33. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State 1

4189. Following is a memorandum prepared by Ambassador Lodge of his conversation with Prime Minister Mollet on March 10:

Prime Minister Mollet began the conversation by asking whether there was some particular subject which I wanted to take up.

I explained that I had come to Paris at the end of an official trip involving United Nations technical assistance and United Nations specialized agencies and was now on my way home. I had been impressed during my stay in Paris by the amount of misunderstanding existing between certain elements in the United States and certain elements in France. In situations of this kind between two free countries with a long tradition of friendship, it was natural to start on the assumption that there was some fault on both sides and [Page 118] that consequently steps should be taken by both sides to correct matters.

United States policy was one of complete support of France, and there was no action which the United States had taken which could in the least way be interpreted as being hostile to French interests. For this reason we felt particularly hurt at the incident which had taken place in Tunisia yesterday.2 All of these recent developments made it highly desirable that steps should be taken by both sides to bring about a better understanding, and I was glad to be able to tell him in that connection that President Eisenhower had authorized Ambassador Dillon to make a statement before a month would have passed showing American support of France.

Prime Minister Mollet said that he had already heard of the fact that Ambassador Dillon was planning a statement and that he was most grateful for it. He was aware of the misunderstanding which existed at the present time in Franco-American relations, and he hastened to agree with me that there was no cause for complaint over the official attitude of the United States Government and that this was well understood in French official circles. All of the French intelligence services have been unable to uncover a single particular instance which would support the charge of anti-French American actions.

When we talked about Franco-American misunderstandings, therefore, we were not talking about Governments but about unofficial elements in the two countries. It was natural and he thought healthy for the Communists to be anti-American. What was disconcerting, however, was the fact that in certain elements of the French Right this feeling existed. He felt that it was largely due to a human desire to find a scapegoat “abroad”.

I interrupted to say that this feeling was then exploited both by Communist and Arab propaganda to which he agreed.

In listing other reasons for current Franco-American misunderstanding he began by saying that the group of men who were at the top in leading the United States, and thus leading the free world, were men of the highest caliber and in every way equal to their enormous responsibilities. He did feel, however, that at the “noncommissioned officer level” we were still often not well served. He was thinking of the Consul or the Embassy secretary or of the businessman—the man who travels and who still has an incomprehension of what a Latin really is, of what a European really is and who has an unquenchable desire to preach and to give unsolicited advice. He had been in Italy during the war and had seen the [Page 119] Americans save millions of people from starving to death and then be hated in the process. As far as good will is concerned the manner of giving is more important than the gift.

Another reason for misunderstanding is the unthinkable black and white attitude of the American press which takes a blanket stand against what it calls “colonialism.” He said the most hardhitting paragraphs of these uncomprehending editorials were the ones which the French newspapers printed over here.

While, of course, the Russian objective continued to be to destroy NATO, there were indications that the Russians were worried about the spread of Pan-Islamism. Recently Mollet had received Ambassador Vinogradov 3 of the Soviet Union who had said: “As regards this business of yours in Algeria, it would be bad if Islam were to sweep all over Africa.”

In parts of Algeria the natives had taken over practically all of the functions of government, including judges and local political officials. In these places the world hero to whom the people look for leadership was not any Algerian leader; nor was it Colonel Nasser nor was it Khrushchev. The man they talked about was Mao Tse-tung. When I expressed surprise, he said that this was due to the fact that the backbone of the independence movement in Algeria was comprised of Algerians who were formerly in the French army. Many of them had been taken prisoner in Indochina and had been brainwashed by the Chinese Communists. They looked to Mao Tse-tung as the man who had thrown out the white man.

At the end he repeated his gratitude for the fact that Ambassador Dillon would make a statement. He said that material help was also needed. When I asked him to be definite he said that 80 helicopters would make all the difference. He said that now the United States was giving him helicopters at two a month. At this rate, he would have to wait for 40 months. He also wished 50 very slow-flying planes and said that a type existed which was obsolete and which they could buy for 1,000,000 francs each if we would let him have them.

The French Army had been built for the purpose of taking part in a defense against Russian attack. It would, therefore, have to be considerably revamped in order to meet the situation in Algeria. In Algeria, fast fighter planes or bombers or heavy armored columns were entirely out of the question. Helicopters, however, would show the civilian population that they did not need to give in to the terrorists.

He concluded by asking me to express his best wishes to President Eisenhower, to say that he was pro-NATO and that he [Page 120] expected France to remain loyal to NATO, but that France must not feel she was standing alone. No one knew better than President Eisenhower how important North Africa was to NATO and to the defense of the free world.4 We, therefore, should act on the basis of that realization. He felt that if there were three-power unity between the United States, the United Kingdom and France, it would make a greater impression in Cairo than any other single fact.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.51/3–1356. Secret.
  2. French mobs in Tunis seriously damaged the Consulate General and the USIS offices there.
  3. Sergei Alexandrovich Vinogradov.
  4. Two days after this conversation. General Jean Valluy presented a memorandum to the NATO Standing Group which explained the French view of the importance of North Africa to the alliance.