740.00114A Pacific War/181: Telegram
The Secretary of State to the Minister in Switzerland (Harrison)
2868. American interests—Far East. Please request Swiss Government in reference to your 4186, September 13 and Department’s [Page 840] 2200, September 18 to present to Japanese Government a communication in the following sense:
“The Government of the United States continues to view with anxiety the situation of prisoners of war and civilian internees who through the circumstance of war are unable to enjoy the benefits of the Geneva Prisoners of War Convention to which they are entitled by agreement of the Japanese and United States Governments. In addition to the benefits which each detaining power is thus obligated to provide the persons in its custody these people are entitled to receive mail and parcels of food and clothing, and it is the duty of each detaining power to afford the necessary facilities to permit of the receipt and distribution of mail and parcels to alleviate the rigors of detention.
The United States and Japanese Governments have already stated their willingness to accept and deliver mail and parcels to the prisoners of war and internees in their custody, but unless means are found to forward such mail and parcels between the two countries so that the detaining power may receive them for distribution the willingness of the two Governments to distribute them is nullified.
Owing to the distances involved and the fact that the ocean is the only feasible highway over which mail and supplemental supplies can be shipped it behooves each of the Governments concerned to put forth exceptional efforts to devise a mutually satisfactory means of transporting these things from one country to the other. As the right to receive these benefits is reciprocal, the nationals of both Governments concerned stand to benefit from whatever arrangements are made. While the Government of the United States has endeavored and will continue to endeavor to the best of its ability to fulfill all of its duties under the provisions of the Geneva Convention toward those Japanese nationals detained by it and strives in this connection to furnish them food and other treatment catering to their national habits, neither Government can expect or be expected to supply those things which come under the head of supplemental supplies as envisaged by the Convention and neither Government can distribute mail and parcels unless they are ready to discharge the responsibilities they have assumed under the convention by taking whatever steps may be necessary to actually receive the supplies, mail and parcels, to the receipt and distribution of which they have staked their honor by agreement to the terms of the convention.
As has previously been pointed out the capacity of the exchange vessels is insufficient to meet the need and the delay attending their sailing has accentuated the need for some other continuing means of forwarding such mail and parcels between the two countries.
As the Japanese Government stated in September in response to the United States Government’s request for safe conduct for the Swedish vessel Kanangoora that for strategic reasons it could not then ‘for the moment’ give its approval for any vessel to cross the Western Pacific, the Government of the United States hopes that with the passage of time the impediments which the Japanese Government formerly envisaged to such a voyage are no longer controlling and that the Japanese Government will now find itself in a position not only to agree to give safe conduct for this purpose to a neutral vessel traveling under International Red Cross auspices to make one [Page 841] voyage to and from Japan, but also that the Japanese Government will find it possible to agree to the periodic travel of neutral vessels across the Pacific for this purpose in the same manner that vessels regularly travel across the Atlantic carrying to Europe mail and parcels for Allied prisoners and civilian internees in Germany and Italy and returning with mail and parcels for similar classes of German and Italian nationals in the United States and Canada.
If the Japanese Government cannot yet see its way clear to give safe conduct for the travel of neutral vessels to and from Japan, under the auspices of the International Red Cross, the Government of the United States suggests that the Japanese Government itself propose a means by which effect may be given to each Government’s obligation to provide facilities for the distribution of mail and parcels to the nationals of the other Government under detention. The prompt opening of a means of communication between the families and friends of prisoners of war and civilian internees and of a means whereby prisoners of war and civilian internees may receive parcels to alleviate the rigors of detention will do much to allay the growing feeling on each side that its nationals are not receiving the full benefits of the Geneva Convention to which they are entitled by agreement of the Governments concerned.
The Japanese Government’s urgent reply is requested.”