Conference Files: Lot 59 D 95: CF 49

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Ambassador at Large (Jessup)

top secret

Participants: Sir Oliver Franks, British Ambassador
Sir Roger Makins
Mr. Robert Scott
The Secretary
Mr. Jessup
Mr. Rusk

Sir Oliver Franks accompanied by Sir Roger Makins and Mr. Robert Scott came to the Secretary’s office for further conversation about the matter discussed between the President and Mr. Attlee.

The Secretary said that there was some point in Sir Oliver’s summary during the meeting which he wanted to touch on and to clear up any possible confusion. Sir Oliver had seemed to indicate an understanding that our position was so weak that we had to proceed on the assumption that we were licked in Korea. The Secretary said that he did not take this view and it should not be treated as a foregone conclusion that we are out of Korea. The Secretary then went on to develop our general thought. Foreign policy in the East and in Western Europe cannot be separated. We must have a single foreign policy for both sides of the world. He touched on the problem of American opinion, pointing out that he was not referring to vociferous extremists but to the sound judgement of reasonable people. If we surrender in the Far East, especially if this results from the action of our Allies, American opinion will be against help in the West to those who had brought about the collapse. In order to avoid this kind of reaction we must take a steadfast position in the Far East. He pointed out that he was not falling back on the gild [glib?] catchword “my public opinion won’t let me”. He was, however, appraising an important factor, namely, the trend of general American thinking. He pointed to the size of the effort here in terms of taxes, military service, etc. If as a result of the military defeat in a campaign in Korea we make a surrender which would lose to us all of the results of the Pacific war, American opinion would not accept such a situation.

Sir Oliver said that he did not dispute the fact that the United States has prime responsibility in the Pacific area and that the UK did not wish to make us weak on the western side of the Pacific. In saying this he referred to our position in the island chain. He accepted the idea that the United States must take a two-ocean view and he did not wish to weaken that approach.

[Page 1721]

Sir Roger Makins believed that our two countries differ in our estimate of Chinese attitudes and intentions.

The Secretary said that a surrender to the Chinese would probably result in the loss of the island chain to which Sir Oliver had referred. If we surrendered Formosa, the Japanese would react to our surrender to the display of Chinese force. If we give up Korea by agreement the Filipinos and Japanese would run for cover. In this connection the Russian opposition to our proposal for holding the Ryukyus shows a general plan to oust us from our island defenses. The Secretary then read the questions which had been prepared for the President but which the President had not read. (See page 4 of memorandum entitled “Suggested Procedure for First Meeting with Mr. Attlee.”1) He called attention to the appearance of indecision which would result from a delay by the Security Council and the General Assembly action in the United Nations. The following steps could be considered in the General Assembly. We might go ahead introducing the six-power resolution. We would then be taking the same position we took in the Security Council—no stronger, no weaker. Someone might then introduce in the Assembly a simple cease-fire resolution. We could press ahead with that resolution and get it passed in twenty-four hours, leaving the six-power resolution in abeyance. It is probable the Chinese would not accept the cease-fire and that others would then urge us to pay a price. We should ignore such arguments. If the Chinese do accept, we would reorganize our defenses as vigorously as possible. If thereafter the Chinese attack, we would be in a better world position and if we have to take a Dunkirk we will at least prove that we are not ready to surrender but are standing up to attack. After that we would have to go ahead and make trouble for the Chinese. It would be much easier to hold opinion on that course than by desertion and surrender. We must avoid rewarding the Chinese for their aggression [Page 1722] and equally avoid putting an Army on the Chinese mainland and pulling in the Russian Air Force by all-out bombing of China.

Mr. Rusk called attention to the other affirmative steps in the Pacific which might be taken concurrently. These points had been read by the President during the meeting. (See points a–e in memorandum entitled “Korea”.2)

Mr. Scott then spoke about the importance of holding Asian opinion. While he agreed in the course of the discussion that concessions made to the Chinese now would probably not change their general policy, e.g. in regard to Indochina, Malaya, the Huk troubles in the Philippines, etc., there was a chance to reduce the tempo of their activities and this was important. (It was apparent that in the minds of Mr. Scott and of the other UK representatives that “Asian opinion” meant the views of India. They dwelt at some length on the importance of Indian manpower to the UK in previous wars. The Secretary indicated rather strongly his view that the Indians could not be relied upon.)

Sir Oliver stated that it seemed to him that the United States was seeking a middle way between branding the Chinese as aggressors and negotiating with them. In this policy we end up merely by harassing them.

The Secretary pointed out that our experience with the Russians, which should be applied here, showed that their basic theory of negotiating is to exchange something intangible for something tangible. In this case, we might be asked to give up Formosa, which is a tangible asset, in exchange for the hope that we might influence their future conduct.

The Secretary asked Sir Oliver whether after he had talked with Mr. Attlee this evening it would be possible for them to meet again tomorrow morning in order to submit some recommendation to the President and Mr. Attlee for the 2:30 meeting. Sir Oliver doubted whether that would be feasible. He indicated that Mr. Attlee might wish to send a telegram to London. It was generally agreed, however, that it was undesirable to have the meeting this afternoon continue by repetition of the same points and Sir Oliver undertook to communicate [Page 1723] with the Secretary before lunch in order that the plan for the afternoon meeting could be arranged.3

  1. Not printed; the questions under reference read:
    • “(1) What is to be our joint attitude toward Chinese aggression in Korea?
    • (2) How are we to lead the United Nations to face this situation in such a way as not to wreck that organization?
    • (3) Can we find common policy and action which will reflect the common determination of our two peoples to oppose aggression and thus to prevent the Soviet Union from starting another war?
    • (4) How shall we satisfy our commitment of honor to the Koreans and thus avoid losing our moral leadership without which we have nothing to offset communist fanaticism?
    • (5) How can we act in the present situation so as to prevent a collapse of Asian resistance to communist penetration?
    • (6) How must we act to avoid giving the impression throughout the world that all must now come to terms with communism on the best obtainable basis?
    • (7) Can we find a course of action which maintains intact our principle of resistance to aggression without committing us to a concentration of effort in a secondary theater in the face of the primary threat of the Soviet Union?”
  2. Three copies of the Briefing Book for the Truman–Attlee talks have been found in the Department of State files, numbered 10, 18, and 19, respectively. In the first two, points a–e are the same as those read by President Truman (see U.S. Delegation minutes, supra); in the third, points a and c–e are the same but paragraph b read: “Further steps to organize collective security in the Pacific on a regional basis.” Copy 10 is in file 033.4111/12–3150; the other two copies are in the Conference Files: Lot 59 D 95: CF 49.
  3. At 10:00 a. m. on December 5 Secretary Acheson reviewed the course of the first meeting and this conversation with Ambassador Franks with top officials of the Department of State. A memorandum of this meeting at which the future course of action was also discussed is in the Secretary’s Memoranda: Lot 53 D 444: President Truman–Prime Minister Attlee Meeting. Following the meeting Franks informed Acheson that he had talked with Attlee who concluded that the second meeting should be devoted to some of the short-range problems, and the British Ambassador suggested that the “fundamental difficulties of view” should be faced. Memorandum of conversation, December 5, not printed. (Conference Files: Lot 59 D 95: CF 49).