Memorandum of Conversation, by the Assistant Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (Villard)

Participants: Mr. Juan Trippe, President, and Mr. Samuel Pryor, Pan American Airways.
Mr. Harvey S. Firestone, Jr.
Mr. Laribee, Firestone Tire and Rubber Company.
Mr. Harry A. McBride, Special Representative of the President, in Liberia.
Colonel Bissell, War Department.
Mr. Murray2 Mr. Ailing3 Mr. Villard

A meeting was called to discuss the purposes of Mr. McBride’s forthcoming mission to Liberia. It was explained to the conference that Mr. McBride’s visit was to be mainly for the purpose of concluding the negotiations with President Barclay for the Pan American Airways contract and the lease of land for the airport construction at Harbel. Certain difficulties have been encountered in bringing these negotiations to a successful conclusion and it was the Department’s hope that Mr. McBride would be able to solve various problems in connection therewith and explain to President Barclay the viewpoint of the United States in regard to the use of Liberian territory for the transit of military planes to the Middle East.

Out of this general question arose the problem of the extent of protection to be accorded to Liberia by the armed forces of the United States. President Barclay had made a concise and statesmanlike request of the United States Government for the defense not only of the airport installations but of all of Liberia’s territory as well.4 The War Department had been approached on this matter and had indicated that it was not in a position to furnish protection at present, with the exception of defense material for the airport when the latter was completed.

Mr. McBride stated that in a conference on January 26 with the Secretary of War, he had learned that preparations were under way for a greater degree of protection than the War Department had so far been willing to indicate. Mr. McBride said that the arrangements which were to be made by the War Department for this purpose appeared to be entirely satisfactory.

The question of Liberia’s neutrality in the present war was then discussed. It was considered inadvisable for Liberia to make a declaration of war against Germany at this time, since no useful purpose [Page 357] would be served thereby and since Liberia might thus be exposed to deliberate attack by the Axis. On the other hand it was felt that the presence of German consular representatives and other agents on Liberian soil constitute a threat which should be removed as soon as possible.5 It was decided that the best interests of the Allies could be served by a severance of relations on the part of Liberia with the Axis powers. Mr. McBride stated that he would explain this point of view to President Barclay.

Among other subjects discussed were health conditions in Liberia; the turning over of road machinery to the Liberian Government after completion of the airport; the proposed loan of one million dollars to Liberia for road construction purposes; and the use of an amphibian airplane in a shuttle service between Fisherman Lake and Monrovia. With regard to the latter, Mr. Trippe said that the amphibian which had been promised in the first instance as an inducement to President Barclay to sign the Pan American contract had been diverted elsewhere to military use. He was however confident that another machine, now on its way to Africa, could be made available for Liberia. Mr. Trippe also inquired whether the shipment of a large supply of gasoline to Monrovia for refueling purposes would interfere with the negotiations to be undertaken by Mr. McBride. It was the general feeling that under present circumstances there was no reason why the gasoline should not be shipped as planned.

  1. Wallace Murray, Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs.
  2. Paul H. Ailing, Assistant Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs.
  3. See telegram No. 131, December 22, 1941, 2 p.m., Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. iii, p. 544.
  4. For correspondence on this subject, see pp. 419 ff.