Morocco Has Entered the War


By Charles Wellington Furlong

[The World's Work, January 1916]

Morocco has declared war on Germany! The "war extras" might have announced this in flaring captions months ago, but the eyes of the press were fixed on the deadlock of the western front, focused toward the great German drive at Warsaw, with but a side glance at the Dardanelles, the great focal point of the war. Little thought was given to happenings in Morocco, where, twice within the last decade, the match which might have set the present conflagration going some years ago was all but scratched.

It may well be asked how Morocco could so quietly declare war on Germany and how such an important "scoop" was lost to the press, I did not find it out until I had been in Morocco nearly two weeks. It happened this way:

Just as the last twilight moments hung over the Sok-de-Barra (Great Market), we dismounted just outside of Tangier. At my companion's invitation we entered the Austro-German Legation, passed under the shadowy shrubs and great trees of its gardens, now deathlike and still. This legation is now in charge of Mr. Maxwell Blake, the American chargé d'affaires.

The house was a palatial structure with tiled floors and ceilings of wood-carved arabesques. When Mr. Blake took it over, everything was going to rack and ruin. Now everything was well cared for—just as though the family were away for the summer.

"By international agreement at the Algeciras Conference, Tangier, together with the coast along the Straits, was made international, was it not?" I queried.

"Yes," replied my companion.

"How is it, then, that Tangier being international, the Germans have been ousted?"

"Well, you see, the present Sultan has declared war on Germany!"

"And the present Sultan is a product of the French?" I ventured. A smile was his only reply.

It was night when I passed through the Sok. Little lights glowed where a few Moors still sat and sold, or in near-by coffee booths, where contemplative figures squatted and fumed their long pipes. Some were seated cross-legged at checkers or chess. As I watched their deft moves with pawns, bishops, and knights, the taking or crowning of kings, and the intricate network of underlying strategy, it brought to mind that bigger game of political chess, played by the Powers of Europe with Morocco as the board, but played with living chessmen; the stakes—colonial empires, foreign policies, pan-nationalisms, and wars.

Scant consideration was shown the board upon which the game was played, it being yanked, pushed, scratched, and defaced. Intrigues there were—French, British, Spanish, and-German.

To understand the situation to-day, we must briefly look back over the game of yesterday and, for convenience, arbitrarily divide this European political chess tournament, held in Morocco, into a series of games, with special consideration to the last three, held from 1894-1904, 1904-1914, and 1914-19—? There were pawns, knights, bishops, and queens galore, but of particular interest were three of the kings—three Sultans of Morocco.

Two short months ago, from my saddle, I looked over hundreds of square miles of Morocco. Beyond a dark-shadowed, silhouetted edge of shrubbery and trees, Tangier, shore-lapped by a blue tongue of the Mediterranean, gleamed in brilliant iridescence. On the edge of Tangier, in a setting of gardens, lay the palace of the ex-Sultan, Abd-el-Aziz—unoccupied. In the middle distance, half smothered in trees and vines, lay the palace of another ex-sultan, also unoccupied. Several days' camel's-journey south, in the Sacred City of Marrakesh, is another palace, belonging to the present Sultan, Moulaï Youssef— which he occupies. About these three men the recent political history of Morocco has swirled and beat, in the maelstrom of internecine strife and of European foreign policy. Now for the story of the palaces.

Long before the 1894-1904 decade, Germany had been playing the game with France in Morocco. German agents mapped the country, German traders prospered, German influence grew. It is admitted that, at the death of Sultan Moulaï Hassan in 1894, it was the cable despatch from the German Emperor which placed Hassan's son, Abd-el-Aziz, on the throne, thus preventing France from seating there the descendant of the Shareef of Wazzan. These Shareefs are the religious potentates of Morocco, for whose favor France played. This cable despatch was the first move of the 1894-1904 decade.

The greatest loans to the Government meant the greater diplomatic control over the National Treasury, consequently over the national ports and customs, in which game France won out and Abd-el-Aziz became its protégé; so here enter, Sultan Number One.

Early the following year, Great Britain, to block Germany's aspirations, made a treaty with Aziz which culminated a group of treaties through the previous five years including France, Spain, and Morocco. These treaties established the principle that the coast (which included Sus and Agadir, where a few Germans had ensconced themselves) clear to Senegal, with the exception of Spanish territory, was under Moorish sovereignty. This extension was to complete the unchallenged encircling of Morocco by France, and the treaties provided that the French-Algerian-Saharan boundary merged with that of Morocco, or was separated from it by tribes which France was at liberty to take over when desired.

