740.00/446: Telegram

The Ambassador in France ( Bullitt ) to the Secretary of State

1267. I discussed the general situation with Bonnet this evening. His optimism has disappeared.

He said he had had a series of reports during the past few days from Germany that worried him greatly. The German Government was taking every preliminary step that it was possible to take to prepare a country for immediate war. Personally he still believed that Germany did not intend to declare war in the immediate future and that these steps were designed to produce the impression that Germany would support the demands of the Sudeten by force of arms. But it might be that Hitler and Mussolini had decided to have war this summer.

Bonnet added that he was confident Runciman could keep the Czechoslovak question comparatively quiet for another 2 weeks and that war would not begin until September at least. He had today permitted the French Minister to Praha to leave for a 2 weeks’ vacation.

Runciman’s first reports had reached London yesterday and the British Government had informed him that they contained nothing of importance.

In any event he felt certain that there would be another most serious crisis sometime in September. The question of Czechoslovakia was basically insoluble so long as nothing could be permitted which would infringe upon Czech sovereignty throughout all the territories now [Page 64] composing the Czechoslovak state. It seemed certain, therefore, that the eventual proposals of Runciman would have to be supported by a readiness to fight.

Hitler was continuing to say to the few visitors who saw him that he did not intend to go to war over Czechoslovakia but invariably added “unless Sudeten blood should flow.”

I asked Bonnet if the French Government intended to attempt to have any direct conversations with Hitler while Runciman was in Praha. He said that he himself believed that the French Government should send someone to Hitler immediately. The difficulty was that Hitler did not like to talk to Ambassadors or statesmen. He was willing to receive generals. It might be advisable to send some French general to talk with him before the Czech affair should reach another crisis.

Mussolini was behaving in a manner which suggested either that he desired immediate war or that he had lost his mental balance. His latest act was to refuse to permit Italian tourists to visit France and he was sending constant reinforcements to Spain.

The financial situation of France was rapidly becoming untenable. France had been losing gold from the equalization fund at the rate of 2,000,000 pounds a day although today only about a million and a half pounds had been lost. He had just been informed that the British had lost no less than 8,000,000 pounds today. It was entirely clear that unless it should be possible to come to an agreement for limitation of armaments in Europe it would be impossible for France and England as well to maintain their moneys at their present levels. France this year would have to increase greatly her expenditures for armaments especially for airplanes and the money to pay for these new weapons of war simply was not to be found.

If the Czechoslovakian crisis which he anticipated in September should pass over peacefully he intended to make an immense effort in the month of October to bring about an agreement for the limitation of armaments in Europe.

On behalf of the French Government he would transmit to the British Government through the British Chargé d’Affaires here at 10 o’clock tomorrow morning a note saying that the present pressure on the franc was entailing grave consequences for the equalization fund and the French Treasury. The French Government felt that it was acting in the spirit of the Tripartite Agreement1 in informing the British Government that if the pressure on its money should continue it could not be sure of prolonging very long the sacrifices necessary to defend the present level of the franc. The French Government [Page 65] therefore considered it necessary that the governments signatory to the Tripartite Agreement should seek together methods of combating the attacks which were affecting the principal European moneys. It must insist especially on a common denial of the rumors which continue to circulate with regard to an impending modification of the Tripartite Agreement and of the monetary level now existing.2

Bonnet gave me a copy of this note in which he changed the words “Government of Great Britain” to the words “Government of the United States” and asked me to consider it an official communication to be transmitted at once to my Government.

Before the message containing the text of this note had been encoded Bonnet telephoned me and asked me please not to telegraph the text to my Government but to consider it merely an aide-mémoire. He explained that he had conferred with Daladier after talking with me and that they had decided not to send any written communication on this subject either to the United States or to Great Britain but to let Marchandeau3 handle the matter verbally. Since Bonnet said this to me over the telephone I could not obtain further explanations.

I informed Secretary Morgenthau by telephone with regard to the note I had received and its cancellation as a formal document.

Bonnet went on to say that if France should have to continue to arm at the present rate it would be necessary to regiment the entire country placing the civilian population on soldiers wages and soldiers rations. In no other way could the present level of the franc be maintained and the essential military expenditures made.

Bonnet’s shift from relative optimism to great anxiety is typical of the present state of mind of all the officials of the Quai d’Orsay with four of whom I have talked today.

Bullitt
  1. For text of the Agreement, see statement by the Secretary of the Treasury, September 25, 1936, Foreign Relations, 1936, vol. i, p. 560.
  2. See memorandum of August 12, by the Assistant Adviser on International Economic Affairs, vol. ii, p. 288.
  3. Paul Marchandeau, French Minister for Finance.