The Secretary of State to the Chairman of the House Committee on Military Affairs ( Hill )

My Dear Mr. Hill: I appreciate the opportunity you have given me of commenting upon H. R. 1608, “To provide for the common defense by acquiring certain commodities essential to the manufacture of supplies for the armed forces in time of an emergency, and for other purposes”,1 and regret the necessity for delaying my reply.

I may say at the outset that I am in favor of the underlying purpose of the bill, the accumulation in this country under arrangements which will insure their maintenance, of minimum reserve stocks of certain materials essential to the operation of our military forces and industrial organization in time of possible war, and which would not be available in sufficient amounts from domestic sources. Furthermore, the accumulation of such supplies might prove most useful during difficult periods of neutrality, facilitating the execution of neutrality policy.

However, I am inclined to question whether separate legislation, in particular the measure under reference, offers the most effective and desirable means for achieving that objective.

In the first place, I fear that in so far as it is expected that the materials will be provided on the basis of credits against the debts due to the United States arising out of the World War,2 it would prove a disappointment and place long delays in the way of any actual accomplishment.

In the second place, I think it is likely that the provisions which contemplate the acquisition of materials by the barter of agricultural surpluses would prove similarly disappointing, as well as possibly [Page 869] involving preferential arrangements which might work contrary to the commercial policy of this Government.

Further, I believe it a matter of great importance that the steps we take in this field be so handled as to avoid possible interpretation as a step towards economic isolation or self-sufficiency. This would set back our attempts to restore our own foreign trade, and impair our leadership in the movement which seeks to minimize the possibility of world conflict by normalizing trade relations. Finally, I believe there is a risk that the emphasis which separate legislation dealing only with the question of strategic raw materials might give, would create unjustified fear in this country and abroad of an official belief in the likelihood of war in which we should be a participant.

In view of the above considerations, I venture to suggest to the Committee that the purpose in view might be better served by adequate authorizations in the annual appropriation bills for the nation’s armed forces for the purchase of the necessary materials so as to assure the gradual accumulation of adequate reserves.

Because of the nature of the matters I have discussed in this communication, and since the whole question is still at a tentative state of consideration both in Congress and by the interested Executive branches of this Government, I would appreciate it if the Committee would regard this communication as confidential.

Sincerely yours,

Cordell Hull
  1. Introduced by Representative Charles I. Faddis, January 5, 1937, and referred to the Committee on Military Affairs; Congressional Record, vol. 81, pt. 1, p. 34. Letters dated February 19 and March 23, 1937, from Mr. Hill to the Secretary of State, not printed.
  2. See pp. 846 ff.