To improve the conditions of living in these parts– it works both ways

President Roosevelt Invites Future King Mohammed V to Dinner at SYMBOL

[ excerpts from John W. Erwin, Virtuoso Citizens (a book to be completed during 2012)]


βάλλω [ballo] to throw, cast, hurl at, properly of a missile… to strike…

συμβάλλω [symballo] to throw or dash together …  to bring men together, match them to fight

σύμβολον [symbolon] a sign or mark to infer a thing by a signal, token… σύμβολα [symbola] were also the two pieces of a coin, etc., which two contracting parties broke between them and each preserved one part, tallies… At Athens σύμβολον [symbolon] was a ticket or cheque, Lat. tessera, which the dicasts had given them on entering the court, and on presenting which they received their fee: also given on other occasions, as to persons who took part in a common meal.

Liddell and Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, 1871  


On 22 January 1943, during a war conference in Casablanca to which Prime Minister Churchill had assigned the appropriately ambiguous code name SYMBOL, President Franklin D. Roosevelt invited the young Sultan Mohammed Ben Youssef to dinner at his villa. Immobilized by infantile paralysis two decades earlier, F.D.R. was a distinctly unconventional wartime Commander-in-Chief. And in a surprise press conference out on the lawn at Dar es Saada two days after the dinner, he performed the double etymology of the conference’s secret name – initially associated with violent conflict but later applied to objects which facilitated the building of bodies politic. First he announced that the Allies would demand unconditional surrender from Nazi Germany, Japan and Italy. He then proceeded to counterpoint this by presenting the informal dinner on the 22nd as a symbol in turn for two far larger and more inclusive common meals. These would involve, on the one hand, the Allies and the people of Morocco, and on the other the future Mohammed V and his subjects: “The French and Moroccan civil population have given to us Americans wholehearted assistance in carrying out the common objective that brings us to these parts—to improve the conditions of living in these parts, which you know better than I do have been seriously hurt by the fact that during the last two years so much of the output, especially the food output of French North Africa, has been sent to the support of the German Army. That time is ended, and we are going to do all we can for the population of these parts, to keep them going until they can bring in their own harvests during this coming summer. Also, I had one very delightful party. I gave a dinner party for the Sultan of Morocco (Sidi Mohammed) and his son. We got on extremely well. He is greatly interested in the welfare of his people.” [Foreign Relations of the United States: The Conferences at Washington 1941-42 and Casablanca 1943 (Washington, D.C.), 731]

The President had had the Sultan on his mind since arriving in Casablanca.  He had begun the first meeting of a conference called to orchestrate variations on the first Allied invasion of Nazi-held territory during World War II by exploring the possibility of what would at first sight seem a diversionary interlude. At a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff at Dar es Saada, on January 15: “The President asked as to the advisability of his seeing General Noguès and possibly the Sultan of Morocco. General Marshall and Admiral King both stated they felt that General Eisenhower was in a better position to advise the President on this subject and he would no doubt do so when he arrived at Anfa Camp. Admiral King, however, questioned whether or not General Noguès merited the honour of visiting the President of the United Sates.” [FRUS, 558]

Résident Général Noguès represented a global empire then ruled by the Nazi-controlled Vichy government of Marshal Pétain, the World War I hero who was being used by Hitler as a front for shipments of French Jews to extermination in Eastern Europe. But Roosevelt characteristically responded to this advice from a military adviser who was himself known for his stubbornness by doing the precise opposite. He thereby gave himself room to make further progress on developing—with equally characteristic theatrical flair – what would emerge as his principal idea: a person-to-person conversation with a young Sultan who was permitted only symbolic power by the French government of the so-called Protectorate, yet who had begun (as Roosevelt knew) to distinguish himself further in the eyes of his people by preventing the French from sending Moroccan Jews to Auschwitz [see “Staging Moroccan Power,” and Addendum Two below: “A man of character and force: a great man”].

Two days later, at high noon on 17 January, F.D.R. asked Noguès himself whether it would be appropriate for him to invite the Sultan. He thereby provoked a dog and pony act by the Résident Général and famously ambitious American General Patton: members of an exclusively self-serving marriage of convenience whose advice he must have enjoyed taking but also immediately upstaging – in turn foiling their attempt to take credit for his invitation by co-delivering it on their own. “The President requested General Noguès’ advice as to whether or not, he, the President should ask the Sultan of Morocco to call on him. Specifically, the President asked if it would be in order for him to entertain the Sultan at lunch or dinner. To this, both General Noguès and General Patton replied that it would be a most gracious thing for the President to do, and that it would definitely cement relations between the Arabs and ourselves. It was then explained that among the Arabs no higher compliment can be paid than to invite one to break bread. General Noguès stated that it was equivalent to becoming one’s blood brother or fighting a campaign with him. In other words, it cemented relations between the host and guest.The President stated that he would dispatch an invitation to the Sultan which he trusted could be delivered in time for the Sultan to make preparations to come to Casablanca. General Patton stated that the letter should be delivered by no one less than a General officer, in company with General Noguès. The President stated that when the letter was ready to go, he would give it to his Naval Aide, as his personal representative, who would go in company with an army general and General Noguès, and deliver the letter to the Sultan.” [FRUS, 607, McCrea Notes: Memorandum for the President’s Files]

Not surprisingly, given Roosevelt’s practice of responding in kind to rival showmen, doing no more than projecting their ceremonial participation, he would have his own aide deliver the invitation. And McCrea would turn his brief visit at the Palace in Rabat to significant use in co-stage-managing the dinner: a strategic collaborative theatricalization of ritual which would model as well as project postwar cooperation among Moroccans and Americans.

