The Secretary of State to the Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations (Pittman), United States Senate, [WASHINGTON,] May 12, 1938.


I have received your letter of May 3, 1938, enclosing a copy of S. J. Resolution 288 "repealing the Joint Resolution to prohibit the export of arms, ammunition and implements of war from the United States to Spain, approved January 8, 1937, and conditionally raising the embargo against the Government of Spain," and requesting my comment.

In recent years this Government has consistently pursued a course calculated to prevent our becoming involved in war situations. In August, 1936, shortly after the beginning of the civil strife in Spain, it became evident that several of the great powers were projecting themselves into the struggle through the furnishing of arms and war materials and other aid to the contending sides, thus creating a real danger of a spread of the conflict into a European war, with the possible involvement of the United States. That there was such a real danger was realized by every thoughtful observer the world over. Twenty-seven Governments of Europe took special cognizance of that fact in setting up a committee designed to carry out a concerted policy of non-intervention in the conflict. In view of all these special and unusual circumstances, this Government declared its policy of strict non-interference in the struggle and at the same time announced that export of arms from the United States to Spain would be contrary to such policy.

The fundamental reason for the enactment of the Joint Resolution of January 8, 1937, was to implement this policy by legislation. This Joint Resolution was passed in the Senate unanimously and in the House of Representatives by a vote of 406 to 1.

In the form in which it is presented, the proposed legislation, if enacted, would lift the embargo, which is now being applied against both parties to the conflict in Spain, in respect to shipments of arms to one party while leaving in effect the embargo in respect to shipments to the other party. Even if the legislation applied to both parties, its enactment would still subject us to unnecessary risks we have so far avoided. We do not know what lies ahead in the Spanish situation. The original danger still exists. In view of the continued danger of international conflict arising from the circumstances of the struggle, any proposal which at this juncture contemplates a reversal of our policy of strict non-interference which we have thus far so scrupulously followed, and under the operation of which we have kept out of involvements, would offer a real possibility of complications. From the standpoint of the best interests of the United States in the circumstances which now prevail, I would not feel justified in recommending affirmative action on the Resolution under consideration.

Our first solicitude should be the peace and welfare of this country, and the real test of the advisability of making any changes in the statutes now in effect should be whether such changes would further tend to keep us from becoming involved directly or indirectly in a dangerous European situation.
Furthermore, if reconsideration is to be given to a revision of our neutrality legislation, it would be more useful to reconsider it in its broader aspects in the light of the practical experience gained during the past two or three years, rather than to rewrite it piecemeal in relation to a particular situation. It is evident that there is not sufficient time to give study to such questions in the closing days of this Congress.

Sincerely yours,


Source: U.S., Department of State, Publication 1983, Peace and War: United States Foreign Policy, 1931-1941 (Washington, D.C.: U.S., Government Printing Office, 1943, pp. 419-20

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