The Diplomatic Battleground

For the second time in thirty years, Paris found itself hosting a modern Congress of Vienna. First came the meeting of foreign ministers of the Big Four in May 1946, to be followed by the sixteen-nation peace conference, which continued in bursts from August until mid-October.

The Quai d’Orsay and the embassies were very busy. Jacques Dumaine, the chef de protocole, was continually going out to Le Bourget or Orly to meet distinguished visitors. He summed up the diplomatic contest at that time in terms of a poker game: ‘We do not know if Stalin is playing poker with good cards and unlimited funds; but we can only realize that his American opponents are standing and that the British cannot double their stakes.’ His wife was about to have a baby and he worried about what life held in store for their child with a future ‘full of foreboding’.

On 24 April, Dumaine was at Orly to greet James Byrnes, the Secretary of State, with the American delegation, which included Senator Tom Connally and Senator Vandenberg. ‘After twenty-four hours on the aeroplane they still managed to look their normal, cheerful, well-shaven selves, while their wives appeared as fresh as ever with their orchids.’ That afternoon, Dumaine had to wait at Le Bourget for Molotov, who arrived ‘looking neat and scrubbed like a country doctor. His expression is hesitant and relatively gentle, but his actions are distrustful and forbidding.’

Ernest Bevin arrived the following morning and the first meeting of the Four took place late that afternoon in the Palais du Luxembourg, now almost entirely repaired.

The conference opened far more smoothly than most people had expected, but after a week or so became bogged down in the usual fashion. Some issues were more interesting, such as what to do with the former Italian colonies, including Libya and Cyrenaica. Bevin wanted to give them complete independence, but the French were alarmed at the effect that this might have on their own North African colonies. Molotov then retreated from an agreement he had made on Italy the previous September and Byrnes became very angry. As it was the 1 May public holiday, Bevin, acting as chairman, insisted on a break. ‘The next item,’ he announced, ‘is a half-holiday which will be passed unanimously.’

The break did little to unblock the accumulating log-jam of differences. ‘Agreement was reached on one subject,’ the British ambassador recorded testily the next day, ‘the future of the Pelagosa and Pianosa islands, which contain one lighthouse and no inhabitants.’ Duff Cooper was in a bad mood because his new love, Gloria Rubio, had just had to fly to New York at short notice. It was also almost impossible to remain awake after heavy official lunches. Bevin, who had noticed Duff Cooper drop off to sleep, said, ‘Tell Duff I’ll call him if anything happens’, then added to those around him, ‘He’s the most sensible man in the room. It’s all a waste of time.’

The real nightmare of such conferences were the huge banquets, such as the one given for the delegates at the Sorbonne. The place-à-table always seemed to ensure that large numbers of people had neighbours with whom they shared no common language. Madame Bidault had to talk to Molotov through an interpreter sitting behind them. ‘I had Mme Duhamel on my left,’ wrote Duff Cooper, ‘who is always very nice and pleasant to talk to. She had Guroff, the Russian ambassador in London, the other side of her, who knows a little English but no French and with whom she couldn’t exchange a word… Mrs Bevin, opposite me, was between Dr Roussy, president of the Sorbonne, and Thorez, neither of whom could say a word that she could understand.’

As well as the official round there was also a semi-official round, prompted partly by the large number of newspaper proprietors and editors attracted to Paris. Some wielded enormous influence, often without the knowledge to use it well. Henry Luce, founder ofTime magazine, was a shy man, ill at ease and sentimental. ‘Luce is a queer duck,’ wrote David Bruce on a subsequent occasion. ‘He gives the impression that he soaks up what one is saying without becoming mentally wetted by it. His youthful missionary background and his later enormous influence and affluence, combined with other factors, have complicated his personality. He appears driven by ambition and fanaticism to extremes of judgement.’ Henry Luce came round to the British Embassy, where he met Louise de Vilmorin and promptly fell ‘madly in love with her’. Duff Cooper was very amused, but he had more sympathy for Henry Luce than for Luce’s wife, Clare. Caffery had brought her over to the British Embassy after dinner in the first winter after the Liberation. ‘She is as pretty as ever,’ he wrote then, ‘and as self-satisfied, as tiresome, and as foolish.’ He had much more time for Mrs Ogden Reid, wife of the proprietor of the New York Herald Tribune and the real controller of the newspaper. ‘Mrs O.R. is a very sensible and well-balanced woman. She is what America has best to offer at the present time – and that is very good. Her husband is a drunken jackass and brays like one.’

