740.00116 European War 1939/1201a: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in the United Kingdom ( Winant )72

8101. For Bucknell.73 The Office of War Information has been giving almost as much play to the Kharkov trials of German war criminals as the Russians and we understand that the BBC74 has also been featuring the trials.

At today’s meeting of the Overseas Planning Board the OWI submitted a directive on the subject of war criminals which is being cabled in full text to Carroll75 by the OWI. Briefly, this proposed directive put the stamp of approval on the use of news about the apprehension, trial and execution of war criminals and specifically stated that the American radio should “keep alive” that military or para-military personnel of enemy forces “must face trial for crimes under the doctrine of personal responsibility” and cannot “plead that they acted under the orders of military superiors”. The directive contained a caution about treating the direct handling of war criminals [Page 850] as within the terms of the Moscow declaration and warned against speculation about the London Commission for Trial of War Criminals until it has officially met.76

The Department’s representative on the Board took the ground that our propaganda should only use the news of these trials and any further trials as news reports at this time. The portion of the directive to the effect that “the American radio should keep alive that military or para-military personnel of the enemy forces must face trial for crimes under the doctrine of personal responsibility” was not approved by this Government. The view of the War Department is that it does not believe that a campaign of publicity based on the Kharkov trials and similar incidents is desirable at this time, but that it must be withheld until a later time to be determined by circumstances.

Since no agreement could be reached by the Board, and since the British Government was also involved, it was agreed that the problem should be presented to the London Committee77 for an emergency decision. You should support on the London Committee the position taken by the Department’s representative on the Overseas Planning Board here, and the War Department view as indicated in this telegram.

  1. This telegram was repeated to the Embassy in the Soviet Union as No. 1447.
  2. Howard Bucknell, Jr., Counselor of Embassy in the United Kingdom.
  3. British Broadcasting Corporation.
  4. Wallace Carroll, Director of the United States Office of War Information in London.
  5. Invitations had been issued by the British Government on August 31, 1943, to 11 other governments to attend a meeting in London to arrange for the institution of a United Nations Commission for the Investigation of War Crimes. The meeting took place on October 20, without the participation of the Soviet Union. For correspondence on the establishment of this Commission, see vol. i, pp. 402 ff.
  6. London Political Warfare Coordinating Committee.