In the 1950 expansion of his 1948 Roosevelt and Hopkins, playwright Robert E. Sherwood included a note from Admiral John L. McCrea who had served as Roosevelt’s naval aide with the rank of Captain. “I had drawn up a seating arrangement which I had in my pocket. When I went to Villa Dar es Saada. I found that the President had made a seating arrangement all his own. …On the basis of my appointment with the Sultan when I delivered the invitation, I observed that all of his conversation was directed through the Chef de Protocol [Si Maamri]. I suggested to the President that he place that official on the Sultan’s right, that we get General Noguès as far away from the Sultan as possible in order that the conversation that took place between the President and the Sultan would not be eavesdropped by Noguès. The President said he thought that Noguès was a tough character, in any event, and that he would put him between Harry Hopkins [Roosevelt’s special assistant] and me, trusting that we would look out for him. The Grown Prince was seated next to General Patton, because the young man had a great admiration for the General.” [Sherwood 1950, 971]

The resulting seating arrangement placed the Sultan on the President’s right, Churchill on his left and through the Prime Minister ran clockwise back to Mohammed ben Youssef through Grand Vizier el Mokhri, Robert Murphy Captain McCrea, General Noguès, Harry Hopkins, Elliott Roosevelt [the President’s son], the Crown Prince [the Sultan’s son] General Patton, and then, to the Sultan’s right his Chef de Protocol Si Maâmri [1]

Given the complexity of the interweaving of imperial and counter-imperial forces in play in the Casablanca of January 1943 – not to speak of such intensifying and confusing personal variations played on these by such improvisations as Patton’s with Noguès – Roosevelt’s dinner with the Sultan would generate many different accounts of its various breakings of and re-makings of early twentieth-century political arrangements as well as ancient cultural and religious traditions.

The President’s Log— likely enough written by Captain McCrea – and Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt’s special assistant, both stress visual rather than verbal elements of what would be a surprisingly influential symbolic exchange. The Log: “The Sultan and his entourage were magnificently attired in white silk robes and came bearing several presents—a gold-mounted dagger for the President in a beautiful inland teakwood case and two golden bracelets and a high golden tiara for Mrs. Roosevelt. The President presented the Sultan with a personally inscribed photograph of himself, in a beautiful heavy silver frame, engraved at the top with the seal of the President of the United States.”

Far more colorful than even the silver-enhanced black-and-white image of the “Admiral”-President, Harry Hopkins’ down-to-earth colloquial diary puts funny flesh on the account in the Log. “The Sultan arrived at 7:40, which caused me to put on my black tie for the first time on this trip. He had expressed a desire to see the President alone prior to Churchill’s arrival at eight, and he came loaded with presents—a gold dagger for the President, and some gold bracelets for Mrs. Roosevelt and a gold tiara which looked to me like the kind the gals wear in the circus, riding on white horses. I can just see Mrs. Roosevelt when she takes a look at this. The Sultan wore white silk robes. Apparently the etiquette prevents the drinking of liquor publicly, so we had nothing alcoholic either before, during or after dinner, I fortified myself an hour earlier, however. Also, no part of a pig could be eaten, and the Sultan didn’t smoke. He had a young son there with a red fez on, which he kept on while eating. He was a kid about thirteen and seemed quite bright. At dinner I sat next to General Noguès the Governor, who is the bird that de Gaulle wants pitched out of here. He has been the Resident Governor here for many years. He obviously likes it, because he lives in a big palace and is the big shot in this part of the world. I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could spit. He didn’t seem to me to be in a very easy frame of mind, because I imagine that he knows perfectly well that we may throw him out at any minute. Churchill was glum at dinner and seemed to be real bored. A smart British Marine walked in about the middle of the dinner with a despatch [sic], but I have a feeling Churchill cooked that up beforehand, because I saw the despatch [sic] later and it certainly wasn’t one that required the Prime Minister’s attention at the dinner. Took some pictures after dinner. The president gave the Sultan his picture in a handsome silver frame, and a good time seemed to be had by all, except the Prime Minister.” [Sherwood 1948, 698]

With its sharp-sighted – and –shooting — irreverence, this could have been Hopkins’ rehearsal for joining the halqa circle on the Djem el Fna in Marrakech that would occasion his diary’s breezily disrespectful response in kind –“ Randolph, Robert and I went to visit a big fair—story tellers—dancers—snake charmers—and 15,000 natives. Very colorful” – on the evening of the press conference out of the lawn at Dar es Saada. And of course you could see that carefully contrapuntal if extemporized performance as F.D.R.’s own more carefully composed variant of halqa: like the circles of spectators gathered around performers in Marrakech, the journalists sat on the grass at his and Churchill’s feet in a rapt semi-circle, thoroughly surprised by the global coup de théâtre that the President had engineered by having them flown in without having any idea about who would be the star attractions in what had recently been an active theater of war.

