Sunday, June 28, 2015

ADSS 1.50 Maglione's notes on meeting with French Ambassador

ADSS 1.50 Luigi Maglione, Sec State, notes.

Reference: AES 2705/39 – written personally.

Location and date: Vatican, 20.05.1939

Summary statement: Conversation with French Ambassador. French Press and the pope’s initiative.  Opposition of French Government to the proposed Conference.  Intentions of the Italian Government. Dangerous course of public opinion in France and in Italy.

Language: Italian


M. Charles-Roux (1) – after greeting me asked:

(C-R) Has your Eminence read the information, from Rome, published by an English newspaper, regarding a conversation the Holy Father is reported to have had with the Italian Ambassador, Count Pignatti, and with our Ambassador to the Quirinal, M. François-Poncet? (2) The newspaper states that the Pope invited the two diplomats and received them together and discussed with them the means to end the state of tension between Italy and France.

(M) Yes, I read the article and I thought – I added smiling – that your Excellency, troubled by the news, went to the telephone to obtain a denial or at least an explanation from your colleagues François-Poncet.

(C-R) No.  He himself called me up to draw my attention to the strange article.

(M) It should not have troubled your Excellency, being aware what a certain Press is capable of.

(C-R) Yes. On the subject of newspapers, your Eminence noted last week that the French newspapers had take a curious attitude regarding the Pope’s initiative and you complained about it.  You must have seen that the French newspapers have spoken favourably about the Holy See’s step.

(M) Yes Some newspapers.  The Temps on the same day of your last visit had an article, which seemed satisfactory to the Holy Father.  After your visit and the complain which I took the liberty of mentioning to you, I have seen some other papers, the Figaro for example, follow the Temps example. I believe that your Excellency was not unaware of this … and I thank you.

(C-R) You will understand Eminence that the idea of finding ourselves alone to confront Italy and Germany at a conference table did not appeal to us.

(The Ambassador must have read a sign of surprise on my face caused by his too ingenuous words: he knew, as I did, that France would have had British and Polish support.  He therefore quickly corrected himself, saying:

(C-R) We prefer to negotiate our affairs directly, and lone, with Mussolini.

(M) That is just what I have been saying to you these two months, every time I had the pleasure of seeing you, I have also several times in the past expressed the conviction that Mussolini also wanted to have a meeting alone with the French Government.  I can no affirm this with greater assurance.  Unfortunately many good opportunities have been missed, however, there is still time.

(C-R) But does Mussolini really want peace?

(M I am convinced that he does.  His speech in Turin should have appeared, even to the French, as a proposal to maintain peace; a discreet invitation to solve the outstanding issues by diplomatic negotiations.  He said very clearly that he did not believe that any question could not be settled peacefully. (3)

(C-R) In fact Mussolini’s speech was a moderate one.  But do intentions tally with words?

(M) I have no reason to doubt it.

(C-R) But the people’s state of mind perhaps is not reassuring.  A word from the Pope on the moral issue would be more helpful than a Five Power conference.  We cannot be put on the same level as the others as far as peaceful intentions, moral issues and the uprightness of our attitude are concerned.  The Holy Father could make the Italian people understand the necessity of peace.

(M) The Holy Father cannot suppose that the desire for peace exists in one nation or in one group of States only.  When he addresses himself to the Governments and to the peoples to inculcate the idea of peace, he cannot and he must not make distinctions … Anyhow the Holy See’s step has had an important effect, the one needed, to determine the intentions of all Governments concerning peace and to support it.  Regarding the means for decreasing or abolishing the tensions, His Holiness did not point them out in a precise or detailed manner:  ho only asked the Governments to study them and decide.

(C-R) Your Eminence mentioned the opportunity of calming the Italian people.

(M) The news of the Holy Father’s initiative, which appeared in the newspapers without having been arranged by us, has reassured the Italian people who desired and were anxiously asking the Holy Father to do something on behalf of peace.  Before an initiative was taken we received many, many letters invoking the Pope’s intervention.  Afterwards we received none.  This means that the Italian people believed in the effectiveness of the Pope’s initiative.

As you mentioned something about the state of mind of the Italian people I will tell you frankly that I am beginning to be concerned about the change, which is taking place in France.  I think that in your country the persuasion is taking hold and expanding that now the balance of power – in the military preparations – is already tipping in your favour and that was is inevitable: hence the opinion that if this is so, war is preferable to the present state of deadly uncertainty and anguish.  (The Ambassador did not say a word or make any sign of denial.)  All this is dangerous.  In a situation like this a small incident can cause an explosion.  On the other hand, even admitting that you have sixty or even eighty chances out of 100 to win, you must agree that the game is dangerous and that a war even a victorious one, would be a terrific trial for you. The sacrifice of one or two million young lives would be such a loss for the nation that it would hardly recover.  It is better then to study all peaceful means to get out of the present situation; it is better to grasp all opportunities for negotiating, and it is necessary to rise above the so-called questions of prestige.

