I. Undertakings given prior to the Peace Negotiations
The categories of damage in respect of which the Allies were entitled to ask for Reparation are governed by the relevant passages in President Wilson's Fourteen Points of January 8, 1918, as modified by the Allied Governments in their qualifying Note, the text of which the President formally communicated to the German Government as the basis of peace on November 5, 1918. These passages have been quoted in full at the beginning of Chapter IV. That is to say, "compensation will be made by Germany for all damage done to the civilian population of the Allies and to their property by the aggression of Germany by land, by sea, and from the air." The limiting quality of this sentence is reinforced by the passage in the President's speech before Congress on February 11, 1918 (the terms of this speech being an express part of the contract with the enemy), that there shall be "no contributions" and "no punitive damages."
It has sometimes been argued that the preamble to paragraph 19 of the Armistice Terms, to the effect "that any future claims and demands of the Allies and the United States of America remain unaffected," wiped out all precedent conditions, and left the Allies free to make whatever demands they chose. But it is not possible to maintain that this casual protective phrase, to which no one at the time attached any particular importance, did away with all the formal communications which passed between the President and the German Government as to the basis of the Terms of Peace during the days preceding the Armistice, abolished the Fourteen Points, and converted the German acceptance of the Armistice Terms into unconditional surrender, so far as it affects the Financial Clauses. It is merely the usual phrase of the draftsman, who, about to rehearse a list of certain claims, wishes to guard himself from the implication that such list is exhaustive. In any case, this contention is disposed of by the Allied reply to the German observations on the first draft of the Treaty, where it is admitted that the terms of the Reparation Chapter must be governed by the President's Note of November 5.
Assuming then that the terms of this Note are binding, we are left to elucidate the precise force of the phrase--"all damage done to the civilian population of the Allies and to their property by the aggression of Germany by land, by sea, and from the air." Few sentences in history have given so much work to the sophists and the lawyers, as we shall see in the next section of this chapter, as this apparently simple and unambiguous statement. Some have not scrupled to argue that it covers the entire cost of the war; for, they point out, the entire cost of the war has to be met by taxation, and such taxation is "damaging to the civilian population." They admit that the phrase is cumbrous, and that it would have been simpler to have said "all loss and expenditure of whatever description"; and they allow that the apparent emphasis of damage to the persons and property of civilians is unfortunate; but errors of draftsmanship should not, in their opinion, shut off the Allies from the rights inherent in victors.
But there are not only the limitations of the phrase in its natural meaning and the emphasis on civilian damages as distinct from military expenditure generally; it must also be remembered that the context of the term is in elucidation of the meaning of the term "restoration" in the President's Fourteen Points. The Fourteen Points provide for damage in invaded territory--Belgium, France, Roumania, Serbia, and Montenegro (Italy being unaccountably omitted)--but they do not cover losses at sea by submarine, bombardments from the sea (as at Scarborough), or damage done by air raids. It was to repair these omissions, which involved losses to the life and property of civilians not really distinguishable in kind from those effected in occupied territory, that the Supreme Council of the Allies in Paris proposed to President Wilson their qualifications. At that time--the last days of October, 1918--I do not believe that any responsible statesman had in mind the exaction from Germany of an indemnity for the general costs of the war. They sought only to make it clear (a point of considerable importance to Great Britain) that reparation for damage done to non-combatants and their property was not limited to invaded territory (as it would have been by the Fourteen Points unqualified), but applied equally to all such damage, whether "by land, by sea, or from the air" It was only at a later stage that a general popular demand for an indemnity, covering the full costs of the war, made it politically desirable to practise dishonesty and to try to discover in the written word what was not there.
What damages, then, can be claimed from the enemy on a strict interpretation of our engagements? In the case of the United Kingdom the bill would cover the following items:--
(a) Damage to civilian life and property by the acts of an enemy Government including damage by air raids, naval bombardments, submarine warfare, and mines.
(b) Compensation for improper treatment of interned civilians.
It would not include the general costs of the war, or (e.g.) indirect damage due to loss of trade.
The French claim would include, as well as items corresponding to the above:--
(c) Damage done to the property and persons of civilians in the war area, and by aerial warfare behind the enemy lines.
(d) Compensation for loot of food, raw materials, live-stock, machinery, household effects, timber, and the like by the enemy Governments or their nationals in territory occupied by them.
(e) Repayment of fines and requisitions levied by the enemy Governments or their officers on French municipalities or nationals.
(f) Compensation to French nationals deported or compelled to do forced labor.
In addition to the above there is a further item of more doubtful character, namely--
(g) The expenses of the Relief Commission in providing necessary food and clothing to maintain the civilian French population in the enemy-occupied districts.
