Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Secretary of State (Berle)
Baron van Boetzelaer14 came in to see me today at his request.
In the absence of the Minister he wished to answer my query of the other day relating to the sending of 2500 men to the Dutch West Indies. The Baron recalled that this Government had “consulted” the Netherlands Government under the arrangement outlined in Mr. Welles’ letter to the Minister, setting out the President’s understanding of the arrangements relating to American forces in the Dutch West Indies.
Baron van Boetzelaer said that they had received word from London. He handed me the attached memorandum15 which recited “minimum needs” for Curaçao and Aruba as certain equipment for both of these islands, and 750 infantrymen for Aruba. He pointed out that the Netherlands Government felt that the infantry requirements in Curaçao could be taken care of by the Netherlands infantry.
I asked whether we could take it that this was an assent to the sending of the 2500 men. He answered he thought not because, as he gathered, there were not sufficient accommodations on Aruba for more than 750 men and it was hoped we might send this number forward now and other contingents later as things worked out.
It developed that there was no one here who knew more about the military situation than he did so that a proposal that the military [Page 56] people discuss it with the War Department seemed fruitless. He wanted to know whether they could not move at the earliest possible moment.
I said if we had been able to get an agreement early enough they would have moved last Saturday—that I was not sure whether all arrangements had been kept standing or not. My thought was that if the expedition had already been arranged, the best thing to do would be to send it along down, let 750 infantrymen land, land technical equipment and work out the balance of the landing force as circumstances might arise; but before making a definite statement I should have to consult the War Department. Baron van Boetzelaer seemed agreeable to this line of attack.
He then discussed briefly the question of announcement. He hoped, by discussion with the correspondents ahead of time, to avoid the use of the word “occupation” which had caused such trouble at the time of the Surinam landing.
I said that that announcement and the publicity attendant on it, if I recalled correctly, was prior to the Pearl Harbor attack; that at present I thought there would probably be no such difficulty. My best judgment would be no announcement if it could be avoided. If anything were said, I suggested that a simple announcement that the military forces in the Dutch West Indies had been reinforced with American contingents might be adequate.
Baron van Boetzelaer hoped that either at the White House or elsewhere I could calm down the publicity and particularly anything which might indicate that there was an “occupation”. I said I would do the best I could about this.