The Acting Secretary of State to Senator Warren R. Austin of Vermont

My Dear Senator Austin: I refer to our telephone conversation on July 21, 1945 concerning the exchange of General Wainwright91 and other American prisoners of war in Japanese custody.

As I pointed out, the question of the relief and exchange of American prisoners in Japanese hands has been constantly a preoccupation of the Department since the earliest days of the war. The Department has exercised its utmost endeavors to bring about exchanges of American prisoners in Japanese custody for Japanese in American custody, in addition to the two exchanges that have already been carried through. The British have had only one exchange with the Japanese so far. The attitude of the Japanese toward the question of further exchanges has been characterized by utter indifference and they have seized upon every pretext to avoid discussion of our many and various exchange proposals. In spite of this attitude the Department nevertheless is persisting in its efforts to obtain Japanese agreement to further exchanges. For your personal information a new exchange proposal is being formulated to include the group of recently captured Japanese officials92 which, it is hoped, will help to stimulate Japanese interest in the subject. This proposal is at present, of necessity, being coordinated with our Allies. It is expected that it will be possible to present the proposal to the Japanese at an early date. The success or failure of this new project will depend, of course, on the attitude that the Japanese Government adopts toward it. Without Japanese agreement and cooperation it is of course impossible to repatriate Americans who are held by the Japanese.

The capture of the aforementioned group of high-ranking Japanese officials in Europe, we believe, has definitely strengthened our bargaining position in endeavoring to arrange for further exchanges. These Japanese officials will be used to the fullest extent possible to benefit all Americans in Japanese custody.

With reference to the specific problem of obtaining the release of General Wainwright, the question has been raised whether he would wish to be given preference over his fellow prisoners of war, particularly the sick and the wounded, and many vigorous letters from the public have protested the erroneous newspaper report that he would [Page 423] be asked for by name in an exchange. It is not impossible, however, that he might be included sooner or later in a general exchange for reasons which will be explained below.

Up to now the Department has been inhibited by lack of any ground in law or international custom from endeavoring in exchange negotiations to obtain Japanese agreement to the inclusion of American prisoners of war, other than the sick and wounded and sanitary personnel. However, with the completion of a period of three years of captivity by many American prisoners of war, particularly those who were captured in the Philippine campaign of 1941–42, it is hoped successfully to invoke the principle of Article 72 of the Geneva Convention93 relating to the repatriation of prisoners of war who have undergone a long period of captivity. If it be possible to obtain Japanese assent to the inclusion of American prisoners of war in such exchange operations as it may be feasible to arrange, it is believed that no American would wish priority allotted prisoners of war except upon medical grounds. Under this plan General Wainwright would of course receive consideration with his fellow prisoners of war in accordance with the broad directives laid down for the selection of American prisoners of war eligible for exchange.

If you have not already seen the Department’s summary of the efforts put forth to procure the exchange of Americans in Japanese custody, I should like to invite your attention to the enclosure94 on this subject.

Sincerely yours,

Joseph C. Grew

[In a meeting on August 8 between officers of the Special War Problems Division and the British Embassy, it was agreed that two proposals on repatriation would be submitted to the Japanese Government. In the first, the offer of a vessel by the United States to Japan (first made in telegram 2425, July 31; see bracketed note, page 464) was reiterated, the vessel to be used in a continuing series of voyages until all repatriable persons on both sides were exchanged. The proposal urged repatriation of all Allied civilians and of all Allied prisoners of war who were sick, wounded, captive for at least three years, or of protected status. The second repatriation proposal affected Japanese officials captured in Germany.

Draft communications to the Japanese Government were prepared in the Department on August 9 and August 19 (711.94115 Exchange/8–845). Neither communication was delivered, presumably because of the end of hostilities with Japan on August 14.]

  1. Lt. Gen. Jonathan M. Wainwright, Commander of United States Forces in the Philippines, March–May, 1942.
  2. In Europe; for information on arrangements made by the United States for the detention of these officials, see Department of State Bulletin, July 8, 1945, p. 54.
  3. Signed July 27, 1929, Foreign Relations, 1929, vol. i, pp. 336, 353.
  4. Not attached to file copy.