Monday, August 27, 2012

Casablanca - A Brazilian Footnote

The conference took place between the 14th and the 24th of January, 1943.

Winston Churchill proposed it.

 The location selected was the Anfa Hotel in the Moroccan city of Casablanca.

Stalin was invited to come, but refused, claiming he had his hands full with Stalingrad.

Both Charles de Gaulle and Henri Giraud were there, each of them claiming to speak for the Free French. The two Frenchmen hated each other, and although President Franklin D. Roosevelt convinced them to shake hands for the cameras, their mutual dislike still comes through in the photographs.

As for Roosevelt himself, he got there with the help of the Brazilians.

 And a spectacular piece of aeronautical machinery, the Boeing 314, the longest-range aircraft of its time.

Roosevelt was no stranger to Brazil. He’d been the first serving American President to visit the country when he came to address the Brazilian congress in Rio de Janeiro in November of 1936. That led to an alliance in which the United States was permitted to establish a base for the 314s in the closest place on this side of the Atlantic to the African landmass. It was christened Parnamirim Field, became vital in the effort to supply allied troops during the invasion of North Africa and grew, for a short time, to be the busiest airport in the world, with flights taking off and landing every three minutes.

It also became the largest US airbase outside of American territory.

During the war as many as 5,000 troops were stationed there – and another 42,000 passed through – making a considerable impact on a little town that had numbered only 55,000 inhabitants before the war began.

Here are a few American military guys drinking at the Grand Hotel.

The hotel is gone, but the church you saw in the background of the shot is still there.

During the war, as in all wars, there were many love stories.

Inspiring the poet Mauro Mota to write this:

“Meninas, tristes meninas,
vossos dramas recordai,
quando eles no armistício,
Vos disseram “Goodbye”.
Ouvireis a vida toda
A ressonancia do choro
Dos vossos filhos sem pai”.

Despite the impression you might have gotten from Elizabeth Barrett Browning, whose Sonnets From The Portuguese aren’t from the Portuguese at all, most of this country’s poems aren’t easy to translate into English. The art of it goes beyond my meager powers, particularly in rhyme.
But here’s the meaning (with a few liberties):

Women, sad young women,
Think back on your desolation
When, at the war’s end,
They told you “Goodbye”.
The cries of your children
Without fathers
Will echo within you
Your whole life long.

Roosevelt’s outward-bound journey was the first time an American president ever traveled by air while in office. On the twelfth of January, 1943, he departed from Miami and made an overnight stop in Belem.

Upon his return, his Clipper landed in the sea, near Parnamirim, and Brazil’s President, Gitulio Vargas, journeyed north to meet him.

They toured the town in a jeep.

On his journey home, on the 30th of January, 1943, the aircraft’s crew surprised him with a cake.

It was the President’s sixty-first birthday.

Okay, okay, in case you feel the title of the post has lured you here under false pretenses, here are a few things you might not have known about the film.

It went into general release on the 24th of January, just as the conference was coming to an end. That was on purpose, an attempt to capitalize on the headlines. It wasn't exactly a failure, but it wasn't a smash success either. It became only the seventh best-grossing feature of the year. The Office of War Information prohibited showing it to the troops in North Africa, fearing it might generate resentment on the part of Vichy supporters in the region.

But, partly as a result of publicity generated by Roosevelt’s visit, it did very well in Brazil.

Leighton - Monday


  1. How cool is that!

    Unfortunately, the US and the UK picked the wrong side in the de Gaulle and Giraud rivalry. De Gaulle never forgot.

  2. Pretty remarkable, in and of itself, and for me to learn about this. Why does South America feel like a postscript to the historians of North America?

  3. Hi Leigh, About de Gaulle: so true, but he was hardly an easy fellow to get along with anyway.

    Lil, I have often asked myself the same question. It's getting harder to ignore though. Did you know that Brazil is now the sixth economy in the world?

  4. South American history is so ignored. But so is African and Asian. Even when, as in this fascinating case, it intimately interconnects with European and North American History. We are insular and parochial, regardless of how open and global we pretend we are.

  5. Fascinating piece of history and wonderful pictures - thanks for posting.

  6. I thank you for being so kind as to post a piece that made me realize my 11 hour flight yesterday was a breeze compared to the days/daze of 314s between Brazil and Africa.