At the conference table, self-fulfilling suspicions were developing rapidly on both sides. Whenever the Americans stood up to Stalin over breaches of the Yalta agreement, he feared their confidence was based on a secret plan to use the atom bomb. He ignored the massive demobilization of their forces across the world.

At the same time, the Americans underestimated Stalin’s paranoia and therefore misjudged his obsession with establishing a protective cordon sanitaire round the Soviet Union. They assumed that his moves towards controlling those countries of Central Europe and the Balkans occupied by the Red Army were motivated entirely by ideological imperialism. His refusal on 1 March to withdraw troops from northern Iran, within striking distance of the oilfields, was defensive in the context of his paranoid mentality.

Five days after the 1 March deadline, Churchill made his ‘iron curtain’ speech at Fulton, Missouri. The reaction of the American press and public was unfavourable at the time. Truman refused to be drawn into the ensuing debate, though he and senior officials in the United States government were already starting to think along similar lines. They had been strongly influenced by George Kennan, the Kremlinologist at their Moscow Embassy. He had sent a long telegram analysing the Soviet threat, which was a prelude to the policy of containment which he elaborated the following year.

In Paris the Turkish ambassador, a shrewd observer, said that the Russian failure to evacuate Persia as agreed ‘was an irretrievable mistake because it resulted in the Americans developing a foreign policy’. It may not have actually developed the policy, but it certainly concentrated minds upon it. This would lead to the so-called Truman Doctrine in the spring of 1947, when America took over responsibility for the defence of Greece and Turkey on the collapse of British power in the region.

There are much stronger grounds for tracing the development of the Cold War to Germany, which, even in its ruined and occupied state, remained the focus of Stalin’s nightmares. George Kennan acknowledged that Russia’s fears were understandable, in view of her terrible history of invasion by Mongol, Pole, Swede and French, as well as the two waves of German occupation within the last thirty years.

Duff Cooper, who sympathized with the French fear of Germany – which was inevitably similar to that of the Soviet Union – was alarmed to hear in late May that the British chiefs of staff wanted ‘a strong Germany to fight Russia’. Two years before, when still in Algiers, he had submitted a plan for a European bloc based on Britain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. He had vigorously pushed the idea; but Anthony Eden, terrified of upsetting Stalin, had opposed it. Cooper argued that at the end of the war the Russians would not be afraid of a Western European bloc. What terrified Stalin was the idea of a Western bloc dominated by the Americans and linked to a reconstructed Germany.

The French had started to harbour well-grounded suspicions that American and British service chiefs wanted to build up Germany. These hardened in June 1946, following articles by Walter Lippman and a speech by Ernest Bevin. The French were very uneasy about developments in Germany. Renseignements Généraux had recently reported ‘une certaine nervosité’ between Anglo-Saxons and Russians in Berlin.

The Soviet Union kept an even closer watch on developments in the three western zones of Germany. Ponomarev’s department was given a special responsibility for this. One striking point emerges from Ponomarev’s paper to Molotov and Malenkov on the subject: the French Communist Party was of interest at this time only because it might influence events in Germany. The Kremlin complained that despite having eight posts in the government, the French Communist Party ‘has not taken any steps to change the policy of the French occupation authorities’ which ‘protect fascist and reactionary elements’. Clearly the Kremlin failed to appreciate the fact that the French Communists had little control over the French army.

The conference of foreign ministers resumed in mid-June, with James Byrnes in residence at the Meurice and Ernest Bevin at the George V. Almost immediately, the conference was thrown into panic by reports from Washington that the Red Army was going to take over Trieste and then advance westwards across northern Italy towards southern France. Even Bevin felt inclined to believe the story, because Molotov had been in such a strange mood that day. This flutter of nerves coincided with de Gaulle’s speech at Bayeux.

