As the new and grandly hopeful phase of the war, consequent on the victorious Battle of Egypt, opens, The Catholic Herald is able to throw light on what is happening through exclusive interviews with particularly well-informed French and Canadian journalists in London.
The first journalist interviewed is one of the many Frenchmen who accepted the Armistice, but later—after experience in the East—made his way to London because that was where he could serve his country best.
It is noticeable that the point of view of these experts coincides very closely with the point of view in regard to France which has been put forward ever since the beginning of the war in this paper.
Further information brought to our readers includes a survey of North Africa by Fr. Scriven, of the White Fathers.
Oran; and on Wednesday Casablanca was asking for an armistice; and that in Tunisia the outlook is favourable. There are good reasons to believe that Admiral Esteva, Tunisian French Governor-General, will show an understanding and a willingness to compromise. Esteva is a man of strong character who has always been most anti-German. In his dealings with the Vichy authorities, too, he has shown a spirit of marked independence."
MOROCCAN PUZZLE " What about the Moroccan sphere? Isn't it a more tangled business?" I asked,
''It is. The early resistance in Morocco is rather puzzling—especially if we con " Church Bells t'—see editorial page 4,
skier that as long ago as 1940 General Nogues—then very favourably inclined to Britain by all accounts — was Prepared to enter into negotiations with the Allies. But it must be remembered that an important consideration is ' the saving of face ' with the native Arab population. French resistance now may be just a token resistance forced by a long-term and wise aspect of administrative policy. The French don't intend—in other words—to lose esteem with the Arabs by giving up the struggle without a blow. Anyone with any real knowledge of colonial government would realise the reason for such a course."
I butted in : " But there is apparently a population question. You have mentioned how it's possible that ' facesaving ' entere as one element in the French resistance."
He replied : " Yes, and it is a question of some urgency. The Allies will need to exercise caution in handling the question as they advance. The antagonism between Jew and Arab is a recognised fact. I think the internal situation will (and should be) left to the French authoritie.. themselves."
More outspoken, even, were the opinions of the two equally authoritative journalists with whom I chatted afterwards: " There are two ways of looking at British and Vichy propaganda since relations between the two grew taut many months ago: Either both sides have openly and deliberately misled the Germans into imagining that Unoccupied France was eternally hostile to Britain and a handy German tool to be employed at the right moment ; or else the two sides have been colourblind. And each saw the other as black, when there was in fact as much white in the colour scheme of guilt and blame.
" / prefer the first of the two sug gestions. But I have one fear. It is this. If Britain has been playing an astonishingly astute diplomatic game all these months, too many Britons have had complete faith in the ruminations and news in the popular press. They have conveniently and simply divided Europe into two armed camps — and put everyone not in the British camp into the German camp. That has been the fate of Vichy."
"On what do you base your opinion?" I asked.
On several immediate happenings, but fundamentally in a belief in the spirit of the average Frenchman. Take recent radio reports of the lighting from Vichy. The exaggerations are colossal. Stories of " fierce fighting " bring back memories of the tragedy of 1939. They have been in curious contrast to the British accounts of " smoothness " and ease in carrying out operations according to plan.
I can't go into details, but don't believe for a moment that Darlan is fast asleep. Why should he, a man who has no love for the Allied cause on his own account, give the order to surrender before satisfying one or two old scores? Overwhelming Allied superiority is one explanation, desire to prevent bloodshed another: but neither is convincing. The French troops were not even disarmed in Algeria. I admit there is a mystery immediately cloaking Darlan, but the prompt signature of the armistice is a hopeful sign. He may well be negotiating with the Allies. Again, the position of Giraud is certainly not a point of sheer coincidence. I'd like to know the full tale of his escape and coming to North Africa. I'm sure it wouldn't make a good thriller. Then Admiral Esteva is another sunny spot on the landscape.'
Both men chimed in with the hope that " When the facts can be made available in full, past misunderstandings will not cause the suppression of any of those facts. We think Main all along has been keeping up his end in an extremely difficult diplomatic game."