121.840 Welles, Sumner/69½

Telegram From the British Prime Minister (Chamberlain) to the British Ambassador in the United States (Lothian)1

You may certainly take the earliest opportunity of informing the President that I am most interested in his proposal2 and appreciate fully the motives that have inspired it.

2. The information which the President has received from Germany corresponds with what has been reaching His Majesty’s Government, but in estimating the value of this information the President has no doubt observed that no announcement by any leading Allied statesman would justify the belief in Germany that Allied Governments intend upon victory to partition Germany. If German people do believe this it is because the German Government by means of their propaganda are forcing this belief upon them in the hope that by this means they may counteract any craving for peace among the German people and may be better able to reconcile them to further hardships and sacrifices.

3. As to the inevitability of a tremendous offensive in the spring this too has for some time past been put about by German propaganda as part of the war of nerves on which they are engaged. It must be realized that this war of nerves is directed not only against the belligerents but also against the neutrals. By keeping the neutrals on tenterhooks, especially those neutrals in close proximity to Germany, the German Government hope to create among them the general fear lest a continuance of the war will eventually involve them in hostilities either directly or indirectly. We do not therefore feel that this kind of propaganda is necessarily conclusive as to peace being more difficult of attainment later. It is not unreasonable to suppose that it is precisely the policy of the German Government to produce this impression under the mistaken idea that by this means they can mobilize world [Page 2] public opinion against the Allies who would be represented as being the sole obstacle in the way of peace.

4. I am gratified to note that the President is convinced of necessity that any peace settlement must include “guarantees that there would be no renewal of aggression during any of our life-times.” That is really the kernel of the difficulty and it is clear that the President appreciates the fact. It might not be so difficult to devise a settlement that apparently righted the wrongs done in recent months: whole difficulty is to find some means of assuring Europe that this could not be followed sooner or later by a renewed attack on the rights and liberties of the weaker European States.

5. We cannot imagine how such an assurance could be attained so long as Germany remains organised on the present lines and is under the direction of her present rulers. To demand as the condition of a peace that the present German regime shall be overthrown or changed may have one or other of two effects. It might encourage the German people to throw off Hitler’s regime or it might unite them behind Hitler from fear that the Allies and America are trying to disrupt Germany so as to destroy her. The former alternative is rendered rather remote by the fact of the complete grip which Hitler, the party and the party machine seem to have on a population that is traditionally and remarkably amenable to discipline. The latter alternative is to be feared because it is the obvious line for Hitler’s propaganda machine to take and because we should have to anticipate that they would use it skillfully and to the full.

6. But to be quite frank there would be the utmost difficulty in persuading people of this country and I believe of France that any settlement is worth signing with Hitler or present regime.

7. We have hitherto felt best method of handling this difficulty is to state the conditions which while not such as to invite rejection by considerable elements in Germany, are yet such as Hitler would find it impossible to accept. I infer that this is not far from the President’s thought, and 3 of the President’s 4 “freedoms” imply the disappearance of the present regime in Germany which could neither allow nor survive “freedom of information, freedom of religion and freedom for trade.”

8. We should of course fully subscribe to these but I should like further to make it plain that our [group corrupt]2a consider that any territorial or other settlement would have to be conditional on [group corrupt]2a provisions whereby these conditions were reasonably assured.

9. As to the President’s proposed procedure I should feel considerable diffidence in making any suggestions as he alone can know what will afford him best means of obtaining data on which to form a judgement.

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10. In any discussions however it would surely be desirable that Polish Government should be associated with those of Great Britain and France. Invasion of Poland was the immediate cause of the war; Poland is the ally of Great Britain and France in this war; and all three Governments are pledged not to make separate peace. Moreover as the President recognises, restoration of Poland is a prerequisite of any peace negotiations. I venture to hope therefore that Mr. Sumner Welles will while in Europe make a point of consulting Polish Government now established in France as well as other Governments mentioned by the President.

11. The President doubtless has in mind problem arising out of Soviet aggression on Finland2b and in view of the strong feeling thereby aroused throughout the world in support perhaps may consider whether it would be desirable to extend Mr. Sumner Welles’ enquiry in that direction.

12. The announcement of mission of Mr. Welles will of course produce a sensational impression throughout the world more particularly if it makes public full purpose of this initiative.

13. It may be that the President feels he cannot obtain data that he requires from his regular representatives in various capitals. But such a sensational intervention will raise hopes in some quarters and give rise to discussion—much of it ill-informed—in nearly all and if the President after weighing all considerations that I feel bound to submit to him feels full disclosure would best contribute to the ends he has in view, it would seem of great importance that he should give clear indication in announcement of his own conviction that first essential purpose to be achieved is durability of any settlement arrived at.

14. I must frankly admit to a good deal of anxiety lest the effect of this move however carefully presented should be to cause embarrassment to the democracies from which Germany, still unconvinced of the failure of policy of force, will reap advantage.

15. There is no doubt greater unity in France and England than there is in Germany but there are always elements in the community which do not share general opinion, and what I fear is that public announcement of the President’s initiative will at once bring these elements into open and vocal prominence in countries where “freedom of information” already exists. Since German public and press will remain dragooned and controlled there will ensue a false appearance of unity in Germany which will contrast very unfortunately with an apparent disunity in democratic countries. Period of waiting while Mr. Welles collects his information will be a critical one, and I am concerned at the thought that it may be used by German Ministry of Propaganda to emphasise divisions in ranks of their opponents, and thus alter the situation to our disadvantage.

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16. I am most anxious to avoid giving the President the impression that I do not fully appreciate the impulse which has inspired him to courageous proposal. On the contrary you may assure him that I will certainly cooperate to the best of my ability. But I earnestly hope that he will consider very seriously possible effects of a public announcement of purpose of Mr. Welles’ mission before this becomes absolutely necessary.

17. I am sure that he will not object to my putting my views on this most important matter to him with the same frankness which he has displayed to me (and for which I am deeply grateful).

18. You may if you wish show this telegram to the President and leave him a copy.

  1. Photostatic copy of undated telegram obtained from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, N. Y.
  2. Evidently the proposed mission to Europe of the Under Secretary of State had been discussed by President Roosevelt with the British Ambassador previously. No earlier record of these discussions has been found in Department files.
  3. Brackets appear in the file copy.
  4. Brackets appear in the file copy.
  5. See pp. 269 ff.