Memorandum by the Assistant Secretary of State (Wilson) of a Conversation With the British Ambassador (Lindsay)
Sir Ronald Lindsay called this morning and said that he had received from London two telegrams, both relaying Eden’s despatches reporting conversations with Norman Davis. He added that these despatches had set him wondering as to whether the wise procedure would not be to visit me, very confidentially, let me read the despatches and see if they checked with our reports.
I then read the despatches. They were long and difficult to recite. The first one began somewhat as follows: “Davis said he supposed we were finished with sanctions after our experience and did not want to apply them further.” Then followed Eden’s statement that they would go as far as we would in this matter in very similar terms to those reported by Norman Davis in his confidential telegram No. 10.73
The conversation, according to the telegram, then turned to educating American public opinion and Norman pointed out that the conference should be held in being for some time to achieve this purpose.[Page 161]
Eden then reports a conversation at lunch with Stanley Hornbeck74 in which the latter, according to Eden, stated that the Government of the United States had already prepared certain plans for bringing pressure on Japan, plans, Hornbeck is alleged to have added, which are so confidential that they should not, as yet, be spoken about. Hornbeck also spoke of the need of educating American public opinion.
In the second telegram Eden reports a further conversation in which Davis talked of his discussion with the President at Hyde Park and of the necessity of leaving open all discussion of measures of pressure, at least through the early stages of the conference. Eden then reports that he, Eden, stated that sanctions were of two kinds, inefficacious and efficacious, inefficacious were merely irritating and consolidated public opinion in the country against which they were applied, efficacious sanctions, on the other hand, quickly became acts of war and must not be undertaken without the fullest guarantees and commitments to see the thing through. (Here, as I remember it, Norman remarked that, in view of the European situation, Great Britain could not see the thing through and Eden replied that, in spite of the European situation, Great Britain would be disposed to give real assistance if the United States chose to follow this path.)
When I had read the second telegram and Lindsay asked my opinion, I stated that we both of us in years of diplomatic experience found that two scrupulously honest men would produce a different picture of the same conversation when they started to write their memorandum somewhat following the meeting; there might be no difference in facts, but there would be difference in shading. In this particular instance, from Norman’s reports, I had received the impression that the initiative of the discussion on means of pressure arose from Eden. From Eden’s two telegrams a different shading was visible as if the conversation arose from inquiry by Norman; when the question [Page 162] of public opinion in America was mentioned, I imagined that Norman had said “Of course, everything depends on public opinion in the United States.” As I read Eden’s despatch, I got the impression that Norman was talking of deliberate endeavor “to educate public opinion in the United States” towards the application of measures of force.
In closing I said that in the reports to us and the reports to him there seemed to be no conflict of fact, but rather conflict (if the word was not too heavy) of shades and impressions.
Lindsay said that what I had said confirmed his views, that he was glad we had had this conversation, which he thought was distinctly illuminating. I replied that I was glad he had brought me the telegrams, since it was helpful to see a picture from both sides.
- November 2, midnight, p. 145.↩
Mr. Hornbeck, Adviser on Political Relations, commented on February 24, 1938, as follows:
“This is a beautiful example of the way in which a statement made by one person to another, made record of by the latter, made mention of in a document prepared by a third person, read by a fourth person and made record of later by such fourth person may become distorted in the process. What occurred in the conversation under reference was briefly this: On the day on which the British Delegation arrived at Brussels, Mr. Eden with two or three of his British associates asked Mr. Davis, Mr. Moffat and me to join him at luncheon. The seating took place informally, and I landed on Mr. Eden’s left. At a certain moment Mr. Eden engaged me in conversation and before long asked me whether the United States was prepared to participate in any form of positive collective action. I replied that our Delegation had certain ideas on the subject of ways in which pressure might conceivably be brought to bear upon Japan but that we were proceeding on the theory that all possible methods of handling the situation by peaceful processes, that is, by processes of conciliation, should be thoroughly explored and that until such possibilities should have been exhausted discussion of methods for bringing pressure should not be embarked upon. I said nothing about ‘the Government of the United States’ or about ‘plans’ or about anything ‘so confidential that they should not, as yet, be spoken about’.”