Robert Murphy put his own oar in with a belated 1964 version of the 22 January dinner, punctuated by a reading of Churchill’s reaction: “Perhaps it was this rare abstinence which caused the British Prime Minister to be unnaturally glum throughout the evening; or perhaps he remained silent because he regarded the whole occasion as deliberately provocative”— certainly to himself as well as Noguès. Developing his account of what was behind the effort by Noguès and Patton to advance their respective interests five days earlier in discussing the possibility of inviting the Sultan, the self-cast diplomat among warriors takes credit for organizing the dinner and supplements the roster of guests with another general and a trans-Atlantic diplomatic counterpart who had not been included in the Naval President’s seating-plan or Admiral-to-be McCrea’s equally strategic revision. “This affair was entirely Roosevelt’s own idea. He had not forgotten the reluctance of General Noguès to deliver his letter to the Sultan at the time of the landings [see Addendum One below], and one of the first things the President asked me to do was to arrange an intimate little dinner at his villa. The Sultan was accompanied by his eldest son, and the other guests were Noguès – who was invited as the Sultan’s Foreign Minister under the French Protectorate= – Churchill, Macmillan, Marshall, Patton, Hopkins, Elliott Roosevelt, and me… The President began the serious conversation by expressing sympathy with colonial aspirations or independence, and soon he was proposing to the Sultan that arrangements should be made after the war for American-Moroccan economic co-operation. Noguès, who had devoted his career to fortifying the French position in Morocco, could not conceal his outraged feelings. Hopkins observed that Noguès seemed to be uneasy ‘because he knows we may throw him out any minute.’ I suggested to Hopkins, ‘Perhaps the President’s approaches to the Sultan also aggravate Noguès’s fears about American designs on the French Empire. From the point of view of any imperialist—including de Gaulle and Churchill—the President’s conversation with the Sultan could seem subversive.’ With an impatient shrug, Hopkins changed the subject.”  [Murphy, 216-217]

Murphy’s self-serving interpretation was more or less corroborated – though characteristically for reasons more of state than personal ambition – by Harold Macmillan, a member of the British diplomatic team who would become a postwar successor of Churchill’s: “Things were not helped by a dinner which Roosevelt gave in honour of the Sultan of Morocco on the very day that de Gaulle arrived at the Anfa camp. It was a curious and impolitic maneuver and Murphy rightly records the sulkiness which Churchill showed throughout. … I feel sure that he regarded the President’s action as ‘deliberately provocative.’ The President talked a great deal about colonial aspirations towards independence and the approaching end of ‘imperialism.’ All this was equally embarrassing to the British and the French. He dwelt at some length on possible economic cooperation between America and Morocco after the war.” [The Blast of War 1939-45 (London, 1967), 201]

A more nuanced and far less self-promoting account of the Moroccan response was published only two years after the fact by Consul Kenneth Pendar, whom Murphy had asked to investigate the non-delivery of Roosevelt’s first letter to the Sultan. In his 1945 Adventure in Diplomacy, Pendar re-played the master tenor’s first-voice rendering three evenings later of the table talk at Dar es Saada on the 22nd. Pendar mistakes the venue but rings many changes on the charge of subversion that Murphy would levy against FDR: “The President… went to the Royal Palace for a diffa (banquet) with the Sultan. I was not at this dinner, but the President told me about it afterwards. It had made a great impression on him. The French Resident General was present, as he always is in any contact the Sultan may have with foreigners, to insulate the Moors from any foreign influence. Yet, during this dinner the President and the Sultan had a long talk together out of earshot of the Resident General, an episode extremely irritating to local French officialdom. It was, I believe, the first time in the history of Morocco that the Sultan had met the head of any other foreign state than France. While the French fumed, however, the Sultan and the very politically-minded Moors were overjoyed. They didn’t, to my surprise, jump to the conclusion that we were going to take over the Protectorate, but they did see themselves being treated, at last, as a sovereign state. They considered this a proof of our sincerity in the Atlantic Charter.” [Pendar, 145]

In re-locating the dinner from Dar es Saada to the Palace in this first version of his account –to be corrected in its second appearance in 1968, following the publication of Murphy’s book: F.D.R.’s dinner guests clearly read each other’s books with care—Pendar could have been instinctively compensating for what Moroccans could have seen as an American upstaging of Muslim hospitality. Crowned Mohammed V, the then Sultan would himself counter this anomaly in the year following the successful close of his campaign for Moroccan independence. In Rabat he would host the President’s widow, Eleanor Roosevelt: a formidable, globe-circling spokeswoman for the United Nations which had by then begun to realize her husband’s projection of a postwar re-incarnation of the wartime alliance that he had named at Christmas 1941, a few weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. [Eleanor Roosevelt, On My Own (New York, 1959), Chapter Eighteen, “King Mohammed”]

A year after Pendar’s initial version, in 1946 the host’s son, Elliott Roosevelt, had published his own first-hand account of the dinner. It serves as the keystone of his own polemic against imperialist indifference to the economic and social development of nations around the world: a primary concern of his father’s throughout the twelve-year Presidency, to be carried on by his widow—who endorsed Elliott’s emphasis, encouraging him to write the book and adding a foreword to it. As He Saw It sets the stage by telling how Noguès responded on the 17th to Roosevelt’s introduction of his signature concern: “On this warm Sunday afternoon, when Father put questions to the Frenchman about the people of Morocco, how their lot was to be improved, he looked blank. He had never troubled to figure out the answers his question; it had never been put to him before. Yet he knew to the penny how much wealth could be exported from the country, to the sou how grievously the Moroccans could be exploited. The Sultan, Patton had given us to understand, was under Noguès’ thumb, where he had been for years; Noguès wanted nothing except to keep him there.” [88]

