Eisenhower Library, Eisenhower papers, “1916–1952”

No. 513
Memorandum of Conversation, by the Counselor of Embassy in France (MacArthur) 1

secret

Participants:

  • General Eisenhower,
  • General Chaban-Delmas, French Deputy and Mayor of Bordeaux,
  • Colonel Walters,
  • Mr. MacArthur.

On March 17 General and Mrs. Chaban-Delmas dined quietly with Mr. and Mrs. MacArthur. During the course of the conversation after dinner, General Chaban-Delmas said he would be very honored to meet General Eisenhower but would not have the temerity to make such a request himself. Mr. MacArthur said that if General Chaban-Delmas wished, he would let General Eisenhower know that General Chaban-Delmas would like very much to call. General Chaban-Delmas acquiesced enthusiastically. It was subsequently arranged that Chaban-Delmas would call on General Eisenhower at SHAPE on Thursday, March 20, at 10 a.m.

General Chaban-Delmas opened the conversation by saying that he was privileged and honored to be received by General Eisenhower. The latter replied that he was very glad to make the acquaintance of General Chaban-Delmas, since he knew of General Chaban-Delmas’ work in the Resistance. Chaban-Delmas said that in 1940 he had gone to England and joined the Resistance. From 1940 until the liberation in 1944 he had spent most of this time in France, although he had made numerous trips back and forth by plane between occupied France and London. In fact, prior to liberation, his last trip to London had been about August 5, 1944, to see General Koenig about the problems which would arise when Paris was near liberation. In London he had been informed of General Eisenhower’s plan to encircle Paris, and had returned to Paris via Normandy to inform the Resistance leaders in Paris that they should not begin an insurrectionary movement in Paris prematurely and until the encirclement was completed, since this could result in dire consequences for both the population and the city itself, as the Germans might use such a premature insurrection as a pretext to destroy the city.

Actually, upon arriving in Normandy from London in August 1944, Chaban-Delmas had been escorted to the front lines by American officers, and then, dressed in sports clothes, he had made his way back to Paris by bicycle. He, himself, would have preferred to be parachuted back into the Paris area, but because the French had recently lost one of their agents through failure of the chute to open, General Koenig suggested that Chaban-Delmas be flown to Normandy and then make his way across the lines, in civilian guise. He had been questioned by the Germans on several occasions on his trip from Normandy to Paris, but had adopted the cover story that he had gone to Normandy to obtain food for his family, and to back up this story he had eggs, butter, a chicken, etc., in his bicycle bags. He said that despite his efforts to persuade the [Page 1189] French Resistance leaders to avoid a premature insurrection in Paris, this had not been possible since the Communists, over whom General Koenig and the French leaders in London had no control, were determined to launch an insurrectionary movement against the Germans prematurely.

General Eisenhower asked General Chaban-Delmas if the French Government-in-Exile or their representatives in Paris had any real control over the Communist Resistance movements. Chaban-Delmas replied that the Communists were very well organized in the Resistance, but that no one had any control over them except the top French Communist leadership, which he, Chaban-Delmas, had never been able even to see during his Resistance days. Chaban-Delmas said that while in Paris he sent word to General Koenig urging that the original plan for encirclement of Paris be modified and that the Allied armies strike directly for Paris, because the Communists would certainly begin the insurrection whenever they wished. General Eisenhower replied that if he recalled correctly, General Koenig had been the officer who had been responsible for the change in plans by explaining the situation. Chaban-Delmas said that his meeting today with General Eisenhower, then, really constituted a second meeting, since indirectly and through the person of General Koenig his views had been brought to General Eisenhower’s attention in August of 1944 just prior to the liberation of Paris.

Referring back to the activity of the Communist Resistance groups during the days of the occupation, Chaban-Delmas explained that they had been very well and strongly organized south of the Loire where Allied troops had not penetrated after the landings in Normandy. For six weeks following the liberation, this entire area was virtually in the hands of the Communists because of the complete disruption of telephone, telegraph, and communication lines to the south. There had been a potentially very dangerous situation which the Communists might have exploited prior to the central French authorities being able to re-establish contact with this area. Fortunately, there had been sufficient stabilizing French elements to prevent a very dangerous situation from arising.

General Eisenhower then said he would like to take the opportunity of his meeting with Chaban-Delmas to set forth some of his problems, and notably some of his views on the role of France in the great collective effort to build security in Western Europe. He said that he sometimes had the impression that the average Frenchman did not realize the way in which other Western countries looked toward France for leadership and wisdom in the decisions with which the North Atlantic alliance is continually faced. [Page 1190] Historically, much of Western civilization stemmed from the French creative genius in arts, literature and creative political philosophy. He, General Eisenhower, hoped that France would continue to show the genius, tolerance and understanding which had historically made her great. From time to time problems arose which created difficulties. Sometimes, he felt that these problems resulted from a lack of understanding of our common objectives and how we achieve them. For example, the question of command structure was one which some people regarded purely in terms of prestige for an individual or for a country. Any country that agreed for one of its nationals to accept an important command post in the NATO alliance, undertook by such acceptance the heavy responsibility of doing everything possible to assist in the solution to problems and to support the collective effort. Failure to understand this, and to look on command posts as prestige plums, led to unnecessary exacerbation of national sensitivities.

