed conditions, the character of the danger to be guarded against does not reasonably include any hostile action of an organized nature against foreigners. That which may be apprehended reasonably is a condition of local disturbance in which American lives and property might be endangered by unorganized soldiers or riotous mobs who are tempted to violence. The surest precaution against such a contingency is an adequate defensive force. The precautionary value of any such force is in direct relationship to the effectiveness and strength it could exercise in achieving the purpose in view. Of course, the minimum strength of the force necessary from time to time for this precautionary purpose depends upon the political situation and upon the temper of the Chinese people. It was because of an improvement in the latter respect that, somewhat doubtfully, I assented last July to the reduction at Tientsin of the marine forces. The Legation has not observed that the situation since that time has stabilized sufficiently as to justify, in my opinion, any additional reduction of those forces. As for my part, I could not acquiesce in a further reduction at present without feeling that I was gambling with the responsibilities which rest upon me in regard to the protection in North China of American citizens. Moreover, until we have observed the developments between the present time and next spring, it is my opinion that we cannot be in a position to decide whether there has been a sufficient stabilization in the political conditions in China to justify our withdrawal of the marines from Tientsin.

The situation at Shanghai, meanwhile, appears to me to be such as to justify a further reduction of the Fourth Regiment, as recommended in my telegram of October 5, 3 p.m.”