So the twentieth century found France, Great Britain, Germany, and Spain, with commercial interests in the order named, jealously watching one another in Morocco.

The Kaiser's 1894 cable despatch had thrown down the gauntlet. France, now backed by Great Britain, pursued its pénétration pacifique policy and extended its Algerian frontier into that country. Germany increased its consular agents, gave its ministry in Tangier greater importance, encouraged Germans to travel and explore the empire, and so rapidly overtook Great Britain in trade. Germany did not hesitate to assert its independence of all agreements from which it was excluded that were made by the three Powers who had monopolized Morocco.

Between German, French, and other loans, Abd-el-Aziz became swamped in debt. By 1903 all Morocco seethed with opposition and became convinced that Aziz had sold out to the French. This raised strong anti-Christian feeling which, the French claim, was fostered by German intrigue. So a tête-à-tête between Great Britain and France settled their rivalry, resulting in a mutual understanding, and one April morning in 1904 Europe found the Anglo-French Treaty an established fact, and all territorial questions upon which Great Britain and France had differed settled, including the adjustment of the Anglo-French-Moroccan difficulty by Britain's willingly conceding France a privileged position in Morocco and guaranteeing to support France in it for certain concessions from France in Egypt.

France at once undertook to induce Morocco to reform herself, but the turbulent Mohammedans of the Riff, and the Atlas didn't reform worth a sou.

Another year had scarcely passed when a Frenchman, Dr. Marchand, was murdered in Marrakesh. For this the French reprisaled by occupying the little town of Ujda, thus extending Algeria Fez-ward. This was immediately followed by a trivial riot in Casablanca, in which a few European navvies were killed by Moors. Here was France's opportunity to make its position clear and drive a wedge from the west, and France promptly sent French sailors scurrying to the attack through the Marine Gate of that port. A year's warfare in the district, with needless brutality, resulted.

That picturesque brigand, Rais Uli, dominated Northern Morocco and captured for ransom people of all nationalities but German. Tribe after tribe sprang to arms against the French. Simultaneously rebellion broke out under Moulaï Hafid against Sultan Abd-el-Aziz. France stood by her man; Germany by Hafid. By reason of the anti-Christian feeling, Hafid was recognized as sovereign by the Sacred College of Marrakesh, German merchants aided Hafid at every turn, and Germans traveled with safety between the coast and Fez, the capital,

In the midst of this turbulence in 1905, the German Kaiser suddenly appeared riding through the main street of Tangier to the cheers of the populace. Then he made a public speech "to all whom it might concern," the pith of which was that he regarded the Sultan as a free and independent sovereign, not bound to obey any foreign Power; he denounced sudden and sweeping reforms as undesirable in Morocco, but intimated that it was highly desirable that German interests should be safeguarded.

He gave Europe another shock by following his speech with a demand for a general European conference to settle Moroccan affairs. This was sudden and rude, and in direct defiance of Morocco's three neighbors, but Germany had a case, for she had been left out of the French-British-Spanish Moroccan arrangement. Germany succeeded in bringing about the Algeciras Conference in January, 1906. Germany meant to show that it could not be ignored and intended to feel out the scope of the Anglo-French agreements.

The ethics of international acquisition were on the side of France; the broad policy of international action on the side of Germany. Neither side cared a "tinker's damn" for the principles in the case. All knew that success ultimately rested with the Power willing to mobilize its army to secure its end.

The conference resulted in France's claim to special political interests being admitted as against the German claim of equality for all but an act-was drawn up "based on the threefold principle of the sovereignty and independence of the Sultan of Morocco, integrity of his dominions, and economic liberty for all comers."

So Germany, though, under a heavy handicap, again "toed the mark" for a fresh start with France in Morocco. At the time of the Anglo-French Treaty, the percentage of German trade in Morocco equalled nearly half that. of France and Algeria combined, and for many years previous Germany had been carrying on, as far as Morocco, with her numerous closed ports, would permit, a German trade propaganda, just as the other Powers were carrying on theirs, and, since the seventies, had possessed treaty rights with the other three Powers to maintain a military mission at the Sultan's Court; but the French mission only, through many Moroccan loans, had established its position.

