Memorandum by the Secretary of State
The Italian Ambassador76 called at his own instance and promptly proceeded to complain about certain reports out of Geneva to the effect that this Government was in more or less agreement regarding material phases of the Ethiopian-Italian war. He reported Mr. Avenol as saying to some person that certain action or failure of action regarding an oil embargo would not please the United States Government. I inferred that he referred to any failure to act by Geneva and the nations belonging to the sanctions organization. He also referred to a statement of some unnamed but leading member of the organization at Geneva, presumably from Great Britain, in which he clearly inferred that we were in some material way tied in with the sanctions movement, if not with other plans and programs of the nations carrying out the League plans for peace. The Ambassador said he had received two telegrams from Rome to the above effect.
I interrupted the Ambassador before he got quite through, and said, “This is all bosh”; that we could not have been more scrupulous about preserving our own separate course with respect to this Ethiopian-Italian controversy and formulating our own policies without the remotest understanding or agreement of any description whatsoever [Page 868] with any other nation or League of Nations or other agency abroad; that our representatives at London, Paris, Rome and Geneva, had had this position of ours hammered in on them many times, and that they had been cautioned with the utmost care to let no one get the impression or if possible circulate any rumor to the contrary. I said that of course what was happening was not entirely unnatural and that was that when persons like some of those at Geneva were striving desperately to accomplish certain objectives they might find it plausible, on account of some similar step that a large country like this had taken—even though under its sole and separate program, to intimate and hint that there was some collaboration or some understanding or some agreement between such government and the forces at Geneva. I said, “We are almost daily cautioning our representatives at all of these capitals to smother and suppress such rumors and reports to the fullest possible extent. This we shall continue to do.” I then added that personally and officially and selfishly I had every possible motive to refrain from such agreements or collaboration, for the reason that the separate course of my Government was satisfying the peace people, was satisfying the bitterest critics of the Administration in and out of Washington, and was, therefore, avoiding terrific controversies such as those which grew out of the League of Nations situation in 1920. I finally, in the bluntest manner, referred to the entire situation and again stated that these disagreeable rumors would be spiked wherever we had the slightest intimation that they were in contemplation.
The Ambassador was rather persistent, but finally I dismissed the conversation with the statement just referred to. I am satisfied that he himself is thoroughly convinced about the matter. I said that my lengthy statement orally to the press last week77 was in reply to some of the bad reactions from other capitals about erroneous press reports in this country to the effect that this Government “had gotten out on a limb”, and that some of the people abroad had misinterpreted this as reflecting a state of disappointment on the part of myself and other Government officials, whereas this was all utterly baseless. I said that this Government, in accordance with its own separate independent course, had planned its own policies step by step without the slightest understandings, direct or indirect, with other nations or agencies.
The Italian Ambassador inquired whether this Government had taken up with Japan the Chinese situation. I replied that we were first undertaking to assemble the facts with a proper interpretation. I said I desired to repeat the great concern the Ethiopian-Italian war had given us, as well as doubtless to other countries: first, by making itself the most serious single factor in precipitating the Japanese-Chinese crisis; second, by prosecuting the Ethiopian-Italian war without [Page 869] apparent concern as to the steadily increasing danger of its spreading and thus involving other nations, and, of course, increasing the danger of this country becoming involved; and third, the complete slowing down and almost the stopping in its tracks of the Trade Agreements program for the restoration of international finance and trade to their normal volume, on account of the fear and uncertainty of businessmen engendered by the war. I emphasized the far-reaching nature of these three major difficulties and troubles which had been inflicted upon this and other countries by the present Ethiopian-Italian war. If the Ambassador should again bring up this subject, I shall inquire whether it is not very ungracious for a government voluntarily participating in a war which is the proximate cause of the Far Eastern crisis to turn around and complacently inquire of this Government what it is going to do regarding that crisis, and that this Government has infinitely more ground to request the Italian Government to desist from war than the Italian Government has to call on this Government to deal with some of the natural consequences precipitated by that war.