Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs (Hornbeck) of a Conversation With the Counselor of the Japanese Embassy (Suma)


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3. Mr. Suma asked whether the Department had any important news. Mr. Hornbeck said that there was a matter about which we had received news this morning. We had received word that a Japanese officer in Peiping had communicated information, apparently to the senior commandant, to the effect that the Japanese intended to launch a general attack against Chinese forces both in and around Peiping. We were not prepared to vouch for the authenticity of this report, but it came with all the appearance of authenticity. Mr. Hornbeck said that he was instructed by the Secretary to say that we felt that such an attack, if made, would be attended with great hazards: fighting in Peiping might involve all sorts of accidents and jeopardy to the lives of the civilian and non-combatant population among whom there are a considerable number of foreigners among whom in turn there are over seven hundred American nationals; mere endangering of the lives of their nationals becomes a matter of concern to a number of governments; our concern is, of course, primarily for the lives of American nationals, but where people are thrown together what endangers all endangers each and vice versa; action endangering or destroying foreign lives in Peiping would produce an unfavorable reaction throughout the world; it would be hard to convince the world that such action was called for by considerations of “military necessity”; after all, the world could not help but see that these things are taking place on Chinese soil and in a region where the treaty [Page 335] powers, including Japan, have special and common rights and obligations.

Mr. Hornbeck at this point said that he wanted to make it perfectly clear that we are not affirming that orders have been given for the action under reference. We are speaking in the light of what looks to us to be reliable information, but we are not making any charge. If such action is even in contemplation, it seems better for us to urge that it be not taken before it happens. Mr. Hornbeck then referred to the written statement which the Japanese Ambassador had left with us on July 12 and read the sentence in numbered paragraph six thereof which stands as follows:

“In any case the Japanese Government is prepared to give full consideration to the rights and interests of the Powers in China.”

Mr. Hornbeck made the comment that among the interests of the powers in China, in fact perhaps first among their interests, at least in the case of the American Government, is that of the lives of nationals; our nationals are there, they have a right to be there, anything that endangers their lives is of great concern to us. Mr. Suma nodded assent.

Mr. Suma then asked whether we had “called our nationals in.” Mr. Hornbeck said that we had not done so; we understood that there were standing arrangements on the part of all the Embassies, including the Japanese, for calling their nationals in and taking care of them when and as emergency situations developed. These arrangements, however, had always been based on the possibility of danger from Chinese sources or Chinese situations. We understood that the Japanese Embassy there was going to inform us if at any moment our nationals in the western hills needed to be called in. Mr. Hornbeck then said that we had information from a civilian source that the town of Tungchow had been wrecked by Japanese bombing but that two Americans at the American school there were safe. Mr. Suma seemed especially interested in this information.

Mr. Hornbeck said again (for the third time) that he wanted to be sure that there was no misunderstanding of what he had been saying, under instruction. We were not charging or even affirming that Japan intended to launch the attack under discussion, but we had been informed that information had come from a Japanese source that such an attack was intended. We wanted to ask that the Japanese Government give most serious consideration to all the implications and possibilities which might flow from such an action if taken. Mr. Suma said that he understood.

Mr. Suma said that he would doubtless be getting much news from his sources and that he would continue to keep us informed. [Page 336] Mr. Hornbeck thanked Mr. Suma and expressed the hope that the situation would not become more critical. Mr. Suma expressed reciprocation of that hope.

The conversation there ended.

S[tanley] K. H[ornbeck]