Memorandum by the Director of the Office of Far Eastern Affairs (Butterworth)

There is attached a memorandum (Tab A)24 summarizing various reports which have been received by the Department with regard to the rumored plans of Major General Chennault to establish a new American Volunteer Group (AVG) in China. This information indicates that, despite the Department’s denial that such plans were proceeding with official sanction and General Chennault’s statement as reported in the press that he had no plans to reestablish the AVG, there is still considerable evidence that the project may be proceeding apace and that it would receive the full blessing of the Chinese Government.

The formation of an AVG at this time, with or without U. S. Government support or tacit approval, would have serious implications for our policy in China, the position of U. S. nationals there and our relations vis-à-vis the USSR. In the first place, such a volunteer group would in the eyes of the world constitute a form of direct U. S. involvement in China’s civil war—a contingency which we have consistently and scrupulously avoided. Secondly, as pointed out by the Embassy at Nanking and the Consulate General in Peiping, the participation of such an American air group would have possible serious repercussions in the treatment accorded U. S. nationals residing in areas which are now or might fall under Chinese Communist control. Thirdly, the formation of such a group might constitute an open invitation for the USSR to back a “Soviet Volunteer Group” to operate in support of the Chinese Communists, thus making [Page 295] probable direct air combat between Soviet and U. S. nationals over Chinese territory. An indication that this last possibility has been considered (and apparently relished) by high Chinese officials was afforded in the statement on November 25 by Tao Hsi-sheng, Vice Minister of Information, that “If the ‘Flying Tigers’ should participate in the warfare, Soviet Russia may dispatch volunteer air force to China and another great war may break out when planes of these two countries meet in the air”.

It would therefore appear that the formation at this time of an AVG in China would carry with it all the disadvantages of open American intervention in China’s civil war and none of the possible advantages. For it is obvious that, while such a group could provide considerable annoyance for the Communists, it could not turn the tide in favor of the Nationalist forces.

  1. Not printed.