851.00/2042: Telegram

The Chargé in France (Murphy) to the Secretary of State

201. I had a long conversation today with Laval,3 who has been suffering from a bad cold. He told me that the reports which circulated on his return from Paris to the effect that he was discouraged as a result of his recent trip to Paris were totally unfounded. He said he was extremely tired and uncomfortable from a cold when on his return he was met by about 40 journalists who interpreted his irritation and fatigue as discouragement.

At Paris he said his conversations were limited to Abetz4 and Turner. He was accompanied from Moulin by a German officer and met at the railroad station by a detachment of German troops. He said that every honor and courtesy were accorded him during the visit. He stopped at the Ministry of Public Works which is occupied by Ambassador Noll.

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According to Laval his discussions with Abetz and Turner covered the ensemble of current political and economic problems. The question of the return of the Government to Paris is only one of the elements. He made no attempt during this informal visit to obtain an appointment with the Fuehrer or Von Ribbentrop5 and he understood in advance that his conversation would be limited to Abetz and Turner. He understands that Abetz enjoys Hitler’s complete confidence and that the Fuehrer depends on him in most matters regarding France.

Laval is convinced that Germany has no intention to crush France. He said that he told Abetz that if such an intention lurked somewhere in the German mind it was fundamentally an error. France is defeated and Germany can for the moment trample on her at will. If she does the cycle will revolve and sooner or later, but inevitably, the French people will find ways and means of working the destruction of Germany.

Laval left Paris assured that the Germans entertain no such notion but that their plan contemplates a European federation of states in which France will play an important role compatible with its dignity and tradition.

Abetz left immediately for a conference with Hitler which extended over several days. Laval was due to return to Paris July 30 but the Germans have suggested that he postpone his return until the end of this week as the Fuehrer with his multiple preoccupations of the moment has not had time to study all of the subjects which were discussed by Laval. These subjects related principally to the economic life of the country which Laval emphasized could not continue without the resumption of free transport between the occupied and unoccupied zones.

Laval said he hoped for a better understanding on the part of the United States of France’s problems. He said that in selecting Henry-Haye as French Ambassador in Washington he had particularly in mind that Henry-Haye was better qualified than any Frenchman he knew to explain to Americans the terrible defeat which France has suffered and its need for American sympathy and support in the solution of the hard problems which face it.

I asked Laval about the program concerning war guilt and he said that Mandel6 who is now under detention at Mek [Meknès], Daladier,7 Reynaud,8 Blum,9 Léger10 and many others would be tried before the [Page 379] tribunals established for this purpose. He said “I do not want their lives but the country demands that the responsibility for the errors committed in persuading France to enter the war for which she was not prepared and the aims of which she did not clearly understand be fixed and that those responsible be punished. If this is not done voluntarily by the Government in an orderly fashion the country will rise up and accomplish it by revolutionary force and violence.” Daladier, he said, is undoubtedly an honest man but it is clearly demonstrated that he is incompetent and as Minister of War for a period of 4 years his responsibility is unquestionable.

We then discussed Anglo-French relations and Laval launched into a lengthy exposition of the reasons for his dislike and distrust of the English. He said that he thought that the campaign against England was due to start and believed it would begin about August 1. (The Germans yesterday ordered the stoppage of all train service between occupied and unoccupied territory.) Speaking personally and off the record, he said he had announced it before and did not hesitate again to say that “he hoped ardently that the English would be defeated.” He said that France had suffered too often as a result of British dishonesty and hypocrisy. He spoke with a deep-seated conviction resulting he said from his personal experiences as Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs.

In 1931 when the British Chargé d’Affaires in Paris came to him at 1 o’clock in the morning in a state of extreme perturbation and said that his Government urgently needed French financial assistance as the Bank of England was in an insolvent condition Laval told him that the doors of the Bank of France were open and that England could have all the assistance that France could afford. He said that the British Chargé Campbell left his room with his eyes streaming with tears of gratitude but that England had never manifested the slightest bit of gratitude. On the contrary it countered through smug Baldwin11 and dilettante Eden12 by using every subversive means to defeat Laval’s Italian policy.

Laval said that the quality of the British which he feared more than their hypocrisy and dishonesty is their stupidity.

British-Italian policy during the past years has amply demonstrated their capacity for stupidity. The blind policy of sanctions against Italy was followed by the British master stroke of concluding secretly with Germany the Naval Pact of 1935—a glowing example of perfidious Albion.

The British conduct since Munich has been a series of blunders which resulted in pushing France into a war for which she was totally [Page 380] unprepared at a time when Britain was without an army and for a reason which baffled and left unconvinced a large section of the French people. Laval said that he and many of his compatriots had never agreed that the Versailles arrangement of Danzig and the Corridor was sensible and to wait for such an issue to plunge the country into war was just another example of English stupidity.

The capstone to the British edifice of errors is British post armistice treachery which included a belated effort through British consular representatives in North Africa to bribe French officials to mutiny followed by a blundering attempt on French naval units and the senseless and barbarous machine gunning of helpless French sailors, said Laval.

Laval feels that if secret conversations are not now going on between England and Germany it is not at all impossible that if the first German attack does not succeed, the Churchill Government will fall and be replaced by one which will include such men as Lloyd George.

Laval said that France will go slowly with political and civic reforms hoping to act in consonance with the development of public opinion. He said that while France hoped to adapt its political forms to the best it could derive from the American Constitution and the German and Italian forms of government, he also had distinctly in mind the customs and habits of the French people. He, therefore, had no intention to build a political structure hastily which would only meet with public discontent later on.

  1. Pierre Laval, French Vice President of the Council of Ministers.
  2. Otto Abetz, German representative at Paris.
  3. Joachim von Ribbentrop, Reich Minister for Foreign Affairs.
  4. Georges Mandel, French ex-Minister of the Interior.
  5. Edouard Daladier, French ex-President of the Council of Ministers.
  6. Paul Reynaud, French ex-President of the Council of Ministers.
  7. Léon Blum, French Socialist leader and ex-President of the Council of Ministers.
  8. Alexis Léger, ex-Secretary General of the French Foreign Office.
  9. Stanley Baldwin, former British Prime Minister.
  10. Anthony Eden, British Secretary for Dominion Affairs.