711.00111 Armament Control/63e: Telegram

The Secretary of State to President Roosevelt

11. The evidence of an outbreak of war in Ethiopia is now, in my opinion, sufficient to warrant your proceeding to proclaim the embargo on shipments of arms, ammunition and implements of war under the Senate Joint Resolution. Everything is in readiness here. I feel that I must inform you, however, that in a conversation with Hugh Wilson in Geneva over the telephone today he stated that discussions were proceeding in the Council of the League and that it is the opinion that they will not reach a decision until Monday afternoon. He thought the delegates would not mention the existence of a state of war and made the following statement: “I do not mean to urge that the matter be unduly delayed with regard to our declaration but the first step with respect to the recognition of the status of these hostilities should not be taken by the United States. It was impossible to get unanimity for this matter of recommendation at the meeting this morning and as the situation becomes deeper and deeper it is increasingly difficult to get unanimity.” He further explained that a recognition of a state of war by us before League action on the subject might possibly be used by some nations, members of the League, to base a declaration of neutrality on their own part, thus putting difficulties in the way of collective action, and that our action today would be a blow to the collective system which Geneva is trying to put through. I feel strongly myself that our declaration of an embargo in view of the existing state of hostilities cannot be delayed in the light of present developments beyond next Monday, but I would like to know your [Page 799] judgment as to whether in consideration of Wilson’s reports and recommendation we might not well delay the embargo declaration until probably not later than Monday afternoon.

At the time of issuing the proclamation I further suggest that a statement along the following lines be issued:

“In view of the situation which has unhappily developed between Ethiopia and Italy, it has become my duty under the provisions of the Joint Resolution of Congress approved August 31, 1935, to issue, and I am today issuing my proclamation making effective an embargo on the exportation from this country to Ethiopia and Italy of arms, ammunition and implements of war. Notwithstanding the hope we entertained that war would be avoided, and the exertion of our influence in that direction, we are now compelled to recognize that the simple and indisputable fact that Ethiopian and Italian armed forces are engaged in combat, thus creating a state of war within the intent and meaning of the Joint Resolution.

In order that our country may by no possibility be involved, it is the plain duty of our citizens to refrain from placing themselves in positions where, were conditions peaceful, they would be entitled to seek the protection of this Government. Accordingly, in these specific circumstances I desire it to be understood that any of our people who voluntarily engage in transactions of any character with either of the belligerents do so at their own risk.”

As you will see, this does not for the present include measures so drastic as you suggest in the case of these violating the spirit of the rules of conduct therein contained. In my opinion this statement or announcement goes as far as would be advisable at this time. In the light of further developments you might at a later time wish to take successive steps in the line of, first, an appeal; second, a warning that in the event of acts contrary to your policy of making the utmost effort to prevent our involvement in the war, names and facts might be made public.

Your message of [apparent omission] just received and we will reply further immediately.

Concerning the suggestion in your message just received that the proclamation under Section 6 should be issued,13a I call your attention to the fact that the Section requires as a condition precedent to the issuance of your proclamation a finding of certain facts, that is to say, that the maintenance of peace between the United States and foreign nations, or the protection of the lives of citizens of the United States, or the protection of the commercial interests of the United States and its citizens, or the security of the United States requires that American citizens should refrain from traveling as passengers on the vessels of any belligerent nation. We have some difficulty in finding that any one of these situations exists. Therefore, the issuance of the proclamation might subject you to criticism on the one hand and might on the other hand be regarded by Italy as a gratuitous [Page 800] affront in the nature of sanctions. The purpose underlying Section 6 was to keep us out of war by avoiding the dangers that would be involved in trying to protect American citizens who might insist upon traveling on belligerent vessels in the face of one or more of the dangers specified in the Section. I shall, of course, issue the proclamation if you still think this should be done.

Will await further instructions from you on this entire message.

  1. See infra.