The Consul General at Casablanca (Goold) to the Secretary of State

No. 336

Sir: Adverting to Mr. Wallace Murray’s letter of July 18, I have the honor to forward the following comment on the position now existing here.

[Page 577]

Attitude of the Pétain Government.

The Protectorate Government will follow any commands it may receive from Vichy, in any domain. It might be that the local authorities would invite Vichy’s attention to some of the inconveniences resulting from the latter’s orders. As for instance, the aggravation of the refugee problem by the order made on Thursday that males between the ages of 17 and 50 belonging to any of France’s former allies would not be permitted to leave the country. But the possibility of more serious opposition can be ruled out.

The attitude of the French local authorities is, for all practical purposes, to follow instructions. There are murmurings of regret emitted from functionaries over actions they are forced to take, and more recently an approval of civilian independence of mind that was not to be observed at first. For instance, the new Civil Controller here, M. Contard, called in the leader of the Jewish community and told him that it had been alleged that Jews were putting up pro-British posters on walls all over the city, and that they all desired a British victory. The Jewish leader denied the first allegation, but admitted that the entire Israelite community, including himself, most ardently wanted a British success which was their only hope. Whereupon M. Contard put his hand on the Jewish leader’s shoulder in kindly fashion and said he understood. But he asked him to prevent any public manifestation of Jewish feelings, an entirely superfluous request, instantly acceded to.

The Navy is, on the whole, really loyal to the Pétain Government, because the Navy is, on the whole, anti-British. Perhaps between September 1, 1939 and June 17, 1940, there had not been enough German naval opposition to make the French feel that they belonged to the same team as the British. At any rate, old jealousies, rivalries and traditions had evidently not been done away with during that period. And on July 3 they flared up again with surprising vigor. As far as a state of mind is concerned, the Navy (certainly the high command) has been at war with Great Britain ever since that date, and the precautions thereafter taken around this neighborhood were much more thorough than during the war against M. Laval’s good old pals.

When I recently took a naval officer to call upon Admiral d’Harcourt, now in command of this district, the zeal he showed concerning the bagging of any British ship or plane that might come near the place was impressive. Perhaps he felt that in the British Navy, he had adversaries nearer his own size than in the case of the Germans whom a returning French officer, with tears in his eyes, had qualified to me last June as the “Seigneurs de la Guerre”. One might be able to soak an adversary of more or less equal size. And it would certainly be very satisfactory to soak someone.

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This anti-British feeling is by no means confined to the high command but comes down through the staff to other officers. I consider that a fair verdict would be that the French Navy has allowed its esprit de corps to get a complete ascendency over its care for French interests. Perhaps, however, there will be a change. The other day, Admiral Abrial spoke at Oran in honor of the dead. I am told that he said (it was certainly not so reported in the press) that since the British had given the ships at Oran the alternative of going to the Antilles, and the French had asked the Armistice Commission for permission to accept this offer, a permission which the Commission had seen fit to refuse, there was nothing to do but to die.

The Army is different. It is headed here by General François who is a soldier first, last and all the time. So, I suppose that as such, he would literally carry out any conceivable or inconceivable order given him, and I haven’t met any member of the local staff who knows what he really thinks. But there are many members of the staff of the Division around Casablanca who consider the admirals quite mad, who hope that the British will hold, and will thereafter increase their strength so as to be able to take the offensive in conjunction with the Army of North Africa, an offensive which might well begin with a British landing in this very area sometime in 1941 or 1942, and thereafter continue on through Morocco, Algeria and Tunis to Sicily, and thence to Italy, and even beyond. They realize that in order to bring about such a consummation, a great deal of work must be done, especially in the supply of the Army of North Africa with munitions, and they pray that these will be furnished not only by British, but by American factories. Indeed, they hope that British troops will not be alone in landing here in 1941 or 1942, and they are watching our Presidential campaign with the greatest interest. And then, there are more extreme Army officers who laughingly tell you that plots against the security of the State are going to become fashionable under the present régime.

The Air Force, for the most part, shares the Army viewpoint. Today, the guns at Rabat began to go off at noon. A British plane was thought to be up in the clouds somewhere letting leaflets fall. French planes began to tear up into the air, and a soldier, perhaps seeing dismay written on my face, came up to me and said, “that’s all right, they won’t do any harm to it”. And a member of the Diplomatic Cabinet afterwards told me that British planes were quite safe as far as French Army flyers are concerned. Navy flyers were more uncertain. Some of them were positive dangers to the British.

When I talk with private citizens here, I have the impression that I am back in Greece with all its Venezelist and anti-Venezelist bitterness. [Page 579] And this Supreme Court business51 reminds me a lot of the case of M. Gounaris and “the Six”.52 It will be a great mistake if they condemn, and guillotine or shoot anybody. I should think it would come close to bringing on civil war which would be to nobody’s advantage except that of Herr Adolf Hitler. And if something of the kind does not occur, it is evident that more and more Frenchmen are going to reach the conclusion that their interests are bound up with a British victory. I know several cases where men who were highly indignant over Oran a few weeks ago now consider their proper place to be in the British forces.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Respectfully yours,

Herbert S. Goold
  1. The trial of former French political leaders by the Supreme Court set up at Riom.
  2. Trial and execution of Greek political leaders, November 1922; see Foreign Relations, 1922, vol. ii, pp. 411414.