711.94/1897: Telegram

The First Secretary of Embassy in China ( Smyth ) to the Secretary of State

3. Peiping’s 1, January 1, noon and 2, January 2, 4 p.m., marine-gendarme incident. There is increasing evidence that this brutal and unwarranted assault on and illegal arrest and detention of unarmed and well behaved American marines by armed Japanese gendarmes was deliberately engineered by the Japanese military and/or gendarmes. Captain Munson,10 Assistant Military Attaché, who speaks Japanese and has a wide acquaintance among Japanese in Peiping, is convinced that the whole affair was deliberately arranged by the Japanese.

It appears that the armed Japanese civilian who provoked the incident had gone around inside the International Cafe some minutes prior to his shoving of the marine and generally conducted himself in a deliberately insulting manner toward the American marines who were seated at the Cafe tables. It further appears that this Japanese civilian may not have been intoxicated but merely acted as if drunk.

It is significant that this man after failing in his first attempts to provoke the marines inside the Cafe continued his efforts until he had drawn a gun and been disarmed by marines. It is even more significant that a large force of Japanese gendarmes arrived only a few minutes after the incident occurred; the immediate and brutal measures upon their arrival was a further indication that their course of action had probably been carefully planned before their arrival on the scene.

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Further evidence that the affair was deliberately premeditated by the Japanese was received this morning from Doctor Leighton Stuart11 who is in close touch with the local Japanese-controlled régime. He states that the Japanese have been spreading word among the Chinese members of the Hsin Min Hui that this incident was staged by the Japanese to demonstrate to the local Chinese population that the Japanese military have complete control over the American marines. Doctor Stuart states that the Japanese have pointed out to the Chinese that they arrested five marines and detained them for 17 hours despite all protests and demands for their release by the American Commandant; the Japanese added that this shows that they could drive the American marines out of Peiping whenever they so desired.

There appears to be no question that the whole affair was deliberately planned by the Japanese, but it is not easy to determine the motives behind the Japanese action. Any one, a combination of several, or all of the following reasons might have been the cause:

A desire to stir up trouble with American marines which might inspire isolationists in the United States to demand the recall of the marines from China,
Japanese resentment against Americans in general due to a feeling that the United States is blocking Japanese aims and ambitions in the Orient,
Japanese resentment against American marines in particular because of the arrest of Japanese gendarmes by American marines in Shanghai last July,12
A desire to impress the local Chinese population with the might of the Japanese Army and cast disrepute on American prestige,
A general feeling of truculence,
A desire to show Admiral Nomura, new Japanese Ambassador to the United States who was visiting Peiping at the time, that the Japanese military in North China would brook no interference with their plans or policies in this area and perhaps other reasons as well.

No reply has yet been received by Colonel Turnage to the three demands presented by him to the Japanese yesterday and it may be several days before a reply is forthcoming. It is believed, however, that the Japanese military are now endeavoring to manufacture evidence to bolster up what is clearly an untenable position on their part. It is probable that they will bring pressure to bear on the Russian proprietor and employees of the International Cafe to make false reports. As for the probable testimony of the Japanese civilians and gendarmes concerned it is pertinent to recall that it has been demonstrated on numerous occasions in the past that Japanese have scant respect for the truth when it conflicts with their peculiar conceptions of loyalty to the Army or the Emperor.

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The case of the American marines is thoroughly sound and unassailable. The marines were well behaved, offered not the slightest provocation and maintained their discipline and self control under extremely trying circumstances. Colonel Turnage is determined to stand firm on his three demands and in this he has the complete and unqualified support of this Embassy. It is likely that the actions and attitude of the American authorities in this case are being carefully watched not only by the Japanese but also by the Chinese here and any weakening of the American attitude would unquestionably have a most unfortunate effect on American prestige in the Far East. The Embassy is of the opinion that this opportunity should be taken to demonstrate clearly to the Japanese military and the Japanese Government that the United States will not tolerate such flagrant and outrageous action by the Japanese military. It is, therefore, respectfully suggested that even if the Japanese military comply with Colonel Turnage’s demands the Department may wish to consider the desirability of some gesture or action on the part of the United States Government which would manifest the determination of the United States to uphold its rights, interests, and prestige in the Far East.

Sent to the Department. Repeated to Chungking, Tokyo, Shanghai and to Manila for the information of the Commander-in-Chief Asiatic Fleet.

  1. Capt. Frederick P. Munson, U. S. A.
  2. American President of Yenching University, Peiping.
  3. See Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. ii, pp. 101104, 106108.