740.00119 EW 1939/7–3145: Telegram

Mr. Alexander C. Kirk, Political Adviser to the Supreme Allied Commander, Mediterranean Theater, to the Secretary of State

3138. Immediately on SAC’s10a return to AFHQ from Potsdam and London we had general conversation with him during which we raised subject of your 691 Jul 25.11 He reiterated his views more or less as set forth in our 2964 July 15.12

We stated to SAC that during his absence there had been some discussion of peace treaty with Italy in joint planning staff conferences in which we had participated and we were somewhat surprised to note strong opposition to his views on part of Royal Navy and RAF13 representatives. SAC merely smiled and waved his hand with comment that he expected to have difficulty with Admiral Sir John Cunningham CinCMed14 but he knew Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham First Sea Lord of Admiralty shared his, SAC’s, views.

During ensuing discussion we pointed out to SAC that we considered there appeared to be a bit of confusion of thought in British [Page 1014] arguments on subject at AFHQ in that they were stating on one hand that they wished to keep Italy from falling into communism or Soviet influence and wished to win Italy’s friendship but on other were determined that Italy should be made to learn price of war. We added that if Italy was to be a “bulwark” against police state (one of Churchill’s expressions which SAC has used frequently) it should be decided here and now what the “bulwark” was to be.

SAC said that to him there seemed to be three alternatives open to Allies: (1) a completely and permanently subjugated Italy (2) and [an] Italy even tho a second class power strong enough to give west time to mobilize itself against east and (3) a compromise i.e. an Italy with small army low armament potential and deliberately kept in suspense as to whether her place is in sun or shadow.

He went on to say that even if we start now it will take many years to build up a second class Italy and it might be too late by 1950 to treat her in kindhearted manner. A compromise by which an attempt is made to combine punishment, threats, indecision and eventual hope of reward appeared to him too reminiscent of Hebrew theology. Today Europe thinks and acts quickly. No donkey allows prospect of amorphous carrot 5 years distant in space to influence its reactions to present. On what we do now will depend whether Italy goes left or right and on how our ideology which at moment is both incoherent and very badly propagated is need to permeate this country. In his opinion the short term measures which are now being proposed by us will only bring bewilderment, irritation, and unemployment on a scale which will undoubtedly force country even more to left.

SAC then said he would insist on handing back to Italy certain colonies even tho he was fully aware of difficulties to handing back places in which British fomented revolts in desert in 40–41. But he thought matter might be handled on mandatory basis.

He added he would not agree that desirable size of Italian Army should be dependent on extent of Italy’s overseas possessions. He preferred to determine size of Italian Army on consideration of situation which existed at head of Adriatic.

SAC said that sympathetic consideration should also be given to problem of over population of Italy. In his opinion Abyssinian adventure was largely undertaken to obtain living room. Standard of Italian colonist is lowest of any white man. If in addition to limiting Italian industries we take away such living room as she has had we shall again provoke mass trouble in northern Italy and further swing east. An overcrowded Italy means unrest. An Italy without colonies means unemployment for heavy industries of north. He then summarized that problem of peace treaty with Italy depends primarily on intelligent correlation of her special economic problems [Page 1015] with those of rest of Europe and a clear perception of her place in economic and strategical framework of the new Europe.

SAC concluded with statement that he talked along above lines while he was in Potsdam and found Churchill and British Military sympathetic but that Eden continued to be violently anti-Italian. He remarked that he had had some discussion of this subject with Secretary Stimson15 who seemed most sympathetic. SAC at one point of conversation said “Now that Winston is out, there is no one in Britain to take lead in Italy. I hope your people will do it. They must be made to realize what a terribly important responsibility it is and that we cannot get away from it.”

When we asked SAC if he had been able to get any definite information at Potsdam or London as to Foreign Office views on Italian colonies he said that Eden would not commit himself and that subject was being left open. He indicated very clearly that if US took lead it could reach peace treaty with Italy. He also said no time should be lost in getting started as it would take many months for British Govt to get approval of Dominions which it must consult. SAC said he would raise for discussion general question of peace treaty with Italy at his political committee meeting on Aug. 2. Any views which Dept may care to express would be helpful to us if received by that date.

  1. Supreme Allied Commander (Field Marshal Sir Harold Alexander).
  2. Telegram 691 not printed; it inquired if further information could be furnished regarding General Alexander’s views on the Italian peace problems (740.00119EW/7–1545).
  3. The Supreme Allied Commander expressed the view that the British Foreign Office in its draft for peace treaty with Italy was far too severe. For telegram 2964, see Conference of Berlin (Potsdam), vol. i, p. 700.
  4. Royal Air Force.
  5. Commander in Chief, Mediterranean.
  6. Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War.