Mr S.M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London (in America), to Mr R.G. Menzies, Prime Minister

Cablegram 20 WASHINGTON, 8 May 1939


Have had long interviews with the President and all his principal advisers on foreign questions. [1] In these conversations, I have specifically raised the question of reactions and attitude of the United States Administration and public towards any aggressive move by Japan in the Pacific Ocean, particularly in the event of Britain at the time being involved with Germany and Italy and unable to send the necessary naval forces into the Pacific to contain Japan. The attitude was the same in every case, though expressed from a different angle, namely that the United States would regard any move by Japan as inimical to the United States’ vital interests and the Administration would be forced to intervene and in doing so would have the support of public opinion. They all agreed that United States public opinion is much more alive to the menace in the Pacific and would be more receptive to action there than in regard to the European situation. Sumner Welles emphasised this point down the lines that in regard to European intervention, an expeditionary force would be visualised as consolidating the opposition of mothers of eligible sons, whereas in the case of Japan this general opposition would not exist, only action by the Navy being practicable.

The President was as definite as when I saw him in December that the United States would have to intervene but again stressed the difference in the distance between Canada and Australia as precluding any statement. He strongly urged the necessity of promoting the closest possible relations between the United States and Australia not merely by trade treaty but by cultural and all other methods and asked me to stress to you the desirability of stimulating the maximum tourist traffic even to the extent of supplementing existing lines by special tourist steamers.

Nothing said to me constituted any binding undertaking as to what United States action would be in the event of developments in the Pacific but has great value as showing the mind of the President stirring his principal advisers.

My conversations were of the most personal character and it is imperative that the above information should be kept most secret and not referred to in any case. [2]


1 There are records in the Bruce papers of Bruce’s conversations with Cordell Hull (U.S. Secretary of State) on 2 May 1939, Norman Davis (Head of the American Red Cross and an adviser to the President) on 3 May, President Franklin D. Roosevelt on 4 May, and Sumner Welles (U.S. Under-Secretary of State) on 6 May. The last three are printed as editorial attachments to this Document. There is no evidence that Bruce sent any of these records of conversation to Canberra.

2 This cablegram was sent via F. K. Officer, Australian Counsellor at the U.K. Embassy in Washington.

Attachment I

Note by Mr S.M. Bruce of Conversation with Mr Norman Davis

Extract WASHINGTON, 3 May 1939

Towards the end of the conversation I said to Norman Davis that when I saw the President I would have to refer to the Pacific position and the possibility of the Japanese becoming troublesome in the event of the Germans and Italians starting trouble as Australian opinion was very worked up on the subject and my Government had specifically asked me to take up the question with the President of the attitude of the U.S.A. in the event of the Japs moving south. I said I realised the President could not commit himself but I said to Norman Davis I presumed there was no doubt that the United States would regard any move say against the Dutch East Indies as of vital concern to her and would feel impelled to take action.

He was extremely reassuring on the subject and said that there was no possible doubt as to the United States attitude and that they certainly would intervene if Japan took any hostile attitude in the Pacific and started moving southward. He said that the President realised this and that while he could not make any statement that there was no doubt but that he would act should such a contingency arise.


[AA: M104, ITEM 7(4)]

Attachment II

Note by Mr S.M. Bruce of Conversation with Mr Franklin D. Roosevelt, U.S. President

Extract WASHINGTON, 4 May 1939

We then moved on to the world situation. He said that Hitler [1] was clearly moving on the basis of steady but progressive moves that advanced him to his objective without war. That it was for Chamberlain [2] and Daladier [3] to determine when the time came that they must resist. He said to determine that time was difficult because there were not clearly defined issues. He instanced Dantzig-the Corridor and pointed out it was obvious some arrangement must be arrived at.

He then digressed as instancing the possibilities of some arrangement into an idea which he said he had suggested in 1921 but which did not seem to me very practicable, that there should be an elevated way of the Corridor carrying presumably rail and road facilities which would not actually touch the earth of the Corridor save as he admitted by the supports which carried the elevated way being on Corridor soil.

He then went on to say that he had seen the Polish Ambassador [4] the other day and had said to him that some agreement should be arrived at over Dantzig and the Corridor. He said that the Polish Ambassador had entirely agreed but had added it must be a freely negotiated settlement and not one arrived at under threats.

