[Footnote A: The loss of Morocco would inevitably have been followed by that of the whole of French North Africa.]
General Lyautey took forty-eight hours to consider. He then decided to “empty the egg without breaking the shell”, and the reply he sent was that of a great patriot and a great general. In effect he said: “I will give you all the troops you ask, but instead of abandoning the interior of the country I will hold what we have already taken, and fortify and enlarge our boundaries.” No other military document has so nearly that ring as Marshal Foch’s immortal Marne despatch (written only a few weeks later): “My centre is broken, my right wing is wavering, the situation is favorable and I am about to attack.”
General Lyautey had framed his answer in a moment of patriotic exaltation, when the soul of every Frenchman was strung up to a superhuman pitch. But the pledge once made, it had to be carried out, and even those who most applauded his decision wondered how he would meet the almost insuperable difficulties it involved. Morocco, when he was called there, was already honeycombed by German trading interests and secret political intrigue, and the fruit seemed ready to fall when the declaration of war shook the bough. The only way to save the colony for France was to keep its industrial and agricultural life going, and give to the famous “business as usual” a really justifiable application.
General Lyautey completely succeeded, and the first impression of all travellers arriving in Morocco two years later was that of suddenly returning to a world in normal conditions. There was even, so complete was the illusion, a first moment of almost painful surprise on entering an active prosperous community, seemingly absorbed in immediate material interests to the exclusion of all thought of the awful drama that was being played out in the mother country, and it was only on reflection that this absorption in the day’s task, and this air of smiling faith in the future, were seen to be Morocco’s truest way of serving France.
For not only was France to be supplied with provisions, but the confidence in her ultimate triumph was at all costs to be kept up in the native mind. German influence was as deep-seated as a cancer: to cut it out required the most drastic of operations. And that operation consisted precisely in letting it be seen that France was strong and prosperous enough for her colonies to thrive and expand without fear while she held at bay on her own frontier the most formidable foe the world has ever seen. Such was the “policy of the smile,” consistently advocated by General Lyautey from the beginning of the war, and of which he and his household were the first to set the example.
The General had said that he would not “break the egg-shell”; but he knew that this was not enough, and that he must make it appear unbreakable if he were to retain the confidence of the natives.