740.0011 European War 1939/29428

The Secretary of State to the Belgian Ambassador ( Van der Straten-Ponthoz )1

The Secretary of State presents his compliments to His Excellency the Belgian Ambassador and has the honor to refer to his note No. 2289 of May 5, 1943 quoting the text of a note of April 29 which the Belgian Government in London handed to the American Ambassador regarding the bombardment of Antwerp by the American Air Force. The note of the Ambassador’s Government has received the earnest and careful consideration of the appropriate American military authorities.

In reply the Ambassador is assured that it has ever been and will continue to be the policy and practice of the United States Government to do everything within its power to crush utterly all enemy resistance in the shortest possible time without causing unnecessary suffering among the innocent peoples of Axis occupied countries. This Government is fully aware of the misery attendant upon enemy domination, and it has no desire to add to that misery by any thoughtlessness or by any military action which is not of real value in speeding the liberation of enslaved peoples.

The American theory and technique of bomber employment are so designed as to permit, with minimum waste of effort, the ultimate efficiency in the destruction of actual installations which are of real assistance to the enemy war-making ability. Applied to bombing in Axis occupied countries, this technique tends to cause less extraneous destruction outside the targets themselves, and the American Air Forces have demonstrated a generally increasing ability to restrict [Page 4] civilian damage while accomplishing the desired purpose. Some civilian casualties cannot be avoided, but the attainment of even a part of the possibilities of this technique reduces materially the risk to nearby populations.

The United States Government deeply regrets any loss of Belgian life incurred on the occasion of the April 5 attack upon military targets in the Antwerp area. It hastens to assure the Belgian Government that there was no intention to disregard principles previously agreed upon and outlined in the Ambassador’s note under reference. The targets in question were industrial establishments known to be of great importance to the Axis war effort, and it has been ascertained that normally adequate precautions were taken in this attack to avoid dropping bombs outside the target area.

The United States Government reaffirms its agreement to the effect that American Air Forces must not attack, in occupied countries, objectives which are not vitally important to the enemy effort, and it will do everything within its power to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties. However, the Secretary feels sure of the Ambassador’s agreement that vital units of Axis industry cannot be ignored in the total effort of the United Nations to achieve victory and liberate the enslaved peoples of Europe, including Belgium, from the Axis at the earliest possible moment. Therefore, in so far as it is humanly possible without danger to the Allied effort, American bombing will continue to be carried out against proper objectives everywhere, but in a manner designed to cause minimum injury to the civilian populations of occupied countries.

It is hoped that the Belgian Government will understand the necessity for this position. Prolongation of the war and the continued suffering of captive peoples would necessarily be the consequence of a policy whereby the enemy, in disposing either his industry or his defenses, would be permitted to take advantage of any regional immunities.

The Belgian Government may rest assured that every effort will be made to prevent unnecessary suffering on the part of innocent persons in any of the Axis-occupied countries.

  1. Handed to the Ambassador by the Acting Chief of the Division of European Affairs on June 9.