An impressive work of scholarship examines the role of the Moroccan port of Casablanca during World War II.
For most Americans, Casablanca conjures images of Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, drama, war, heroics, and high romance. Students of WWII history, however, know that Casablanca refers not only to the Hollywood classic, but to the real Moroccan city that served a major role during the war. In her first book, Hindley, a historian and senior writer for the quarterly journal Humanities whose articles have also appeared in the New York Times and Salon, delivers what could become the definitive account of Casablanca during WWII. The author focuses mostly on the role of the city in Allied military strategy: Winston Churchill, especially, favored a strategy whereby North Africa would serve as “a base for attacking the Germans through the Mediterranean.” Meanwhile, President Franklin Roosevelt’s staff favored a cross-channel approach. “For them,” writes the author, “North Africa was a potentially expensive and bloody diversion from the real goal of reclaiming France and then Germany.” Hindley describes these military machinations in great detail, but she also humanizes the scholarship with stories of some of the refugees, resistance fighters, spies, and regular citizens who passed through Casablanca during the war. Regarding the last, the city “became an important destination for those attempting to escape the grip of the Nazis and make their way to Lisbon. A ticket to Casablanca might end with glory or death.” While it is those personal stories that make the book accessible to general readers, the wealth of detail can become overwhelming; a seemingly endless parade of diplomats, spies, and political figures move through the narrative. Fewer details would have streamlined it, but the book should prove indispensable to scholars.
Despite an overabundance of not-always-relevant detail, Hindley’s account of WWII–era Casablanca is expertly researched and absorbing.