Vichy France and Eisenhower

Eisenhower’s moral reasoning in handling the Darlan situation involved several key principles of a ‘traditional ethic’ for the military profession. Specifically, Eisenhower demonstrated ‘service to country subordinating personal interest to mission accomplishment’ and ‘promoted and safeguarded the welfare of subordinates’ in making decisions regarding this politically sensitive case. Eisenhower was well aware going into the Torch campaign of the strategic significance of allied victory in the early stages of the war.
The potential for French reaction and Vichy government resistance to invasion of their North African colonies was all too real. Eisenhower clearly understood that Darlan would be a key strategic ‘center of gravity’ for controlling potential Vichy resistance. As Churchill noted, “Kiss Darlan’s stern if you have to, but get the French Navy”(page 354). As a result, the Darlan deal Eisenhower orchestrated resulted in a cease-fire agreement between French and Allied forces in exchange for appointing Darlan as military governor or high commissioner of North Africa, much to the outrage of the British and American governments.
In analyzing Eisenhower’s moral reasoning in getting to such a deal, there are two specific principles of the ‘traditional ethic’ to consider. The first is the principle of service to country where personal interests are subordinate to requirements of the profession and to mission accomplishments. Eisenhower was given orders from his civilian bosses, to include FDR, to ‘use whatever means necessary to resolve the French problem’. He accordingly knew that Darlan, once the Giraud option failed, was his only option.

He understood the decision on the deal would be politically controversial but that to accomplish the mission, it was necessary. In this case, Eisenhower demonstrated the moral courage to make a tough decision where ‘leadership would not equate to likership” and he expected that criticism would ensue. The second moral principle Eisenhower demonstrated was to promote and safeguard the welfare of his subordinates as persons, not merely as
Soldiers, Sailors or Airmen. Here Eisenhower kept in mind what he needed to do to save the lives of his men, not the careers of statesmen. He maintained a Soldier’s perspective, not a political perspective. With regards to Darlan, he knew “this guy can stop the fighting and nobody else can” (page 355). He also understood that winning the favor of Darlan would directly impact the success of Torch by allowing uncontested access to key terrain and facilities.
For example, he knew that use of airfields at Tunis and Bizerte, both French controlled, would help achieve overarching goals in North Africa and again save the lives of his men. On the surface, Eisenhower’s actions in handling the Darlan deal may point to poor and hasty decision making from a novice Allied Commander early in the war. Further analysis reveals Eisenhower’s skills and ethical reasoning were largely at play. Ultimately, he believed the deal would save the lives of his men, accomplish the mission and he was willing to assume risk and accept blame for it.

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