Memorandum of Conversations, by the Chief of the Division of European Affairs (Moffat)
He began by saying that he had been puzzled, if not somewhat hurt, by the recent publicity in the American papers indicating considerable irritation against the British on a variety of subjects. When the war broke out, Secretary Hull and he had agreed to try and deal informally with cases as they arose and, whenever possible, to dispose of them without the writing (and particularly without the publication) of notes. The Ambassador had not been aware that so much irritation existed, and he wondered if he had not been in some way at fault. Whatever the causes, “the heat had been turned on,” and he was trying to see whether ways and means could not be found of easing the situation.
Judge Moore replied that there were, in fact, many causes of irritation, some justified and some growing out of an inadequate knowledge of the facts. A reading of the recent Senate debates, as well as conversations he had had with Congressmen, editors, et cetera, had convinced him that this feeling was widespread. Judge Moore instanced the feeling on tobacco where the North Carolina population was as pro-English as in any State of the Union, but where it felt its entire economic future to be jeopardized. He spoke of the situation in the South with regard to the purchases of lumber, where he felt that there had been considerable worry, but which was now being relieved by the sale of ships (specially earmarked) for its transportation.
Mr. Moffat stated that perhaps the Ambassador was asking for more fundamental reasons for the feeling that has grown up, not connected with individual commodities or individual disputes, but based on certain fears which, although not concretely expressed, were perhaps widely felt. In the first place, there was a general feeling that the United States had been particularly friendly to Great Britain, had even gone out of its way to give special forms of help, but that Great Britain had taken this friendship so much for granted, that she was giving more favorable treatment to countries which had not shown as friendly an attitude. A second cause was a fear that while Great Britain was bending all its energies toward pursuing a military war, it was at the same time entering into a series of commitments [Page 92] in its economic war which would have serious repercussions on American trade long after the war itself was over. Cases in point might be the agreements with Turkey, with the Argentine, et cetera. A third and more concrete fear was that in specific commodities there might be a change of taste on the part of the British consumer which would result in the permanent,—not merely the temporary,—loss of the British market.
The Ambassador said that this background was of real help to him. Of course, we knew the situation in which Great Britain found herself, struggling with all her resources against a powerful foe. The expenses of Britain’s war efforts were rising by leaps and bounds. Everything that was not an immediate necessity to life or limb had to be subordinated to the purchase of direct war matériel. In fact, the greatest error which, in his opinion, the British and French were making was in not restricting much further the consumption on the part of their populations. For instance, he felt there should be severe rationing of food, clothing, and other forms of normal purchases. Total British purchases in the United States had risen sharply. Foreign exchange was limited, and every cent of it was being mobilized. Turkey, which was a necessary bastion in the east, had virtually blackmailed Great Britain. Most non-military supplies which could be purchased elsewhere must be sought in alternative markets in order to save Britain’s vital dollar exchange.
With this background, the Ambassador hoped that we would be more understanding of the failure of the British to come into the American market for non-essentials. He was thinking about setting forth this picture as cold-bloodedly as possible, and perhaps inviting the suggestions of the American Government as to how the British could proceed within the limits of their available exchange so as to cause the least damage to American economy. Judge Moore and Mr. Moffat both said that the more information this Government had available the better, but that no American Government official could choose between American products and assume the responsibility of robbing Peter to pay Paul.
The Ambassador then came back to the question of publishing notes, which he felt created a bad press, particularly as the Neutrality Bill21 had the paradoxical effect of removing counterbalancing causes of friction between the United States and Germany. Mr. Moffat said that in principle we agreed that publication was inadvisable, and it had only been when a number of problems were not settled that the different Divisions in the Department and the different Departments of the Government felt the time had come to make their stand public. At the same time, it was pointed out that while the British objected [Page 93] to the publication of our notes, the official spokesmen in England had been commenting on the very points under discussion and not always in a way which had the happiest effect upon American psychology. A number of instances were mentioned. The Ambassador said that he was much impressed with the seriousness of the situation, and was already in telegraphic touch with his Government with a view to settling some of the points at issue.
Judge Moore said he thought that nothing would be more useful at the moment than for Britain to adopt a less rigid and more yielding attitude. On the matter of the censorship of Clipper mail at Bermuda, for instance, he wondered whether the advantages were worth the feeling that it had aroused. He feared that the British stand would even result in our having to route our Clippers by other routes, although it was very much to the interest of Britain to have speedy transatlantic mail service. The Ambassador agreed that the criterion should be: “Is a given course of action which is irritating to the United States absolutely necessary to win the war? If so, American public opinion cannot prevail; if it is merely a convenience and not a necessity, the British Government should definitely bear American reaction in mind.”
The Ambassador was going to see Mr. Hull when he recovered next week. Meanwhile, he would endeavor to keep in close touch with the Department, and hoped that we would feel free to call on him whenever desired. He said that he wanted to be of help, and that he did possess real influence in London. It was also suggested that members of his staff might make a practice of dropping down from time to time to talk things over informally with members of the Department, rather than of waiting until a specific case had arisen. The Ambassador pointed out that it was most unfortunate that Mr. Kennedy was not at his post in London22 as he was in a position to go to the Prime Minister,23 Lord Halifax,24 et cetera, and explain exactly how the American public would react in various contingencies. He himself had been hampered by the departure of Victor Mallet25 and the temporary absence of Hoyer Millar.26 He believed, however, that while there would always be questions arising between us, a better system of liaison would be able to keep these from developing into real friction.
3 p.m. Later in the afternoon Sir Owen Chalkley, Commercial Counselor of the British Embassy, called on Dr. Feis27 and Mr. Moffat, [Page 94] more particularly to discuss the tobacco situation. He explained at some length the Turkish agreement which was limited to the purchase by Britain of about nine hundred thousand pounds of Turkish tobacco a year; it was, nonetheless, a twenty-year agreement. Dr. Feis said that perhaps of all American products tobacco was most dependent upon the British market; Senator Bailey28 had told him that sixty percent of the North Carolina crop was sold to England and the Dominions. Sir Owen Chalkley said he had been giving a great deal of thought as to ways and means of finding the necessary exchange to increase British purchases of American tobacco, and was examining the suggestion made by Dr. Feis a few days ago that the excess of dollars obtained by virtue of the United States buying more rubber, tin, jute, et cetera than had been estimated might be allocated for this purpose.
Sir Owen Chalkley then talked at some length about British purchases of war materials, on which he supplied some interesting figures, and then about British purchases of agricultural products which are made in London and not in the United States. He was going to recommend that the British Government accredit an agricultural attaché to the Embassy at Washington who could keep in close touch with our Department of Agriculture, give the necessary facts and figures, and sense when any particular commodity situation became hazardous from the point of view of adverse public opinion.
He concluded by an earnest appeal that we endeavor to moderate the publicity about British “wrongdoing”, in return for which they would do their best to remedy the situations of which we complained. They would like very much to be restored to the status of a “good boy”, and hoped for some sort of public recognition to be given of their reform.
- R. Walton Moore, Counselor of the Department of State.↩
- Jay Pierrepont Moffat, Chief of the Division of European Affairs.↩
- Act approved November 4, 1939; 54 Stat. 4.↩
- Ambassador Kennedy was on a visit to the United States from November 29, 1939, to March 7, 1940.↩
- Neville Chamberlain.↩
- British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.↩
- Counselor of the British Embassy in Washington, 1936–39.↩
- First Secretary of the British Embassy in Washington.↩
- Herbert Feis, Adviser on International Economic Affairs.↩
- Josiah Bailey, Senator from North Carolina.↩