Elliott’s account goes on to depict his father co-composing a series of variations on this counter-imperial theme on the 22nd : “With the Sultan at Father’s right and Churchill at his left, the dinner began… As the conversation proceeded, Churchill grew more and more disgruntled. What was the trouble? Father and the Sultan were animatedly chatting about the wealth of natural resources in French Morocco, and the rich possibilities for their development. They were having a delightful time, their French – not Mr. Churchill’s strongest language – easily encompassing the question of the elevation of the living standards of the Moroccans and – the point – of how this would of necessity entail an important part of the country’s wealth being retained within its own boundaries. The Sultan expressed a keen desire to obtain the greatest possible aid in securing for his land modern educational and health standards. Father pointed out that, to accomplish this, the Sultan should not permit outside interests to obtain concessions which would drain off the country’s resources. Churchill attempted to change the subject….Father, dropping in a remark about the past relationship between French and British financiers combined into self-perpetuating syndicates for the purpose of dredging resources out of colonies, went on to raise the question of possible oil deposits in French Morocco. The Sultan pounced eagerly on this; declared himself decidedly in favor of developing any such potentialities, retaining the income therefrom; then sadly shook his head as he deplored the lack of trained scientists and engineers among his countrymen, technicians who would be able to develop such fields unaided. Churchill shifted uneasily in his chair. Father suggested mildly that Moroccan engineers and scientists could of course be educated and retained under some sort of reciprocal educational program with, for instance, some of our leading universities in the United States… He mentioned that it might easily be practicable for the Sultan to engage firms – American firms – to carry out the development program he had in mind, on a fee or percentage basis. Such an arrangement, he urged would have the advantage of enabling the sovereign government of French Morocco to retain considerable control over its own resources, obtain the major part of any incomes flowing from such resources, and indeed, eventually take them over completely.” According to his son, FDR was projecting an alternative to empire composed of education, training, and development partnerships. [2]

Later—his account was first published in English in 1978 – the Crown Prince, by then Hassan II, countered McCrea’s pre-assignment of the role of exclusive spokesman to the Chef de Protocol, indicating that his father was an active participant in the conversation with the President who clearly treated him as already his opposite number, one political leader addressing to another: “It was after the Anfa interview, and as a result of the promises that were made there to him, that my father led the Moroccan people resolutely on the road to independence…. I was 14 years old and, as can be imagined, in such illustrious company I was all eyes and ears… The conversation developed into a dialogue between the President and my father, with Si Maâmri translating. The President said he thought the colonial system was out of date and doomed. Winston Churchill considered this too outright a statement. … Roosevelt replied that this was not 1820, or even 1912. He foresaw the time after the war – which he hoped was not far off—when Morocco would freely gain her independence, according to the principles of the Atlantic Charter. After the war, he said, the politico-economic situation of human society must be reorganized. The United States would not put any obstacle in the way of Moroccan independence; on the contrary, they would help us with economic aid.”   [The Challenge: The Memoirs of Hassan II of Morocco, transl. Anthony Rhodes (London: Macmillan, 1978), 30-31]).

Yet both earlier and later the wheelchair-bound Atlantic President himself may have been the most effective public interpreter of his certainly subversive exchange with the young Sultan at Dar es Saada. As we have already heard, two days after the astonishingly influential brief interlude in a war conference, during the surprise press conference out on the lawn Roosevelt would place his dinner for Mohammed Ben Youssef in two larger transitional global contexts: “The French and Moroccan civil population have given to us Americans wholehearted assistance in carrying out the common objective that brings us to these parts—to improve the conditions of living in these parts, which you know better than I do have been seriously hurt by the fact that during the last two years so much of the output, especially the food output of French North Africa, has been sent to the support of the German Army. That time is ended, and we are going to do all we can for the population of these parts, to keep them going until they can bring in their own harvests during this coming summer. Also, I had one very delightful party. I gave a dinner party for the Sultan of Morocco (Sidi Mohammed) and his son. We got on extremely well. He is greatly interested in the welfare of his people.”  Working in close competition as well as collaboration with the representative of one of the empires that their improvised Atlantic Charter would help undermine, an American who could not control his own legs and feet had at least begun to flesh out the Newfoundland document in ways which may still be able to help improve the conditions of living in Morocco and many other parts.

And at a press conference in Washington nine months later, in October 1943 he would celebrate the birth of what had been the subject of his second, pacific annunciation out on the lawn at Dar es Saada on 24th January: an initial realization, in the midst of war, of the postwar, post-colonial reciprocity which had been the pièce de résistance at his delightful party for the Sultan on the 22nd. “There is one thing—I wish somebody would say something about it—I have been digging up some stuff on it because I have been very much interested in it, and that is what happens to land that is reoccupied. I thought the best thing to do was to try to find out what has happened in North Africa. It has been under our occupation now for about eleven months, and what has happened there can, I think, be applied to most other lands that are reoccupied by us. The next thing will be the example of Sicily and southern Italy. What happened in North Africa, as I saw last winter, was that they had been pretty nearly bled white. Nearly all of their wheat and their fruits during 1940, 1941, and 1942 had been seized and taken out of North Africa. There were no replacements of other materials from other sources. And the result was that it was a pretty sad North Africa that I saw when I got there. There wasn’t enough to eat, and the production was going downhill. Well, as a result of everybody’s working together, we have had really remarkable success. Number one, with certain very minor exceptions such as peppermint tea, which they can’t grow and which is the favorite drink of the Moors—off the record, I don’t advise you to try it—(laughter)” – it got the laugh that animate such mechanized updatings of halqa as well as what still happens out there among 15,000 natives in the Djem el Fna, but surely this playing to American caffeine addicts goes well beyond the call of duty! – ”North Africa is taking care of practically all of her own food needs. And in addition to that, they are growing enough to make a very substantial contribution to the food of all our troops there, and large number of British troops, which is another case of lend-lease in reverse….The agricultural experts sent over a lot of seeds and things like that, in order to expand local agricultural production. These shipments, five small amounts of tonnage, were carefully budgeted. They consisted of seeds, and a very small amount of agricultural machinery and equipment, certain spare parts, fuel oil, binder twine, bags and fertilizers and sprays. They were all requested by General Eisenhower. Some of them began to get over there way back in early spring, and arrived in time for the harvest in June and July. The remainder of it, especially the seeds, will arrive in time for fall planting this year, for harvest next year. They will produce many times their own weight in foodstuffs. The total tonnage of all of these is 15,000 tons—a ship and a half. Food imports into North Africa have stopped entirely since the first of July. In other words, they are self-sustaining. Many thousand tons of local fruits and vegetables and meats have been delivered to the British and American forces for local consumption, on a reverse lend-lease basis, and without payment. That means without our paying anything for them…. In the coming year 1944, these harvests in North Africa, aided by mounting agricultural help and a year of peaceful cultivation, should greatly ease the strain on the United States. And incidentally, in saying that, I mean that we won’t have to ship as many food products out of the United States as we would have otherwise. It works both ways.”[Press Conference # 923, 19 October 1943 in Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt, vol. XII ed. Samuel I. Rosenman (New York, 1950), 434-435.]


