740.00112 European War 1939/6410

The Counselor of Embassy in France (Murphy) to the Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs (Alling)

Dear Paul: I very much appreciate the Department’s air mail instruction of June 30, 1942,98 with which you and Harry Villard enclosed the documentation regarding the Luso-Moroccan trade agreement.99 My attention, of course, was particularly attracted to the memorandum of May 16, 1942,98 which impresses me as being very much to the point. You, of course, know how I feel about this phase of our relations with French Africa, and I have tried in my despatch No. 1550 of today’s date98 to support your efforts as best I can. The more study I give to this French African problem, the more I am convinced that our policy during the past 18 months bears a certain similarity to French policy toward Spain during the Spanish Civil War. The French then were torn by opposing factions in their own country and were never able to make up their minds as a nation whether they would support the Franco or the Republican cause. The present war undoubtedly results in part from that failure to take and maintain a decisive line of policy.

Naturally, our relations with French Africa do not have the same importance. Yet this area, I am convinced, has had enormous possibilities of interest to the prosecution of the war and I have the uneasy notion that we have not taken advantage of them. I feel that we have permitted ourselves throughout to be victimized by all sorts of vague suspicions and doubts leading to indecision. These arose from a number of causes, including sensational reports about this area, sent in by irresponsible agents, some of them in the employment of various intelligence services.

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We have enjoyed nevertheless a negative success in that French Africa has not gone over to the Axis, but we fall certainly far short of having developed this area into a unit fighting on our side. It seems to me that the reason for our failure to so develop this area has been our desire to avoid all risks. We would have liked large profits and advantages, but we were unwilling to risk anything. When we consider that we are faced by enemies for whom audacity has become a by-word, it is easy to understand that we are simply outpaced.

Take, for instance, French West Africa. You may vaguely remember that in January, 1941, I reported after conversations with General Weygand and High Commissioner Boisson at Dakar how eager they and other representative people were for us to come in and establish ourselves in that market. Boisson even urged that we have our Clipper Service use Dakar, offering, with Weygand’s approval, to sign an agreement covering it. What happened? We declined to extend the North African agreement to French West Africa—which then really was wide-open to us—for the reason, as I understand it, that peanut and palm oil shipments were going from there to Germany.

This I believe was the view of the Ministry of Economic Warfare in London and from a strictly economic viewpoint it is a good reason. But it overlooks what I believe are solid political and eventually military considerations. I think it was a narrow-minded decision.

The other day I saw High Commissioner Boisson in Algiers returning to Dakar from Vichy. Since January, 1941, much has happened to destroy the friendly confidence he had in us at that time, and he has completely abandoned hope that we intend cooperating with French West Africa. In fact, after suffering continual personal attacks by British and De Gaulle radio broadcasters, listening to threats made by irresponsible persons that the United States would attack Dakar, seeing the economy of French West Africa go to hell in a big way, realizing that in the interval the Germans and Italians whom Boisson and Weygand had succeeded in keeping out of French West Africa were gunning for him with the aid of some fellow travelers in Vichy and Paris, Boisson is bitter and disillusioned. I am told that many others in Dakar feel as does he that having tried to demonstrate friendship for us, we have disdained them and are actually hostile. That being so, it is probably normal that resentment should manifest itself one way or the other.

I am all for British participation in the Luso-Moroccan trade and I would like to see them participate in trade with French Africa. The latter, I presume, is out of the question as long as [Page 342] their blockade policy, as I understand it, regards French territory as enemy territory. However, this crazy situation calls for some flexibility and if a formula could be found to enable the British to participate in shipments to French Africa, I feel that such action would greatly facilitate our task.

I know you are busy and I apologize for this long and probably incoherent screed, but you gave me an opening.

With all the best, believe me

Yours sincerely,

Robert D. Murphy
  1. Not printed.
  2. A British-sponsored arrangement for barter trade between Portugal and Morocco.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Not printed.