740.00116 European War, 1939/106b: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Chargé in the Soviet Union (Thurston)2a

255. You are requested to deliver the following message immediately in the name of the President to the Government to which you [Page 799] are accredited. Transmit at once by telegram the reply which may be made:2b

“The ruthless bombing from the air of civilians in unfortified centers of population during the course of hostilities which have raged in various quarters of the earth during the past few years, which has resulted in the maiming and in the death of thousands of defenseless men, women and children, has sickened the hearts of every civilized man and woman, and has profoundly shocked the conscience of humanity.

If resort is had to this form of inhuman barbarism during the period of the tragic conflagration with which the world is now confronted, hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings who are not even remotely participating in hostilities, will lose their lives. I am therefore addressing this appeal to the Soviet Government, as I have to governments which have been engaged in general hostilities, publicly to affirm its determination that its armed forces shall in no event and under no circumstances, undertake the bombardment from the air of civilian populations or of unfortified cities upon the understanding that these same rules of warfare will be scrupulously observed by all of their opponents. I request an immediate reply. Franklin D. Roosevelt.”

  1. The same telegram was sent at the same time to the Minister in Finland as No. 175; at the bottom of both telegrams President Roosevelt pencilled: “O. K. F. D. R.”
  2. For the Finnish reply of December 2, 1939, see Department of State, Bulletin, December 9, 1939, p. 650. The Ambassador in the Soviet Union reported in his telegram No. 991, December 1, 1939, midnight (740.00116 European War, 1939/108), that Molotov made the “categorical statement” to him that “the Soviet air force had not bombed civilian populations or unfortified cities and that it had no intention of doing so. He seemed to be in some doubt as to whether to rest upon his oral reply or to make a written acknowledgment of the message.” No record of a written, formal reply has been found in the Department files. For some early reports by the American Minister in Finland of bombing by the Soviet Union, see Department of State, Bulletin, December 2, 1939, p. 610.