Addendum One: Not enough mention of the French in it

F.D.R.’s invitation to the Sultan was not his first attempt to communicate with him. A letter that he had drafted before leaving Washington for Morocco had its own intricate and theatrical story: it exposed a complex of staged rivalries which would animate both the dinner projected for the 22nd and many variously nation-building international discussions that it would in turn provoke.

Ironically, this first letter miscarried because of the same unofficial and potentially subversive Franco-American diplomatic alliance which had encouraged Roosevelt to send his invitation to the Sultan. Two decades later, Robert Murphy who had served as Roosevelt’s personal representative in North Africa would provide the back-story: “Patton, partly because of his supreme self-confidence and partly by force of circumstances, took [it] upon himself to become an independent policymaker in Morocco as well as the field commander… One example of Patton’s amiable attitude towards Noguès was not publicly known at the time, but it created something of a problem for me. The White House cabled that Roosevelt had not received any answer to the message he had dispatched for delivery on D-Day” — of TORCH, the American invasion of North Africa, not the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France a year-and-a-half later – ”to the Sultan of Morocco, expressing hope for the Sultan’s friendly support of our expedition. Although the American government did not oppose the French protectorate in Morocco, it maintained unusually close relations with the Sultan’s government. Morocco was the only place in the world where, by agreement with the Sultan, the United States still retained extraterritorial privileges. [3] So the Sultan’s failure to reply to the President’s letter was strange indeed, and I sent ‘Vice Consul’ Pendar to Casablanca and Rabat to investigate. After some difficulty, he discovered that Roosevelt’s message had been pigeon-holed because Noguès did not like its tone. [4] Noguès feared that under the circumstances it might encourage the Sultan to feel more independent in his relations with the French. When Pendar explained to Patton what had happened, and showed him the President’s letter, the general read the message carefully and commented: ‘I don’t like it either. Not enough mention of the French in it.’ Patton began to insert additions of his own, ignoring Pendar’s protest that nobody should change a President’s message without the President’s consent. Patton replied impatiently that he would take full responsibility in this matter. Pendar described the situation to me by long-distance telephone. Only after some additional delay and some prodding from Allied Force Headquarters did the American and the French generals, who were equally reluctant to do so, belatedly deliver President Roosevelt’s letter in its original wording to the Sultan. [Robert Murphy, Diplomat Among Warriors (New York, 1964), 191,193] .[5]

The possibility of unique diplomatic intimacy between the President of the United States and the Sultan of Morocco had been symbolized by then for more than a century by extraterritorial privilege. But considerable further improvisational SYMBOL-izing by Roosevelt would be required to protect it from a military subordinate’s similarly extemporized provisional French alliance.


Addendum Two: A man of character and force: a great man

You can find a more explicit and detailed rendering of the Sultan’s interest in his people’s welfare in notes jotted by American Brigadier General Wilbur after he served as interpreter for a secret exchange on 23 January: the day between the dinner and the press conference, between Grand Vizier el Mokhri—accompanied by Si Mammeri, the Sultan’s childhood teacher who now served as his Chef de Protocol — and Harry Hopkins.

El Mokhri began by offering what can now serve as both a realistic counter-balancing and an even melodramatic confirmation in advance of the account published a decade and a half later by a third Moroccan guest, the 14 year-old Crown Prince who would become Hassan II. The Grand Vizier: “The Sultan is worried. He has welcomed the arrival of U.S. troops with joy; but will the joy continue? What are the intentions of the U.S. in regard to Morocco? What relations are to be established with the U.S.? In order to determine his future policy the Sultan would like to know the permanent policy of the U.S. in regard to Morocco…Morocco is greatly in need of supplies of certain foods, clothing, machines, etc. The prestige of the U.S. has been drawn into the question somewhat as there have been statements to the effect that needed goods would arrive. It is hoped that the very evident needs of Morocco can be supplied at an early date. The Sultan is certain that the war will end in a victory or the U.S. This victory will be followed by a treaty of peace. When the time comes to discuss the conditions of the peace it is the Sultan’s intention to throw himself in the arms of Mr. Roosevelt. Provided Mr. Roosevelt will accept him and his country.” [FRUS, 702] Talk about hurling symbols—though unlike the unconditional surrender of Germany, Italy, and Japan to be announced by Roosevelt the next day as Atlantic Allies’ war goal, this islam would be explicitly conditional and pacific. “If Mr. Roosevelt accepts, the Sultan proposes to hold a plebiscite of his people. The Sultan is certain that all his people both in French and Spanish Morocco will be in agreement and wish to place their future in M. Roosevelt’s hands.”

