Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Western European Affairs (Moffat)

The Italian Ambassador39 called this morning with reference to our talk of February 20, regarding Italian propaganda in this country. He was now in receipt of a long four page telegram from Rome, signed by Mussolini, which he read to me textually.

This telegram referred (a) to Rosso’s previous recommendations, (b) to the report of the Committee on un-American activities, and (c) to the State Department’s aide-mémoire of February 20. The Italian Government frankly recognized that there had been in many cases a lack of discretion on the part of its agents which might have given rise to resentment. For instance, even before the receipt of the Ambassador’s telegram, a decision had been reached to transfer Ungarelli, the Vice Consul at Detroit against whose activities we had complained.

If any other Italian officials were giving grounds for criticism similar to that leveled against Ungarelli, the Embassy would be in [Page 547] a position to call them to account and take appropriate measures. The Italian Foreign Office, however, did not feel that by and large their officials had been guilty of excess zeal or indiscretion.

With regard to the school teacher-Vice Consuls, however, the telegram instructed Rosso to explain to the State Department exactly what was the purpose of their assignment. Once again the distinction was made between the individuals and their functions. If the State Department felt that any one of the three had exceeded the normal bounds of propriety, the Italian Government would promptly consider his removal. But for the American Government to ask that “no persons charged with duties similar to those performed” by the three school teacher-Vice Consuls be attached henceforth to Italian Consulates, and that “the free distribution in American schools of textbooks printed in Italy be discontinued”, seemed to the Italian Government to be unreasonable and difficult to comply with. The Italian Government had consistently adopted the policy of refraining from mixing in internal American affairs; it understood the desire of the American Government to hasten the fusion of elements of different nationalities; but it did not consider an attempt to improve cultural relations between Italy and American citizens of Italian descent was inconsistent with these two policies. The functions of the school teacher-Vice Consuls was to assist these cultural relations and in that connection to assist all schools which desired to teach the Italian language to obtain suitable textbooks. The Italian Foreign Office frankly recognized that the textbooks distributed to date had been inappropriate for use in American schools in that they had several passages which were of an admittedly nationalistic character, but on February 5 had issued orders substituting for these textbooks others of a sort that were not susceptible to similar criticism.

In short, the Foreign Office telegram indicated clearly a certain resentment at the implication in the State Department’s aide-mémoire that there was an impropriety in the avowed purpose for which the school teacher-Vice Consuls had been assigned.

In the circumstances, Ambassador Rosso asked that we give careful consideration to the points raised by the Italian Government and if possible modify the suggestions we had previously made to him.

I told him that naturally we would give careful consideration to any request of the Italian Government and that I should certainly talk it over with my superiors before giving him a specific answer. Meanwhile, however, I wanted to make two general observations: the first was that however logical the Italian telegram may have been, it struck me as though it were drafted without an appreciation of the probable reaction of an Anglo-Saxon population to something which seemed perfectly normal to a Latin; the second was that the purpose of this Government in making its suggestions at this time was to prevent an [Page 548] outburst (which we felt was in the offing) against Italian “propaganda”, which far from helping the Italian cause would create a certain bitterness and resentment between the two countries.

Ambassador Rosso said he was leaving tonight for a trip to Birmingham and New Orleans, and would be back about March 11. Meanwhile he hoped that we would be thinking over the situation and if we could evolve some practical solution which took into account the two points of view, he would welcome it.

Pierrepont Moffat
  1. Augusto Rosso.