4-217 Memorandum for the President, January 27, 1944

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: January 27, 1944

Subject: World War II

Memorandum for the President

January 27, 1944 [Washington, D.C.]


Subject: Enemy Reprisals against American Airmen.

(Reference General Marshall’s memorandum of December 29th and the

President’s memorandum of January 10th on this subject)

I am glad that you approve of the proposed joint statement in my memorandum of December 29th.1 It should, I think, be issued only when and if we have concrete evidence of the Germans’ purpose to take action, and I shall hold it for your further consideration when that moment arrives.


In accordance with your note we have endeavored to reach an agreement as to just what would be as a practicable proposition the “most drastic measures” to be taken by the Governments of Great Britain and the United States. It has been suggested that we could strike at the perpetuation of the German people by delaying the return of their men after the Armistice. By such a procedure we would punish large masses of people in whom family sentiments are strong. If credible evidence should be received that the German Government has initiated trials of our airmen for war crimes allegedly constituted by the bombing of targets in Germany, the British and United States Governments might issue some such statement as the following:

“The Governments of Great Britain and the United States having learned of the intention of the German Government to bring to trial Allied airmen on charges identified with the bombing of targets in Germany, wrongfully termed war crimes, issued on ______ a solemn warning to the German people as well as to their military and civil officials that the most drastic measures would be adopted to bring home to the German people a realization that any treatment of American or British prisoners not in strict accord with the recognized laws of warfare would be fatal to the future of the German people.

“This warning has been disregarded and the Governments of Great Britain and the United States now notify the German Government and the people of Germany that for each Allied airman sentenced as the outcome of the proposed trials, 10,000 German prisoners or other German males who will later be taken into custody, will be selected and detained subsequently to the imposition of peace terms, for such substantial period as these Allied Governments deem proper. Should the German Government commit additional crimes against Allied prisoners of war, the period of detention will be increased accordingly.

“These prisoners of war will be employed anywhere in the world that the interests of the various Allied nations dictate. Moreover, upon the conclusion of hostilities every person found responsible for these trials, including the judges, will be pursued, arraigned before Allied courts and punished accordingly.

“The United States and British Governments reaffirm their intention to intensify attacks upon Germany, making every effort of which their rapidly expanding means are capable.”


In the case of Japan the Joint Chiefs of Staff have already recommended to you that atrocities committed by the Japanese be publicized.2 I do not believe that any official statement by our Government is desirable at this time since you have already given warning as to the punishment of all persons guilty of war crimes. However, in the event of a Japanese threat to mistreat prisoners in order to deter us from bombing Japan or as reprisals for alleged war crimes committed against them, we shall have to take a course different from that indicated for Germany because of the lack of Japanese prisoners and the fact that the Japanese Government would be ruthless in consideration of the hazard to their nationals. The following statement is suggested:

“The Governments of Great Britain and the United States have taken notice of the repeated acts of barbarism committed by the Japanese authorities against British and American prisoners of war despite the agreement of the Japanese Government to abide by the terms of the Geneva Conventions. These brutal reprisals upon helpless victims evidence the shallow advance from savagery which the Japanese people have made.

“The Governments of Great Britain and the United States reaffirm their intention to bring the present hostilities to an end by the use of every effort of which their rapidly expanding means are capable. We serve notice upon the Japanese military and political leaders as well as the Japanese people that the future of Japan as a nation, in fact that of the Japanese race itself, depends entirely and irrevocably upon their capacity to progress beyond their aboriginal barbaric instincts which are manifested by the treatment accorded to British and American personnel in Japanese hands. Every person, irrespective of rank, who is responsible directly or morally for the mistreatment of American and British prisoners of war will be relentlessly pursued, arraigned before Allied courts, and punished as they deem fit.”

This matter has been discussed with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of War, who are in accord with it.3

Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, Selected Materials, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.

Document Format: Typed memorandum.

1. See Marshall Memorandum for the President, December 29, 1943, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-190 [4: 218-20]. President Roosevelt’s January 10, 1944, reply is printed in note 3 of the same document.

2. See Marshall Memorandum for the Secretary of War, October 8, 1943, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-126 [4: 149-50].

3. President Roosevelt approved this proposal. At the top of the copy for the White House is written “OK FDR.” General Marshall attached a handwritten note: “To OPD File this carefully. Notify Sec. of State and Secs. of War and Navy of the Presidents approval. Make clear for Sec. Navy that this started over Army aviators in Germany and Japan. G. C. M.” (Marshall to OPD, undated, NA/ RG 165 [OPD, 383.6].) Operations Division drafted letters to the secretary of the navy and the secretary of state that were sent over the secretary of war’s signature, which enclosed Marshall’s January 27 memorandum and included a statement that the president approved. (Stimson to the Secretary of the Navy, February 1, 1944, and Stimson to the Secretary of State, February 1, 1944, ibid.)

Recommended Citation: ThePapers of George Catlett Marshall, ed.Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens(Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 4, “Aggressive and Determined Leadership,” June 1, 1943-December 31, 1944 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), pp. 251-253.

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