Despite this dramatic start, Molotov’s perpetual stalling slowed proceedings until Bevin and Byrnes developed a guillotine tactic to bring things to a conclusion. Byrnes was to be chairman and he would insist either upon the immediate settlement of each outstanding subject or else its relegation to the peace conference. Despite the scepticism of many, the plan cooked up by Byrnes and Bevin to accelerate business worked and invitations were issued to the sixteen nations who were to convene for the full conference in August.

During that diplomatic summer, the centre of Paris had started to lose the look of wartime privation. The bicycle-powered vélo-taxis were a conveyance of the past. Five thousand proper taxis were now available in Paris. Before, only people with a government pass or a doctor’s certificate could use one. Now they were available to anybody who could afford the hefty fare. In the Tuileries gardens, children enjoyed rides on donkeys, or in little carts pulled by goats with jingling harnesses. Baby-carriages had also reappeared, having taken a considerable battering during the Occupation, when they were used for the transport of everything fromlogs and coal to turnips.

The great hit of the season was the musical Auprès de ma blonde, with Yvonne Printemps and her husband, Pierre Fresnay. It was a sophisticated comedy of family manners – with lavish costumes by Lanvin – working backwards in time from the 1930s to thebelle époque of the 1890s.

As August approached, the centre of Paris became almost empty with the departure of 750,000 Parisians on summer holiday – a further sign of the gradual return to normality. The influx of foreigners was not entirely due to the conference. The Golden Arrow train service, from Victoria Station in London to the Gare du Nord, had been resumed in April; and an air terminal had been opened at the Invalides, heralding a new era of travel.

The great assembly of diplomats and journalists from around the world provided trade for more than hotels and restaurants and nightclubs. Nancy Mitford wrote to one of her sisters: ‘I’m told the maquereaux [pimps] stop the Peace Conference people practically as they leave the Luxembourg and offer them l’Amour Atomique. Aren’t they heaven?’

The entertainment circuit swung into action once again. On 9 August, Bogomolov gave a party for Molotov with ‘more class distinction than ever’. The top thirty guests were ushered into ‘a cul-de-sac room shut tightly against all others’ with Molotov and the Americans and British ‘cracking jokes over the vodka’ like the members of ‘an exclusive gentlemen’s club’, until Vyshinsky spoilt the impression by getting extremely drunk.

The following day Cy Sulzberger organized a lunch in honour of Senator Tom Connally in a private room at La Rue’s. He asked Mrs Connally for suggestions about possible menus. It appeared that there was only one: dry martinis, steak, French fries. Sulzberger also invited Raymond Offroy from the Quai d’Orsay. “‘Old Tawm” cheered up a bit with the cocktails,’ Sulzberger wrote later, ‘but still seemed somewhat sulky, although looking most impressive with his black string tie and white mane of hair.’ When ‘a real steak’ arrived, he ‘warmed perceptibly. After a few munches he turned to me solemnly and asked: “Cy, where’s Westphalia?”

“‘Why, in Germany, Senator.”

“‘They signed a treaty there, didn’t they?” (Offroy was watching, fascinated, awaiting a clue to American policy and wisdom.)

“‘Yes, sir, the Treaty of Westphalia. It ended the Thirty Years War in 1648.”

“‘Yup,” said Tawm. “That’s where Napoleon was whipped.” Offroy gulped.’

The other great senator, Arthur Vandenberg, managed to have a similar effect on another senior official of the Quai d’Orsay. ‘Senator Vandenberg beside me,’ wrote Jacques Dumaine after a lunch given by the Conseil Municipal de Paris, ‘could not take his eyes off the beaming face of Maurice Thorez and kept repeating: “How can such a healthy-looking man be a Communist!”’

Hervé Alphand’s brilliant mimicry of Byrnes, Bevin and Molotov reduced dinner parties, such as the Duchess of Windsor’s, to helpless laughter. This proved a slightly double-edged talent. Duff Cooper, who was a friend of Alphand’s, wrote in his diary: ‘It is odd how Alphand inspires dislike and distrust in Englishmen. I think it is because being a highly skilled civil servant and inspecteur des finances he looks and behaves like an actor. No English civil servant could ever be persuaded to take Noël Coward seriously.’

