Are We Following The Wisest Course
Underlying Identity Of Aim Between Both Countries
WE shall all agree that the most painful political tragedy of the war is the breaking of the ties that have bound Britain and France together for so many years. Few people could have dreamed that Britain and France, whatever the fortunes of war. would find themselves after some months of warfare in relations so strained that actual conflict between them is no longer unthinkable. The separation of France from Britain was, of course, a major object of German propaganda, and it has succeeded beyond the wildest expectations of even Dr. Goebbels. This reflection alone should be sufficient to prompt us to make every conceivable effort to heal the wound. Are we doing this? The subject is a painful one. and it arouses strong and divided feelings. but we think that it is in the national interest to face it fairly and squarely.
DE GAULLE AND PETAIN FOR most people the problem resolves itself into making up their minds whether they consider that General de Gaulle or Marshal Pdtain represent the France in which we are interested today. Popular opinion naturally enough thinks of General de Gaulle as our gallant ally and of Pdtain (or at any rate those around Main) as a potential enemy. Such a view of the Vichy Government is not necessarily hostile for. though France's surrender rankles, the real reason for present suspicion lies in the belief that Main is not really a free agent, that in fact he is under Germany's thumb. Even the courageous Islay in which the Marshal has held out against German pressure and intrigue has only been made possible by the improved British position, and this thought makes it all the harder to watch with patience French readiness to collaborate, within the Armistice terms, with the enemy. General de Gaulle's record, on the other hand, has been spotless. Had his military advice been taken at an earlier stage the French defeat might never have happened. and when the tragedy occurred, so far from giving in, he rallied Frenchmen to the Allied cause all over the world and obtained some measure of success in prolonging the resistance of parts of the French Empire. Only the Dakar fiasco threw a cloud over de Gaulle, and this, at worst, was an error of judgment or tactics and the very opposite of a betrayal. Some Frenchmen in Britain may share the Vichy view that de Gaulle's first allegiance should have been to his military and political superior, but the common--and surely right—view is that in a crisis of that kind it is a soldier's and a citizen's first duty to stand by the right. as he sees it, and not to bother about controversial legalisms.
THE SITUATION NOW WE must recognise, however, that fhe realities of a situation of this kind are constantly changing, and that the future is going to be determined, not by controverted rights and wrongs or by " what we would like," but by these changing realities. Thus it is worse than useless to determine our policy towards France solely by the view we take of the armistice or even by the admiration we feel towards de Gaulle and Free Frenchmen. The brute truth is that de Gaulle's future will be decided, not by the gallantry of his past, but by the conduct of France as a nation. Is France going to turn to de Gaulle? This, we think, is extremely unlikely until it becomes absolutely clear to all Frenchmen that Germany is on the eve of defeat. When we reach this stage of the war. France will once again be thrown into the melting-pot, and no man can prophesy what political shape she will take. But the cause of Free France will undoubtedly be in the ascendant. and de Gaulle may be one of the men into whose hands the destinies of France will fall.
On the other hand we have to face the fact that the role which France plays between now and the end of the war is likely to be a determining factor in deciding the issue of the war. And the role which France plays will not, we judge, be vastly affected by de Gaulle, but rather by Marshal Pdtain and his " dauphin." Admiral Darlan. While then Britain will and must continue to give the fullest support to de Gaulle in the rightful expectation that what he stands for will heavily count in the day of victory, the immediate problem is concerned with Frenchmen on French soil.
FRANCE BEHIND PETAIN OW Vichy today and Vichy last year are two very different realities. There is no reasonable doubt that the allegiance of France is being spontaneously and whole-heartedly given to Main. France, for example. undoubtedly rejects with contumely movements like the Paris Rassemblement National Populaire, whose objects are intimacy with Germany with more or less veiled approval of the " revolutionary " National-Socialist ideology; and the movement is mainly rejected, as M. d'Ormesson has written, because it aims at " dividing " France, " the incarnation and symbol of whose unity is Marshal Pdtain." The position of French Labour is not easy to discover, but Main has done much to ensure the loyalty of the working classes, so much indeed that the Vichy press complains of the continuation of that pandering to Labour which ruined France before the war, so that France is still half asleep while German factories run day and night. And while there can be no doubt that many Frenchmen live in hopes of a complete German defeat by British arms they have probably suffered and learned too much to think of this in the simple terms of de Gaullism. Meanwhile Church, Array. the Civil Service and the mass of the French bourgeoisie and peasantry are solidly behind Main. It is of some significance that the popular and radical-minded Bishop of Lille. Cardinal Lienart, has called all Frenchmen " to stand united round those who have the hard task, in our present misfortune, of carrying the flag of France and planning her future." Meanwhile the Vichy Press is openly advocating the re-creation of France's military forces as the moral spearhead—a military spearhead is debarred by the armistice terms—of a national regeneration that can still be capable of influencing the course of events.
THE ECONOMIC DANGER IN other words there are signs that Vichy, backed by Weygand and the French Empire and, of course, enormously strengthened by the continued British challenge to Germany, is creating a new French moral unity under the fine leadership of Main. So long as British resistance to Germany continues unweakened, as it will, the greatest danger to Pdtain will not come directly from Germany, but from the economic conditions of life within unoccupied France. It is a simple truth that nations cannot withstand starvation or a catastrophic lowering of the standard of life. A time comes when resistance is no longer possible. Faced this year with such a calamity between now and the harvest, France. whatever her spirit and her hopes, may be forced to yield " voluntarily " to German blackmail unless she receives help from other sources. Another matter which heavily weighs on Main is the fate of the French prisoners of war. more than a million of whom are from the land and needed if France is to make the best of the harvest that may save her.
That is the present state of affairs, and we must calculate very wisely indeed if France is yet to play her proper part in saving herself from German domination and in putting an end once and for all to the German threat to Europe and the world. We may take it as certain that the leaders in whom Frenchmen trust share all that is best in our own hopes and aspirations. After Oran and Dakar, after the jibes and insults foolishly hurled at them in those nerve-racking times, after the long campaign of anti-British propaganda in France, we cannot expect that this underlying identity of interest should express itself in any open friendship or sympathy, but France's desire to regain her independence and recover her great and free soul are infinitely stronger than these passing differences, and every true Frenchman knows that these aims will never be attained except through what was once the " Allied " cause.
PLAYING INTO GERMANY'S HANDS UNDER these circumstances where does our wisest course lie? Evidently the greatest real help we can possibly give to France is to continue with might and main our struggle against Germany, and the most straightforward French help towards this common end comes to us from General de Gaulle and " Free France." But we doubt whether the present condition of Pdtain's France, a condition of slow and difficult and suspicious recovery from last year's collapse, a condition still one of the greatest danger owing to economic difficulties and German blackmail, allows of any action, however ultimately desirable in view of the common end, which imposes a further strain on France. We are referring not only to the intensely difficult problems raised by the blockade of Germany.and, of course, to any further hostile act towards French forces or French territories, not actually under German control, but also to speeches, comment and propaganda, whether they are inspired by ourselves or by the de Gaulle movement. To think the worst of French leaders, to jump to the conclusion that Admiral Darlan is the " French Quisling-in-Chief," to dot the i's and cross the t's of the German hold over France and gratuitously to mock honest Frenchmen distracted by the gravity of the problems facing them, all this is not only gravely discourteous to men who fought and died at our side, but a suicidal playing into the hands of Germany. It is exactly what Germany wants. It is what makes our best friends in France despair.
Surely our great act of faith should be in the fundamental French will to recover and to be free, a will which. as we have said, is at bottom identical with our own aims, however temporarily different the paths our two countries must follow. We know that there are traitors and near-traitors to this fundamental French patriotism in France. We know there are opportunists ready to buy or sell anybody for their dirty ends. We know there are many so weary of it all that they will purchase the illusion of peace and quiet at almost any price. But what an insult to our old ally to suggest that almost any of her trusted leaders find their proper place in these ranks. And is not that the natural interpretation of most of our comments and actions?
Not only common decency, but policy itself demands a peculiar regard for the difficulties of France today and for the courage with which she is trying to tread a path which must lead ultimately to the same place as the straighter one along which we have the privilege of fighting our way. Even should Pdtain's France be forced in the end to yield to German blackmail our sympathy should remain with her, for her heart will still be against the evils and oppression of Nazism. But there should still be time for us, in union with America. to afford the help she needs to stand out and become in her own way one of the chief obstacles to German victory. Then it will be our happy task to help to re-unite two bands of gallant Frenchmen who, under different conditions, saw their ways differently, but both of whom none the less had the good of France as their goal. But if that day is ever to dawn, is there any sort of sense in helping Germany by reviling or despising or imputing unworthy motives to friends in desperate need?