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

The Italian Ambassador, after an absence in New Orleans and other southern cities of nearly two weeks, returned to Washington March 12. During the course of a conversation today, the subject of Italian propaganda covered in our talk of February 28 was raised.

To make certain that there was no misunderstanding, I read to the Ambassador the aide-mémoire I had made of this earlier conversation. (He said that this was substantially correct.)

I then said that my superiors had given considerable thought to the points he had made. They were gratified that the Italian Government had independently and before our talk decided upon the transfer of Vice Consul Ungarelli.

In the matter of the school teacher-Vice Consuls and their activities, however, I had been asked to make the following observations to him.

The line between “the development of cultural relations” and “propaganda” is a fine one; in fact there may at times be an honest difference of opinion between the two countries as to whether certain acts fall within one category or the other. It is certainly not the purpose of the American Government to engage in a discussion with the Italian Government as to the line of demarcation.

The informal suggestions made by the Department of State in its aide-mémoire of February 20 were motivated by two considerations: (1) a desire to explain in utmost frankness the American reaction to a practice which undoubtedly appeared above criticism to the competent authorities in Rome; and (2) a desire to prevent a public outburst against Italian “propaganda” (of which according to various indications in our possession there was a real danger) which would cause a bitterness and resentment between the two countries out of all proportion to the possible gain through the type of official cultural rapprochement under discussion.

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There is another angle to the picture. It is at least open to serious question whether the activities of the school teacher Vice Consuls including the distribution of textbooks fall within the bounds of normal consular functions. Our authorities feel that they do not. But without pressing this point at the moment, I should point out that these school teacher Vice Consuls are protected by recognized privileges and immunities which not only enshroud their work in a certain mystery but link them directly to the Italian central government in a type of activity which it is not felt should be pursued by that central government in this country. So long as these practices continue the danger of arousing adverse sentiment in this country will persist.

There are many ways of fostering proper and valuable cultural relations between the two countries,—developed in lesser or greater degree by foreign countries including Italy,—which are not tied up with diplomatic or consular establishments. Of course, even here if it were felt that “propaganda” were being fostered, it would produce an inevitable adverse reaction; but as Rosso has informed us that such is not the purpose of the Italian Government the danger of “cultural development” being confused with “propaganda” would be very much reduced if cultural activities were carried on by some non-official organization, whose functions were known, which enjoyed no immunities, and whose premises were accessible to the public.

The entrusting of the development of cultural relations to some such organization would tend to allay the suspicion and antagonism which are apparently engendered by the present procedure.

The Ambassador said that he clearly understood the points we had made and the distinctions we had in mind and would so report to his Government, He said that it was clear that the authorities in Rome realized that all was not well. It was a slow process, however, to convince them that the situation should be remedied along certain well defined lines which Italians with a knowledge of American psychology recommended as most appropriate to meet the circumstances.

Pierrepont Moffat