740.00115 European War 1939/28: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in France (Bullitt)62

1107. Attention is called to the message of the Embassy at Berlin to the British Foreign Office transmitted from the Embassy as no. 42 Sept. 22, 5 p.m. The message raises the question of treatment of civilian enemy aliens.

During the years 1914–18 nearly all belligerents adopted the rigorous expedient of internment of such enemy aliens, at least of adult males. This treatment meant widespread and seemingly unnecessary suffering to thousands of innocent persons. It evolved in the initial stages of the great war and developed into a general practice as a consequence of reprisals.

As yet the Department is not aware that any of the belligerents have made a general practice of interning civilian enemy aliens, but there are indications that the practice which was followed 25 years ago, of the institution of internment as reprisal for alleged analogous acts by the enemy, is now in the process of development.

It will be remembered that for the past 80 years there has grown gradually among civilized states, the conviction that there must be no retaliation against prisoners of war and that this conviction [Page 642] received international sanction in the Convention of Geneva of 1929.63 It was argued that it was unjust to punish these unfortunates for acts over which they had no jurisdiction and for which they could not conceivably be held responsible. The same reasoning would seem to apply to civil enemy aliens unfortunate enough to be caught under enemy jurisdiction at the outbreak of war. Just as the nations have abandoned the idea that prisoners of war are hostages for the good behavior of the enemy, so the same idea in respect to civilians might be upheld.

While there is still time and before this practice comes into being, this Government earnestly hopes that the belligerent governments will give thought to means of avoiding this harshness to civilians, perhaps by mutual release for repatriation through neutral countries of adult males under parole not to bear arms, such paroles to be reported to the enemy government or governments through the Powers representing their interests in enemy countries.

It is obvious that belligerents may feel it essential to maintain surveillance and some restriction upon the acts of civilian enemy aliens, but it is to be hoped that such necessary measures will not be carried to the extreme of internment en masse for the war’s duration.

You are requested to bring the matter to the attention of the appropriate authorities, explain orally that Berlin, Paris, London have received identical instructions, express the hope that, as the desired result may well depend upon immediate reciprocal agreement, the government to which you are accredited will indicate its views as promptly as possible in order that this Government may effect a mutual exchange of assurances.

  1. The same telegram was sent to Berlin as No. 605, September 29, 5 p.m., and to London as No. 1115, September 29, 6 p.m.
  2. Foreign Relations, 1929, vol. i, p. 336.