This view the President made clear he agreed with and that what he had meant was that an arrangement should not be difficult but that the Germans must be prepared to negotiate as between equals and cease threatening.

The President also showed that he recognised the danger of giving way because the immediate cause hardly justified war as this was merely encouraging Hitler to continue the tactics he had pursued with regard to the Czechs.

This view was really the basis for the remark he made earlier that it was for Chamberlain and Daladier to determine when the time came at which Hitler’s demands had to be resisted.

Emphasising his point that agreements can only be entered into between equals and not under the compulsion of threats he instanced the position between France and Italy. He said he knew from Daladier that he was quite prepared to discuss with the Italians Jibuti, Suez Canal directorate, even the position of Italians in Tunis, and he added you can’t expect a nation to be prepared to discuss anything with a pistol at its head. He added France would not do so and made it clear he agreed with them.

He then made a digression to ask me to speak to Halifax [5] about the possibility of the United Kingdom making available a strip of country running from the Indian Ocean. He suggested that there were possibilities by carrying out certain engineering works for it to carry a population of 15 million.

He said he did not want me to convey it as a suggestion from him but as a proposal that had been put to him for dealing with surplus populations. I asked him if he meant refugees and he said No, he meant from anywhere and he added even some of their people from the dust bowl might go. I said I would but added I had no idea as to the possibilities of the country and whether the suggested carrying capacity was in the realm of possibilities nor of the attitude of the United Kingdom Government.

I then raised the question of Japan and the Pacific and reminded the President that I had talked to him about it when I saw him in December. I told him that I had been very struck by the anxiety I had found in Australia not only in the Government but among the people wherever I had been as to the possibility of any action by Japan against Australia. I told him that everywhere I had been asked as to the attitude of the United States towards any move Southward by Japan.

The President said that when he had seen me before he had told me of his putting this question to his Cabinet. He then repeated to me what he had previously told me that he had put to his Cabinet the question what would the United States attitude be to any attack on Canada and that after discussing it there was general agreement that any attack on Canada would constitute a menace to the United States and they would have to intervene.

He said he then put to them what about an attack by Japan on Australia, and that after some hesitation the Attorney General [6] replied, voicing as the President put it the general view of the Cabinet, ‘Well Australia is a hell of a way off.’ I put it to the President that that episode had occurred 5 years or so ago which he agreed and I asked him whether recent events had not been of such a character as to get over the difficulty of Australia’s distance.

I told him I had been very struck by the greater interest the American people took and the greater anxiety they felt with regard to the Pacific than to Europe and I said it seemed to me that American public opinion would be greatly aroused by any move of Japan’s which looked like taking her South of the equator. The President agreed and said the United States would be vitally concerned in any such move.

He then again told me of his declaration re Canada. He said he had gone to Toronto to receive a degree and in the course of his speech he made his statement with regard to the United States attitude towards the integrity of Canada. He said when the United States public first read it they were startled and it gave them a considerable shock. At first they were doubtful of it but on thinking it over they came to the conclusion that he was right and they had completely accepted it. He said, however, they would not have taken the same view with regard to a similar statement as to Australia. His whole attitude was just the same as when I saw him before, that he recognises that in the event of trouble in the Pacific that attitude of the United States would have to be very similar to their attitude towards any menace to Canada but that public opinion was not yet educated to the point of approving any commitments in this direction. He urged most strongly that it was imperative to cultivate the closest relations between the American and Australian people. He stressed it very strongly and repeated it again as I was leaving, not merely trade but cultural and personal, and he urged special steamers making tours to Australia.

This would make public opinion receptive of the idea that the United States would have to intervene if Australia was menaced.

[AA:M104, ITEM 7(4)] S. M. B[RUCE]

1 Adolf Hitler, German Chancellor.

2 Neville Chamberlain, U.K. Prime Minister.

3 Edouard Daladier, President of the French Council of Ministers.

4 Count Jerzy Potocki.

5 Lord Halifax, U.K. Foreign Secretary.

6 Homer S. Cummings.

Attachment III

Note by Mr S.M. Bruce of Conversation with Mr Sumner Welles, U.S. Under-Secretary of State

WASHINGTON, 6 May 1939

Had a long talk which in many respects was the most interesting one I had in Washington. I like him and think he is extremely competent.

