Memorandum of Trans-Atlantic Telephone Conversation 64

Davis : Hello, Mr. Stimson.

Secretary: Hello, Davis, the President is on the wire now.

Davis : All right. Gibson wanted me to call you up. He is just about all exhausted but he wanted me to tell you about our talk with Sir John.

Secretary: Well, do it quickly because the connection is not very clear.

[Page 203]

Davis : Well, Simon is extremely upset. He says that he is satisfied but this will very greatly embarrass the Prime Minister officially, particularly as he is away from the seat of Government, attending two very difficult conferences,65 and is unable to consult his Cabinet because of the shortness of time. We said we hoped they could get up and make a statement later endorsing in general the dealing with the problem in this way, and saying they would give it further consideration. Sir John said they would try to do the best they could but they felt that this upsets the whole spirit of their work here. He said we have been holding private conversations and making tremendous headway—more than ever before—and particularly yesterday we got quite far on the question of Air, and he said now we would have to stop the conversations, and if the conversations stop that breaks up the whole thing. We did all we could to explain to him and he said, “Well, it seems to me that for any disadvantage that might result from any break from France—after all they have not got much out of it—we would be wholly compensated by efforts here on a real comprehensive program.” He feels confident that they could come along on this whole thing and, if not, make some suggestions that would help rather than let down. I told him that, of course, the last thing in the world the President would want to do would be to embarrass MacDonald and that he had not looked at it from that standpoint at all; that he felt that it might help our work to give in to the conversations. Simon said he couldn’t see it that way because it would be worked on with the other countries and he said he supposed a lot of talk has been going on of these conversations and it would embarrass him with the Italians, and with the Germans whom they have been holding off, and for MacDonald who is not well at all to come over here to accept and pass upon such a far-reaching question as that, without being able to consult his Cabinet, would be terribly embarrassing, particularly, as MacDonald has been making such a point and every effort to cooperate with us. Well, I felt, and we all felt that we should call you up and I asked Simon if it would be of any help to hold it off for twenty-four hours or forty-eight hours and he said he did not know himself—he was so upset he did not know what to say. Hugh Gibson went to see Henderson to ask for permission for a general session and Henderson refused to do it unless England and France would say that it was all right with them, but Sir John says that he can’t assume any responsibility in that; that it might be of some help but he couldn’t assume responsibility. Then we asked him if it would be less embarrassing to them if the President should give that statement out as his own in Washington [Page 204]and not have us give it out here. Simon said it seemed to him that this would be less objectionable but it would still be embarrassing to the Prime Minister as there has been so much talk about our working out something together and we were making headway. If we had completely fallen down it would be different. I never saw anyone more upset over it than Simon was. He was terribly upset and almost takes it as an insult.

President: Well now, Davis, don’t you think some of this attitude is connected with what is going on at the other conference?66

Davis : That is what I am trying to see. There might be a little something in that. Sir John is not working there but the point was, of course, that MacDonald was quite upset about that because he is not very well and I think and I really feel now that, in view of the incident he is making of it and also the fact that we might not get hearty support if it were presented here, if we put it off on the ground—I mean if we told the President that it was embarrassing to the Prime Minister it would make it a little more convenient to play with them, than to try to do it quickly.

President: Don’t you think they are bound to come back with very serious alterations to this program?

Davis : I told him if they came back with changes to whittle this thing down, then it would be a flat tire. He said, “I assure you that it is my desire to increase it, if possible.” Simon said MacDonald asked him if he would please ask the President if he remembers their talk about the question of how many cruisers the United States has got and how many they have got for all of their territories to do the work.67 He said that was why he was afraid of trouble—not because of what we have got.

President: Well, you see if they came back with a proposal to decrease the cruiser cut and to increase the battleship cut, if they came back with plans like this, we would be ruined before the American people unless we previously got out our plan.

Davis : Yes, I see that.

President: If we hold this back until they have had a chance to take a crack at it, we are never going to get it out. The question is whether it would be of international interest to hold it up and if we hold it up for days, it has gone by the board as far as we are concerned over here. They want to hold it up not because they don’t believe in it but because they want to change it.

