851.00/2438: Telegram

The Ambassador in Chile ( Bowers ) to the Secretary of State

577. Reference to my telegram No. 576 November 4, 9 p.m. The full translated text of the Foreign Office note follows:

Mr. Ambassador: On the 24th of October last, the Government of Chile requested the Government of Germany, through its Embassy at [Page 40] Berlin, that the death penalty not be applied to numerous French hostages threatened with immediate execution because of the assassination of two high officials of the German army of occupation.

At the same time, this Chancery instructed its Diplomatic Agent to state in a friendly manner that the severity of reprisal through people innocent of the crime which was being prosecuted was augmented by the circumstance that a thorough investigation had not been conducted and was causing profound grief in Chilean public opinion.

The Government of Chile deemed that the step it was taking was in perfect accord with the spirit of the resolutions on the humanization of war, approved in four recent Pan American assemblies and with the spirit of the Conventions signed at the Hague,2 Bern3 and Geneva4 on the same subject.

The moral and juridicial progress which the peoples of our hemisphere have attained has always inspired them to condemn all unnecessary violence and especially to welcome and adopt as their own all rules which have been formulated to mitigate the situation of the wounded, the prisoners and the civil populations.

If such rules are violated by those belligerents who, in times of peace, have participated in their formulation, the American community may not, therefore, consider them invalid nor cease to invoke them.

The American States, having incorporated these rules in their own international code on the conduct of war, wish that all nations observe them for the benefit of civilization. Chile particularly as a contracting party of the international instruments which establish them, considers that it is of positive interest that they be fulfilled in their letter and their spirit and for that reason has had them in mind in initiating these representations.

Reprisals exacted on the lives of hostages are without doubt contrary to the elemental principles of justice and humanity. They constitute a singularly anachronous immoderation of force for their practice has been abolished for centuries among Christian peoples. Nor would it be possible to accept the sacrifice of hostages as an integral element of what some doctrinaires call ‘total war’, for no American State professes this theory.

The constant efforts of the American nations in favor of such postulates of justice would be worthless if when faced by such concrete cases of violation they should not remember them to the end that they be respected but should allow them to perish amidst selfish indifference.

An opportune statement by the Governments of our continent in the form considered most effective, might lead to a moderation of the rigors of the European war in regard to the treatment of the civil populations, the prisoners and the hostages.

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It cannot be supposed that the collective voice of America would be ignored or received with displeasure as it is not raised for purposes of intervention or in hostile spirit, but rather inspired by the purest humanitarian sentiments and only for the purpose of once more placing in harmony its statements and its actions.

The Government of Chile believes that it would be fitting to reaffirm the principles of humanization of war contained in the international agreements mentioned above and especially in the following Pan-American resolutions: number XXXIV on ‘Humanization of war’, of the Conference for the Maintenance of Peace which met at Buenos Aires in 1936;5 number XVI of Eighth Pan-American Conference at Lima in 1938;6 the preamble of resolution CIX of the same Conference;7 number VII [VI?] of the First Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the American Republics held in Panama in 1939;8 number IX of the same,9 and resolution number IV of the Second Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the American Republics at Habana in 1940.10 The last of these establishes that ‘It is America’s unavoidable duty, for reasons of human solidarity, to contribute to the alleviation of the suffering and misery of victims of war’. Consequently the Government of Chile trusts that the considerations herein set forth will induce Your Excellency’s Government to study the opportuneness of a statement in the nature suggested above as to extend to the nations stricken by the actual conflict an effective moral cooperation on the part of America for the purpose of lessening the cruel effects of the conflict.

I avail myself [etc.]

Juan B. Rossetti”

  1. Convention respecting the laws and customs of war on land, signed October 18, 1907, Foreign Relations, 1907, pt. 2, p. 1204.
  2. Agreement concerning prisoners of war, sanitary personnel, and civilians, signed November 11, 1918, ibid., 1918, supp. 2, p. 103.
  3. Convention for the amelioration of the condition of the wounded and sick of armies in the field, signed July 27, 1929, ibid., 1929, vol. i, p. 321; convention relative to the treatment of prisoners of war, signed July 27, 1929, ibid., p. 336.
  4. For correspondence regarding this Conference, see Foreign Relations, 1936, vol. v, pp. 3 ff.; for Resolution XXXIV, see Report of the Delegation of the United States of America to the Inter-American Conference for the Maintenance of Peace, Buenos Aires, Argentina, December 1–23, 1936 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1937), p. 232.
  5. See Foreign Relations, 1938, vol. v, pp. 1 ff.; for Resolution XVI, see Report of the Delegation of the United States of America to the Eighth International Conference of American States, Lima, Peru, December 9–27, 1938 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1941), p. 123.
  6. Ibid., p. 189.
  7. See Foreign Relations, 1939, vol. v, pp. 15 ff.; for Resolution VI, see Report of the Delegate of the United States of America to the Meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the American Republics, Held at Panamá, September 23–October 3, 1939 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1940), p. 57.
  8. Ibid., p. 60.
  9. See Foreign Relations, 1940, vol. v, pp. 180 ff.; for Resolution IV, see Report of the Secretary of State, Second Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the American Republics, Habana, July 21–30, 1940 (Washington, Government Printing Office, 1941), p. 63.