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Memorandum for General Gerow
February 10, 1941 Washington, D.C.
Subject: Conference with the President.
This morning at eleven the Secretaries of State, War and Navy, and Admiral Stark and myself spent one and a half hours with the President. The meeting was devoted to the outcome of a conversation between the President and Lord Halifax.1 The latter had expressed the view of the British Government that the Japanese and Germans would act offensively and simultaneously, and possibly in the very near future. Lord Halifax was hopeful that we could do something to deter Japan. The President stated that he told Lord Halifax that we had practically exhausted the “gesture” method, that we had ordered Americans out of Japan and China, we had sent the Fleet on a secret mission, and that we could not see our way clear to reinforce our Navy in the Far East. Lord Halifax was hopeful that something might be done to cause the Japanese to delay.
The President then offered this proposal, that at his meeting in about three days with the new Japanese Ambassador, the President and the Secretary of State would draw rather long faces on the situation and endeavor to give the Japanese Ambassador the impression that we were very serious in this matter of Japan’s further movement toward Malaysia.2 The President thought if this visit was preceded and followed by a series of moves on our part, the result might be deterrent of Japanese action. He suggested the following:
First, a second direction from the State Department for Americans to leave Japan and China.
Second, the long faces to be drawn by the President and Mr. Hull in receiving Nomura.
Third, two light and two heavy cruisers, six long-legged destroyers, and an airplane carrier to be dispatched on an announced “training cruise” south from Hawaii to Canton, thence via the Fiji Islands to the southern tip of Mindanao, and thence to Manila, and then to rejoin the Fleet in Hawaii.
Fourth, that we open conversations diplomatically with Japan regarding their occupation of the Spratley Islands, literally simply reefs half way between the Philippines and the Camarines, on the basis that these really pertain to the Philippines. This for the purpose of showing them our intention to safe-guard our commercial communications in between that region and Singapore.
Mr. Hull did not think any attention would be paid to the first proposal. Later on Mr. Knox suggested that the Army might make a more positive motion by following the Naval decision to move the women and children out of the Philippines. Knox favored the attitude to be followed in meeting Nomura, and eventually favored the training cruise because he had previously advocated some such move. He did not discuss the Spratley Islands.
Mr. Knox concurred with the President, except that he thought it dangerous to send an airplane carrier through the Mandate Islands, which Admiral Stark suggested as a possible route. In this connection Stark reminded us that a mistake had been made long ago in asking the Japanese if they objected to a cruise through the Mandate Islands, which we have a legal right to do, and they had so objected.
The Secretary of War did not express himself on the cruise or on the question of a second notice to Americans in Japan and China. He thought that we might gain by taking a diplomatic position immediately through Nomura as to our interests commercially that would be involved in Japanese control of Malaysia. The fact of the Dollar boats moving several times a month through this region was mentioned, etc.3
The meeting was suddenly broken up by the messenger’s announcing new callers, and I was only able to state that we had already been considering the question of holding officers in the Philippines whose terms would expire and moving their families to the States; that we might have General Grunert become fairly active in expediting the recruiting of the additional Philippine Scouts; that we might give some publicity to the reinforcement of the Hawaiian garrison by the planes we were sending out next week and on March 15th.4
G. C. Marshall
Document Copy Text Source: Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs (RG 165), Records of the War Plans Division (WPD), 4175-18, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.
Document Format: Typed memorandum signed.
1. Viscount Halifax (Edward F. L. Wood), former British secretary of state for foreign affairs, had been named ambassador to the United States on December 23, 1940. He had arrived in Washington on January 24, 1941.
2. President Roosevelt and Secretary of State Hull received Ambassador Kichisaburo Nomura on February 14, 1941.
3. The Dollar Steamship Line, which had been established in 1888 by Captain Robert Dollar to operate on Pacific Ocean routes, had been taken over by the Maritime Commission in 1938 and some of its ships operated under the name American President Lines.
4. Gerow doubted that the proposed measures would “accomplish any worthwhile result.” He suggested that the president advise Ambassador Nomura of the United States’s intention to help Britain defeat Germany “by all means short of war” and emphasize to the envoy “that we would view with concern any effort on the part of Japan to nullify those measures. This would be a veiled threat but it might have a useful result.” In conjunction with this meeting, Gerow suggested a press release which emphasized the United States’s reinforcement of the Philippines, noting increased strength in that department’s ground forces, aircraft, antiaircraft, and artillery units. The assistant chief of staff wrote to Marshall that the release of this information “may worry the Japanese a bit. At least it can do no harm.” (Gerow Memorandum for the Chief of Staff, February 11, 1941, NA/RG 165 [WPD, 4175-18].)
Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland, Sharon Ritenour Stevens, and Clarence E. Wunderlin, Jr. (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 2, “We Cannot Delay,” July 1, 1939-December 6, 1941 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp. 416-418,