[Page 205]

Davis : I don’t believe they do want to change it. They seem quite satisfied with that motion and clause about cruisers and MacDonald said it was all right for him but the only thing that they might want to do is to go further on submarines, that is, to propose their total abolition and they don’t understand why you put their tonnage in the 1200 pound. Is that correct?

Secretary: Yes, that is right.

President: Well, I don’t think that is so important. They have no hesitation on that side of putting out from their various governments various plans. The French put out a plan for international police and other plans have been put out by their governments without respect to the conference at all, so I can’t for the life of me see why our government is not free to put out a suggestion free from criticism on their side.

Davis : It would be all right at any other time, except right now in the middle of serious conversations which have been going on for three days.

President: In other words, they want to delay it on account of this other conference.

Davis : The discussions are continuing here on disarmament and are supposed to be ironed out at least by tomorrow and we really are making some headway, whether we are getting anywhere, I don’t know, only any other time, even last week, would have been all right to do this but to do it right now is the thing that Simon brought up and, frankly, I couldn’t find an answer to it because, as he said, when we have a meeting in the morning at ten-thirty or eleven, what are you going to say there? He said it would be very embarrassing to us and it meant that it would break up these conversations. Unquestionably you have a right to do it at any time, but it just happens at this peculiar time.

President: If I delay it for forty-eight hours, I have got to delay it for at least a month. It is not fair to the Democrats to put this out during their convention.68 It is entirely non-partisan.

Davis : Yes, you have got to wait. Well, you could do it next Monday,69 couldn’t you?

President: No, I can’t, because the Democrats are holding their convention then. I have got to put it out when the atmosphere is clear. I could not take it up while the Republican Convention70 was in session—I did not want any political medicine made of it.

Davis : If we can say to him that we have put it off because we [Page 206]thought we would embarrass him, I think that would put us in a good position now.

President: Well, I am not prepared to agree with you at the moment. I can shove it into the air from here and say I have asked you to discuss it with the other governments.

Davis : That is the only way to do it now. It wouldn’t do, under the circumstances, for us to come out with it now but we might later deal with it here as a message from the President to the conference and this would let the conversations continue and, if we call a meeting of the general commission tomorrow, that means we will have to call off these conversations and that would be embarrassing.

President: Suppose we put it out to you as a direction in the conversations you are now carrying on.

Davis : That is the way I put it to him. He said that would be better but it is going to be quite embarrassing to the Prime Minister. Simon came back here with us and now is on his way to Lausanne to report to the Prime Minister and will call me later tonight at nine-thirty here.

President: What time is it there now?

Davis : Eight-thirty. I expect to hear from him in an hour and a half.

President: You might call us up.

Davis : If you can wait a little while until I get the reaction of the Prime Minister I will call you up. I think it ought to be judged by that. He might say it might be all right as he will have enough to worry him without this. Simon said that the Prime Minister had the impression that Gibson and I had told him specifically that he would have a chance to answer and to comment before anything went out. I told him that I was very sorry if the Prime Minister did have that impression because we did not say anything of the kind. We distinctly told him that this was something you were thinking of doing, with the idea of drawing up something concrete for this conference to work on.

President: Well, now, you are engaged in a series of consultations preliminary to the formation of a strong program. That is the object of the present consultations. Supposing I give you instructions as to matters which you are to raise in those preliminary conversations, isn’t that in perfect accord with what is going on?

Davis : I tried my best to explain it that way to him but he seemed so upset that we were afraid he did not get it.

President: You had better explain it to him again and you can take it that this has gone before the board unless we do it within the next twenty-four hours.

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Davis : If you do it, you can wait an hour and a half, can’t you?

President: Yes.

Davis : All right, I will call you back.

  1. Between Mr. Davis in Geneva and President Hoover and Mr. Stimson in Washington, June 21, 1932, 2:10 p.m.
  2. The Disarmament and the Lausanne Conferences.
  3. i. e., the Lausanne Conference, June 16–July 9.
  4. This took place upon the occasion of the Prime Minister’s visit to the United States, October 4–10, 1929; see Foreign Relations, 1929, vol. iii, pp. 2530.
  5. Held at Chicago, June 27–July 2.
  6. June 27.
  7. Held at Chicago, June 14–16.