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

No. 4257

Sir: Reference is made to the Department’s telegram no. 4257, May 27, to the Embassy’s telegrams 4487, June 3, and 4568, June 7, and [Page 273] to the Department’s telegram 4634, June 10,41 concerning the desire of the Government of the United States to arrange, if possible, for limited feeding programs through the International Red Cross in accessible enemy-occupied territory in Europe.

Discussions have been held with Mr. Dingle M. Foot during his visit in Washington on the various phases of the question of relief operations in occupied Europe. There is enclosed for the Embassy’s information a copy of a memorandum dated June 12, 194442 which outlines the points agreed upon in discussions with Mr. Foot. (A separate instruction is being sent to the Embassy in regard to the measures covered in the memorandum.) Mr. Foot stated, however, that he was not authorized to enter into any arrangements in behalf of the British Government which would go beyond the position heretofore taken by the British authorities on the question of relief to persons at liberty in the occupied countries. In Mr. Foot’s letter to Mr. Berle of June 13, a copy of which is enclosed,42a it is stated that the measures mentioned therein are without prejudice to such further measures as may be agreed to subsequently by the two Governments. It will be noted from Mr. Berle’s reply dated June 14,43 a copy of which is also enclosed, that this Government intends to continue its efforts to arrange for limited civilian relief programs.

The Department desires that discussions on the proposal set forth in the Department’s telegram 4257, May 27, be re-opened in London. In this connection and with reference to the Embassy’s telegram 4568, June 7, the Department would prefer that this question not be submitted at this time to the Combined Chiefs of Staff. The Department questions whether limited programs of this nature require submission to and approval by the Combined Chiefs of Staff but in any case it is of the opinion that agreement in regard thereto in principle should first be reached by the civilian authorities of both Governments. If those authorities of the two Governments are agreed that an effort should be made to put into effect limited programs of this nature, the Department would propose at that time that the matter be brought to the attention of the Combined Chiefs of Staff and their approval requested.

It is quite apparent, in view of the position taken by the British authorities on this question, that it would be a waste of time to carry on further discussions on any but the highest possible political level. The Department suggests that a special committee be set up in London for the purpose of examining the proposal under reference. [Page 274] Composition of the American section of the committee would, of course, be left to your discretion. It is, however, recommended that you participate personally in these discussions thereby emphasizing the high importance which this Government attaches to the matter. The Department would like to have these discussions carried on with officials of the British Government of similarly important position. The Department does not believe that this matter can be resolved satisfactorily through discussions by the Relief Sub-Committee.

In view of the limitations on Mr. Foot’s authority as noted above, this proposal was not discussed with him at great length. The Department is confident, however, that he became aware of the importance which this Government attaches to it. In these conversations some indication was given as to the objections which the British Government may interpose. For your assistance in carrying on the discussion there are noted below several of the points which the British Government may raise together with the comments which the Department suggests might be made in regard to them.

1. That in view of recent military developments and those which may be expected as operations continue in Europe, it would not be feasible to transport supplies either by sea or overland, after arrival, to distribution points.

The pending proposal provides for limited shipments of foodstuffs in the neutral ships now carrying prisoner of war relief supplies to Marseille. These foodstuffs would be intended for distribution in southern France. Similar shipments could be made in the Swedish safe conduct vessels for distribution in Norway. Therefore, no additional operational difficulties would be created by reason of these shipments. As regards overland transportation, that would, of necessity, depend on the military situation. It is not expected, however, to carry on relief operations in areas of active military operations. It would not be expected that military operations would in any sense be subordinated to the continued shipment of supplies either by sea or overland.

2. That this proposal, providing for distribution by the International Red Cross, would be looked upon as having been made in bad faith since we have heretofore refused to permit distribution through the International Red Cross.

Prior to the landing of Allied forces in Europe this Government had hoped to put into effect a more far-reaching program of relief which might have been set up in all the occupied countries under the supervision of a neutral Government. That proposal was set forth in the Department’s A–411, March 16. The pending proposal offers the possibility of extending aid within the limitations imposed by [Page 275] recent military developments. The realities of the situation must, of course, govern our actions. It could hardly be taken as bad faith, however, to endeavor to do what the realities permit.

3. That such a program would raise false hopes in the hearts of people in those occupied areas which we could not hope to reach immediately.

The people in the occupied areas can be depended upon to realize that our efforts to assist them are limited by the realities of the situation. At the present time we could not hope to send food direct to Belgium, the Netherlands, or to a large part of occupied France. Overland transport to areas remote from ports presently outside the zones of active military operations would be out of the question, immediately, for obvious reasons. We can, however, do what the circumstances permit, thus giving some assistance where it is possible to do so even if it is not practicable to reach all the areas we would like to reach. If promises are not made which we cannot expect to carry out, false hopes should not be raised. We would propose to state frankly that until the occupied areas are liberated, we can hope to extend relief only in those areas where military considerations permit.

