Showing the Consular Flag in Tangier

TALIM Consular flagIt's been a while since there were American Consuls in Tangier.  The US Consular Flag (left) dates back to 1777, which happens to be the year that the Moroccan Sultan took note of "les américains" among Morocco's trading partners.  The first American consuls appeared in Tangier in the 1790s.

The Consulate General of Tangier closed in the 1980s, so the American community of Tangier was pleased to attend the Town Hall meeting at the Legation last Thursday, where Casablanca Consul General Brian Shukan brought Consul Mark Ellis and Regional Security Officer (RSO) Stefan Merino to explain services offered to American citizens.

The Legation also served as a venue for the meeting of OSAC, the Morocco chapter of the Overseas Security Advisory Council, a State Department initiative which serves as a clearinghouse for security information and best practice for American companies and institutions abroad.  For the American citizens he addressed afterwards, the RSO offered advice on security awareness for the generally safe streets of Tangier.

Consul Mark Ellis briefed the group on the wide range of services offered to American citizens in Morocco, and even did a few notarizations for attendees.  The American community here is very heterogeneous, and ranges from young NGO volunteers to business professionals to retirees, some of whom have lived here for decades.  An important segment of the community includes Moroccan-Americans.

As Consul General Shukan – active in AMCHAM, the American Chamber of Commerce in Morocco – outlined, with the growth of major industrial infrastructure linked to Tangier Med Port, the Free Zone, and the forthcoming high speed train (TGV) line, the concentration of Americans in Tangier is likely to increase.

We're glad that the Legation can still serve as a meeting place for "AMCITS," and that the US Embassy in Rabat and the Consulate General in Casablanca see the Legation as a natural venue for a wide variety of programs, from cultural to commercial to consular.

Gerald Loftus 

Play It Again, In Casablanca

TALIM MOROCCO HOLLYWOOD condensedAs we (we, as in Dar America and Villa des Arts) did with Patton, the "Morocco In Hollywood" series continued with a showing of Casablanca, the classic 1942 film that counts among many people's top-rated films of all time.  How to present Casablanca to Casawis?

One way is to tell them that the film should have been called "Tangier…"  No, I didn't actually say that, but did tell them about the real-life "Dean's Bar" and the wartime reality of Tangier as a haven for refugees from war torn Europe.

So after enjoying the film for the nth time (I never tire of it), we settled down to a discussion of the context of Casablanca.  For many in the audience, Moroccan Casawis (inhabitants of Casablanca) in the majority, it was their first time seeing the film; for others, the first time seeing it in the original English with French subtitles.

Our little trivia contest didn't disappoint.  Q: Which cast member was the subject of a Gestapo assasination plot?  A: Conrad Veidt, eminent actor and exile from Nazi Germany, who, ironically, plays German villain Major Heinrich Strasser in the film.

People are still astounded that Casablanca was shot entirely in a Hollywood studio, and that today's "re-creation" of Rick's Café Américain in Casa is as fictitious – and as seductively beautiful – as the original.  The film has given its namesake city its brand – just Google "Casablanca" and the film trumps the city by far – and "Rick's Cafés" are found in places as widespread as Capetown South Africa and Starkville Missisippi.

Casawis are vaguely aware of this, and sometimes have to ward off wondrous comments from foreign acquaintances who imagine them rubbing elbows with the likes of Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains.  No, they answer, we just live in a sprawling crazy metropolis of 4 (or is it 13?) million people suffocating from automobile and other pollution.  But they are happy with the reflected romanticism from this 71 year old film.

TALIM Loftus Villa des Arts JPEG

Gerald Loftus at Villa des Arts, Casablanca. Photo by Vanessa Paloma

Another major disconnect in film vs. reality was in the context between the United States and France between 1940 and 1944.  For four long years, official US policy was to maintain relations with the Vichy government of Maréchal Pétain or, after those relations were severed by the American landings in North Africa, with Vichy successors in place in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia.  Until late 1944, well after the Normandy landings and the liberation of Paris, US policy could be summed up as "ABDG" – Anybody But de Gaulle."  And anything to keep the French fleet from falling into the hands of Germany.

But this wouldn't have been apparent to the huge (upwards of 90 million tickets per week) American movie-going public of 1942-43.  Premiering only three weeks after the November 8, 1942 Operation Torch landings, Casablanca is unabashedly anti-Vichy, to the point where Pétain's portrait smiles down on a Free French agent being gunned down by Vichy police in the street, and where – in case you didn't get it – a bottle of "Vichy water" is unceremoniously thrown into the trash bin at the end of the film.

Very rousing, and you'd have to be a hard-hearted stoic not to get a lump in your throat at the jousting "Watch On the Rhine" sung by Nazis vs. "La Marseillaise" belted out by the Rick's crowd – the latter winning out in volume and passion.  But as Richard Raskin, writing in Film History, noted:

At the time Casablanca was playing in movie theatres across the U.S., men like Victor Laszlo were hunted down by the police of Darlan and Giraud, the French High Commissioners kept in power by Roosevelt.

"Casablanca and United States Foreign Policy," Dr. Richard Raskin, Aarhus University Denmark, Film History, Volume 4, 1990.

Despite OWI's (the US propaganda arm, Office of War Information) enthusiasm for the film ("presents an excellent picture of the spirit of the underground movement…"), the Free French found a less welcoming stance on the ground in North Africa, where OWI – perhaps worried about that bottle of Vichy water – didn't want Casablanca to be screened.

70-plus years later, we can sweep away the details of history, perhaps, and lull ourselves into thinking that Rick and Capitaine Renault do go off to battle Nazis together, that "beginning of a beautiful friendship."

