The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in China (Johnson)
221. Your 609, September 6, 11 a.m.10 The Department suggests for your consideration, as a basis for comment in your discretion to Madame Chiang Kai-shek in regard to American aviation instructors, the following:
As you are aware, there is a strong feeling and belief on the part of the American people that American citizens should not participate or become involved in fighting which may be taking place in any foreign country or countries and that American citizens should withdraw from and not proceed to any foreign country where serious fighting is in progress. Such belief is held irrespective of the foreign country or countries where such fighting is occurring. It is obvious that the attitude of the Government must be responsive to the beliefs of the American people.
Although it might possibly be argued from a technical point of view that American aviators proceeding to China to give instruction in China’s aviation schools would not be entering the military service of [Page 525] a foreign country, the fact that such American aviators would be giving military instruction to Chinese military aviators at a time when serious hostilities are going on between China and Japan would place the activities of such American instructors within the concept of military service as generally understood by the American people. Moreover, if the activities of such American citizens in China should make them subject to the provisions of Section 4090 of the Revised Statutes, they would of course be liable to prosecution in the United States Court for China. (In this connection see Shanghai’s 487, August 15, 3 p.m., and the Department’s telegraphic reply 241, August 17, 7 p.m.)
On April 11, 1934, the Department issued a press release11 reading in part as follows:
“… it should be stated that the Government of the United States disapproves of American citizens taking service in the armed forces of any foreign Government and if Americans do so it is on their sole responsibility and risk and they cannot look to their own Government for protection while in such service. Americans holding reserve commissions in our army will forfeit them if they enter the military service of a foreign country.”
For years the Department has informed inquirers that it is not the policy of the Department to encourage American citizens to take service or to enlist in the military establishments of foreign countries.
As you know the American Government is making strenuous efforts to have American citizens in general withdraw from China. This action is in line with similar action taken in regard to the withdrawal of American citizens from Spain and from other regions of the world where serious hazards exist. The Department is for the time being not issuing passports valid for travel to China except in unusual circumstances (such as, for instance, urgent business or “for some reason which the Department may consider sufficiently urgent to warrant such issue”.) In addition, your attention is invited to the Department’s telegraphic circular instruction of August 10, 6 p.m.12
In the opinion of the Department the foregoing makes it clear that the attitude of this Government in regard to the matter under discussion is not an arbitrary attitude on the part of the American Government but represents an attitude taken in response to the strong beliefs of the American people; and that such an attitude is not applicable to China alone and is not motivated by any desire to injure China.