760F.62/703: Telegram

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

1414. Daladier said to me this afternoon that he had sent for the German Chargé d’Affaires last evening (the German Ambassador to France is now at the Nuremberg Congress) and had said to him that he hoped he would make it clear to his Government that whatever course England or any other nation might take the French Government would order immediate mobilization and attack Germany at once if the foot of a German soldier should cross the Czechoslovak frontier.

Daladier said that he had done this in order to make it clear to the German Government that however England might wobble or vacillate there would be no vacillation on the part of France. It was his conviction that if Hitler should be permitted to settle the Sudeten question by a stroke of force there would be no more public law in Europe.

Daladier added that he had said to the German Chargé d’Affaires that he knew the Sudeten had a genuine grievance. They had been badly treated by the Czechs. Moreover the French people believed deeply and sincerely in the principle of self-determination. If the Sudeten desired autonomy they should have autonomy. He was even prepared to say that if the Sudeten should desire to join Germany the French Government, respecting the principle of self-determination, would have no basic objection to this solution. What he could not permit was that Hitler should attempt to settle the matter by force.

Daladier went on to say to me that as I knew he had fought the Versailles Treaty13 to the utmost. We were now on the verge of reaping one of the wars the seeds of which had been sown in the treaty. The matter was aggravated by the fact that the Czechs had [Page 582] been most brutal in their treatment of the Sudeten. It was true that the Czechs had suffered from the brutality of the Germans for many centuries and that the stick was simply in the other hand now. He was certain that neither Henlein nor Kundt desired confederation with Germany at the present time. Henlein desired to be the leader of the Sudeten of Czechoslovakia for life; Kundt to occupy the next most prominent position. He was equally certain, however, that there was an enormous and growing desire among the Sudeten themselves to be annexed to Germany and the question was whether or not Henlein and Kundt could hold their followers in line for a settlement on the basis of genuine autonomy.

The French Government had now received the text of Beneš’ latest proposals. He had read them and had not been able to make head or tail of them. Mental germs like physical increased as one went eastward in Europe. He had been told, however, that the proposals would give the Sudeten a very large measure of autonomy and he hoped that they might be the basis for settlement. He considered (as does every one in Paris) the editorial in the London Times yesterday suggesting that the Czechs might hand over the Sudeten area to Germany extraordinarily ill-timed.

I asked Daladier if he believed that Hitler in his speech on September 12 would demand a plebiscite. He replied that he had no idea. I asked what would be the reaction of the French Government if Hitler should demand such a plebiscite and the Czechoslovak Government should refuse it and the British Government should support the idea of a plebiscite. He replied that this eventuality would raise a most crucial and difficult question and he had not yet decided what his position would be. If in Europe each nationality were to be accorded a plebiscite, the map of Europe would undergo some astonishing changes. For example the Poles now in Germany would unquestionably demand union with Poland and the Germans in Poland would demand union with Germany.

I asked what the position of the French Government would be if the Sudeten leaders should demand a plebiscite. Daladier replied that he was certain that the Sudeten leaders would not demand a plebiscite on the issue of annexation to Germany because he was sure that they did not desire to be swallowed up by Germany and replaced, as the leaders of the Austrian Nazi movement had been replaced by Germans from the Reich.

I asked what the position of the French Government would be if the Sudeten should demand a plebiscite on the issue of full autonomy with territorial provisions. Daladier replied that he did not see how the French Government could object to such a plebiscite.

Daladier said that he had taken no further measures with regard to calling reservists to the colors. The number called to date did not [Page 583] amount to much more than 90,000. He had taken other measures to insure the defense of the frontier. The orders for mobilization and immediate attack on Germany were ready to be issued at a moment’s notice.

I expressed to Daladier my personal pleasure on his nomination today of my old friend General Requin as a member of the Supreme War Council. He said that the burden of the attack against Germany if it should have to be made would fall on Requin.

Daladier said that he was fully aware that a French attack on the German line would be very costly and would not get very far. Nevertheless France was bound in the interests of honor and public decency in Europe to make such an attack. No matter what position the British might take such an attack would be made if German troops should cross the Czechoslovak frontier.

I asked Daladier if there were any truth in the rumor that the Italians had mobilized several divisions on the Italian-French frontier. He said that there was no truth in this report. The Italians had taken no military measures directed toward an attack against France.

I asked if it were true that the Russians were concentrating large forces on the borders of Rumania. He said that this was true and that Voroshilov14 himself had gone to the area to direct the concentration. I asked if he expected the Russian troops to attempt to march through Rumania in case of German attack on Czechoslovakia. He said that they well might and that the Rumanians could put up no real resistance. I said that in my opinion such action would be followed by immediate declarations of war by both Rumania and Poland against the Soviet Union. He said that he considered this highly probable; then laughed and remarked that the world was indeed insane.

Daladier was completely poised and calm as are all Frenchmen and joked me about our being blown simultaneously into the air from opposite sides of the Seine. It is difficult to exaggerate the complete self-control and poise of the French people and the French Government. The spirit of the country today is far superior to the spirit in 1914. Everyone in the country ardently desires peace. Everyone realizes that war means the destruction of every city in northern and eastern France including Paris. Everyone is ready to leave his normal occupation for the trenches tomorrow. There is no fuss, lamentation or hysteria; simply a sense that the honor of France is engaged and that the moment may soon come when it may be necessary again to march.

Bullitt
  1. Treaty of Peace signed at Versailles, June 28, 1919, Foreign Relations, The Paris Peace Conference, 1919, vol. xiii, p. 57.
  2. Klement Y. Voroshilov, Soviet Commissar for Defense.