The Director of Censorship (Price) to the Assistant Secretary of State (Berle)

My Dear Mr. Berle: You will recall that on November 20 last the Censorship Policy Board considered the future of the Office of Censorship and indicated in general a view that progressive curtailments should be inaugurated. Since that time there have been a number of developments:

An agreement has been entered into with British and Canadian Censorships, and is now in effect, providing that Censorship will neither distribute nor collect information regarding the post-war plans of firms and individuals other than enemy firms and individuals, unless there is a direct current relation to the war.
By mutual agreement British Censorship has ceased opening any United States mail except that which is terminal to the United Kingdom, and United States Censorship has ceased opening any United Kingdom mail except that which is terminal to the United States. The British Censorship Station at Bermuda has been dismantled and the British Censorship Station at Trinidad has ceased to examine inter-American mail.
My proposal for a complete communications blockade of Japan after the collapse of Germany has been submitted by the State Department to a considerable number of foreign governments, and has evoked a sufficient number of replies to indicate that the plan cannot be made effective.
The British Government has approved a set of general principles upon which action after the collapse of Germany is to be based.

[Page 1514]

Attached is a memorandum showing the present situation in detail. I am sending a copy of this to each member of the Censorship Policy Board and I am also providing a copy to Joint Security Control with a request for comment and suggestions. I think it would be a mistake to undertake positive decisions until after the collapse of Germany, but I believe events have reached a stage warranting serious study of the possibilities.

This is a matter regarding which I would like, of course, to have the considered advice of the State Department. I hope you will let me have any thoughts which may occur to you.

