393.115/640: Telegram

The Chargé in Japan (Dooman) to the Secretary of State

238. [From the:]

“Ministry of Foreign Affairs May 17, 1939.

Excellency: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of Your Excellency’s note No. 1230 dated March 30, in which there are presented various instances of damage done to American property in China since the beginning of the present year by bombing from the air, in which the attention of the Imperial Government is drawn to these circumstances, and in which request is made that necessary instructions be issued to the authorities in the field with a view to preventing the recurrence of damage of the foregoing character.

As Your Excellency is aware, the Imperial Forces are exercising special care toward the protection of third-party property in China, particularly churches, schools, hospitals, private interests and other cultural establishments; and, as pointed out in a note verbale No. 118 dated December 28, 1938, if any damage should be done to such institutions as a result of military operations, such damage arises from unexaggerated circumstances.

There occurs in the concluding paragraph of Your Excellency’s note under acknowledgment of March 30, the following statement: ‘The Government and people of the United States are becoming increasingly perturbed over these acts on the part of the Japanese military forces, and the weight which they can attach to assurances of the Japanese Government in this respect is necessarily determined by the extent to which Japanese forces in the field respect or fail to respect those assurances.’ The impression is conveyed by the above-quoted statement that the American Government believes that the results of action by the Japanese military authorities in the field do not necessarily coincide with the wishes of the central authorities. If that impression is correct, our sentiments can only be those of greatest regret. The Japanese authorities in the field are, at the risk of their lives, engaged in conducting military operations on a vast scale. Further, one of the counter measures against air attack of the Chiang regime is to endeavor to make it as difficult as possible for the Japanese to avoid doing injury to the properties of third parties. It is a matter of extreme regret to the Imperial Government that, notwithstanding the above-described circumstances and the strenuous efforts made by the Japanese, the facts are not understood.

Nevertheless the Imperial Government, taking into consideration Your Excellency’s request, anticipates that even more effective steps will no doubt be taken from the point of view of respecting the properties in China of third parties. The Imperial military and naval authorities have repeatedly cautioned their forces in China to exercise care with a view to avoid causing unintentional damage to third-party properties especially cultural institutions. The army recently addressed an instruction to the officers in the field in the following sense: ‘Complaint has been made by the United States that the number of cases, according to investigations made by the American Government, of bombing of American properties from the air since [Page 650]the beginning of the present year exceeds more than twenty. If that statement is a fact, the conditions referred to are of course due to recent improvements by the enemy of anti-aircraft defenses which prevent bombing at low altitudes; or again they are presumably due to machinations calculated to create dissention between Japan and other countries, especially the United States; or again to the fact that the Chinese forces are intentionally making use of foreign properties or are placing themselves in the vicinity of such properties. Nevertheless it is hoped that redoubled care will be exercised in all directions with a view to avoid causing damage to foreign properties.’ The Navy is taking steps to issue instructions in a similar sense. The Imperial Government seizes this occasion to express the hope that American nationals, by adequately marking their properties so that they are readily discernible from the air, will give even more cooperation than that which they have given in the past with a view to avoiding unfortunate and unintentional damage. Further, the hope is again expressed that measures will be taken, as has been frequently communicated by Japanese military authorities in the field, to prevent Chinese forces from utilizing or approaching American properties.

The Imperial Government also regrets that the cases which have already occurred include instances in which American citizens have lost their lives or have incurred injury, and it deplores the occurrence of such instances. With particular reference to the cases at Tungpeh and at Loting, both of the places mentioned are situated outside the areas occupied by the Japanese forces, and, therefore, investigations cannot be carried out; nevertheless, as Your Excellency is aware, the authorities in the field are endeavoring earnestly to devise a settlement of both cases. A solatium has already been forwarded to Father Kennelly, and efforts are being made to devise some method for granting the Nyhus family an appropriate solatium. It is hoped that the American authorities will also cooperate with a view to reaching a settlement in each of these cases.

I avail myself.”

Repeated to Chungking, Peiping.