Germany not only clandestinely backed Hafid, but made loans to Abd-el-Aziz and secured secret contracts for works in Tangier and Casablanca by local intrigue. It was but natural that the Kaiser's speech in Tangier should have inclined Moroccan sympathies Germanward. They had seen Algeria and Tunis come under the hand of the "infidel" Frank, had seen the introduction of "inventions of the Devil," and the country prosper. They felt it was their turn next. So, as my old friend Hadji told me the year of the Anglo-French Treaty:

"We have many guns and much ammunition buried under our houses and in our gardens, and when the French come, we shall fight." And when the French came, they did fight. In some parts of Morocco they are still fighting, and will fight again, but whence the guns and ammunition? Plenty of them found their way to Moulaï Hafid, and in February, 1908, he was proclaimed sovereign at Fez—enter, Sultan Number Two.

Abd-el-Aziz had withdrawn to the coast, where, under the protection of the French, he was proclaimed Sultan of Tangier. Here, under the protection of the legations and the shadow of Europe, the well-fed, irresponsible Aziz ensconced himself in his palace on a pension from France. But Aziz had to reckon with Rais Uli and the Moroccans themselves. He had catered to the infidels and he soon came to the conclusion that France was a better health resort than Morocco. Exit, Sultan Number One. Hence one of the unoccupied palaces-—and Germany scored.

Sultan Moulaï Hafid well knew that by agreeing to respect the Act of Algeciras both his position and his notes on loans would be duly recognized by the Powers: This came to pass, and within six months a Franco-German Declaration respecting Morocco was drawn up, in which both parties recognized the "independence and integrity" of Morocco, France agreeing not to obstruct "German commercial and industrial interests" there, Germany promising not to impair "the special political interests of France."

With his people, however, Hafid tried to appear anti-Christian and thus played a double game, always a dangerous "acrobatic stunt" in Al-Mogreb—the Land of the Evening. So it likewise came to pass that Hafid, as Sultan, failed to hold down the Riff. These wild tribesmen, to whom one can offer no greater insult than to say, "Your father died in his bed," defied Hafid's authority and started a little war "of their own" with Spain, just back of her coast possession of Melilla. Then, from Sus, trouble came. In 1909, there appeared, in the mountains near the Algerian border, Bou Hamara, called "El Roghi," supposedly the descendant of the Shareef of Wazzan, from whom France had always hoped to secure a Sultan.

Bou Hamara, like Hafid, did not lack arms or ammunition, and he nearly vaulted on to the royal divan at Fez. His payment for arms, etc., interestingly enough, was made in freshly minted French gold. By way of explanation a French minister at Tangier once smilingly said: "This was owing to the well-known confidence of the North African tribes in the purity of the French coinage." But it did not suffice to prevent this unfortunate creature and many of his adherents from being captured, and the torturings by which Hafid put them to death are better left undescribed.

Moulaï Hafid, like his predecessors, had no sense of responsibility. He did not even light his own cigar, but his slave drew the first few puffs to start it going. Hafid's double game failed, and a year of constant uproar terminated in a rebellion of the tribes around Fez. In 1912 a new ruler, backed by the French, was proclaimed. Enter, Sultan Number Three.

Hafid now retired to the other palace just without the gates of Tangier. The knife is not the Moor's only method of severing one's terrestrial associations. Poisoned ground-glass surreptitiously placed in one's slippers, or finely chopped horsehair introduced into one's food and later one's intestines are not productive of health. So Hafid packed up his household effects and trundled over to Algeciras. Exit, Sultan Number Two.

France, to maintain order and protect French subjects in Fez, occupied that capital within a month. Germany remonstrated. France claimed, to have heard in the distance the Sultan's call for help. Germany, though with ear close to the ground, had not heard this call, but contended that, if such a voice had been crying in the wilderness, it merely proved that a sultan who did not rule was no sultan, and met the French coup by letting it be known in Paris that if there was plunder going she intended to have her share.

