Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs (Hornbeck) to the Secretary of State

Mr. Secretary: In order of precedence, it seems to me much more necessary that we decide at the earliest possible moment whether we are going to make a public statement of our position with regard to the impending hostilities (with mention of the Pact of Paris, etc.) than that we decide just what we will telegraph in reply to the inquiry of the Ethiopian Government about our becoming a mediator.

[Page 745]

A reply to the Ethiopian Government’s inquiry might be let go entirely by default without any great harm being done. Such default would indicate that our response is in the negative. But, things moving forward as they are at Geneva, if we wish to make a statement the time has come for making it and the period within which the making of it might be appropriate is likely to be of short duration. By delay, we may find that we have missed the opportunity for doing one of the few things which it is possible with any appropriateness or reasonableness for us to do.

I therefore would urge:

That decision be arrived at whether we will make a public statement;
If the answer be in the affirmative, decision be arrived at as to the general substance of the text;
That, if it be decided that the President’s message to Mussolini70 is to be included in the exhibit made public, a telegram be prepared, to be sent for the purpose of informing Mussolini in advance of the appearance in the press of our statement, that the text of the message to him is being made public by us;
That, in the light of decisions on the above points, the proposed telegram to Addis Ababa on “mediation” be completed.

In connection with consideration given to the question of a public statement, I cling to the opinion that we should not on our own initiative address communications to other governments urging upon them a general “invocation” of the Pact of Paris. The French Government has a responsibility approximately equal to ours with regard to that Pact. All of the governments represented at the League are parties to the Pact. If those governments feel that the Pact should be invoked, they can discuss the matter among themselves at Geneva at any time and in the light of other developments of which they are aware from moment to moment and in which they are participating, and with promptitude. To me it seems more practicable and more logical that a proposal, if made, for the invocation of the Pact originate there than that it originate from one capital far removed (Washington). Moreover, it has always seemed to me desirable that the idea be built up that the peace machinery as such is to be given general direction and impulse from there. (The Pact of Paris is one part of the peace machinery.)

I would perceive no objection to our giving a hint to the British Government, if we choose, in the form of an inquiry whether they do not think that the Pact should be invoked and whether they might not be willing to canvass the question at Geneva,—but with the corollary suggestion that a proposal for its invocation, if to be made, be made there and need not be expected to be made by us.

[Page 746]

The making of our proposed public statement would put us in the “clear” for purposes of the record up to date. It would enable us to make a clear-cut appeal to the contending powers to carry out their pledge under the Pact of Paris by refraining from hostilities. It would in and of itself serve to suggest to the other powers at Geneva that they do something about or make something out of the Pact of Paris. It would in no way stand in the way of our responding favorably if and when the League powers ask us for cooperation in some formal action in invocation of the Pact. Nor would it stand in the way of any other action that we might choose later to take. (Incidentally, I feel that it would be highly inadvisable to address a communication to the King of Italy and the Emperor of Ethiopia.)

I therefore see nothing to be lost and much possibly to be gained by our making a public statement at an early date. But if we have an intention of making it, we should come to a decision very soon and act thereon before the situation so changes as to make such a statement appear belated and be absolutely nothing but a collection of words.

S[tanley] K. H[ornbeck]
  1. See telegram No. 136, August 18, 1935, 1 p.m., to the Chargé in Italy, p. 739.