The peace conference, for all its tedium, had surprising devotees. All through the ‘Turkish bath weather’ Momo Marriott, one of the daughters of Otto Kahn, went every day to follow the proceedings as if it were a fascinating murder trial. But few trials lasted as long. The five peace treaties were not finally signed until 10 February 1947, with Italy, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Finland. The process took the whole day, so Duff Cooper read Graham Greene’s A Gun for Sale during the intervals. The final ceremony took place in the Salon de l’Horloge of the Quai d’Orsay, on the table where the suicidally wounded Robespierre had been laid before he was guillotined.

For all the outward signs of a return to normality in the summer, a general sense of unease returned in the autumn of 1946. Yet spy-mania and the fear of Communism produced a number of comic moments. The Windsors, wrote Nancy Mitford to Evelyn Waugh, were telling everyone that ‘France is on the verge of Communism and they must put their jewels in a safe place.’ Also that October, word spread that Bogomolov, the Soviet ambassador, was not only showing great admiration for Princess Ghislaine de Polignac, but was having an affair with her. The princess was very amused by the rumour, particularly when Eric Duncannon rushed round to ask her to spy on Bogomolov for the British.

The appointment of the pro-Communist General Petit as Deputy Military Governor of Paris caused alarm in sensitive circles. General Revers, not an entirely reliable source because of his extreme anti-Communism, claimed that Thorez had arranged it.

In London, the War Office and the Foreign Office consistently opposed staff talks with the French throughout this period, to Duff Cooper’s exasperation. Suspicions about the French inability to maintain effective security went back to the disastrous Dakar expedition in 1940, and had been greatly compounded by exaggerated fears of Communist infiltration through FFI officers.

In the autumn of 1946, the Foreign Office wanted to have wireless transmitters concealed in consulates around France ‘in case of trouble’, whether a coup d’état or an invasion by the Red Army. The ambassador vigorously opposed this suggestion, put forward by William Hayter, then chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. He felt that the measure would succeed only in upsetting the French.

The nascent Cold War had also begun to affect literary life. Arthur Koestler, who was living in Wales at this time, came to Paris on 1 October 1946 to attend the rehearsals of his play Twilight Bar, produced as Bar du Soleil by Jean Vilar at the Théâtre de Clichy.

One day very soon after his arrival he visited the Hotel Pont-Royal and went over to Sartre in the downstairs bar to introduce himself. ‘Bonjour, je suis Koestler.’ The famille Sartre found him full of life and interested in everything – Sartre, especially, became fond of Koestler – but his competitive bumptiousness, encouraged by his great success with Darkness at Noon, which had sold nearly 250,000 copies in France, rather irked them.* Simone de Beauvoir soon had another reason to be irritated when, after one of the many nights on which she had drunk too much, she woke up in Koestler’s bed.

She and Sartre had another unpredictable evening with Koestler some time later. On 31 October, Koestler and his beautiful companion, Mamaine Paget, whom he married not long afterwards, took them out to dinner at an Arab bistro with Albert and Francine Camus. Sartre had to give a UNESCO lecture the next day, so hoped for an early bed. But after dinner they went on to ‘a little dancing with blue and pink neon lights and men with hats on dancing with girls with very short skirts’. Mamaine described ‘the engaging spectacle’ of Koestler ‘lugging Castor (who has I think hardly ever danced in her life) round the floor’ while Sartre, with a similar lack of experience, ‘lugged Mme Camus’.

Koestler insisted that they all go on to the Schéhérazade nightclub, a White Russian establishment which German officers had loved during the Occupation. The combination of Russian Tzigane music, almost total darkness, vodka, champagne and zakouski combined to make his guests forget the next day’s commitments.