Germany failed to negotiate with France and Spain a definite solution of the Moroccan question without Britain, and to receive compensation for the French occupation of Fez. Consequently Europe awoke on the morning of July 1, 1911, to find that during the night the German Panther had stealthily crept into Agadir, soon followed by the cruiser Berlin. Germany claimed to the horror-stricken Powers that it had "the right of intention to protect our subjects" in Morocco just as independently as France protected hers, "so long as she came to no understanding with us." A new situation had. thus been created at Agadir. It was then that Britain stood back of France until the war clouds lifted.

From now on Germany constantly tried to effect a secret treaty with France. So the chessmen were moved and counter-moved in Morocco until the impending East-West migration of the Slav met the North-South trend of the Teuton, the "balance of power" was thrown out of equilibrium, the status quo tottered, then, with a mighty crash, fell—and the World War was on.

The play outside the arena of Europe centred mostly along the stupendous reach of the African West Coast and its outlying islands, and in August, 1914, the third game of the Moroccan tournament began. Britain could maintain a supreme fleet in the North Sea, and have a secondary fleet ample to clear Germany from the seas, meantime transporting her own troops at will and maintaining trade. This resulted in the practical taking of every German West Coast colony; so went German West Africa, the Kameruns, and Togoland; the only asylums for German refugees; aside from the unhealthy hinterlands, being the Spanish and Portuguese possessions off the West Coast, and the few wedges, unpropitious bits of Spanish territory, which dovetail into the Sahara and Morocco—Rio de Oro and Larash, Ceuta and Melilla; and the international strip of Tangier and vicinity.

So we find in all these places except Rio de Oro, German refugees, mostly German residents and German merchant crews; while in Las Palmas, Canary Is., is the crew of the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, sunk by H. M. S. Highflier off Rio de Oro.

To control Morocco, France knew it must control Tangier. This meant the elimination from there of the Austro-German Legation, and of every Austro-German subject. The day of my arrival, the cafés and coffee houses in the Sok-el-Chico (Little Market) were a-hum with the rumor that the old and trusted lighthouse-keeper at Cape Spartel near by was then in prison in Tangier—arrested as a spy for having signaled German submarines in the Strait, and nobody knew what was going to happen to him. Mentioning these rumors to our chargé, Mr. Blake, I was informed he had investigated. The French authorities reported that the man had not been accused of any attempt to communicate with submarines, but did not intend he should, so they had banished him by permitting him to take a steamer the previous day for Spain. But the fact remains that the French, validly or not, control Tangier; besides, they "crowned their king," Sultan Moulaï Youssef, and at least along the coast are in control of Morocco. That is why Sultan Number Three now occupies the third palace at Mequinez.

At Casablanca and Mazagan, there were great numbers of German prisoners of war. In the latter place, I trudged out in the stifling heat and dusty road one hot morning, reaching a large fonduk (caravansary) just as the Second Company of German Prisoners of War entered the great portal on their return from the forenoon's work, I was ushered into the headquarters of Lieutenant Tock, the Commandant; whom I found at his desk, busy sorting out dozens of sets of souvenir post cards. I presented my viséed passport and papers.

"You probably know," I ventured, "that it is rumored that German prisoners are receiving atrocious treatment in Morocco, and are being worked under blacks." The Commandant looked me searchingly squarely in the eye. "These reports I was not willing to accept," I continued. "I do not wish to base my opinion on hearsay, so am here to see for myself—that is, if there is nothing you would, object to my seeing." The Commandant's look merged into a semi-quizzical expression.

"Bien! I will escort you." So we passed down the open part of the great square enclosure, formerly used as a caravansary. The prisoners had just broken ranks from their roll-call, having been working three hours since 7.30 A. M. After four hours' rest in the heat of the day, they march out again at 2.30 P. M. for another three hours' labor. In winter, this work is increased to eight hours, but six hours of manual work is enough under the glaring sun of Morocco, even under the best of conditions. Here the prisoners are paid, as are the convicts of Guiana, twenty centimes (four cents) a day. Ten centimes are given them to spend for tobacco, etc., in the fonduk commissary shop.

"The prisoners are allowed to write two letters and six postals a month," commented Lieutenant Tock. "Here are the latter," and he handed me a set from the layout on the table. No man, I reasoned, who was considerate enough to sort out postals so that the prisoners received each a varied set would treat men under him with anything but justice and consideration. This was but one of a number of things which convinced me that Lieutenant Tock, though evidently a strict disciplinarian, was an excellent man for the position and a credit to his administration.