General de Gaulle – who liked the film too, and ordered a copy for his Free French HQ in London – would have to wait until October 1944 to finally achieve US recognition.  But don't let that get in the way of your enjoying what still may be the perfect film of all time.

Gerald Loftus

“Because this is his country” – FDR & Mohammed V

TALIM Anfa poster

Note: Below are remarks by TALIM Director Gerald Loftus at the January 15 conference commemorating the 70th anniversary of the historic Casablanca – or Anfa, after the hotel where it happened – conference in the aftermath of the Allied landings in North Africa.  A subsequent post will address other parts of the week-long commemoration.

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This panel is charged with considering the past 7 decades, so you will excuse me if I start by looking back a few more years to provide a context of Moroccan-US ties before the Anfa Conference.  I want to focus on American contacts with Moroccan nationalists, pre-independence.  These were at times fragmentary and constrained by diplomatic realities, but nonetheless were an important element in Morocco’s transition from nationalist movement to national governance.

With the Treaty of Fez in 1912, the US at first did not recognize the Protectorate; it was only the French-US alliance in World War I that led to recognition.  After all, the US and Morocco had just, in 1905, elevated their longstanding consular and commercial relations to full diplomatic relations.  In the 1920s, American popular opposition to the Rif War resulted in a French ploy to win over American public opinion: the recreation of the “Lafayette Escadrille” – American pilots who had enrolled in the French Air Force even before US entry into World War I – recreated under the name “l’Escadrille Cherifienne,” the forerunner of the Moroccan Air Force.  The move backfired: the US forbade its citizens to enter a war in which it was neutral, and the Escadrille was disbanded.

In an ironic twist, after less than twenty years, US preparations for the Allied landings in North Africa – Operation Torch in November 1942 – were preceded by OSS agents at the American Legation in Tangier cultivating some of those same Rifian rebels who had been bombarded by the Escadrille Americans.  Why?  Because the Allies feared that General Franco – aided in the Spanish Civil War by Hitler and Mussolini – would join the Axis cause and attack the Torch forces from the Spanish Protectorate.

OSS agent and anthropologist Carleton Coon created a network of Rifian rebels, ready to rise up against the Spanish should they enter the war.  Spain remained officially neutral, and the plan was never enacted.  Tangier Legation Charge d’Affaires J. Rives Childs worried about this OSS officer suffering from “delusions of filling the role of a second Lawrence of Arabia” with his “propaganda work” among Moroccans.  This reached its crescendo when Coon set up shop in Fez “that nerve center of Arab nationalism,” which made French Resident General Nogues livid.  Coon had his say about Childs' overly diplomatic stance in "A North Africa Story," his memoir of his wartime OSS days.

Childs was concerned that seeming US involvement with “undermining France’s position with the native population… could provoke internal disturbances and give a pretext to the Axis to intervene in Morocco for the purpose of preserving order.”  Childs was scrupulously diplomatic: “It was not possible for me to decline to receive Moroccan officials, but whenever I had occasion to entertain them at the Legation, the French Consul General in Tangier was always invited at the same time.”

Despite his concerns over the OSS covert work, Childs ran into difficulties of his own over contacts, in the wartime 1940s, with Moroccan nationalists.  His deputy, David Fritzlan, recalled his time in Tangier:

I had contacts with several political dissidents. Tangier was the abode of any Moroccan from the French zone, or the Spanish zone, who was out of favor. These people could come to Tangier, and there they were relatively safe. Wanting support for their cause, they'd come to the Legation and wind up in my office. The French representative complained strongly about my receiving these Moroccan nationalists but Childs [and his successor] made it plain that we were not closing our doors to anybody.

Fritzlan wrote that these nationalists “later became leaders in the Moroccan government after independence.”

Fritzlan agreed that “during the war nobody wanted to rock the boat” with the French allies, but that contacts with Moroccan nationalists picked up after the war ended.  The Legation’s “despatches on the Moroccan nationalists' activities, their aims, their aspirations, their suppression by the French, were viewed with great hostility by the [American] Embassy in Paris,” according to Fritzlan.

British writer Robin Maugham, in his “North African Notebook,” observed that in 1947 Morocco, “every nationalist we met spoke of the Atlantic Charter; they still believed in the promises of freedom from fear and want which it contained.”  The 1941 Atlantic Charter agreed on by Roosevelt and Churchill had hinted at self-determination for colonized peoples.

And for the ultimate in American-Moroccan pre-independence discussions, there is President Roosevelt and his dinner on 22 January 1943 in Anfa in honor of then-Sultan Mohammed V.  As John Erwin writes in his book – nearing completion – entitled Virtuoso Citizens: Mahlers Roosevelts Gandhis Mohammeds:

As Eleanor Roosevelt would recall her husband telling her, when Prime Minister [Churchill] asked the President why he was organizing a dinner at his villa for Sidi Mohammed he gave F.D.R. the chance to state what was obvious to him but certainly not to either Churchill any more than his French partner in Empire: “…because this is his country.” Yet with unintentionally prophetic irony, the most passionate British spokesman for Empire had assigned to the wartime [Anfa/Casablanca] summit the open, generic code name SYMBOL.

Whatever heat American diplomats in Tangier would take from Paris for contacts with Moroccan nationalists, the dinner would indeed come to symbolize what was just a matter of time: the resumption, along with full Moroccan sovereignty, of direct Moroccan-American relations, just as Sultan Sidi Muhammad ibn 'Abd Allah had intended back in 1777 when he recognized “les Americains.”

Gerald Loftus