Hitler Dupes the Vatican/Chapter IV
In one of his most important and most carefully prepared speeches, a vast American as well as British and French public listening on the radio or reading the printed word next day (August 25, 1941), Churchill deliberately described in these words the relation of the French to the Czechs in 1938:
"A French government deserted their faithful ally and broke a plighted word in that ally's hour of need."
Note carefully that this was not an attack on the miserable group of Catholic weaklings which was called the Vichy government. If it were, we might allow for strong feeling and over-emphasis. But it was a cold and responsible Statement of what had happened in the tragic days of Munich. At that time Britain and America were cordial friends of France, and the betrayal was softened with vague phrases or even, since the whole world was still steeped in calumny against the great Soviet civilization, excused on the ground that Russia could not be trusted. In war, as in wine, the truth comes out. France basely deserted its ally. Why?
Military considerations lie outside my many fields of interest but it can safely be said that they afford no justification of the action of France. Indeed now that we see the supreme French commanders in their true light as priest-ridden mediocrities who put the interest of their Church above the interests of their nation and the dictates of honor we wonder if they did not strain these military considerations in 1938 in order to avoid an effective alliance with Russia which the Vatican, which sought an alliance with Germany against Russia, would bitterly resent. There is a fallacy in the plea that events have proved that and war at that time against Germany would have been disastrous. Neither France (always too selfish to tax itself sufficiently for adequate defense) nor Russia had the forces they would later develop, but Germany also was far short of the power it would deploy in 1941 after being in a position for a year or two to enslave half of Europe. The Maginot Line was complete. and the Czechs had, to the great profit of the French Steel Trust—a similar line, an army limited in numbers, but of superb quality, and a stanch ally in Russia. If Germany had turned the Maginot Line by invading Belgium the British Fleet would be added to the coalition. The prospect was more hopeful than in 1939 and 1940 or at any time until Russia was drawn in.
But can we suppose that France at any time before 1940 was sensitive to the wishes and counsels of the Vatican? It was one of the most irreligious countries in the world, or at least it ran Britain close for that title. I have repeatedly quoted Catholic admissions that only about six or seven million of its 42,000,000 people were in any real sense Catholics. All its statesmen were, and had been for more than half a century, Freethinkers (except one Protestant) and apart from artists and literary men, whose convictions are not conviction's in an intellectual sense, nearly all its cultural leaders were skeptics,
We shall study France more closely in a later book when we have to try to understand the monumental treachery of the Catholic military leaders, but a few points must be discussed here in order to complete the record of the action of the Black International in preparing the world, whether it realized what it was doing or not, for the historic crime of the war. In an earlier chapter I mentioned, incidentally, how in 1937 Pacelli went—we will not say was sent for he made his own policy—to Paris as the Pope's legate. This was the first time the Papacy had sent a Legate to France since 1814. All reference-books had continued to describe it as a Catholic country, as they do today, and few thought of explaining this very singular attitude of the Vatican to it. But we will return to that latter. Pacelli, who hated democracy in general and France in particular, was so very amiable and successful that on the following New Year's Day the gifts received by the Premier and the Minister of Finance, both Freethinkers, included Papal decorations.
Naturally this was not the beginning of pleasant relations, but I must give a very summary account of events at this stage. The Thirty Years' War (say 1884 to 1914) of France and the Vatican ended in the truce of 1914-1918, when the close union of all parties in France was demanded, and this led on to such amiable relations after the war that the very powerful French Freethought Party was never reconstructed.
The new element was Alsace-Loran, two solidly Catholic provinces which they had taken over from Germany. At first the French tried to weaken the Church in them by applying their laws (secularization of schools, marriage, etc.) to them but the Vatican inspired a resentment that alarmed the government. The true state of Alsace-Loran for years after 1918 was not described in the American and British press. It seethed with rebellions feeling, carefully fostered by its (in Alsace at least) German-speaking and German-hearted priests. France, expecting a German war of revenge sooner or later, was scared and had to call in the aid of the Vatican; and from the richly organized Catholic communities of Alsace-Loran, the clerical zeal spread to north-eastern France. There was, French Catholics admitted, no flood of conversions, but the mere fact of the annexation had raised the Church in France from a body of 5,000,000 to a body of about 7,000,000, and it was of the highest political importance to be on good terms with the Vatican.
So the frivolous folk of Paris saw strange things which had, they thought, been relegated to ancient history; exchange of representatives at Paris and Rome, the canonization of Joan of Arc, a Papal Legate embracing their very skeptical leaders, and so on. In 1904 I had attended a huge International Congress of Freethinkers at Paris and had on Sunday walked in a procession of 200,000 while the whole city seemed to cheer us. Twenty years later I attended another Freethought Congress in Paris. No more than 200 attended the largest meetings, and the city did not take the slightest interest. An aged ex-Minister who had been in the van of the anti-clerical struggle form 1890 to 1910 told me that for political reasons Freethought was dead and the Church very much alive. I was not altogether surprised. Two years earlier I had been in Athens, in fact in the British Legation there, when the Greek foreign minister had come with the news of the terrible defeat of the Greeks by the Turks. The French had been guilty of an act of treachery of which the older France would have been incapable. It had Supplied the Turks, the minister said, with guns, tanks, and officers against the Greeks.