Sincerely yours,

Byron Price

Future Phases of Censorship

Since June, 1943, British, Canadian and United States Censorships have been discussing what policies should be adopted after the defeat of Germany and while Japan remains an enemy. These discussions have been predicated upon a realization that in democratic countries censorship can be employed feasibly only as an instrument of war, and that no censorship measures ought to be adopted or maintained except as they contribute to military victory.
It was agreed after some consideration that only general principles could be laid down for the time being, and that decision as to exact procedures must await military developments.
It appeared that the ideal solution, if it could be attained, would be to impose a universal communications blockade against Japan, thus making it possible to abandon virtually all other censorship. Accordingly, on September 16, 1943, the Director of Censorship wrote the Secretary of State28 suggesting that the possibilities of such a blockade be explored internationally, even though a remote chance existed that the project would succeed. The State Department did approach various foreign governments,29 soliciting their views as to the feasibility of isolating Japan and Japanese-occupied territories completely by international agreement so as to prevent any communication whatever between the Japanese area and the outside world. The replies to this overture were far from satisfactory.30 Some nations readily accepted [Page 1515] the plan in principle31 but others were skeptical.32 The Chinese Government declared there was no possibility of cutting off communication between free and occupied China. This Chinese situation, coupled with the uncertain attitude of the Russian Government,33 appears to dispose of any hope of drawing a tight censorship ring around the Japanese area. Some other solution has to be found.
Meantime in the Fall of 1943 the British Prime Minister issued a directive to the British war agencies requiring submission of an outline of policies that were to follow the defeat of Germany. Responsive to this directive, and after discussion with Canadian and United States Censorships, the Director General of British Censorship submitted a paper entitled “Plans for the Transition Period,” a copy of which is attached.34 Recently this paper has been approved by the War Cabinet and may now be regarded as representing the settled policy of the British Government.
Late in 1943 the United States Director of Censorship brought the situation to the attention of the Censorship Policy Board. The Board at a meeting held November 20 expressed informally its unanimous opinion that Censorship should look forward to progressive curtailment as the military situation improved, and should cease its operations entirely upon the cessation of hostilities.
There are numerous compelling reasons why curtailment must take place upon or shortly after the collapse of Germany, even though the Japanese war continues. Some of the more important are:
It may be expected that the British decision already taken, although expressed in vague and general terms, will lead to far-reaching retrenchments on the part of British Censorship once Germany is defeated. For five years the people of the United Kingdom have been faced with an unprecedented conflagration on their very doorstep, even over their doorstep; when this menace suddenly disappears, when the lights are turned on, and when the war has moved half way around the world, the tremendous emotional resurgence of this democratic people may be expected to sweep away as many of the annoyances of war as possible. Censorship is, by its very nature, highly vulnerable to public reaction. It is the belief of well-informed British officials that a very large part of the British Censorship Organization, with which United States Censorship is closely intertwined, will disappear. The event is certain to have popular repercussions in the United States, adding to the practical obstacles which would handicap United States Censorship in any endeavor to continue full scale operations without British collaboration.
Upon the arrival of a state of peace in Europe travel between the United States and European countries will be resumed on a tremendous and probably unprecedented scale. It is to the advantage of the United States commercially that such travel be encouraged. American citizens moving in peaceful areas on the business of reconstruction will not endure placidly the delays and annoyances incident to Censorship examination of their papers. Without an effective travellers’ censorship, censorship of the mail and cables will become far less valuable.
The personnel of Censorship is nearly 90% civilian. Upon the collapse of Germany it may be expected that a large part of this personnel, and particularly those executives holding the most important key positions, will resign from Government service and return to their private affairs. They cannot be replaced on any efficient basis.
It would be most difficult and probably impossible after the surrender of Germany to convince Congress that funds should be made available for continuing Censorship, except on an appreciably reduced basis.
In view of all of the above, the question is not whether Censorship activities will be reduced, but in what direction they should be reduced. It still is too soon to make binding decisions, but the following is presented here for purposes of discussion as a possible basis for action to be taken as soon as possible after the German surrender:
The domestic press and broadcasting codes should be modified to remove all unnecessary restrictions relating to the Atlantic areas. This modification would not be extensive; it would be confined principally to information about travel and merchant shipping in the Atlantic.
Formal censorship of motion picture films offered for export would be abandoned. It should be understood that all military information in such films, whether news reels or features, must be cleared in advance with the Army and Navy.
All mail and cable censorship between the United States and the United Kingdom would be abandoned. Censorship of radiotelegraph and radiotelephone should be continued because of interceptability.
All censorship between the United States and Canada would be abandoned.
All censorship between continental United States and Puerto Rico would be abandoned, and all censorship between continental United States and Alaska and the Canal Zone would be relaxed in whatever degree the military situation might from time to time permit.
All censorship to and within the Caribbean area would be abandoned, except for spot checks.
Censorship of incoming mail and cables from all sources would be abandoned, except in the case of watch-listed persons or firms or communications from Japanese territory.
Censorship of mail destined for Latin America would be reduced and operated largely on a watch-list basis.
Censorship of cables destined for Latin America would be curtailed and concentrated on specific areas to be determined by developments. [Page 1517] Censorship of radiotelegraph and radiotelephone would be continued.
The present 100% censorship of German prisoner-of-war mail would be relaxed and a spot check substituted.
In general, Censorship activity should be directed almost completely toward preventing the export of military information to dangerous destinations, and the economic, political and social intelligence functions of Censorship would be abandoned.
Upon the surrender of Japan and the establishment of an armistice in the Pacific, all U. S. Censorship should cease, except:
military censorship within the occupied areas, to be operated by the Military; and
prisoner-of-war censorship to be operated by the Provost Marshal General.

The Office of Censorship would be completely liquidated.

  1. Letter not printed.
  2. By circular instruction dated October 8, 1943 (not printed), to the Missions in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Netherlands, Mexico, New Zealand, Paraguay, Peru, the Union of South Africa, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the United Kingdom, and Uruguay.
  3. No record found in Department files of replies from Morocco, Australia, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, and the Union of South Africa.
  4. Brazil, Mexico, Peru, and the United Kingdom.
  5. The Netherlands and New Zealand; also, the American Embassies in Cuba, Paraguay, and Uruguay considered it inappropriate to approach those governments at the time.
  6. The American Embassy in Moscow recommended that the Soviet Government not be approached on the matter because the latter was not at war with Japan.
  7. Not printed.