U.S. closes Italian consulates (6-21-41)

The Pittsburgh Press (June 21, 1941)

All officials must go home by July 15

Agencies of Mussolini’s government also shut by Roosevelt order

Washington, June 21 (UP) –
The United States today replied to the Italian action closing American consular offices in Italy by directing that Italy remove all its consular personnel from the United States by July 15.

The order also applies to all other Italian official personnel in this country except for those connected directly with the Italian Embassy.

At the same time, Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles announced he had given German Charge d’Affaires Hans Thomsen a brief note – accompanied by President Roosevelt’s message to Congress on the sinking of the Robin Moor – “for the information” of the German government.

Welles issues order

The Italian closing order, made public by Mr. Welles at a press conference, said that:

Continued functioning of Italian consular establishments in territory of the United States would serve no desirable purpose.

In a note to Italy, Mr. Welles said he had been directed by President Roosevelt to request the closing of all agencies in this country connected with the Italian government, together with the cessation of their activities, and furthermore, the removal of all Italian nationals in way connected with organizations of the Italian government in the United States, with the exception of its duly accredited representation in Washington.

’Arm merchant ships’

Meanwhile, Congressional supports of administration foreign policy significantly were calling today for arming of American merchant vessels in response to President Roosevelt’s denunciation of Germany’s sinking of the Robin Moor.

The State Department is preparing a fiery note of protest.

There were suggestions that Mr. Roosevelt’s surprise Robin Moor message to Congress was a prelude to convoy of American ships in dangerous waters or some form of effective patrol system.

Isolationists condemned the message as an effort to arouse war spirit among Americans.

Urges 'shooting defense’

But on the whole, Congress heard the communication without excitement and members seemed to feel that the President was justified in using the extraordinarily vigorous language employed. It was argued by some, however, that the vessel carried tons of contraband cargo.

Senator Claude Pepper (D-FL), who runs in advance of the administration on the extent and manner of aid to Great Britain, btu who sometimes floats administration “trial balloons,” urged arming of merchant ships and a “shooting defense” against German raiders.

He said:

I predict that you will find that the Robin Moor is just the first of a series of incidents that will begin to occur. We should have an effective patrol and place guns on our merchant ships. The Navy can protect them if we only tell the Navy to go ahead and do so.

’Curtain raiser’

Senator Homer T. Bone (D-WA) heard Mr. Roosevelt’s message and its reaffirmation of our determination to enjoy freedom of the seas and said:

I don’t know whether that means we will be mounting guns on merchant vessels or whether we will institute convoys. Obviously it has to be one or the other, or both.

Rep. Harold Knutson (R-MN) interpreted Mr. Roosevelt’s message as:

…a curtain raiser for a declaration of war.

Senator Burton K. Wheeler (D-MT) charged that the President was “trying to arouse the war spirit of the American people.” He said:

His message to Congress on the sinking of the Robin Moor did not say anything new. It was just another bitter and warlike diatribe against Germany. No one can defend German treatment of the survivors. It was cruel – but the President did not tell that American people that 70% of the Robin Moor cargo was contraband of war and as such was subject to seizure or destruction by belligerents. It was 70% contraband – contraband according to German lists – contraband according to English lists – and contraband according to American lists in the last war.

’We are not yielding’

The attack on the Robin Moor, Mr. Roosevelt charged, was the first step of a Nazi attempt to seize control of the high seas and to drive American commerce from the ocean wherever such commerce wss considered disadvantageous to German design.

He said:

We must take the sinking of the Robin Moor as a warning to the United States not to resist the Nazi movement of world conquest. It is a warning that the United States may use the high seas of the world only with Nazi consent.

Were we to yield on this, we would inevitably submit to world domination at the hands of the present leaders of the German Reich.

We are not yielding and we do not propose to yield.

There was no World War precedent for yesterday’s presidential action. Diplomats were struck particularly by the vehemence of Mr. Roosevelt’s criticism of the Nazis and by his description of the status of their leaders as “temporary.”

Act of outlaw

The President charged that the Robin Moor was sunk by a German U-boat without provision for the safety of the passengers and crew and despite the fact that its American nationality was known to the commander of the submarine.

He said the passengers and crew were left in small lifeboats which drifted from approximately two to three weeks before they were accidentally discovered and rescued by friendly vessels.

He declared:

This chance rescue does not lessen the brutality of casting the boats adrift in mid-ocean.

The total disregard shown for the most elementary principles of international law and of humanity brands the sinking of the Robin Moor as the act of an international outlaw.

The government of the United States hold Germany responsible for the outrageous and indefensible sinking of the Robin Moor. Full reparation for the losses and damages suffered by American nationals will be expected from the German government.

’Cruelty, terror’

The attack on the freighter, the President said, must be interpreted in the light of a declared and actively pursued policy of:

…frightfulness and intimidation which has been used by the German Reich as an instrument of national policy.

The President continued:

The present leaders of the German Reich have not hesitated to engage in acts of cruelty and many other forms of terror against the innocent and the helpless in other countries, apparently in the belief that methods of terrorism will lead to a state of affairs permitting the German Reich to exact acquiescence from the nations victimized.

This government can only assume that the government of the German Reich hopes through the commission of such infamous acts of cruelty to helpless and innocent men, women and children to intimidate the United States and other nations into a course of non-resistance to German planes for universal conquest – a conquest based in lawlessness and terror on land and piracy at sea.

’Disclosure of policy’

We are warranted in considering whether the case of the Robin Moor is not a step in a campaign against the United States analogous to campaigns against other nations. We cannot place reliance on official declarations to the contrary.

Viewed in the light of the circumstances, the sinking of the Robin Moor becomes a disclosure of policy as well as an example of method. Heretofore, lawless acts of violence have been preludes to schemes of land conquest. This one appears to be a first step in assertion of the supreme purpose of the German Reich to seize control of the high seas, the conquest of Great Britain being an indispensable part of that seizure.

Its general purpose would appear to be to drive American commerce from the ocean wherever such commerce was considered a disadvantage to German designs; and its specific purpose would appear to be interruption of our trade with all friendly countries.

We must take it that notice has now been served upon us that no American ship or cargo on any of the seven seas can consider itself immune from acts of piracy. Notice is served on us, in effect that the German Reich proposes so to intimidate the United States that we would be dissuaded from carrying out our chosen policy of helping Britain to survive.

Unusual message

The Robin Moor message was unusual in that it was wholly informative, containing no request for Congressional action. After the message had been heard in House and Senate chambers the legislative branch had fulfilled its responsibilities. But the fact that Mr. Roosevelt decided suddenly to give Congress a formal report on the Robin Moor incident aroused widespread speculation whether it was a preliminary White House move toward specific recommendations for the protection of American shipping.

In his May 27 fireside chat, the President vigorously restated our claim to freedom of the seas on a basis which recognized our own discretion to limit the movement of our shipping anywhere but refused to admit that any foreign power could challenge our rights to so much as a single ocean wave.

The next move will probably be by the State Department through which will be transmitted to Berlin what promises to be an outstandingly severe protest accompanied by a demand for reparations and damages.

The Robin Moor was torpedoed on May 21 while en route to South Africa. Survivors identified the submarine as German and said that its commander charged that the freighter was carrying contraband. The ship’s manifest showed that among other cargo, it carried auto engines and other peacetime products.

Germany has not admitted to date that one of her U-boats was responsible, but a Nazi spokesman was quoted as saying that Germany would sink the Robin Moor, the Exmoor (former name of the ship) and all other Moors U.S. aid to Britain.