Here I need consider only how the new policy affected the relations of France with Czecho-Slovakia. The government had with the support of the deputies from Alsace-Loran and in face of the violent protests of the Radicals sent an ambassador to Rome and received a Nuncio at Paris. When the Radicals were put in power in 1924 they tried to abolish this arrangement, but the clergy defeated them again through the Catholic deputies of Alsace-Loran. From that time the Pope's representative in Paris had considerable influence and there were frequent deals with the Vatican. The royalist movement, which was gaining ground and was mainly Catholic, was repeatedly checked by the Church at the request of the government. For the first time since Napoleon French Catholic writers (royalists) made drastic attacks on Rome, accusing it of traffic with the "blasphemous laicism" of the French government. The government had to pay for the Church's services.
One of the return services of the government concerned Czecho- Slovakia. In 1933 the Papal Nuncio at Prague was, as I said, expelled by the Czechs for political interference in publicly supporting the Slovak movement. The Vatican retorted by organizing a gorgeous festival at Prague in honor of the eleventh centenary of some medieval saint who was supposed to have introduced Christianity into the country, and the French were used to persuade their allies, the Czechs, to take part and adjust the quarrel over the Nuncio. The French Cardinal Verdier was one of the most conspicuous figures in the ceremonies.
In 1936 the French signed their pact with Soviet Russia. What Pacelli, who began this year to call repeatedly for war on Bolshevism, thought about it one can imagine, but we may defer that question. The Pact drew France, Russia, and Czecho-Slovakia into an alliance which seemed to be of such importance for the security of France and the peace of Europe that the feelings of the Church had to be disregarded. But in creating all the bitterness that it could against Russia by a false representation that it persecuted religion the Church added considerably to the confusion which distracted French attention from the urgent need to increase its armament. French Communists reacted as one would expect, and the royalists and Fascists derived new strength from the disorder.
If we recall that the Church also had representatives of the most fanatical loyalty in the highest military councils we begin to understand that element of the perfidy of 1938 which concerns us here. France was morbid and demoralized during several years before the way, but we did not then imagine that its great soldiers were convinced that lack of religion was the root of all its troubles and that the authority of the Church must be reestablished at any cost to the nation, even the sacrifice of that honor of which it was so proud. The final word in 1938 when the Czechs called upon the French to redeem their pledge, was with the Catholic heads of the army and navy: Petain, Weygand, and Darlan. Is it a mere coincidence that they refused to fight for Czecho-Slovakia, which the Vatican was not interested in protecting, yet, without any further large addition to their forces in the intervening year, decided to fight for Poland, in which the Vatican was passionately interested? Had Pacelli already the idea that a France so humiliated and weakened that two priest-ridden old men could make it fall upon its knees once more might be linked with Italy, Spain, and Portugal in a bloc or League of Catholic powers? We do not know.
So the Czechs were sacrificed to the butchers under whom they suffer so appallingly today. The French complain that Britain did not support them.
Britain was under no pledge to do so in a contingency of that nature and had no army to speak of. But it would certainly have been forced in by public opinion, and its fleet would have been a powerful support. A British author who had exceptional sources of information told me that the ships were stripped ready for war, as they had also been during the German and Italian insolence in Spain, and groans and curses followed the news of appeasement from London. We were, relatively to Germany's resources, hardly better prepared in 1939 than in 1938, and the cause in 1938 would have been far more inspiring, while the aid of Russia was certain.
Msgr. Tiszo returned from his treachery in Germany and took over the petty Protectorate of Slovakia. He now showed his complete dependence on Rome and Berchtesgaden. In the summer of 1929 he drenched Bratislava, where many still cherished in secret the culture of the Czechs, with Pacelli's anti-Bolshevism and vilified the great memory of Masaryk. When Hitler hypocritically entered upon a peace-compact with Russia Tiszo again changed his tune. He sent his cousin as representative of Slovakia in Moscow and sent a telegram of congratulation to Stalin on his sixtieth birthday. Was he fully aware (as Stalin was) that the whole pretence of German friendship was one of those tricks by which the invincible legions; tried to weaken their opponents in advance?
He at all events strangled democracy and freedom on the lines of the "great encyclical" of Pius XI. The Catholic Tablet (July 27, 1940) said that the Vatican Radio, announcing that the blear-eyed Petain was going to "reconstruct France on a Christian basis" by suppressing liberty and sacrificing prosperity, added with joy that Tiszo had already done this in Czecho-Slovakia. Another section of the earth won for Pacelli's grand plan of a league of theocratic- Fascist states sworn to extinguish Socialism. But in all these matters man proposes and Hitler disposes. Already it is announced that Tiszo is under the frown of the Fuhrer, and it looks as if he will join the disillusioned band of Quislings (Henlein, Seyss- Inquart, etc.) who were to be lifted to power by the German giant.