Memorandum of Conversation, by the Secretary of State

The British Ambassador92 and the Australian Minister93 called at their request. They had no real business to take up with me, but they desired to obtain whatever information they could covering the talk of the President and myself with the Japanese Ambassador which took place yesterday.94 I said that there had thus far been no discussion, in an argumentative sense, of any of the questions and other matters pending between Japan and the United States; that there had been the usual preliminary remarks, but that the matter of getting down to real arguments and discussions of the issues involved is still ahead of us. I stated that in the first place this Government in the meetings thus far had merely stated its position with respect to the [Page 40] two or three most vital questions presented, and that in doing so we have been absolutely firm in every sense, so that no sign or symptom of the slightest yielding on our part would be visible. I then added that we frankly pointed out the serious concern of the American people caused by the Japanese policy and program of force and conquest and destruction of the rights and interests of all other nations, especially during the past four to six years.

A second serious matter to this country was the Tripartite Agreement, into which Japan had entered, and in which she gave away to Hitler95 and Mussolini96 the sovereign power of Japan to pass on the question of whether and when Japan should go to war; that these matters were of increasing concern to the American people; that there was room in the Pacific for everybody; that nobody wants or should want to go to war; that a war between our two countries would not be helpful, but hurtful to both countries; that, in the present increasing state of concern over the course of conquest by force on the part of Japan, it would be very easy for some “incident” to occur that would greatly inflame the entire 130 million people in the United States; that it is, therefore, exceedingly important to have a discussion of the policies and programs of our two countries during the past few years and ascertain the time and manner of divergence of the course of the two nations, which finally resulted in the Japanese Government, under a policy of force and conquest, moving in one direction, and this Government, with its policy of law and justice, and fair dealing and mutually profitable cooperation, moving in precisely the opposite direction. I then said that there was a real possibility of danger that should not be overlooked by any of the peaceful countries, and that was that the military group in control in Japan, by a sudden and unannounced movement, could any day send an expedition to the Netherlands East Indies and Singapore, or they could inch by inch and step by step get down to advanced positions in and around Thailand and the harbor of Saigon, so that that would be as near a fait accompli as possible, leaving the peacefully disposed elements of Japan, including the Ambassador to this country, to express their amazement at such a movement or movements and to say that such actions were without their knowledge or consent. The Ambassador and Minister seemed to be impressed with these possibilities. I said further that we were giving daily attention to all phases of the Pacific area question in the light of our past acts and utterances and conversations with the Ambassador and Minister.

The Australian Minister expressed the feeling that the danger to his country was steadily increasing.

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I was careful not to include in my remarks anything of special significance or of a trouble-making nature in order to avoid any possible sensational publicity, and I repeatedly cautioned the Ambassador and Minister against sending even these general statements in language at all significant to their respective Foreign Offices.97

C[ordell] H[ull]
  1. Viscount Halifax.
  2. Richard G. Casey.
  3. Memorandum printed in Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. ii, p. 387.
  4. Adolf Hitler, German Chief of State, Führer and Chancellor.
  5. Benito Mussolini, Italian Prime Minister and Head of Government.
  6. The Secretary of State also received the Netherland Minister (Loudon) on February 15 and gave him “an abridgment of the statement” made to the British and Australian representatives; Dr. Loudon “made an earnest plea for arms” from the United States, as he felt that the Netherlands East Indies were in an increasingly dangerous situation (711.94/2041).