Memorandum by the Assistant Chief of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs (Adams)

Question of Withdrawal of American Marines From China

Reference Shanghai’s telegram no. 1083, August 14, 4 p.m., Chungking’s telegram no. 351, August 16, 11 a.m., and paraphrase of a naval telegram left at the Department of State by Secretary Knox63 on August 19.64

Admiral Glassford recommends, Colonel Howard concurs, and Consul General Lockhart concurs: that the American marines be withdrawn from China.

Admiral Glassford’s recommendation is based on his conviction that “despite Japanese Navy opposition, the Japanese Army will not long be restrained from taking over the International Settlement [”], that because of general deterioration in the local situation increasing demands are being made on the Fourth Marines to support the International Settlement police, which facts, he thinks, increase the chances that the marines may be involved in a serious clash, and that “there are generally grave potentialities in the present situation”.

Admiral Hart says, “I incline to support the above recommendation although I realize that many factors must be weighed in making a decision on this question.” It should be noted that the reasoning given relates especially to the situation at Shanghai and the Fourth Marines located there; it does not contain express mention of the situation in north China and the small contingents of marines located there. Also, that Admiral Hart merely inclines to support the recommendation.

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Mr. Lockhart, in expressing his concurrence, says that in the case of an open break (with Japan) with but little or no forewarning, the withdrawal of marines would be difficult if not impossible; that the presence of the marines at Shanghai has not been a deterrent to the Japanese in implementing their economic policies in that area; and that the strength of the contingent would be wholly inadequate in the case of military operations directed against them by an organized military force. (Mr. Lockhart’s comments are accurate but they are neither comprehensive nor penetrating. Taken by themselves, they do not weigh enough to tip the scales against the many considerations which can be advanced and which should be weighed against them.)

The American Ambassador, Mr. Gauss, who, from long experience, knows his China better than do any of the four officers mentioned above, and who has far greater responsibility in regard to the general political situation than have any of those officers, calls attention to the function of the marines, states that a major consideration in connection with proposals now to withdraw our forces should be the safety of the remaining Americans in China, states that the presence and the conduct of the said marines has been one of the most important factors in ensuring the safety of our nationals during past years, says that he does not believe that the marines should be withdrawn unless and until it becomes evident to the American Government that relations with Japan have deteriorated to a point where a rupture appears inevitable, says that if and when the marines are withdrawn facilities should be afforded immediately for the withdrawal of Americans who do not elect to remain on their own responsibility, expresses aversion to seeing us “scuttle prematurely”, and affirms that if the withdrawal takes place “we may be certain that the situation in Shanghai will deteriorate rapidly whether or not hostilities between the United States and Japan ensue”, and that “the position of Americans in China generally will be adversely effected”.

The mission of the American armed forces in China is to provide special protection for American nationals. Incidental to the protection of life comes protection of property, but protection of property as such is not a primary objective. Those forces are in no sense expeditionary forces. They are expected to protect lives but they are not expected to hold positions regardless of hazards. They would be expected to repel threatened incursions of mobs or of disorganized or unauthorized soldiery, but they would not be expected to hold a position against a responsibly directed operation of or occupation on the part of the armed forces of another country acting under the orders of their appropriate authorities. Situations may arise in which, for the protection of lives, the logical procedure will become that of evacuation. In such a situation the function of the armed forces would [Page 558] become that of assisting in the making of arrangements, of providing armed escort, facilities and general assistance in the activities of evacuation.

With regard to the general situation affecting American-Japanese relations, the United States is committed to assisting Great Britain, China and other states engaged in resisting aggression. Japan has embarked upon a course of aggression in areas of the Far East which include China. The course being pursued by Japan has resulted in the taking by the Government of the United States of a series of acts designed to protect American interests and to indicate disapproval of Japan’s aggressions. The latest of such acts was the “freezing” of Japanese assets in the United States.65 Relations between Japan and the United States may be described as strained and tense.

The situation in north China is reasonably quiet. The only military activities there at present are sporadic raids by guerrillas and efforts by Japanese military forces to suppress guerrilla activities.

At Shanghai the Japanese military forces have been making persistent efforts to encroach upon the International Settlement both through their own agencies and through local Chinese agencies under their control. There is believed to exist real danger that, given the slightest encouragement in the matter of developments unfavorable to Occidental interests, the Japanese may attempt to assume full military control over the International Settlement and control of the Chinese courts functioning there.

There are American, French and Italian military detachments ashore in China. The American detachments consist of 162 marines at Peiping, 16 at Chinwangtao, 111 at Tientsin and approximately 900 at Shanghai. The French have 43 men at Peiping, approximately 400 at Tientsin, Shanhaikuan, Tangku and Chinwangtao, and approximately 1070 at Shanghai. The Italians have 37 armed men at Peiping, approximately 150 at Tientsin, Tangku and Shanhaikuan, and 200 at Shanghai.

The Shanghai Municipal Council depends, for the maintenance of order, upon a well-organized police force numbering between five and six thousand armed men, including some 500 Occidentals, 300 Japanese, 500 Sikhs and about 4500 Chinese, supplemented (a) by the Shanghai Volunteer Corps consisting of Americans, British, Japanese, Russians, and other nationals numbering probably less than 2000 persons under the command of a professional military officer, and (b) by the armed forces of foreign countries. Experience has shown that the Shanghai police force and the Shanghai Volunteer Corps alone are not able to withstand Japanese encroachments. The presence [Page 559] ashore at Shanghai of the American marine detachment has given the police force and the Volunteer Corps of the International Settlement a reinforced assurance and confidence, in the carrying on of their responsibilities, far out of proportion to the mere numerical strength of the American marine detachment.

Withdrawal of the American marine detachments in China would give rise to much speculation. In some Chinese quarters the action would be hailed as indicating weakness; in other Chinese quarters the action might be taken to indicate that the United States was clearing the decks for further positive action. It is believed that British and Dutch public opinion would be similar to public opinion amongst the Chinese.

The initial Japanese reaction would probably be one of joy over the prospect of getting rid of American forces in China under any circumstances. This might be followed in some quarters by a reaction of sober uneasiness. The Japanese military would in all probability very shortly take advantage of the withdrawal of the marines by assuming control over the International Settlement at Shanghai and over the Legation Quarter at Peiping and by further perfecting and consolidating their economic grip upon occupied China.

  1. Frank Knox, Secretary of the Navy.
  2. Not found in Department files.
  3. See Executive Order No. 8832, July 26, 1941, Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. ii, p. 267.