El Mokhri certainly  made it sound as though the Sultan was eager to set in motion unprecedented because post-colonial democratic processes: to engage the Moroccan people in implementing their side of the bargain sketched by a President famous around the globe for his passionate compassion. Roosevelt had projected Four Freedoms on the Christian Feast of the Epiphany 1941, seven months before co-composing the Atlantic Charter with – and against – a Prime Minister who had himself become famous for insisting that he would not preside over the dissolution of the British Empire: “The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world. The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.”

And on 23 January 1943 Harry Hopkins responded in kind, with his own small masterpiece of counter-balancing high ambition with pragmatic realism: “In the past armies have come into countries and after peace was restored have remained under one pretext or another. The American army will not remain in Morocco. Powerful countries have exploited smaller countries; wealth and resources have been siphoned out for the benefit of the powerful country. Mr. Hopkins wished the G.V. to assure the Sultan that it is not the intention of the U.S. to exploit Morocco. It is hoped that closer economic relations can be established as airplanes and improved sea transport will bring the two countries closer together. The President feels that many peoples of the world have not had their rightful share of the good things of the world. He feels that they can and will have them after the victory has been gained. The President feels that there is no reason to change the present government of Morocco and has no intention of forcing other changes on any people.”

Given that the present—French – government had been forced upon the country and was in no way prepared to help Morocco to its fair share of the good things of the world, it may not have been very comforting for the Sultan to hear through his Grand Vizier that Roosevelt’s principles would prevent America from replacing France in North Africa. Yet this was counter-balanced by Hopkins’ confirmation of the President’s projection at table of close economic relations and technologically enhanced intimacy with Morocco: a prospect which could easily have had the galvanizing effect that Hassan II would later attribute to it, encouraging the Sultan and his progressive political allies to solve the French problem on their own.

Hopkins closes by deftly summarizing the President’s habit of grounding the several high ambitions of SYMBOL in realistic acceptance of a need for endless improvisation: “Casablanca was selected for the conference somewhat by chance. It should prove beneficial to Morocco for it has enabled the President to see Morocco and meet the Sultan. The President has been profoundly impressive, and his visit will be of great benefit for he has become a warm friend of the Sultan and his country.”

Yet an earlier moment in the conversation had raised another – and far less discussed – aspect of the surprisingly strong rapport established on the previous evening between the President of a continent-wide nation that the war was making the most powerful in the world, and the still primarily symbolic leader of a French “protectorate.” Far from the least interesting component of this backstage colloquy was Hopkins’  fielding of the old diplomat’s characteristically circular opening of a Jewish variant of the American question. Grand Vizier: “The Jews have never been the predominant people in Morocco. In numbers and influence they have always been definitely second. They have been well treated by the Moslems. When the German Armistice Commission arrived in Morocco they at first insisted that the Jews in Morocco should be treated the same as they are in Germany. This the Sultan steadfastly refused to do. The existing situation has been the result of centuries of living together. The Moslems need the Jews and the Jews need the Moslems.”

Only at first hearing may this resonant formulation be diminished by El Mokhri’s realistic counter-point: “There is no Jewish question in Morocco and will be none if matters are left as they are now. Some Jews thought that the arrival of U.S. troops would mean the placing of Jews in positions of authority over the Moslems. This must not be.”

It was of course still far from being time yet for either dinner partner on 22 January 1943 – each necessarily a master of counterpoint – to attempt to realize the President’s spirit-raising projections of direct Moroccan-American cooperation. In order to win the war in the Mediterranean and then take it to the heart of Nazi Fortress Europe, F.D.R. needed political stability in North Africa as much as Churchill, a passionate spokesman for empire. And the young Sultan needed to maintain status quo ante if his small nation were indeed to become a partner which could hold its own with so vastly disproportionate an economic power as the United States—and if he were himself to continue preventing Vichy France from using his Jewish subjects to propitiate its own far mightier, and far from benign, so-called ally in Berlin.

Hopkins, however, made a point of focusing on the distinctively high moral ground which both realist-symbolists, the future Mohammed V as well as Roosevelt, would continue to cultivate, leading their bodies politic towards active participation in such mutually beneficial gardening projects as they had discussed at table. “The President is aware of the difficulties now confronting Morocco. He realizes the situation the Sultan was in when the German Armistice Commission attempted to force him to comply with their demands. The Sultan proved himself to be a man of character and force and the President honors him for it and knows him to be a great man.”



1   FRUS 701 has “Mammeri” as does a 26 June 1943 airgram from Robert Murphy to the Secretary of State (FRUS, 742) assigning him a double role that confirms McCrea: “his official interpreter and protocol officer.”