The remaining ten centimes are taken for sustenance. Four hundred grams of meat a day is allowed the French soldiers; two hundred grams of meat a day is the regular allowance for prisoners of war, but it had been reduced to one hundred and fifty grams a day, another French officer informed me, as this was all Germany allowed French soldiers—hence a reprisal. Bread enough was allowed, and I saw prisoners peeling potatoes at the time of my visit. Water was drawn, apparently from big barrel butts converted into "homemade" or, rather, "prison-made" filters.

By this time the big batch of prisoners had thinned out, disappearing into their sleeping quarters in what were formerly the store rooms of the fonduk. Within, each man had his bed, an improvised wooden frame of odd boards about ten inches above the floor, although some had only mattresses on the cement floor itself. Over each man's bed were his effects, suspended from the wall. Nearly every one of them had a bag or sack with his registered number on it, showing that he had received things from home, which, during the last three months only, they had been allowed. They were also allowed to receive money to a limited extent.

No sooner did we enter the barracks than the men—who were sleeping, reading, or playing cards—immediately arose and stood at attention; practically in every case Lieutenant Tock motioned them to remain as they were, saying, "Do not indispose yourselves." Some had photographs and other pictures tacked to the walls at the head of their beds, while one audacious individual had secured an empty box of "Kaiser Borax" and turned the sign side conspicuously toward the front. The French, with their sense of humor, offered no objection, under these conditions, to either the " Kaiser" or the " Borax."

These quarters were high-studded and airy, and well adapted to this climate, although some of the men were still quartered in the Caserne (barracks). "This way, Monsieur! " and the Commandant led me into a supply room, lifted a curtain from some shelves, and revealed them filled with loaves of bread.

"Cut this in two," he ordered a prisoner, then handed me a slice of bread, which I found quite palatable, but a bit heavy and somewhat hard to digest for a steady diet.

"You see, it is the same that we give to our own soldiers. This is the meat," he commented, as we stepped through another door to where German soldiers were cutting up a good looking quarter of beef, very different from the black stuff I had seen doled out to prisoners in Cayenne.

There were some exact questions I wished to ask, and requested an interpreter who spoke English, but there was no such linguist present among the French officers, and Lieutenant Tock finally fell back on one of the Germans, Herr Frans Deutsmann, a tall, rather esthetic looking man, doing clerical work in the Commandant's office. The following conversation will, literally and figuratively, speak for itself:

"Have you any particular fault to find with your treatment?" I asked.


"What are the hardest things about your life here?" The reply was what I felt sure here are not responsible for the climate it would be:

"The heat—it affects many."

"Have many malaria?"

"Yes, but of course the French officers here are not responsible for the climate." The mortality out of these four hundred prisoners for the last nine months had been six deaths.

"What else is trying?"

"Well, the bread does not always agree with us."

"What was your occupation in Germany?"

"I was a teacher in the public schools."

"I, also, have been a teacher, so we have a common interest."

"Yes?" he replied with a faint smile.

"How has the climate agreed with you?"

"I have kept well."

"Do all have to do the same work?" I inquired, turning to Lieutenant Tock.

"No, we try to give the men the work they are most adapted to—masonry, carpentry, wood chopping, etc., and dispose the men in the liberal arts."

"But the fine arts and professions?"

"Well, we try to arrange that, as far as possible, but remember, these men are prisoners of war." Then I turned again to Herr Deutsmann.

"Have you heard of any ill-treatment of prisoners?"


"What guards do they put over you out on the road building and other hard manual work?"

"French soldiers."

"French Arab soldiers?"


"Any Negroes?"


"Have you heard of any Negroes being put over German prisoners?"


"Then, as a whole, you are treated reasonably well?"


"Thank you." And then I asked permission of Lieutenant Tock to take Herr Deutsmann's photograph with the latter's consent. He acceded, and I then in turn snapped one of the Commandant and myself, telling me that at home he had a camera like mine.

"At home!"

How romantically strange the whole situation seemed! This fine-natured, gentle-mannered German teacher, a prisoner in far-off Morocco, under a Frenchman with whom he would have associated on quite different terms a year and a half ago, but now his warder. I, a stranger to the two, passing by on my way to a land as yet—thank God!—out of the great Molochan caldron of war into which so much of the world had plunged.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald

The Headlong Fury