292 Mr A. S. Watt, First Secretary of the Legation in Washington, to Department of External Affairs

Cablegram 114 WASHINGTON, 12 February 1941, 6.25 p.m.


With reference to my telegram 113. [1]

(2) Summary of interview between Halifax [2] and the President.


(3) Halifax gave the President summary of the latest British information concerning Japanese plans, and the President said much of it corresponded with his own information which suggested that the date for Japanese action was 10th February or 18th February.

(4) President said he had been anxiously considering what action the United States could take if Japan attacked Netherlands East Indies, Thailand or Singapore. While the United States Government would declare war on Japan if latter were to attack American possessions he did not think that country would approve this action if Japan only attacked the Netherlands East Indies or British possessions.

Moreover, even if the United States were to be involved in war with Japan he felt that to fight a war in the Pacific would mean a dangerous diversion of forces and material from the main theatre of operations which in his view was the Atlantic and Great Britain. Therefore, should the United States become involved in war he thought they would have to fight a 'holding war' in the Pacific.

(5) President said he had thought hard about possible deterrent to Japan-for instance the sending of naval forces to Aleutian Islands. [4] The Navy Office did not consider this practicable and in any case they could not send strong enough force anywhere to have much effect. He said he was 'through with bluffing' and had little doubt that the Japanese knew the limitations of American action.

(6) President showed Halifax telegram from United States Ambassador, Tokyo [5], stating the problem with great force on much the same lines as British experts. He stressed the vital necessity of Singapore because of its importance to the general British war effort and disastrous effect of the fall of Singapore upon Chinese resistance. President commented that Ambassador had stated the problem but not supplied the answer.

(7) Halifax said it was difficult to exaggerate the importance of Singapore to the general British war effort and pointed out that if Great Britain should ever have to fall back from its Middle East position this would affect British blockade and permit the free passage of Russian and Rumanian oil to Germany by sea. Japan might already have decided to enter the war anyhow, but, if not, action by the United States might have great effect, as had been illustrated by the withdrawal of the Americans from the Far East.

(8) President agreed and mentioned other possibilities which had occurred to him:

(a) further warning to American nationals to evacuate.

(b) Six or eight more submarines to Manila.

(c) Interview with new Japanese Ambassador [6] during which the President could 'speak very seriously to him, saying he hoped that rumours of further Japanese action were not true since it would be a pity if the Ambassador had to leave Washington almost at once.' (d) United States might take up with Japan the question of Spratley Island and inquire 'why the Japanese were apparently settling down there for good.' (9) Halifax said cumulative effect of several small things might be great and in conclusion emphasised the urgency of very early American action. [7]

1 Dispatched 12 February. On file AA:A1608, A41/1/6, iv.

2 U.K. Ambassador to the United States.

3 Franklin D. Roosevelt.

4 The Canberra copy was here annotated 'as received', but the wording of the Washington original is substantially the same. See copy on file AA:A3300, 97.

5 J. C. Grew.

6 Admiral Kichisaburo Nomura.

7 Watt also dispatched a report of a meeting between Halifax and Cordell Hull, U.S. Secretary of State. Hull acceded to the British view that the United States should make clear to the Japanese that the latter were not to have a monopoly of interest in the Far East. See cablegram 115 of 12 February on file AA:A1608, A41/1/1, xviii.

[AA:A981, FAR EAST 26A]