Two historians who have written about Mohammed ben Youssef’s skillful balancing of the respective concerns of his Jewish and his Muslim subjects provide informative background regarding Si Mammeri—and his own personal and political counter-balancing for thee decades of Grand Vizier el Mokhri, whom he would accompany to the secret meeting on the following day discussed here. Michel Abitbol, Histoire du Maroc (Paris: Perrin, 2009): “Né le 10 août 1911 à Fès et n’ayant par conséquent aucun souvenir antérieur au Protectorat, Sidi Mohammed [ben Youssef] fut laissé par son père à Fès lorsque la cour se transporta à Rabat en 1912. Replié sur lui-même, il fut confié à l’Algérien Si Mohammed Mammeri qui se chargea de son éducation arabe et religieuse et lui enseigna quelques rudiments de français… Écarté depuis sa naissance des affaires du Makhzen, pieux et modeste, il ignorait tout de la tâche qu’il aurait à remplir en montant sur le trône. Tout ce qu’il savait, c’est que la Résidence n’avait accepté son accession au pouvoir que pour mieux renforcer la tutelle française sur son pays. Elle pouvait compter à ce sujet sur le concours de l’indéracinable grand vizir Mohammed al-Moqri, qui n’avait jamais aimé Mohammed V. (Bien que le sultan Mohammed b. Youssef ne soit devenu le roi Mohammed V qu’en 1956, nous utilisons ce denier titre, pour nous conformer à l’usage courant au Maroc.) Conscient de sa faiblesse, Mohammed V évita toute confrontation inutile avec le résident général. Il put néanmoins se débarasser du chambellan Ababou, qui lui avait préferé son frère, et nommer à sa place son fidèle Si Mammeri, qui allait rester à ses côtés durant toute sa vie.  A partir de 1934, il réussit à se dégager de l’emprise envahissante du grand vizir Mohammed el-Moqri…. Sans éveiller les soupçons de la Résidence, il fit entrer dans le cercle de ses proches, aux côtés de son fidèle précepteur et chambellan Mammeri des personnalités connues pour leurs idées nationalistes.” [448-449]

Robert Assaraf, Mohammed V et Les Juifs de Maroc à l’époque de Vichy (Paris: Plon, 1997) 65-66: “Avec un minimum d’égards pour son rang, on confie son éducation à un modeste précepteur, Si Mammeri, un Kabyle d’Algérie, fervent admirateur de la France et pieux musulman, qui inculqera au jeune prince des rudiments d’arabe, de français et de calcul. Dans cette éducation plutôt rudimentaire, l’enseignement du Coran tient une place prépondérante. Le fuure Mohammed V y acquerra une profonde piété et, en même temps qu’une soumission à la volonté divine, une grande force de caractère.”[498]

Finally, Abitbol provides particularly interesting background for the 23 January 1943 meeting which is the subject of this section: “Contraint… d’apposer sa signature sur les textes antijuifs que lui soumettait la Résidence, Sidi Mohammed assura de sa sympathie les notables juifs qui étaient venus lui rendre visite au cours des années 1941 et 1942, leur disant qu’il les considérait comme des Marocains à part entière et qu’on ne toucherait ni à leurs biens ni à leurs personnes. Une attitude qui agaça au plus haut point les autorités françaises, de moins en moins confiantes dans les sentiments “pro-français” du souverain, qui était entouré par ailleurs de collaborateurs affichant ouvertement leur antijudaïsme. L’un d’eux n’était autre que l’inoxydable grand vizir el-Moqri.” [491-92]

2 Elliott Roosevelt, As He Saw It (New York, 1946), 111-12.  Though Elliott Roosevelt was accused of not being a trustworthy witness by Churchill—whose own neo-imperialism was a primary target of As He Saw It, this account of F.D.R.’s table talk rhymes with many of the President’s excurses on economic development. See, for example, the press conference that Roosevelt gave on February 2, 1943, shortly after returning from Casablanca, Complete Presidential Press Conferences, vol. 21 #  876,106-07:  “I was very much interested in seeing the Firestone plantation [in Dakar]. They are doing a very excellent job in getting out rubber. The manager told me that they – I didn’t know anything about rubber more than you people do, but I know a little about it now. I saw it running out of trees – latex. Hitherto, they had taken this strip – diagonal strip around the tree in – in one direction. But now—nobody knows whether it will hurt the trees in the long run – they not only have the diagonal strip running down in one direction, but they are also putting on a diagonal strip that runs in the other direction.” The transcription indicates that the President demonstrated this with gestures, the lively-minded—and frequent-flying – paralytic embodying as much as he could his approach to global issues through detailed observation of local practices. “So they expect to increase their output of rubber this year from 16 or 18 – what? million pounds, to 22 or 3 million pounds from the same trees, by putting the other diagonal cut in the tree itself.” Roosevelt was offering the press a visually striking concrete example in order to get the American people to act upon what his son would report as a projection of cooperation in development over dinner with Mohammed ben Youssef. Reciprocally, Elliott’s rendering of a conversation over lunch in Casablanca the weekend before the dinner with the Sultan at Dar es Saada about possibilities for development in the Atlas Mountains makes his father sound very much the way he does in his enthusiastic remarks about Dakar in the transcript of the 2 February press conference: “Over coffee, he got back on the theme of the development of colonial areas, increasingly one of his favorite topics. For a man who had never been in Africa before, he had picked up an amazing amount of information, geographical, geological, agricultural. Of course, I thought I knew the country pretty well: I had flown over a good bit of it, months before, photographing it from the air. But somewhere he had had a chance to learn even more than I had. … He reminded us of the rivers that spring up in the Atlas Mountains, to the south, and disappear under the Sahara, to become subterranean rivers. ‘Divert this water for irrigation purposes? It’d make the Imperial Valley in California look like a cabbage patch… The Sahara would bloom for hundreds of miles!’ ” (Ibid., 85-86).

