851.00/2127: Telegram

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

744. There is no doubt that French Government circles are considerably worried over the possible effect in the United States of the phrases in the Marshal’s message24 that France must liberate herself from “traditional friendships.” Charles-Roux sent for me this morning and read me a circular telegram which had been sent to various countries including the United States, endeavoring to explain the meaning of the phrases. He stated that this telegram had been carefully drawn up by himself in consultation with Baudouin and that it represented the Marshal’s personal views. I presume that Henry-Haye [Page 392] may have communicated its contents to the Department in accordance with the suggestion contained therein. It implied that France had been injured in the past by certain “pernicious ideologies often backed by selfish interests” on grounds of friendships.

The allusions to foreign policies, said the telegram, merely meant to imply that certain of these friendships or enmities were not “obligatory or necessary by dogma”. There is to be, however, it continued, no change in the “spiritual or material ties” with a great number of countries. Furthermore, French nationalism as defined by the Marshal implies no “obstacle to international collaboration”, reads the telegram, but was on the contrary the “first and surest bases” for such collaboration.

He then showed me, and insisted that I take notes thereon, a further message to Henry-Haye urging upon him patience and perseverance in his task, telling him not to expect that he could persuade our Government or our public opinion to understand France’s true situation all at once.

The telegram stated that the Vichy Government, however, attaches much importance to a “better understanding” on the part of our Government and public opinion of the “factual situation resulting from Germany’s victory and the unintelligent attitude of Great Britain”; Henry-Haye is to explain how the work of “national reconstruction is necessitated by the internal political decomposition of the previous regime”. He was also instructed to stress that French “intentions and sentiments toward the United States are above all suspicion and that the French Government hopes to have both our friendship and our solicitude.”

When Chauvel25 finished talking about the Far East (my telegram No. 743 of today26) he brought up the question of the Marshal’s message and seemed eager to know the effect in the United States. He said, “It was a great error: I wish our people would stop talking so much.” He said he felt quite sure that no reference to the United States had been intended in the message and that the Marshal himself was surprised at the “interpretation” given it. He hopes very much that “too much importance” [apparent omission]. He said “that simultaneously with the message instructions were given to our representatives at Wiesbaden to be stiffer in resisting German demands.” I said that it was precisely because I knew what the reaction would be at home that I had called on Charles-Roux the other day and had transmitted his explanation.

Army and other official circles in Vichy seem equally anxious to make it clear that the paragraph was not directed at us (I have even heard suggestions that it was meant to apply to Poland or to Yugoslavia!). [Page 393] Even Guérard27 called in the American press and attempted to explain it away. Tonight’s Le Temps devotes a leading article to French foreign policy stating in concluding that because France is thus pursuing a policy essentially French, it does not mean a severing of ties with other nations: “The traditional friendship of France and the United States, which Marshal Pétain has recalled on several occasions in warm terms is evidence of this. A policy entirely French is compatible with a sincere friendship for all nations of good will but is not at the mercy of any influence foreign to French interests.”

Thus the struggle within the French Government continues. The one school of thought led by Laval works ardently for complete acquiescence in Germany’s wishes and an active pro-German policy; at the other extreme are the weak and uninfluential friends of the British who have the real but inarticulate support of the overwhelming majority of French opinion (especially in the occupied territory). In between, the Marshal and his entourage who are willing to forget and forgive past enmities with Germany but insist with dignity that Germany must do her part in return. Which of these tendencies will have a victory for the moment is difficult to say. A feeling that the whole present political setup in France is entirely ephemeral is held by the French people.

  1. Marshal Pétain’s message to the nation on October 11, 1940, defining policy of the Vichy Government.
  2. Jean Chauvel, Chief of the Far Eastern Division of the French Foreign Office.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Chief of Cabinet in the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs.