298 Mr S. M. Bruce, High Commissioner in London, to Mr A. W. Fadden, Acting Prime Minister

Cablegram 125 LONDON, 14 February 1941, 7.35 p.m.

MOST SECRET FOR ACTING PRIME MINISTER PERSONAL

Far East situation. Press here have given great publicity to joint statement by yourself and Curtin after meeting of War Advisory Council [1] featuring it with large headlines on front and other pages, eg., 'Grave warning in Australia' (Daily Telegraph), 'Japan plays Hitler game on Australia' (Daily Herald), 'Jap, Fleet threat', 'Aussies unite to face Jap menace' (Daily Express)-and even added speculation that 'Mr. Menzies [2] may not go to London' (Daily Express).

Prominence is given to 'sudden adjournment of the Council meeting' and one report added ominous touch 'that some of the Ministers were visibly affected'.

Reaction to statement here is that the effect of this and your previous statement (12th February) [3] may well be salutary so far as Japan is concerned, as indicating Australia's preparedness, but some anxiety felt at effect which overdramatisation in the press cables from Australia has had on press here. During the last fortnight or so, the United Kingdom Government have been urging the press to give a good publicity to Japan and Far East generally in order to accustom the public to present increased tension in that quarter and to prepare them for unperceived possible developments. At the same time, they have urged the press to refrain from reporting sensational items and up to yesterday this policy succeeded. Despite strenuous efforts last night they did not wholly succeed in calming the press down, and there is a further recrudescence in this evening['s] papers. They are apprehensive lest an over-excited press here, in United States and elsewhere, should increase an already high tension and even precipitate war.

Would suggest for a few days at least you might let previous statement sink in, mark time, and see how situation develops.

View here is that while the press should not pull up too suddenly lest they provoke a swing to the other extremity, attention should be diverted to more general issues in the Far Eastern situation, such as the Germans' desire to utilize Japan, the folly of Japan breaking with United States and the British Empire, etc., and they should be urged to keep off reports of large-scale movements of ships and other sensational items. [4]

BRUCE

1 See Document 289.

2 Prime Minister.

3 In his statement of 12 February Fadden claimed that Australia was a major strategic objective of the Axis because of its importance as a supplier of men, munitions and food to the Empire war effort. Fadden added: 'We find ourselves in a serious danger of hostile action near, if not on, our own coastline.' See Sydney Morning Herald, 13 February 1941, p. 7.

4 Fadden replied on 17 February that the Commonwealth Govt had been greatly concerned at the sudden burst of sensationalism in sections of the Australian press and had requested newspaper editors and broadcasting stations to 'tone down headlines and avoid the scare aspect'. See cablegram 756 on file AA:A1608, A41/1/6, v.

[AA:A981, JAPAN 101, iii]