3   The web site of the Tangier American Legation ( provides the background for this, concluding with a flourish entirely relevant to SYMBOL—which it goes on to document with one of the photos of the Sultan on one side of FDR and the Prime Minister on the other, taken at Dar es Saada after the dinner which would in fact take place on 22 January 1943: “Morocco is the first country to recognize the United States, in December 1777. Through his representative in Tangier, the Sultan of Morocco informed a number of countries “including the Americans” that they were allowed to enter Moroccan ports without payment of duties or tariff. This constituted de facto recognition of the United States. George Washington established the first diplomatic mission to Morocco in December 1797 when an American Consulate was established in Tangier with the hope of ensuring the safe passage of American shipping into the Mediterranean. In 1821, the Moroccan ruler, Sid Suleiman, gave the United States, a building in the old medina of Tangier. The Moroccan rulers had given buildings in the Old Medina to other diplomatic missions in Morocco in order to encourage the diplomatic corps to deal with the Sultan’s representative, the Mendoub, who was assigned to Tangier. The Americans were the last country to receive the Sultan’s gift and the only country that held on to this site down to the present day. From 1821 to the end of the French and Spanish Protectorates in 1956, the American Legation in Tangier served as our diplomatic mission to Morocco…. During the Second World War, the international city of Tangier, was administered as a neutral city by General Franco of Spain.

4 According to Patton, it was he who didn’t like it originally—and he went on to consult a higher, though still well-hidden, power. See Martin Blumenson, The Patton Papers 1940-1945 (Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston 1974) 122: “Later that afternoon [Patton Diary 16 November 1942] “deputation form General Clark arrived with a letter for the Sultan from the President. It was patently not apropos”—it did not, in his opinion, mention the French in strong enough terms—“so I took the liberty of holding it. I will see Ike at Gib tomorrow [and explain]” Patton Diary, 17 November; Flew to Gib in one hour 15 minutes 2 seconds…Ike lives in a cave in the middle of the rock—in great danger. … I was disappointed in him. He talked of trivial things…Ike backed me up about letter to Sultan.”

5  In his 1945 book Adventure in Diplomacy: The Emergence of General de Gaulle in North Africa 1945/1966 Cassell and Co. Ltd London Kenneth Pendar vividly rendered the difficulties that he encountered in Morocco in November 1942: “I left by plane with a copy of the original letter in my pocket… (This was the letter I had given Vice-Consul Mayer before the landings to be given to Noguès just before zero hour on D-Day. [sic] Noguès had refused to see Mayer, and therefore, the document had been given to a Residency official to be passed on to Noguès and by him to the Sultan. This Noguès had not done.) I explained my errand and waited as Patton read the letter through, scowling, and said, “I don’t like it, do you?” I answered that I thought I was an excellent letter, “There’s not enough mention of the French in it,” Patton said. “You see, General,” I explained, “the letter originally was accompanied by a letter for General Noguès and the request that he hand this one on to the Sultan. There was no need to mention the French, for we were asking their own Resident General to deliver this letter.” Patton leaned back and said: “Read it to me.” I read it aloud while he listened, When I had finished, he said again: “No, I don’t like it.” He took the letter and began to insert additions of his own. Then, he asked me if I didn’t think he had improved it. I muttered something about not feeling that any of us had the right to edit a President’s letter without his knowledge. “God damn it,” said Patton, banging the desk. “I’ll take full responsibility for this letter.” “Very well, sir, I shall tell Mr. Murphy when we telephone tonight,” I said. Patton looked up glowering. “God damn it,” said Patton, “I won’t have you or any other goddam fool talking about this letter on the phone. Don’t you know the wires are tapped?” “Yes, sir, I do,” I replied, “They’ve been tapped for the last year and a half.”.. Murphy telephoned me that night that there had been another cable from Washington about the Sultan’s letter. He said I was to see Patton again the next day, and ask him to find out immediately if the original letter had ever been delivered. With my courage firmly in both hands, I did so. When I explained why I was there again, his rage was magnificent. “I told you I didn’t want this document on the phone,” he bellowed, and with a few more “godammits” assured me that he would take full responsibility in the matter of the letter. “Then communicate with my superior, Ambassador Murphy,“ I said, “and tell him as much.” Patton suddenly and unexpectedly reversed field. “You know, Pendar, my bark is worse than my bite,“ he said, with a charming smile, and buzzed for an aide. When he did solve the great letter mystery it turned out, of course, that it had never been delivered. The “mislaid” letter was soon delivered by the Residency to the Sultan.” [121-2]

Pendar comments further on theatrical elements in the relationship between Noguès and Patton: “The whole situation had an Alice in Wonderland quality after the landings. Noguès, having finally decided to cooperate with us, was being utterly charming to the American generals, and had won their hearts with dazzling displays of French military style and gold braid, Arab horsemanship, French cooking and general colonial razzle-dazzle, French and American officers began to mingle happily at marvellous parties given by Patton’s political advisor, Vice-Consul Culbert, in his magnificently modern apartment in Casablanca. There was a great deal of gaiety, which seemed incongruous with men fighting in Tunisia, and yet was right and even necessary if the French and Americans were to get to know and trust each other. At the top strode Patton, rattling his great pistols and thoroughly enjoying his own rages.” [123]






One Response to “To improve the conditions of living in these parts– it works both ways”

  1. I have a original picture of the Sultan of morocco named Mohammed V , full name of Sidi Mohammed Ben Yousset seated in the picture with his white robe .1945 April 15 three days after the death Of Franklin d. Roosevelt. Also in the picture are american soldiers and also french soldiers and my great grandfather Paul Cannac seated with very inportant people of france . My mother was born in Morocco in 1920, please let me know if this is of any value. Its about 67 years old. This is a very inportant time in History and this picture shows how much french and americans loved Roosevelt, my great grandfather was a beautiful person, and I was so proud of him and loved him very much.

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