4-126 Memorandum for the Secretary of War, October 8, 1943

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: October 8, 1943

Subject: World War II

Memorandum for the Secretary of War

October 8, 1943 Washington, D.C.


Subject: Japanese prison camps.

I suggest that you read pages 9 to 12 of Magic for October 7th, Number 560.1 Also the attached memorandum for the President from the U.S. Chiefs of Staff; and that you review the U.S. current procedure in this matter.2

The problem is exceedingly complex and of course requires the most careful handling both in relation to our actions at the present time and as to future developments. The storm of bitterness which will arise, once the public is aware of the brutalities and savagery displayed by the Japanese towards our prisoners, should be directed along carefully thought out lines rather than left to dissipate itself in a lurid press and unpredictable reactions.3

I don’t want to burden you unnecessarily in this matter, but you have had it somewhat in hand and it pertains to the highest governmental policy.4

G. C. Marshall

Document Copy Text Source: Records of the Office of the Secretary of War (RG 107), Secretary of War Safe, Japan [after December 7, 1941], National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.

Document Format: Typed memorandum signed.

1. The Magic Diplomatic Summaries that were prepared for high officials in Washington were still heavily censored at the time this volume was prepared. Pages 9-12 discussed reports from Bangkok “concerning living conditions of British, Australian and Dutch prisoners of war in Thailand” and reported on a British protest, via the Swiss, concerning the treatment of prisoners. The Japanese rejected the protest, denied the truth of the reports, stated that any British retaliation against Japanese prisoners would be cause for Japanese retaliation against British prisoners, and expressed their dissatisfaction with British treatment of Japanese prisoners of war. (NA/RG 457 [Magic Diplomatic Summaries, SRS 1110].)

2. Stories concerning Japanese mistreatment of U.S. prisoners of war had threatened to leak to the press during the summer of 1943. Marshall and others feared that a public outcry in the United States might complicate the Gripsholm’s current mission and make future missions impossible. (Concerning the Gripsholm’s mission, see Marshall Memorandum for the President, July 14, 1943, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-054 [4: 64-65].) President Roosevelt had asked that the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend to him when he should inform the nation of the mistreatment. (Roosevelt Memorandum for the Secretary of War, Secretary of the Navy, September 9, 1943, NA/RG 165 [OCS, 383.6].) Marshall’s staff had prepared a memorandum for the Joint Chiefs of Staff by September 17 (J.C.S. 504) which included, as an attachment, a proposed memorandum for the president. This latter memorandum noted that officers who had escaped from Japanese prison camps “stated that conditions in these camps could scarcely be much worse and that unless such conditions are improved within a short time very few of the American prisoners will survive.” The memorandum recommended that release of this information should be delayed three to six months in order to allow the supplies carried by the Gripsholm to reach the camps. The J.C.S. approved this memorandum at the September 21 meeting. (J.C.S. 504 and attachments are in NA/RG 107 [SW Safe, Japan (after December 7, 1941)]; Minutes of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Meeting, September 21, 1943, NA/RG 165 [OCS, CCS 334, JCS Minutes].)

3. Stimson had a conference on the morning of October 8 with G-2 head George Strong, who was to study the prisoner treatment problem and report back. (October 8, 1943, Yale/H. L. Stimson Papers [Diary, 44: 179].)

4. For further information on the issue of Japanese treatment of U.S. prisoners of war, see Marshall Memorandum for the President, January 27, 1944, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #4-217 [4: 251-53].

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. 149-.

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