Memorandum of Conversation, by the Secretary of State

The British Parliamentary Under Secretary, Mr. Richard Law, accompanied by the Ambassador, called to pay his respects. No particular business was taken up. The conversation was informal and related to a number of topics such as the war and some brief references to disarmament questions ahead, together with the world problem of keeping the peace by force, and some references to commercial policy.

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In answer to an inquiry about disarmament I said that the real problem of this country for some years has been that of rearmament rather than disarmament and that, therefore, we had no particular outstanding authority on that question except perhaps Mr. Norman Davis,43 with whom Mr. Law might wish to talk. I referred to the Under Secretary, the Assistant Secretaries, the Political Advisers and the heads of the geographical divisions in the Department, any one of whom knew something of this and related subjects.

I then proceeded on my own initiative to refer to the reports that the British Government was apprehensive lest this Government was delaying entirely too much discussions with a view to satisfactory progress dealing with the whole problem of financial, commercial and economic policy, with special reference to Article 7 of the Atlantic Charter.44 I said that British officials could not be more mistaken than to have the impression that this Government is even remotely disposed to delay suitable consideration and action on these subjects with all possible education of public opinion accompanying the formation of concrete programs. At this dark period of the war when well nigh every person of any intelligence is deeply concerned and engrossed with the outcome of this struggle now seemingly hanging in the balance, it is very difficult to proceed in preparing some of the more important phases of post-war planning since it would not be difficult to start a serious backfire of criticism that would be taken up by the country against too much attention at this pivotal time with mere postwar planning; that this Government is nevertheless just as much alive to its importance and its necessity as it would be if the present conditions permitted the fullest and most open conferences and agreements at this stage.

In the course of the conversation relative to post-war planning, with special reference to the creation of an international organization to keep the peace among nations by force if and when necessary, I said with emphasis that no matter how complete, satisfactory and workable any structure of world peace and political stability might be, it would be fatal to overlook the big fact that this entire peace and political structure must have a solid economic foundation on which to rest. If this problem, which will be the biggest to grapple with following the war, should not be kept especially in mind and carried through to a successful termination by establishing efficient international trade, a sound financial and general economic structure, the same conditions of unemployment, distress and privation would arise [Page 202] in many parts of the world just as it did following the last World War, with the result that agitators, revolutionists and dictators would promptly make their appearance, and before it could well be realized the spreading effects of isolationism in every economic sense would create conditions of such serious nature that it would be impossible in the end for any of the international forces to cope with the dangers of uprisings and prevent them from getting out of hand. I added that this was the greatest problem ahead following the termination of the war and that preparations for it could not be advanced too rapidly to the end that basic practical ideas might gradually be developed and public opinion educated and organized in support of them. In any event, the terrific problem of eliminating the many kinds of restrictions and obstructions to the normal processes of international trade, finance, commercial exchange, credit, et cetera, would have to be considered cautiously over a period of time just as this Government has gradually and scientifically proceeded with the reduction of tariff and trade barriers, especially during the years since 1934. In following this course we have substantially reduced some 1200 tariff rates and classifications out of our total structure of some 3,000 items. The Ambassador and Mr. Law both heartily agreed to these views.

I then referred to the question of probable anarchy throughout Europe after the war unless suitable relief plans be worked out to be promptly put into effect by this country, Great Britain and other important countries, that too much haste is not possible in this matter for the reasons I have already mentioned. The British Government will readily realize that anarchy in Europe would mean complete disaster in this country in due course, and that, therefore, this country is selfishly interested in the prevention of anarchy in Europe, if for no other reason. I then reiterated that we were extremely desirous of moving as rapidly as is at all feasible in informal discussions and in the exchange of information with a view to approaching the conference stage as early as is at all practicable. Mr. Law seemed to appreciate the views thus expressed.

The Ambassador then inquired as to whom Mr. Law might call on to engage in informal conversations of mutual interest, or of interest to him as a visitor, with no program and no agreements in mind at this time. I suggested that the Under Secretary, Assistant Secretaries Berle and Acheson, Dr. Feis, Adviser on International Economic Affairs, Dr. Pasvolsky, the Director of the Post-War Planning Committee, and Mr. Harry Hawkins, Chief of the Division of Commercial Treaties, would all be pleased to meet Mr. Law and that I would notify them of this desire on the part of Mr. Law to see them.

C[ordell] H[ull]
  1. Chairman of the American Red Cross; previously Mr. Davis was chairman of the American delegation to the Disarmament Conference at Geneva and of the delegation to the London Naval Conference of 1935.
  2. Reference is to article VII of the Lend-Lease Agreement.