740.00/899: Telegram

The Consul at Geneva ( Bucknell ) to the Secretary of State

82. The President’s message to Hitler and Mussolini has been hailed in Geneva as one of the most important events in current history. Observers generally speak of the personal courage and foresight required by the President’s action and say that perhaps the immediate and major results of the message are (a) that totalitarian claims of encirclement and of the impossibility of satisfying their legitimate needs by peaceful methods has now been exploded; (b) that a greatly strengthened moral basis for a united democratic opposition to further gangster methods has been established; (c) that the United States has now declared in unmistakable terms its opposition to and abhorrence of war as a means of settling differences between nations and its determination to “do its part” to end the safe use of aggression to enforce demands, legitimate or otherwise; (d) that however much the message may be misinterpreted in the totalitarian press or in official statements in these countries, it must have an inevitable even though delayed effect on the people of these states.

It is generally felt that Hitler and Mussolini will not accept the President’s proposals, but opinion varies as to what form the refusal will take. Some basing their opinion on current comment in the German and Italian press feel that a flat “no” will constitute the reply.

Others feel that an attempt will be made to appeal to the isolationist sentiment in the United States and that the reply will be milder than might be expected from Axis press comment and that an effort will be made to depict the Axis as the injured party who far from having any aggressive attentions [intentions?] toward anyone is being attacked and encircled by enemies who refuse and will refuse at a conference or otherwise to permit Germany and Italy to exist on an equal basis with other free and sovereign powers. All circles, however, believe that the replies will be negative, however couched, and that in spite of recognized Italian hesitation will be identic.

Observers pointed out that only a few “safe” or relatively “safe” points for aggression in Europe remain and list them as Hungary and possibly Lithuania and Yugoslavia. With regard to the last, Avenol14 spoke of it today as having betrayed itself into the hands of the Axis. Even aggression in these areas, however, is becoming more dangerous as a result of: (a) The reported progress in Franco-British [Page 138] negotiations particularly with Russia, and (b) the position of the United States as indicated in the President’s message. For these reasons observers are of the opinion that in the event of a refusal from the Axis the message may tend to hasten events and that the period of calm mentioned by the President may soon be brought to an end.

  1. Joseph Avenol, Secretary of the League of Nations.