740.0011 European War 1939/32572

Memorandum by the Secretary of State to President Roosevelt

In his telegram no. 43, January 6,43 Ambassador Harriman44 reported that Mr. Molotov45 on his own initiative brought up with the Ambassador, on December 31, the definition of the term “unconditional surrender” and inquired what was the attitude of this Government on the question. It is my understanding that the Soviet interest in this matter is not based on any desire to weaken the principle of unconditional surrender or to offer milder terms to enemy countries but rather on the belief that the present undefined term “unconditional surrender” affords enemy propaganda an opportunity to play on the natural fear of the unknown in the minds of their people and consequently stiffens their will to fight. As I understand it, the Soviet Government believes that some definition, however general and severe, of the conditions of surrender which will be imposed on the enemy countries would deprive the enemy of this propaganda advantage and consequently weaken the morale of their armed forces and people. In view of the Soviet interest in this matter, do you approve of discussions with the Soviet and British Governments to explore the desirability of some public definition for propaganda exploitaton of the terms of unconditional surrender to be imposed on the respective enemy countries?

C[ordell] H[ull]
  1. Post, p. 580.
  2. W. Averell Harriman, American Ambassador in the Soviet Union.
  3. Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov, Soviet People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs.