His conscience can be left to his Maker
'By GEORGE GLASGOW
Again the limelight has been turned heavily upon Laval. It is, of course, always possible, especially with so tortuous and sinuous a gambler, that he may justify the worst jereneads of his critics on this side of the Channel. He is no more to be trusted .by us than by the Germans.
But there is a strong case at any rate for caution in our speculation about his possible effects as Dictator of France. After ale he is not new to our experience, and if we cannot learn from our experience, what is to guide us? The public memory is very short.
It was on April 14 last that Laval was made by Pdtain, under German -pressure, " head of the Government with special powers." To-day, more than seven months later, again under German pressure—which captive Vichy can hardly resist, and which Allied strategy bids Vichy not yet resist—he is invested by Main with supreme powers for a purpose undisclosed.
lbe extraordinary fact, still ruling as these lines are written, is that despite seven months of Laval in Vichy, Hitler has not succeeded in mobilising the French fleet in his cause, though that fleet might have made all the 'difference in the early stages of the battle of the Mediterranean now joined. There is clearly something which queers Hiticr's pitch in France.
POLITICS ARE ALWAYS WITH US
There is equally something which gives British propaganda art incalculable and even dangerous course to follow. Darlan was the object of as much British antipathy as Laval himself : almost. Ile found himself in North Africa at the critical moment, and by a timely capitulation helped the Allied forces in their advance towards Tunisia.
Politics, however, like the poor, are always with us. It is only too easy to understand the resentment of General de Gaulle that Darien should suddenly find himself in a position of cardinal value to the Allied cause, the cause that de Gaulle himself risked everything front the beginning to serve, and risked it at a time when Laval and probably Darien calculated that Germany would win the war, and, therefore, " put their money " on Hitler. That is understandable. But it is not the most important thing in the raw business of winning the war.
It is important for the Allies to keep a weather eye open to the present critical uncertainty about the vital altitude of the French people as a whole, and to the danger that Allied abuse of Darien, Laval, Pdtain, Weygand (who, be it noted, had been dismissed from the French, command in North Africa under German pressure, precisely because the Germans did not trust him, and who now, finding himself in Vichy at the critical moment, was arrested by the Germans) may be used by the German propaganda to persuade the French people as a whole that British opinion is hostile to them.
A SUBTLE GAME?
Suppose—and the supposition is not necessarily fantastic—that Petah: and Laval are playing a subtle game, as before; are paying out rope to their German masters; keeping the confidence of the French people; and deliberately calculating that when the Jour strikes they will throw off the mask and lead the French revolt against Germany?
it will be important at such a moment that there should be no doubt in the minds of the French people that they are still acceptable as allies of the United Nations, and should not have been misled in the meantime 'by the abuse of Vichy France, which the German propaganda makes a point of relaying, with exaggerations, from every broadcasting station in France.
Let the history of Laval himself be dispassionately considered.
When he came into power seven months ago, the Germans gave him a warm welcome on the undisguised ground that he would bring to a quick end the attentisme, or blocking tactics, of Petain (this, by the way, was a rele yarn comment on the British abuse of Pdtain himself). The Germans, in their exaltation, even counted their chickens before they were hatched, by making known their expectation that on May 10 (when the Joan of Arc celebrations were staged throughout France, under German pressure, as an anti-British demonstration) Laval would sign the AntiK omintern Pact on behalf of Vichy France, or would signs a definite peace treaty of alliance with Germany: in any event, would hand over to Germany what she wanted of French ships, bases and man-power. The day passed, however, without any signatufe, and was followed after a short interval by a howl of execration from the German press: against Laval.
Next, Laval produced a more than usually bitter state of tension between Hitler and Mussolini by insolently refusing Italy's renewed claims on " Corsica, Nice, Tunis," on the ground that Hitler, his master, would not hold him guiltless if he granted them.
It is right to regard Laval as an unprincipled adventurer in his own sordid cause. But for that very reason it would be folly to regard him as either pro-German or pro-Italian, except insofar as he calculated that he might benefit his own material interests thereby. Other things being equal, that is his own material interests being safeguarded, he is probably pro-French.
The present situation obviously is that in another attempt to seize the French fleet, Hitler has forced Pdtain to give dictatorial powers to Laval. The attempt may succeed On the other hand Laval, who has an eye for the main chance, may already have decided in his own mind that the Allies are likely to win the war. In that case he will have no in." shopping " the Germans. Whether we like Laval or not, we ought to consider as the only sound motive of our belligerent policy. the readiest means of enabling France to return to our camp. We can leave Laval and his conscience to his Maker.