740.0011 European War 1939/34006: Airgram

The Secretary of State to the Ambassador in Spain (Hayes)30

A–219. On March 23 the Spanish Ambassador31 left with Mr. Long32 the following memorandum:

“The plight of Rome causes such a profound impression not only on the Spanish Catholic circles but on the whole world in general, that [Page 1298] the Government of Spain has entrusted me to approach the American Government to see whether it would be possible to do something to spare the Eternal City the consequences of war. The Government of Spain wishes the American Government to state upon what conditions the bombardment of Rome could be avoided, with the intention to submit them to the Axis Powers in an effort conducive to that end.

“This suggestion has no political significance at all, since it is only based on humanitarian principles and sentimental reasons.”

On April 6, Mr. Long made reply to the foregoing in the terms set forth in the following memorandum of conversation between him and the Spanish Ambassador:

“The Spanish Ambassador came in at my request. Some two weeks ago he had left with me a memorandum from his government requesting that we advise the Spanish Government what we would require the German troops to do in order for us to refrain from military activity against Rome. Not having answered the inquiry and the Ambassador not having called since, I deemed it advisable to make some response to him, particularly so since he had informally and incidentally discussed the matter with Mr. Dunn33 recently.

“I told the Ambassador that the inquiry that he had made did not offer a practical solution of the problem. The German authorities knew very well what they should do in the way of evacuating Rome and it was not practical for us to specify things which they should do since they already knew.

“The Ambassador asked whether our position was related to the provisions of the Hague Convention.34 I replied that irrespective of the Plague Convention and our known desire to refrain from damaging unnecessarily civilian populations and particularly places of historic interest like Rome, it resolved itself into an application by the enemy of his own military resources in any locality, whether it be Rome, or Florence or some other city elsewhere or whether it be the area around the city. It was the question of the uses to which these places were put, and the Germans knew just as well as we know what uses they are put to by them and what is necessary for them to do to prevent the effects of military activity against them as an armed force.”

The foregoing is sent for your information as the Department desires that you should know the exact terms of reply made to the Spanish Ambassador, which you are authorized in your discretion to disclose to appropriate high officials in case there should come to your knowledge any distorted version of this Government’s position.

  1. In telegram 1445, April 26, 6 p.m., the Department reported the substance of this telegram to Bern for Tittmann, and in telegram 1444, April 26, 5 p.m., instructed Tittmann to bring it to the attention of the Cardinal Secretary of State (740.0011 European War 1939/34006).
  2. Juan Francisco de Cárdenas.
  3. Breckinridge Long, Assistant Secretary of State.
  4. James C. Dunn, Director, Office of European Affairs.
  5. Reference is presumably made to article XXV of the Annex of the Hague Convention on Laws and Customs of War on Land, which provided: “The attack or bombardment, by whatever means, of towns, villages, dwellings or buildings which are undefended is prohibited.” Foreign Relations, 1907, pt. ii, pp. 1204, 1212.