Memorandum by the Ambassador in Japan (Grew)

In accordance with the Department’s telegram 119, May 8, 7 p.m.87 I called this morning on the Foreign Minister and made emphatic oral representations against the recent indiscriminate bombings by Japanese forces in China, basing my representations primarily on humanitarian grounds involving the safety of non-combatant civilian populations and furthermore on the grounds of the serious risks involved in jeopardizing the lives and property of American nationals both official and private.

The text of my oral statement, a copy of which I left with the Minister, and a coded text of which is being sent tonight by air mail to Shanghai for repetition to the Department by the naval radio is appended.

The Minister’s only comment was the usual formula that every effort was made by the aviators to avoid accidents when bombing military objectives but that he would convey my representations both to the military and naval authorities. I pointed out to the Minister that in view of the great heights from which the bombs were dropped, in a wholesale and indiscriminate way, the chance of hitting specific objectives was very small while the risk of injuring foreign nationals or property and of causing widespread casualties among the local population was very great. The Minister replied merely that such bombing operations were part and parcel of the Japanese military operations in China and that as soon as these hostilities ceased, the risks of which I complained would likewise cease.

The Minister asked me what sort of publicity I thought ought to be given to our interview. I suggested that he say that I had come to discuss the general political situation but he replied that this would be too vague to satisfy the press. He then suggested an announcement that I had come to discuss current American problems in China. I agreed with this suggestion on the ground that some elements in the Army might be undesirably inflamed by a statement of my precise representations which might merely serve to incite the military to more intense depredations. (In agreeing to the Minister’s proposal I had in mind the fact that if my precise representations were passed down to the Bureau of Information, the official spokesman, Mr. Kawai, if true to form, would very likely serve up the story in an inaccurate and sensational form. Mr. [Page 647]Dooman, at my suggestion, later discussed the point with Mr. Yoshizawa who thought that it would be best to leave the matter of publicity as arranged between the Minister and myself). I however told the Minister that with a view to satisfying American public opinion my Government might feel obliged to give detailed publicity in the United States to my representations.


Oral Statement by the American Ambassador in Japan (Grew) to the Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs (Arita) on May 11, 1989

On September 20, 1937, I called on His Excellency Mr. Hirota,88 then Minister for Foreign Affairs, and, under the instruction of my Government, I made to him most earnest and emphatic representations with respect to the plan announced at that time by the Japanese naval forces to bomb Nanking. I pointed out and dwelt at length on the grave danger to foreign diplomatic establishments, personnel and non-combatants, as well as the serious effect on American public opinion which some accident in connection with those operations would entail.

Two days later, on September 22, 1937, again acting under the instructions of my Government, I delivered to Mr. Hirota a note, no. 780, dated September 22, 1937,89 setting forth clearly and succinctly the American Government’s views with respect to the announcement of the Japanese naval forces in China of the plan to resort to bombing and other measures of offense in and around the city of Nanking.

I have now been instructed by my Government to call on Your Excellency and, primarily on humanitarian grounds, and in reiteration of the representations made on both occasions mentioned, emphatically to express the most serious concern at the recent indiscriminate bombings of the civilian populations of Chungking, Swatow, Ningpo, and Foochow. According to information reaching my Government, the destruction caused by these air raids by the Japanese forces was confined almost entirely to civilian lives and the property of civilians.

Your Excellency is undoubtedly aware of the feeling aroused in the United States by the indiscriminate aerial bombing of the civilian population in various areas in China in the past. I cannot too earnestly impress upon Your Excellency the serious responsibility which devolves upon the authorities charged with the guidance of Japan’s [Page 648]foreign relations to restrain the military or naval forces responsible for these indiscriminate bombings from a course which, if continued, will inevitably create a progressively deplorable reaction in the United States. The American Government and people—let me repeat from previous representations—are and always will be concerned, primarily from the humanitarian point of view, in the mass bombing of civilian populations wherever and however carried out.

Added to the humanitarian factor applying to non-combatants generally, there exists the emphatic objection of the American Government to the jeopardizing of the lives of its own nationals which must inevitably arise from such indiscriminate attacks. I need hardly remind Your Excellency of the repeated bombings of American property in China, of which approximately 140 separate instances have come to my Government’s attention during the present hostilities, in spite of the fact that these properties were clearly marked by American flags and their positions notified to the Japanese military authorities. Loss of American life, wounds and serious property damage were caused. The fact that during a recent period reports of these attacks on American property dwindled, and for a time actually ceased, gave us the hope that effective steps were being taken to meet our representations.

But now, with wholesale bombing operations renewed, I must draw Your Excellency’s special attention to the fact that the American Embassy in China is at present appropriately established in Chungking, the seat of Government, while American Consulates exist in Swatow and Foochow, and that private American citizens, following their lawful occupations, are present both in those places and at other points currently subjected to these indiscriminate attacks from the air. I respectfully point out to Your Excellency the grave risk of incidents which might have a seriously adverse influence upon the relations between our two countries. In saying this I merely state a fact which must be patent to anyone having knowledge of the normal reactions of the American Government and people to a given circumstance or set of circumstances. In the light of past experience I would be derelict in duty if I failed to emphasize this risk, and the prime importance of avoiding such risk.

Therefore both on humanitarian grounds, involving the safety of non-combatant civilian populations, and on the grounds of the serious risks involved in jeopardizing the lives and property of American nationals, both official and private, I earnestly appeal to Your Excellency to take such effective steps as will terminate these indiscriminate bombing operations now current in China.

  1. Not printed.
  2. See memorandum of September 20, 1937, by the Ambassador in Japan, p. 500.
  3. Ante, p. 504.