We started on the general position after he had received me extremely cordially.

He said that the position was extremely hard to gauge and instanced that in the last two days they had received 7 cables with regard to Litvinoff’s [1] alleged resignation. He said four of them were emphatic that it indicated no change in Soviet policy away from the Democratic States while the other three took the opposite view and considered it pointed towards a more isolationist policy. His own view appeared to me that he did not consider it need cause any serious alarm. I then told him I had had a long talk with Hornbeck [2] and had been most interested in what he told me of the difficulties the Japanese were encountering. He confirmed what Hornbeck had said but added a considerable amount.

He said that within the last few days the Japanese had definitely decided against a military alliance with Germany and Italy. That this decision was due to the Navy. That the Germans had been pressing very hard for a military alliance, their main reason being that by this means they hoped to obtain the assistance of the Japanese Navy in the Mediterranean in a short and decisive war. That the Army in Japan had been definitely for such an alliance and had been doing everything in their power to bring it about despite the opposition of the politicians.

That the balance had been held by the Navy who for some time were hesitating which side to support. Sumner Welles told me that the State Department had heard from Grew [3] in the last few days that the Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs had assured him in the last few days that the Navy had now decided against the Alliance and that there was no fear of its going through. I told Sumner Welles that this was a new angle to me and that it certainly seemed to me wise on the part of the Navy as they would be in a hopeless position- (a) If they suffered any losses in the Mediterranean (b) If the U.S.A. came in with her Navy available to take on the Japanese.

From this opening I led up to the question of the United States attitude in the event of the Japanese becoming troublesome. I added that I had been very much impressed by the different attitude of public opinion to United States intervention in Europe and the Pacific.

I ventured the view that the public were so concerned about the Japanese that they would insist on the United States taking a hand. He said he agreed and gave the interesting reason for the difference in the public attitude between Europe and the Pacific as being that in the case of Europe intervention was interpreted as meaning an expeditionary force and this roused the antagonism of every mother of eligible sons.

In the case of Japan an expeditionary force was never contemplated, action being by means of the Navy in the Pacific. For this reason the intense hostility of the mothers so marked in regard to Europe did not exist in regard to Japan and the Pacific.

I then made the point as to the difficult position Japan would find herself in if war was avoided this year down the lines that by that time the British Empire would be sufficiently strong to exercise a strong deterrent and United States opinion was, in my view increasingly realising the necessity of supporting Britain and France so as not to be left to take on the Japanese by themselves as, they would have to in the event of the United Kingdom and France being defeated. He offered no dissent as to this view of the trend of United States opinion.

My very distinct impression is that he is quite sound on the necessity of the United States taking an active part in helping the United Kingdom and France in Europe although as long as Japan did not move it would probably be by arms and munitions and not active intervention. In the event of Japan taking any action I am convinced he would support immediate active intervention.

In the conversation he said that while the active hostility which had existed towards the United Kingdom just after the war had to a great extent disappeared it had to be remembered that there was a strong underlying current of it fostered to a great extent by the Roman Catholic Church of which many members of the hierarchy were Irish with a bitter hatred of Britain. He instanced several whom I cannot recall.

Despite this he stressed that owing to the brutalities and general behaviour of the Germans the overwhelming feeling in the United States was with Britain and France.

I raised the point of the war debt and told him I had come across the point a number of times. The universal reaction I had found was that it was a tremendous pity it has not be[en] arranged on the basis of a token payment as the feeling which existed in America was not directed so much to the non-payment as the manner in which the decision to cease payment had been given effect to.

Sumner Welles was very insistent on this point also and in the discussion the point emerged as to the pity that Neville [4] with all the great qualities he has shown in the last few months so lacked imagination.

The interview was of the most cordial character and he has promised to let me know if he carries out his present intention of coming to London this summer.


[AA: M 104, ITEM 7(4)]

1 Maxim Litvinov, U.S.S.R. People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs.

2 Dr Stanley K. Hornbeck, Adviser on Political Relations, U.S. Department of State.

3 Joseph C. Grew, U.S. Ambassador to Japan.

4 Neville Chamberlain, U.K. Prime Minister.


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