762.00/164: Telegram

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

278. Chautemps lunched with me alone today and made the following remarks with regard to the present situation:

He said that he had been shocked by the frankness of Hitler’s speech but he was grateful to Hitler for stating so clearly his objectives. It was now certain that Hitler intended to incorporate both the Austrians and the Germans of Czechoslovakia in the Reich. It seemed certain also that Hitler would support Franco to the limit. It also seemed certain that Hitler would reply to criticisms in the press of democratic countries by the most vigorous measures.

In the face of Hitler’s statement he, Chautemps, would like to form a National Government in France. The present government was based on too small a group to have the necessary authority. He did not however consider it possible at the present time to form such a national government.

There were three alternatives. If he should attempt to form a national government he would insist on the exclusion of the Communists. He felt certain that Blum and the Socialists would refuse to participate in a national government which did not include the Communists. He would have to base his government therefore on the Radical Socialists and the parties of the Right. That would not be an effective national government because it would leave out the chief representatives of the working classes. It would be menaced constantly by strikes if it did not follow a policy approved in Moscow. He would not include Communist ministers in any government which he might form because they would report every conversation to Stalin. Moreover, the British were opposed to the presence of Communists in the French Government. Chamberlain had telephoned him that Paul Reynaud’s statement that he, Chamberlain, favored the inclusion of a Communist in the French Government and military conversations between the French and Russian general staffs was the exact contrary of the truth.

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The second alternative was that Blum should form a national government. Blum would insist on including the Communists. The parties of the Center and Eight would refuse to enter any government which included the Communists. Blum might form a government including Communists, Socialists and some Radical Socialists but it would not be a national government and it would soon fall.

The third alternative was that Herriot should form a national government. It seemed to him just possible that Herriot might be able to succeed. The Communists had such confidence in Herriot that he could say to them that he would carry out their policy although no member of the Communist Party should be in the government and he might be able to include in his government representatives of the Socialists, Radical Socialists, all the Center parties and some of the Right parties.

The danger of a national government of this sort would be that the Communists would demand from Herriot the immediate inauguration of military conversations with the Soviet Union and immediate public military support to the Government of Spain. He, Chautemps, feared that this would produce a declaration of war by Germany.

Chautemps’ final conclusion was that France was not yet sufficiently alarmed and aroused to make it possible to form a genuine national government and that he would have to go on governing with his present cabinet for some time to come. He added that Delbos was so completely discouraged that the one thing he desired was that the present government should fall as soon as possible and that he should be released from his duties as Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Chautemps said that he considered the position of Austria hopeless. He could see no way to prevent Hitler from swallowing Austria in the relatively near future. I asked him if it were true that on February 18 the French Ambassador in London Corbin had proposed to Eden a joint démarche of the French and British Governments in Berlin on the following lines:

Reaffirmation of their interest in the independence of Austria.
Reservation of their right to examine whether or not the Berchtesgaden agreement had in fact already violated Austrian independence.
Declaration that any future action upsetting the status quo in Central Europe would meet with united and firm opposition of Great Britain and France.

Chautemps replied that it was indeed true that he had permitted Delbos to send an instruction of this sort to Corbin. He had done so for purely domestic reasons in order that Delbos might go before the parties of the Front Populaire with the instruction and show them that France had attempted to do something. He had [Page 26] not been under the illusion that England might join France in such a démarche.

Eden had taken up this proposal with Chamberlain and Chamberlain had replied that he would consider making such a joint démarche only if Italy should be ready to participate with France and England. In order to achieve a basis of relations with Italy which would make such joint action possible Chamberlain had proposed to push rapidly conversations with Grandi.42

The British Government had promised the French Government that it would not offer to recognize the King of Italy as Emperor of Ethiopia except after a promise by Italy to cease anti-French and anti-British propaganda and withdraw Italian troops from Spain. Chamberlain had ignored this promise and had suggested to Grandi that Great Britain would recognize the King of Italy as Emperor of Ethiopia in return for a general promise of good behavior on the part of Italy plus a declaration with regard to Italian volunteers in Spain.

Mussolini had replied at once that Italy was prepared to discuss the withdrawal of her troops from Spain and Chamberlain wished to go ahead on negotiations with Italy on the basis of this assurance. Eden felt that Chamberlain was gulled by Mussolini and had insisted on resigning. Hitler’s declaration in his speech with regard to Spain seemed to make it entirely clear that Germany and Italy were determined to support Franco until he should be victorious; thus apparently proving that Chamberlain was naive in trusting Mussolini.

For France, the fate of Spain was more important even than the fate of Central Europe. In the utmost confidence he could inform me that the French Government was doing a great deal at the present time to assist the Spanish Government to carry on the war against Franco and the single measure which seemed appropriate to meet Hitler’s threats was to increase such support.

So far as Central Europe was concerned he was most pessimistic. Every Frenchman with whom he had talked during the past ten days had recalled to him the example of Sadowa and had suggested to him that if France should permit Austria and Czechoslovakia to fall into German hands and Hungary and Rumania to slip into German hands the power of the Reich would be so enormous that France inevitably would be destroyed within a few years. He felt nevertheless that Hitler would be clever enough to give France no opportunity to intervene to protect Czechoslovakia. Hitler would act as [Page 27] he had acted in the case of Austria. As soon as Austria should be firmly in Hitler’s hands Benes would feel obliged to enter upon conversations with Hitler. Those conversations would probably result in autonomy for the Sudeten Germans of Bohemia. The definite incorporation in the Reich of both the Sudeten Germans and Austria would be simply a question of time.

Now that Chamberlain had eliminated Eden,43 Vansittart44 and Cranborne45 the three Englishmen closest to the Quai d’Orsay it seemed certain that England would be inclined to make ever-increasing concessions to Germany. He believed indeed that Chamberlain contemplated with relative equanimity the control by Germany of Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Rumania.

Under the circumstances France had a clear choice of policies. She could either go on with her present party disputes in discussing production and financial difficulties, or she could pull herself together under a national government with all classes ready to make enormous sacrifices from the poorest to the richest in order to maintain the French position in Central and Eastern Europe. Frankly he regarded the latter possibility as extremely remote.

It seemed probable to him that Central and Eastern Europe would slip into the hands of Germany without war; that the overwhelming power of Germany would then bring together all the other states of Europe just as the states of Europe had been united to oppose Napoleon. The end of the phase of German domination might well come after years through conflict between Germany and the Russian colossus supported by the other states of Europe.

Chamberlain had telephoned to him immediately after Eden’s resignation to inform him that there would be no change in British policy. This was polite but not important. The tragedy of France’s external position was that the nation which kept its word—the United States—could not act in Europe and the nation which could act—Great Britain—could not keep its word. The tragedy of his present domestic position was that at a moment when France needed the unity which could only be given by a national government representing all classes it was impossible to form such a government.

  1. Dino Grandi, Italian Ambassador in the United Kingdom.
  2. Anthony Eden resigned on February 20, 1938.
  3. Diplomatic adviser in the British Foreign Office.
  4. Parliamentary Under Secretary of State.