The Secretary of State to the Japanese Ambassador (Horinouchi)

Excellency: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of Your Excellency’s note No. 2 of January 6, 1940, in which you refer to measures which have been taken by the Government of the United States in pursuance of its policy of condemning and discouraging the bombing and machine-gunning of civilian populations from the air. You state that as a result of these measures it has become virtually impossible for Japanese firms to import any airplanes or airplane parts of American make and that in a number of recent cases the completion of purchases which were already under negotiation between Japanese firms and interested American companies has been rendered impossible. You state further that no bombing or machine-gunning of civilian populations as such has been resorted to by the Japanese forces in China and that the Japanese Government, therefore, cannot but take exception to any treatment of Japan as a country the armed forces of which are making use of airplanes for attack upon civilian populations. You also express the view that the measures taken by this Government caused a situation not dissimilar in effect to that which might obtain under an export embargo against Japan and were in contravention of the provisions of the third paragraph of Article V of the Treaty of Commerce and Navigation of 1911 between Japan and the United States and at variance with the spirit of the treaty as a whole.

The attitude and policy of the Government of the United States in connection with the unprovoked bombing and machine-gunning of civilian populations are clearly indicated in the Department of State’s press release of June 3, 1938;10 in the statement released by the President on December 2, 1939; and in the Department’s press releases of December 15 and 20, 1939. Copies of the press releases under reference are enclosed for convenient reference. The American people and the American Government have directed the policy outlined in these press releases against a practice, not against specific countries; and its applicability to a particular country is determined not by any arbitrary finding of the American Government, but by the observable acts of the armed forces of such country or countries as may be engaged in military operations.

With reference to your statement that “military operations of the Japanese air forces in China have been directed solely against warlike organizations and establishments of the Chinese” and that no bombing or machine-gunning of civilian populations as such has been [Page 209] resorted to, the Department of State observes that trustworthy, detailed reports have come to this country, some official and some by way of private sources and the public press, which indicate that in their military operations in China the Japanese forces have in a large number of instances resorted to bombing and machine-gunning of civilians from the air at places near which there were no military establishments or organizations. Furthermore, the use of incendiary bombs (which inevitably and ruthlessly jeopardize non-military persons and properties) has inflicted appalling losses on civilian populations. Japanese air attacks in many instances have been of a nature and apparent plan which can be comprehended only as constituting deliberate attempts to terrorize unarmed populations. I would invite attention for example to the large number of air attacks upon the intramural city of Nanking from August 15, 1937, until the occupation of the city in December 1937, and particularly to the air raids of August 27, September 22, and September 25, 1937; to the raid on Hankow and Hanyang on September 24, 1937, and the attacks on Wuchang on July 12, July 19, August 11, and August 12, 1938; to the attacks on Canton on May 28, 29, and 30 and June 4, 5, and 6, 1938; to the attacks on Swatow on June 21, June 22, June 23, July 1, July 2, 1938, and on May 4, May 5, May 6, May 14, May 17, and May 18, 1939; to the repeated aerial attacks carried out on Foochow on April 25, May 1, May 7, May 8, May 15, May 16, May 18, and May 19, 1939; and to the periodic attacks on Chungking which commenced on May 3, 1939, and which have continued down to very recent date. It is positively known that Japanese planes have attacked civilian populations at a large number of other places, which to cite further examples include the following: Fukien: Chuanchow, Changchow; Honan: Chengchow, Chumatien, Hsuchang, Sinyang, Tungpeh; Hunan: Changsha, Changteh, Hengyang, Liling, Yuanling; Hupeh: Enshih, Ichang, Kingmen, Shasi; Kiangsi: Kuling, Nanchang; Kiangsu: Haichow, Hsuchow; Kwangsi: Kweilin, Nanning, Wuchow; Kwangtung: Chaochow, Luichow [Linchow?], Shiuchow; Shantung: Laiyang; Shensi: Sian; Szechuan: Chengtu, Siushan, Wanhsien.

It is appropriate to mention also reports received by the Department of State that as recently as January 18, 1940, a number of large Japanese bombing planes attacked a group of undefended fishing villages on Woga Island near Foochow and caused the death and injury of a substantial number of civilians as well as the destruction of a substantial number of dwellings.

That there have been reported to date approximately 200 instances in China of damage by aerial bombs to American properties, the location of the majority of which were previously notified to the Japanese authorities and nearly all of which were marked by American flags, is [Page 210] an indication of the extent and the indiscriminate nature of Japanese aerial bombing operations over widespread areas. The Japanese Government could scarcely expect that the American people would or could look with complaisance upon attacks by the Japanese forces upon non-military objectives with results so disastrous to American interests. Furthermore, the bombing of so large a number of American properties—which were chiefly mission premises in the interior—carries the strong implication that the concurrent loss generally of civilian life and destruction of civilian property in these interior places were appallingly great.

Reference is made to your statement to the effect that the Universal Oil Products Company, upon the receipt by it of a letter from the Department of State, was left no alternative but to withhold further fulfillment of a provisional agreement with the Japan Gasoline Company, and in particular to your statement that the pertinent facts in regard to the proposed transaction were communicated to the Department of State by the Universal Oil Products Company during the progress of negotiations and that the Department made no objection. It is observed that the Department of State’s informal indication of non-objection to the installation in plants in foreign countries of certain processes for the production of iso-octane fuel was given before the continued widespread bombing and machine-gunning of civilian populations in certain areas impelled the American people and this Government to extend the policy of condemnation of that practice to include the withholding of delivery of technical processes for the production of high quality aviation gasoline from countries the armed forces of which are engaged in unprovoked bombing and machine-gunning of civilian populations from the air. Furthermore, the Government of the United States, concerned as it is with the increase and spread of war and the use or threat of force in so many parts of the world, has recently felt constrained to conserve vital interests which this Government has in certain commodities and technical processes relating to the national defense.

In view of the foregoing circumstances, the American Government is unable to agree that its action in inviting American exporters voluntarily to cooperate with the policy pursued by the American people and by this Government of condemning and discouraging the bombing and machine-gunning of civilian populations from the air constituted an infringement of either the letter or the spirit of the Treaty of Commerce and Navigation of 1911 between the United States and Japan.

Accept [etc.]

Cordell Hull