4. Mr. Foot made passing reference to the possibility of the pending proposal appearing insincere.

It was not entirely clear what he had in mind in making this observation. However, should such an argument be raised it might be pointed out that both the Governments of the United States and the United Kingdom have made frequent protestations of their sympathy for the plight of the civilian populations of the occupied areas and of their desire to be of assistance to them if possible. We are more exposed to a charge of insincerity by reason of our failure to attempt to bring aid to these people than by actually making an effort to do what can be done in the circumstances. Only by making the effort can we demonstrate the sincerity of the frequent statements which have been made by both Governments in this connection.

5. It is apparent that MEW hopes to hold the line at the present point, that is, with the blockade concessions in respect to refugee and concentration camps and the increased despatch of food from neutral countries to occupied areas. MEW appears to believe that if the public is informed of these measures plus the child evacuation schemes, pressure for further concessions will be considerably reduced. In all probability, MEW will propose that the pending proposal be held in abeyance until public reaction to such a statement can be evaluated.

The Department, of course, is not in a position to predict the reaction of the British public. It is confident, however, that the reaction of the American public will be that the blockade concession in respect [Page 276] of refugee and concentration camps proves the feasibility of attempting on a limited scale to ameliorate the suffering of women and children where they can be reached. This would be predicated on the assumption that if the International Red Cross can safeguard distribution of supplies to persons in refugee and concentration camps, the special objects of the most brutal German oppressive measures, there would be far less danger of interference with freedom of action on the part of the International Red Cross and less likelihood of confiscation of imported supplies in connection with limited programs for women and children.

The Department offers also for your guidance and assistance the following general comments which may be helpful to you in these discussions.

The proposal under reference provides only for limited amounts of foodstuffs suitable for distribution to children, nursing and expectant mothers, that segment of the population which is of least assistance to the German war effort and in whose welfare the Germans have the least interest for that reason. We are already entrusting to the International Red Cross the distribution of foodstuffs sent into occupied areas from neutral countries. As will be noted from the memorandum of June 12 we have now agreed to permit fairly sizable shipments of foodstuffs and perhaps clothing into occupied territory for distribution by the International Red Cross in refugee and concentration camps. The pending proposal is merely a limited extension of the blockade concessions already made and is designed to benefit those groups in whom we have an especial interest and for whom nothing substantial has yet been done. It would be inconsistent to entrust the distribution of relief supplies to the International Red Cross to persons in refugee and concentration camps and to refuse similarly to entrust the International Red Cross with the distribution of relief on a limited basis to this other segment of the population.

Should the European war carry over into its sixth winter, public demand in the United States, and presumably in Great Britain also, in favor of relief programs in occupied Allied territory particularly for women and children will reach tremendous proportions. While we hope, of course, that none of the occupied Allied countries will have to endure a sixth winter of war, it is a possibility that cannot safely be ruled out of consideration. If the experiment envisaged in the pending proposal should prove successful and the war were prolonged, experience would have been gained which would be useful in connection with any possible extension of the programs that might then seem advisable. Should the experiment fail and it be proved by experience that programs of this nature cannot be carried out satisfactorily in German-dominated areas, both Governments would have [Page 277] a sound basis for refusing to accede to public demand that further food shipments be made despite suffering, real or presumed, behind the German lines.

The weakness of the Anglo-American position in this regard is and always has been that we have never tried to put into effect a relief program for persons at liberty in the occupied territories. Public opinion in the United States will not remain satisfied with vague statements that military considerations preclude relief operations in all areas under German domination (except Greece). Public opinion in this country demands that an attempt be made. Should the attempt prove unsuccessful, it is believed that the greater part of public opinion will be satisfied and will make the best of the situation. American public opinion will not be satisfied otherwise.

In addition to the humanitarian considerations involved, this question is assuming considerable proportions as a domestic political issue. Both Houses of Congress have gone on record, unanimously, as favoring the inauguration of limited feeding programs in the occupied Allied countries where possible in the light of military considerations. The Department is of the opinion that the pending proposal offers a formula under which a bona fide effort in this direction can be made without adversely affecting the Allied war effort. It is hoped that upon reconsideration and in the light of the foregoing considerations, the British Government will agree to authorize the International Red Cross to approach the German Government in the sense suggested in the pending proposal.

The Department hopes that these discussions can be opened immediately and that the matter will be pressed vigorously to a sucessful conclusion. Please keep the Department currently informed of the progress of these discussions.

The Foreign Economic Administration concurs in the foregoing and the British Embassy at Washington has been informed that the Department is suggesting the resumption of these discussions in London.

Very truly yours,

Cordell Hull
  1. Telegrams 4487 and 4634 not printed. For substance of telegram 4568, June 7, see footnote 29, p. 263.
  2. Not printed.
  3. Ante, p. 268.
  4. See footnote 36, p. 270.