851.00/2593: Telegram

The Ambassador in France (Leahy) to the Secretary of State
rush

6. Although it is still too soon to judge accurately the reaction of the French public to Marshal Pétain’s address of last evening, among our friends in official circles we hear the opinion expressed that the Marshal, although he had to pay lip service to the “European conception” of the Germans, went further than he has ever heretofore dared in his exposition of France’s difficulties and his inference that the occupying authorities are not without their responsibility for the present state of affairs. His public admission that he is a prisoner, coupled with his declaration that it is not possible to breathe life into the new constitution until the government has returned to Paris and French territory has been liberated have not been well received in collaborationist or German circles in Vichy. The fact that the publication of the Marshal’s speech (full text of which we understand was cabled by American journalists here) was forbidden in occupied France would seem to support this conclusion (the new year’s messages of Darlan and Hitler were on the contrary given pride of place in today’s Paris press). His statement that with the world in flames France is remaining outside the conflict is also taken as a guarded expression of France’s neutrality, which can hardly be pleasing to Berlin which has so ardently endeavored to bring about France’s active participation in the conflict on the side of the Axis.

The informant mentioned in our 1600, December 23, 4 p.m.1 tells us in strict confidence this morning that yesterday Darlan, Pucheu and others made repeated attempts to persuade the Marshal to eliminate certain portions of his speech which they felt would prove displeasing to the Germans. Our informant said that Darlan took exception to several parts of the speech, particularly the reference to the Paris press which was not published accurately in the official text which appeared this morning. The Marshal actually said: “I have the right to call ‘deserters’ all those who in the press as well as on the radio in Paris and London indulge in contemptible tasks of disunion and all those who, abroad and in the country, resort to calumny and accusations.” In the officially published text, the words “abroad, as [Page 254] well, as in France” are substituted for “in Paris and London”. Darlan so our informant said was highly critical of this open criticism of Déat, Luchaire and others of the Paris press (who in the past have frequently attacked the Vichy Government) who are paid by the Germans and expressed a desire to have the phrase read “in the American and British press and radio” with no mention of the French radio and press.

The Marshal, however, refused to change his original text when giving the broadcast but agreed that the less positive phrase could be employed in the text as officially published.

As a result of the exceedingly acrimonious argument between the Marshal and Darlan on this subject, our informant stated that “there is this morning bad feeling between the Marshal and Darlan and the latter was so persistent and maladroit in his protestations yesterday afternoon that the Marshal finally had said, ‘I am the one who makes decisions in France’”.

Leahy
  1. Not printed (851.00/2583). The informant had been identified as “a member of Darlan’s Cabinet” in telegrams 1450 and 1453 from Vichy, November 17 and 18 1941 (see Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. ii, p. 460).