Memorandum of Conversation, by the Acting Secretary of State

The Japanese Ambassador called to see me this morning at my request. I told the Ambassador that I had just received a message from the American Embassy in Chungking51 and that by direction of the President I was giving him a copy of the message for his information.

[Page 887]

The Ambassador read the message aloud.

When he had concluded I said to the Ambassador that by direction of the President I desired to inquire through him of the Japanese Government whether any responsible officials of the Japanese Government had authorized the bombing which had so nearly destroyed American lives and which was so clearly, from the accounts rendered by American observers, deliberately undertaken. I said that I felt I must make this inquiry in view of the official assurances given this Government by the Government of Japan after the Panay incident52 that every necessary order would be issued by the Japanese Government to prevent any recurrence of such an attack.

I stated further that I desired to inquire of the Japanese Government what measures, concrete and detailed, the Japanese Government proposed to take in order to prevent a further incident of this character.

The Japanese Ambassador asked me three or four times to repeat my inquiry until he repeated it himself correctly. He then said that he was confident that no responsible officer had authorized such an attack, which he believed was due solely to the “green” aviators and that the subordinate officers had been instructed to bomb Chungking but to take the necessary precautions to avoid danger to American lives and property. I remarked that it did not seem to me that if they had received such instructions they had paid any attention to them. I said that, as the Ambassador well knew, the gunboat and the American Embassy were on the other side of the river from Chungking and not adjacent to military objectives, and that I consequently could not accept the Ambassador’s explanation.

The Ambassador then went on to say that in his judgment there were only one or two alternatives to be followed—either for the Japanese to abandon the bombing of Chungking or for the American Embassy and gunboat to withdraw to a safer place. To this I merely replied that the American Embassy and the American gunboat had been located in places which, in our judgment, were removed from the city of Chungking, and that the second of the alternatives that he mentioned was not, therefore, acceptable.

The Ambassador said that he would immediately report my message to his Government. I stated to the Ambassador that it was unnecessary for me to impress upon him, in view of the situation which unfortunately existed between the two countries, the importance of the reply which might be made by his Government to this message.

S[umner] W[elles]
  1. Supra.
  2. Sinking of the U. S. S. Panay, by Japanese air attack December 12, 1937; see Foreign Relations, Japan, 1931–1941, vol. i, pp. 517563, and Foreign Relations, 1937, vol. iv, pp. 485 ff.