General Chaban-Delmas said he could honestly and wholeheartedly agree with everything General Eisenhower had said, and that he knew General de Gaulle would feel exactly the same way about the fundamental issues which General Eisenhower had raised. While General de Gaulle did agree on the fundamental objectives and methods of moving ahead together, there was an internal French problem which he would like to talk to General Eisenhower about with great frankness. General de Gaulle felt that it was up to France to supply leadership and initiative. General de Gaulle was convinced that the present leadership in France was weak and vacillating and that if France were to be a worthy ally there would have to be new and vigorous French leadership. Therefore, in many of his speeches, General de Gaulle made allusion to the necessity for selflessness in French leadership and energy. In this connection, as General Eisenhower doubtless knew, the Communist anti-American propaganda had been meeting with very considerable success for the very simple reason that no foreign troops are ever popular when stationed even in the most friendly allied countries. This had been historically true from the time that the Macedonians moved into Greece, and perhaps even before then. In order to cut the ground out from under the Communist propaganda, and in order not to give them a complete monopoly, de Gaulle in some of the speeches stressed the necessity for France being accepted on terms of equality and not on terms of a junior partner or valet. He also attacked the French Government for not standing up and obtaining from France’s allies the acceptance of France as a full and equal partner. These tactics were not aimed at the United States, but were primarily designed to weaken the French Government, which was incapable of giving leadership, so that it might be replaced [Page 1191] by the leadership of General de Gaulle. Americans should not be over-sensitive about this, since he could assure General Eisenhower that it was not directed against the United States.

General Chaban-Delmas then made reference to a recent and important speech of General de Gaulle’s in which the latter, after attacking the government for not properly defending France’s interests vis-à-vis its allies, had paid a very high tribute to the Supreme Allied Commander as the most qualified and best man for the job. Chaban-Delmas said this reference to General Eisenhower had been specifically included in the speech at his, Chaban-Delmas’, suggestion, and precisely in order to give balance to the speech so that the United States would not think de Gaulle was attacking either the Supreme Commander or the Americans. General Eisenhower replied that he could understand politicians endeavoring to attain power within their own country by attacking the government actually in power. This was probably a tactic as old as history. However, in his opinion no man in public life should ever lose sight of the over-all and long-term objectives of his country, and certainly speeches or words which could be interpreted by allies as attacks against them did not serve either the country in question or the collective unity which is essential if the Western world is to face up to the united threat of the Soviet Union and its orbit.

Chaban-Delmas then said he would like to refer back to a point which had been discussed previously—namely, the question of command. Every thinking Frenchman realized that the Supreme Allied Commander should be an American. An American supreme commander would bring more support from the United States public and legislative branch than any other commander. The United States had, by agreeing to designate a Supreme Commander, accepted responsibilities which he, Chaban-Delmas, hoped it would continue to accept. He did not think General de Gaulle would ever make any difficulties regarding the command structure of General Eisenhower or his successor. However, there was a point which he felt he should bring up. This was the question of French North Africa. If substantial air elements, tactical and strategic, were built up in French North Africa, notably Morocco, and if the United States contributed the overwhelming part of these air forces, it would be normal and natural for a United States officer to be named commander of these forces. However, this officer, in his dealings in Morocco with the Moroccan authorities, should act in accordance with existing treaties through the designated French officials who, by treaty, were responsible for the negotiation of Morocco’s foreign affairs. In other words, an American commanding general in Morocco should not use his presence there to undermine French influence or to deal with the Moroccan sultan and authorities [Page 1192] in such a way as effectively to change the status of Morocco through the gradual elimination of France’s legitimate interests there.

General Eisenhower said that he agreed entirely with General Chaban-Delmas on this point. He had never heard anyone suggest that any American Army officer had endeavored to use his military position in Morocco or elsewhere to undermine or weaken the position of an ally. Certainly, this was not the policy of the Department of Defense. Chaban-Delmas said he had mentioned this to General Eisenhower not with the idea that the latter would have different views, but simply as an illustration of the type of problem which might arise. He was very happy to hear General Eisenhower express himself as he had. He added that the time might come when the respective positions of France, Morocco, and the United States should be reviewed. If there were any thoughts on this on the part of either France or the United States, they should discuss it through diplomatic channels as an entirely separate question from the existence of non-French allied forces in Morocco. It was a separate problem and neither the United States nor any other country should use its position in French overseas territories to endeavor to secure a change in the international status of such an area. Chaban-Delmas said he mentioned this not because he thought the United States had any such ideas in mind, but that past experience with the British had not been happy for France in the area of Africa and the Middle East. He felt certain the United States would not commit the errors of which the British had been guilty.

