711.00111 Armament Control/1501
Memorandum of Conversations, by the Chief of the Office of Arms and Munitions Control (Green)
Mr. Lutz, of the United States Maritime Commission, called at CA22 early this afternoon. In my absence, he showed Mr. Allen23 two drafts of a press release in regard to the action which the Commission proposed to take pursuant to the President’s statement of September 14, 1937, prohibiting Government-owned merchant vessels from transporting arms to China or Japan. Mr. Lutz said that the Commission proposed to issue this release in one or the other form immediately unless the Department perceived some objection.
Mr. Allen pointed out that the action which the Commission proposed to take and to announce to the public far exceeded the action which the President apparently intended should be taken pursuant to his announcement. In particular, the Commission proposed to prohibit Government-owned merchant vessels from transporting any of the enumerated arms to third countries if there were any reason to assume that the ultimate destination of the arms would be China or Japan.
Mr. Allen took Mr. Lutz to the Secretary’s office, and the Secretary suggested various radical changes in the proposed press release.
Later in the afternoon, Mr. Kennedy, Chairman of the Commission, called me by telephone and said that, in view of the Secretary’s [Page 534]objections to the original draft, as expressed to Mr. Lutz, the Commission had made a new draft, which he read to me over the telephone, as follows:
“Conforming with the statement of policy made by the President on September 14, the United States Maritime Commission yesterday issued an order prohibiting the transportation on Government owned vessels from the United States or its possessions to China or Japan of arms, ammunition or implements of war as listed in the President’s Proclamation of May 1, 1937, irrespective of whether or not the voyage already has commenced. Immediately affected by the Commission’s order was the Steamship Wichita which is operated in the Far East trade for the account of the Commission by the Roosevelt Steamship Company of New York. The Steamship Wichita sailed in August from the Atlantic Coast carrying among her cargo nineteen airplanes and a miscellaneous shipment of small arms. Prior to the vessel putting into San Pedro, California, to refuel for her trans-Pacific voyage, the Commission had directed that the airplanes and small arms be discharged at that port. It is expected that the discharge of the airplanes and small arms as directed by the Commission will be completed late today, whereupon the Steamship Wichita will continue her voyage.”
After consulting the Secretary, I called Mr. Kennedy again by telephone and suggested that the statement be issued to the press in the following form:
“Conforming with the statement of policy made by the President on September 14, the United States Maritime Commission yesterday issued an order prohibiting the transportation on Government owned vessels from the United States or its possessions to China or Japan of arms, ammunition or implements of war as listed in the President’s Proclamation of May 1, 1937.
“This order will be complied with by all Government owned vessels, including the SS Wichita.”
Mr. Kennedy offered strenuous objection to the proposed change, stating that, in his opinion, such a statement as the Secretary suggested would lead the press to believe that the Commission was attempting to hide something and would result in a series of articles attempting to disclose matters not covered by the release. He said that, nevertheless, he would defer to the Secretary’s desires in the matter and would issue the release in the form which I suggested.
In the course of our conversation, Mr. Kennedy stated that in the cargo of the SS Wichita, in addition to the nineteen planes which were consigned to Hong Kong, and not to Shanghai, as previously stated, there were a small shipment of arms and ammunition consigned to Shanghai and a small shipment of arms and ammunition consigned to Saigon. He said that the Commission had ordered the master of the Wichita to unload all of these articles at San Pedro.[Page 535]
I suggested to Mr. Kennedy that the Commission seemed to me by this action to be exceeding the President’s instructions, particularly in ordering a consignment of arms destined to Saigon to be unloaded at San Pedro.
Mr. Kennedy replied that he did not believe that the vessel could safely proceed to Far Eastern waters if it were carrying any arms whatsoever. He said that he felt that the action of the Commission had made it possible for the Department to inform the Japanese that there were no arms included in the cargo of the SS Wichita. He expressed the opinion that, unless the Japanese Government understood this fact clearly, the vessel would undoubtedly run afoul of Japanese warships.