(C-R) Does your Eminence think that Italy would remain on Germany’s side in case of war?  Have you any information on the extent of the Italo-German alliance?

(M) I have no particular information.  I think that Italy is willing to enter into, or has already entered into a defensive alliance.  Yet I think that if war broke out on account of the unfortunate Polish-German issues it would be very difficult to prevent the conflict from spreading; Great Britain and France would intervene on Poland’s side and Italy on Germany’s.  Inevitably we would have a world conflict. I think that in everybody’s interest France should give advice of moderation to Warsaw and try to improve its relations with Italy, which is the only power capable of influencing and restraining Germany.

(C-R) But how is it possible to deal with Italy when the Italian Press is so excited and unfair towards France?

(M) Italy thinks and says the same about the French Press.  It seems that the newspapers on both sides have lost all control.   Wouldn’t it be better that both Governments let them shout as they liked (if they cannot control them) and started to act with their own heads?

On these last words the conversation was concluded: the Ambassador did not add anything: he simply said that he was very pleased to have heard what I thought and that he would report to his Government I full. (3)

(1) François Charles-Roux (1879-1961), French Ambassador to the Holy See 1932-40.
(2) Bonifacio Pignatti Morano di Custoza (1877-1957), Italian Ambassador to the Holy See 1935-39.  Andre François-Poncet (1887-1978), French Ambassador to Italy 1938-40.
(3) See the article from The Western Australian, Tuesday 16.05.1939. The article follows at the end of this document.
(4) In his 1947 memoirs Huit ans au Vatican 1932-1940, Flammarion, Paris, Charles-roux does not explicitly mention this conversation.  He alluded, however, to a conversation, which he had at that time with Cardinal Maglione, who told him “that the Franco-Italian disputes, added to the German-Polish controversy, were not likely to clear the air and that, according to his knowledge, the Italian Government was inclined to settle them without great cost to us”. (p 324).  Maglione must have spoken about this conversation with D’Arcy Osborne, the British minister. See DBFP, Series 3, Volume 5, n661, p 718.


Special interest attaches to the speech which Signor Mussolini delivered at Turin on Sunday. It was the first important public utterance by the Duce since the Ciano-Ribbentrop announcement, a week ago, of the impending Italo-German political and military alliance. It was reasonable to expect that the head of the Italian Government might give some lead to his own people, if not also to the outside world, as to how far the formal military commitment to Germany would carry Italy in the event of German provocation of war in Danzig or in any 'other region where Italian interests were non-existent or negligible. Precise definition of the terms of an agreement which is as yet unsigned was not called for, but if the Italo-German alliance were as firm as German commentators would have the world believe, Signor Mussolini was provided with every excuse for a bellicose speech by the fact of the announcement of the Anglo-Turkish agreement shortly before he left for Turin. In the circumstances, the relatively mode rate tone in which the Duce cast his remarks may be some encouragement for those who hope that Italy will not fight unless she is forced to do so by pressure of internal difficulties or by a conviction that national development, by other means than war, is permanently denied to her by the democratic Powers. 

It was inevitable that the speech should have emphasised the continuation of Italo-German co-operation, the substantial gains which Italy would eventually obtain from this and the absurdity of foreign forecasts of "bends or breaks" in the Axis. It seemed from an early account of Signor Mussolini's speech that he had underlined the military co-operation between the two countries more heavily than was necessary. The first cabled reports, published in yesterday's issue, made the Duce say: "We shall march with Germany on every question in Europe." The official report of the speech, as published this morning, modifies the earlier unofficial account. The new version of the Duce's remarks-"We will march with Germany to give Europe that peace with justice which is the profound desire of all peoples"--is different both in the spirit and in the letter. The implication of this correction in the cabled reports should not be exaggerated; the omission of the phrase "on every question" does nevertheless suggest that Italy has not given Herr Hitler a blank cheque which he may fill in and draw in Danzig, or in any other part of Europe, in the confident expectation that it will be honoured promptly when presented in Rome. 

Even the original report of the Duce's speech was in certain passages surprisingly reassuring. The statement that "an objective review of the situation shows that at present there do not exist in Europe problems of such magnitude as to justify a war which would be come universal" might have been made in London, Birmingham or Paris rather than in Rome or Turin. Something of the bluster in other parts of the speech may also have been designed for home consumption or for friends in Berlin. No objection will be taken in the democratic countries to the Duce's emphasis on the defensibility of Italy's northern frontier since the only country which might have designs upon that frontier is Germany; the references to Italy's internal -situation, though obviously ironic, were surprising, and may be taken to indicate that the Duce is aware of the economic difficulties under which his people are living. Foreign ob servers who are tempted to make much of these difficulties should, however, recognise that while they may restrain Signor Mussolini from committing Italy to German ventures which offer no assurance of Italian gains, they may, also in the long run incline him to take risks unless he feels that a more cautious role may produce results worth having. For this reason perhaps the most reassuring part of the Duce's speech was his remark that in order to sever a knot "It is not always necessary to use the sword."

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