General Eisenhower said he would like to skip from the subject of North Africa back to metropolitan France. In his view, the defensive strength of any country consisted of three elements—first, the spiritual and moral strength of a people and their will to resist; second, their economic and financial capabilities; third their actual military forces-in-being. The over-all strength of a country was not simply the addition of these three elements, but rather their multiplication. In other words, if a country were deficient in any one of these elements, the total net result would be deficient, since if you multiply something by zero, the result is zero. Chaban-Delmas said he agreed entirely with General Eisenhower and knew that General de Gaulle felt 100% the same way. It was for this reason that General de Gaulle and his Party believed that existing French leadership was not sufficient to build up the three factors which General Eisenhower had mentioned. It was for this reason that they believed they must come to power in order to achieve strength in these three vital areas.

[Page 1193]

General Eisenhower then said he would like to talk about the problem of Western Europe. At the present time there appeared to be two highly organized and developed large industrial complexes. One was the Soviet Union, which had harnessed the potential of the satellite states to the Soviet industrial complex. The other was the United States. Through the size of both of these complexes and because each had available to it many essential raw materials, the individual European countries were not in a position really to compete with them. Europe as a whole was deficient in essential raw materials such as oil, coal, etc., etc. If the European countries wanted to compete and make a living, it did not appear to General Eisenhower that they could be in constant competition with each other and with the United States and Soviet industrial complexes. He believed profoundly that what was called for was a European union which would enable the individual European countries to make maximum collective use of their individual capabilities. It was only by united effort that they would be able to preserve a reasonable standard of living and at the same time maintain that minimum defensive strength which was necessary if they were not to be left at the mercy of the Soviet Union. Many people thought that Americans such as he were naive when they talked about European union. Many Europeans felt that Americans over-simplified the problem and did not take into account historical and ethnical facts. General Eisenhower said the question of European union certainly posed many very great problems. However, if European union was a necessity for long-term European survival, there was no such thing as impossibility. Rather, the difficulties became obstacles which enlightened leadership, courage, and perseverance could most certainly overcome. Chaban-Delmas said he thoroughly agreed that European union was essential to the survival of Europe. General de Gaulle also believed this, and had taken the lead in stressing the need for European unification.

General Eisenhower said that before concluding, he would like to mention one other point—namely, the European Army. When he had first heard of the European Army concept, he had been very cool toward it. It was not a simple and easy concept to implement. As he had studied it further, and particularly as he had studied the problem of Germany, he had come to believe strongly that the European Army was the best and speediest and safest way to incorporate a German contribution to Western defense. Western Europe needed a defense line as far to the East in Germany as possible to give the necessary depth. It would be unthinkable to have Germans defended by allied forces with the Germans sitting calmly on their hands and doing nothing to contribute to their own defense. It was also unthinkable to let Germany rearm independently, with no [Page 1194] control whatsoever. If this occurred, the Germans might be disposed to play the Soviet Union off against the West, or in the pattern of the Molotov-Ribbentrop agreement, Germany might make some sort of alliance with the Soviet Union for tactical reasons. If this should ever occur, the defense posture of Western Europe, and indeed of the free world, would be very difficult, to say the least. What was needed was a plan which would permit Germany to make an adequate contribution to Western defense and at the same time would tie Germany solidly and effectively in with the Western world. He believed the European Army plan was the only solution which we now have which would result in what we desire to achieve.

Chaban-Delmas said he agreed thoroughly with General Eisenhower but that what was first needed was political integration through the formation of some supra-national body which would unite Western Europe. General Eisenhower said he felt this was a little bit like the question of which comes first, the chicken or the egg. He believed that time was of the essence and that we should move forward now in the next several months and create the European Defense Community so that we could get ahead with the job of bringing in a German contribution. Insofar as he was concerned, there was no reason why parallel with this development, a European constitutional convention could not be called which would study and perhaps in a year’s time report on steps which might be taken for real European political union. There was an opportunity for the Europeans to move forward concurrently in both fields. Obviously, it would take longer to create a real political union than it would to establish the European Defense Community, but the latter was most certainly a step in the direction of European unity as was the Schuman Plan.

General Chaban-Delmas said he personally agreed with General Eisenhower. (Subsequently, he said to Mr. MacArthur that he felt the Gaullist Party had been wrong in systematically opposing the European Army, and that perhaps it should take a new look at its position and develop one favoring the European Army, while continuing to attack the government for not pressing ahead rapidly enough with a real European union. He said the General’s remarks had caused him to reflect and he would wish to think and talk to some of his friends about this problem.)

General Eisenhower, in conclusion, said he had enjoyed very much his conversation with General Chaban-Delmas. General Chaban-Delmas was young, energetic, and seemed to have great understanding of the necessity of unity and collective action. In the coming years, he would expect to see his name become more prominent in the French and international press as an advocate and defender [Page 1195] of collective allied action and as one who was tolerant and understanding of the viewpoints of his different allies.

Chaban-Delmas replied that if by stepping out of the political picture tomorrow he could further collective action, he would do so immediately. He had no political background, having originally selected the civil service (finance) as a career. However, he had turned to public life because he believed France needed people who wished to come to power not simply to be a minister in a government, but to use their power for the greater good of France and the Western alliance. He said he had been greatly honored to be received by General Eisenhower and would treasure always his opportunity of having such a full and frank discussion with the General.

  1. A handwritten notation on the source text reads: “This memo represents Mr. MacArthur’s recollection of the conversation. It is simply for the record and has not been cleared.”