711.94/1948: Telegram

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

46. Peiping’s 42, January 27, 3 p.m. and Tokyo’s 120, January 27, 1. p.m.53 Marine-gendarme incident. On the afternoon of January 28 Mr. Terasaki called on Mr. Benninghoff saying that he came personally and unofficially as a friend in an attempt to ascertain whether any solution of the incident could be found in a spirit of conciliation. The conversation lasted 3 hours.

Mr. Terasaki said that on studying the case he had reached the conclusion that the only way a settlement could be reached was to attempt a compromise. He thought that perhaps the Japanese Army might be persuaded to apologize for the second half of the incident (the arrest and detention of the marines) if the marines apologized for the first half (the affair at the cabaret). He said that if the attitude of the [Page 482] Americans was not too cut and dried he was willing to approach the Japanese Army and see what could be done.

Mr. Benninghoff told Mr. Terasaki and repeated it emphatically several times that the marines would not be satisfied with regard to the maltreatment and detention unless the competent Japanese military authorities made a full and complete apology for the unwarranted action of their men. Mr. Terasaki said that he would be willing to try to persuade the army to make amends along the lines indicated but wished to know how far the Americans would go toward assuaging Japanese feelings with regard to the first part of the incident concerning which they felt aggrieved.

Mr. Benninghoff said there was no question of an American apology and that regardless of the Japanese assertions the Americans felt that Private Sims was completely justified in striking the Japanese (whose nose, it appears, was broken). Mr. Benninghoff said, however, that in a desire to assist in bringing about a settlement he would endeavor to ascertain how far Colonel Turnage would go in making some general statement of regret that an incident had taken place provided a genuine apology was first received from the Japanese.

Mr. Benninghoff gained the impression from the conversation that Mr. Terasaki was of the personal opinion that the gendarmes were in the wrong regardless of the origin of the incident. I received the same impression from him on January 27.

I discussed the matter with Colonel Turnage yesterday. He said that he was under orders to confine his negotiations to statement concerning Japanese amends. He believed if the Japanese complied with his three requests he would be willing to express his regret that an incident had taken place between American marines and Japanese gendarmes; he added that he could not, of course, consider making any apology for the action of his men, and in this view the Embassy concurs.

Mr. Benninghoff met Mr. Terasaki last evening. He told him that there could be no question of altering Colonel Turnage’s three requests and that so far as the Colonel was concerned there could be no settlement unless these requests were complied with.

Mr. Terasaki was not disposed to argue those points and Mr. Benninghoff received the impression that he considered them reasonable. Mr. Benninghoff further said that Colonel Turnage would be happy to express his appreciation for receiving the Japanese apologies and that in return the Colonel would be willing to express his regret that an incident should have taken place between Japanese gendarmes and American marines but that the Colonel could not go so far in such a statement as to make an apology. Mr. Terasaki felt that he could not take such an “unbalanced” agreement to the Japanese military and he expressed the belief that nothing further could be done.

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Mr. Benninghoff again received the impression that Mr. Terasaki deprecated the “second half” but that he was not in a position to urge the Japanese military to apologize for that part of the incident unless the Americans felt willing to apologize for breaking the gendarme’s nose and in general accepted responsibility for the origin of the incident.

The attitude of the Japanese military in this matter illustrates once again their peculiar mental processes. United States Marine authorities in China on a number of occasions, when they felt that their men had been to blame, have voluntarily and without waiting for any Japanese request expressed their regrets to Japanese authorities. The Japanese military, however, will rarely admit any wrong on their part no matter how blatant their actions may have been.

Counselor Tsuchida in charge of the Japanese Embassy here left yesterday by plane for Tokyo. It is obvious that the Japanese Embassy here goes in fear and trembling of the Japanese military; what Mr. Matsuoka can or may be willing to do remains to be seen.54

Sent to the Department. Repeated to Chungking, Tokyo, Shanghai.

  1. Latter not printed, but see Ambassador Grew’s oral statement, January 27, 1941, Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. i, p. 707.
  2. Yosuke Matsuoka, Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs, received Ambassador Grew’s representations on January 27; see Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. i, p. 707. No further action was taken, the affair remaining an unsettled incident.