May 5, 2017

1939. French Politicians Deny Accusations of Foreign Influence

Tensions in the French Chamber of Deputies
French Air Minister Pierre Cot in Russia in 1933 (source)
This article is part of a series of posts on how newspapers covered the rise of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler in Italy and Germany prior to World War II.

From The New York Times, January 21, 1939:
Rightists in Chamber Resent Ex-Air Minister Cot's Hint of German Propaganda
Left, Backed by British Labor, Opposes London Control Over Paris Policy on Spain

PARIS, Jan. 20 — Tumult flared up for a few minutes during today's continued debate in the Chamber of Deputies when Pierre Cot, former Air Minister, spoke words which some Right deputies regarded as accusing them of having been influenced by Nazi propaganda and of acting unconsciously in Germany's behalf in their opposition to communism.

For a few minutes the House was in an uproar. Édouard Herriot, President of the Chamber, who had twice warned M. Cot that he seemed to be making accusations, suspended the session until quiet was restored.

Later the debate was continued without adding much new to the subject and without showing any changes in the deputies' eventual vote on what is really the cardinal question, whether the Spanish frontier should be opened.

Left Sees British Backing

For the first time, however, there was a tendency in one or two speeches to take the attitude that France must decide this matter for herself and not be controlled by Britain. The Left parties, having found that British labor is in agreement with them, have begun to believe that perhaps the Chamberlain regime is not the full expression of the British mind.

The government's position is undoubtedly delicate, for if a direct vote had been taken today, as had been originally proposed, on the question of opening the frontier and supplying Barcelona it is not impossible that the government would have been beaten or at least have had an extremely narrow majority.

The debate has now been put off until Tuesday, when Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet probably will speak. He will undoubtedly insist on the support all parties in the House have given the government in declaring that France will not tolerate the establishment of Italian troops in Spain or the cession of any territory to Italy.

As far as possible the issue of whether the best way to prevent that happening is to intervene now in Spain will be avoided, for it is clear that opinion is evenly divided. If a Left government should come into office now and open the frontier, it would find itself faced not only by a complicated international situation but also by a strong opposition in Parliament and throughout the country.

Cot's Warning Is Cheered

M. Cot was cheered by the whole Chamber when he declared that with the Balearic Islands in the hands of Fascist Italy the Mediterranean would no longer be free. Behind Premier Benito Mussolini he and other speakers see the hand of Chancellor Adolf Hitler.

M. Cot argued that the Hitler regime was weaker than was generally believed. He said it had consecrated all its resources to armament and was now in the same enfeebled position internally that it was in in 1917.

"Its only hope lies in bluff or, at worst, in a short war," he went on. "Thanks to the excesses of Nazi rule France can now count on ten American workers behind every French soldier."