Koestler seemed to find the Schéhérazade an appropriate spot for launching into an anti-Soviet tirade. The more they argued, the more they drank. Soon only Camus and Mamaine Paget were comparatively sober, the rest were very drunk, especially Sartre. At four in the morning, Koestler persuaded them to go on to a bistro in Les Halles, where they had soupe à l’oignon, oysters and white wine. Sartre became even more drunk. He kept pouring pepper and salt into paper napkins, then ‘folding themup small and stuffing them in his pocket’.

At eight o’clock in the morning, half-blinded by the sunlight, Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre found themselves in a pitiful state, weeping dilute vodka, on one of the bridges over the Seine. They wondered out loud whether to throw themselves in. Yet despite only two hours’ sleep, Sartre managed to write and deliver his lecture.

Koestler was feeling under threat at the time. He had become a major hate figure for Stalinists, and, like all lapsed party members, he was vilified even more than a committed fascist. He returned to Wales almost immediately after the night at the Schéhérazade. Not long afterwards, Les Temps modernes published Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s attack on Koestler under the title ‘Le Yogi et le Prolétaire’. In this piece Merleau Ponty, professor of philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure, set out to excuse the 1936 Moscow show trials on the grounds that the Soviet Union, isolated and threatened, could only save its revolution at the cost of a monolithic firmness; ‘objectively’, in the Marxist-Leninist sense of the term, opposition was treason. ‘He subordinated morality to history, much more resolutely than any existentialist yet,’ wrote Simone de Beauvoir in a revealing passage. ‘We took this leap with him– without yet letting go – conscious that moralizing was the last defence of bourgeois idealism.’

Camus was outraged by the article and by the decision of the editorial committee to publish it. An argument broke out at a party given by the writer and jazz player Boris Vian and his wife, Michelle. Camus arrived late, towards eleven o’clock in the evening. He had just returned from a journey to the South of France. He immediately attacked Merleau-Ponty for his article, accusing him of justifying the Moscow show trials. Merleau-Ponty defended himself and Sartre supported him. Camus was appalled and left, slamming the door. Sartre hurried after him and caught up with himin the street. He tried to persuade Camus to return to the party, but Camus refused.

This marked the beginning of the rift in Camus’s relationship with Sartre, which finally exploded in a celebrated exchange of correspondence in Les Temps modernes a few years later. His friendship with Simone de Beauvoir, on the other hand, had never been particularly warm. She had long suspected Camus’s political ambivalence, ever since November 1945 during the ministerial crisis. Camus had defended de Gaulle’s position. Camus, unlike Koestler at this time, was no Gaullist, but in Beauvoir’s eyes he had revealed his true anti-Communist colours.

Sartre and Castor also began to fall out with Raymond Aron in the autumn of 1946. Sartre’s play about the Resistance, Men without Shadows, opened at around the same time as Jean-Louis Barrault was producing Les Nuits de la colère, Salacrou’s play on the same subject (about which Sartre allegedly remarked that the author knew his collabos better than his résistants). On the first night of Men without Shadows, the torture scenes – though off-stage – became too much for Raymond Aron’s wife, who was not well. Aron took her home. Simone de Beauvoir, even more than Sartre, refused to accept his wife’s illness as a valid excuse for leaving.

Whatever Beauvoir’s stand on such issues, one must not forget that Sartre was still regarded with deep distrust, even enmity, by the Communists. On encountering Sartre at a literary lunch soon afterwards, Ilya Ehrenburg strongly criticized him for depicting members of the Resistance as ‘cowards and schemers’. Sartre retorted that Ehrenburg clearly had not read the play in its entirety. His previous plays had also been attacked on political grounds. In The Respectful Prostitute, for example, he had failed to present the black victim as ‘a true fighter’. And his next major play, Dirty Hands, was to bring down upon him virtually every insult in the (admittedly rather limited) dictionary of Stalinist obloquy.

Over the next few years, with the onset of the Cold War, Sartre began to shift his position on politics and artistic expression. ‘The Communists are right,’ he later wrote in a compromise formula which was strikingly short on philosophical rigour. ‘I was not wrong. For people who are crushed and exhausted, hope is always necessary. They had all too many occasions to despair. But one should also strive to work without illusions.’

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