840.48/6550: Telegram

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

4257. For the Ambassador and Riefler from Department and FEA. Reference Department’s A–411, March 16, and Embassy’s 2915, April 10. The contention that impending military operations would preclude immediate implementation of complicated relief programs in the occupied countries of Western Europe seems to be predicated on the assumption that to authorize the Swedish Government to present at this time relief proposals to the German Government would call for immediate mechanical implementation of the proposals. Experience has shown that considerable time is necessarily consumed by the enemy in considering such matters before expressing an opinion and still greater time would be required to work out the details [Page 262] of administering the schemes if approved by the enemy. Our failure at least to authorize the Swedish Government to sound out the German Government on the subject places upon us the onus of refusing at least to try to do something to ameliorate the condition of these unfortunate peoples, whereas the putting forward of such proposals would not only tend to relieve us of this criticism but would offer the possibility of diverting the criticism to the enemy should Germany decline to accept the proposals. If Germany should accept the proposals and if as a result of the military operations envisaged it would prove impracticable to carry out the proposals, we would have lost nothing by the attempt, but would have gained some goodwill for having tried. If the British Government remains adamant, however, the United States Government will not insist at this time upon an approach to the German Government on the general question.

Since the principal objection advanced by the British Government to the plan set forth in the Department’s A–411 was a technical one concerning the movement of ships through operational zones to designated ports, an alternative proposal to use existing Red Cross shipping facilities has been advanced by those interested in doing something to alleviate the situation. The British Government should therefore be requested to assent to this modified proposal that the ships now proceeding from this country to Marseille with prisoner of war supplies be permitted to carry limited quantities of foodstuffs for distribution under the auspices of the International Eed Cross to needy persons in enemy-occupied areas, with particular reference to children and nursing and expectant mothers. If the proposal is adopted it is contemplated that modest initial shipments would be made by this route for distribution to the children of southern France using under Intercross28 auspices the remnants of the organization that Secours Quaker already has there. The experience thus gained would be taken into consideration in determining whether further shipments should be made and whether the relief might be extended to other occupied areas.

It would be left to the International Red Cross Committee to obtain from the German Government facilities of distribution and assurances that such supplies would not be molested. Since the International Red Cross Committee is already handling the distribution of foodstuffs sent into occupied areas from Switzerland and Portugal, it is contemplated that its existing organization could satisfactorily handle this additional limited distribution without any complicated system of control.

It should be pointed out to the British authorities that approval of such a program, modest though it would be, should go a long way [Page 263] toward dispelling criticism which continues to be levied at the United States Government and the British Government both in the United States and Great Britain for the maintenance of an inflexible policy which is felt by large numbers of people to be unnecessarily harsh at this stage. By making this relatively minor concession to public opinion, our good intentions will be manifest even though the exigencies of war may prevent us from putting into effect relief measures on a wide-spread scale.

As this shipping route is functioning satisfactorily for the transportation of supplies destined to prisoners of war and as there is no evidence that the enemy has interfered with the Committee’s distribution of such supplies as has been entrusted to it, failure to take advantage of this means of testing the feasibility of extending present relief measures would undoubtedly result in the continuance of bitter recriminations against the blockading powers to the detriment of the united war effort.

Please inform the Department by telegraph of the British Government’s reaction.29

  1. International Red Cross.
  2. In telegram 4568, June 7, from London, Ambassador Winant reported that he had communicated the contents of the above telegram to Lord Selborne. “Lord Selborne asked whether the Department prefers that further discussion on this question take place in Washington or London and added that British suggestion that whole question of relief through the blockade be submitted to Combined Chiefs of Staff for full consideration of military points involved might be an argument for holding conversations in Washington. Department’s instructions on this point are requested.” (840.48/6596)