The Belgian claim would include similar items. If it were argued that in the case of Belgium something more nearly resembling an indemnity for general war costs can be justified, this could only be on the ground of the breach of International Law involved in the invasion of Belgium, whereas, as we have seen, the Fourteen Points include no special demands on this ground. As the cost of Belgian Belief under (g), as well as her general war costs, has been met already by advances from the British, French, and United States Governments, Belgium would presumably employ any repayment of them by Germany in part discharge of her debt to these Governments, so that any such demands are, in effect, an addition to the claims of the three lending Governments.
The claims of the other Allies would be compiled on similar lines. But in their case the question arises more acutely how far Germany can be made contingently liable for damage done, not by herself, but by her co-belligerents, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey. This is one of the many questions to which the Fourteen Points give no clear answer; on the one hand, they cover explicitly in Point 11 damage done to Roumania, Serbia, and Montenegro, without qualification as to the nationality of the troops inflicting the damage; on the other hand, the Note of the Allies speaks of "German" aggression when it might have spoken of the aggression of "Germany and her allies." On a strict and literal interpretation, I doubt if claims lie against Germany for damage done,--e.g. by the Turks to the Suez Canal, or by Austrian submarines in the Adriatic. But it is a case where, if the Allies wished to strain a point, they could impose contingent liability on Germany without running seriously contrary to the general intention of their engagements.
As between the Allies themselves the case is quite different. It would be an act of gross unfairness and infidelity if France and Great Britain were to take what Germany could pay and leave Italy and Serbia to get what they could out of the remains of Austria-Hungary. As amongst the Allies themselves it is clear that assets should be pooled and shared out in proportion to aggregate claims.
In this event, and if my estimate is accepted, as given below, that Germany's capacity to pay will be exhausted by the direct and legitimate claims which the Allies hold against her, the question of her contingent liability for her allies becomes academic. Prudent and honorable statesmanship would therefore have given her the benefit of the doubt, and claimed against her nothing but the damage she had herself caused.
What, on the above basis of claims, would the aggregate demand amount to? No figures exist on which to base any scientific or exact estimate, and I give my own guess for what it is worth, prefacing it with the following observations.
The amount of the material damage done in the invaded districts has been the subject of enormous, if natural, exaggeration A journey through the devastated areas of France is impressive to the eye and the imagination beyond description. During the winter of 1918-19, before Nature had cast over the scene her ameliorating mantle, the horror and desolation of war was made visible to sight on an extraordinary scale of blasted grandeur. The completeness of the destruction was evident. For mile after mile nothing was left. No building was habitable and no field fit for the plow. The sameness was also striking. One devastated area was exactly like another--a heap of rubble, a morass of shell-holes, and a tangle of wire. The amount of human labor which would be required to restore such a countryside seemed incalculable; and to the returned traveler any number of milliards of dollars was inadequate to express in matter the destruction thus impressed upon his spirit. Some Governments for a variety of intelligible reasons have not been ashamed to exploit these feelings a little.
Popular sentiment is most at fault, I think, in the case of Belgium. In any event Belgium is a small country, and in its case the actual area of devastation is a small proportion of the whole. The first onrush of the Germans in 1914 did some damage locally; after that the battle-line in Belgium did not sway backwards and forwards, as in France, over a deep belt of country. It was practically stationary, and hostilities were confined to a small corner of the country, much of which in recent times was backward, poor, and sleepy, and did not include the active industry of the country. There remains some injury in the small flooded area, the deliberate damage done by the retreating Germans to buildings, plant, and transport, and the loot of machinery, cattle, and other movable property. But Brussels, Antwerp, and even Ostend are substantially intact, and the great bulk of the land, which is Belgium's chief wealth, is nearly as well cultivated as before. The traveler by motor can pass through and from end to end of the devastated area of Belgium almost before he knows it; whereas the destruction in France is on a different kind of scale altogether. Industrially, the loot has been serious and for the moment paralyzing; but the actual money cost of replacing machinery mounts up slowly, and a few tens of millions would have covered the value of every machine of every possible description that Belgium ever possessed. Besides, the cold statistician must not overlook the fact that the Belgian people possess the instinct of individual self-protection unusually well developed; and the great mass of German bank-notes held in the country at the date of the Armistice, shows that certain classes of them at least found a way, in spite of all the severities and barbarities of German rule, to profit at the expense of the invader. Belgian claims against Germany such as I have seen, amounting to a sum in excess of the total estimated pre-war wealth of the whole country, are simply irresponsible.
It will help to guide our ideas to quote the official survey of Belgian wealth, published in 1913 by the Finance Ministry of Belgium, which was as follows:
This total yields an average of $780 per inhabitant, which Dr. Stamp, the highest authority on the subject, is disposed to consider as prima facie too low (though he does not accept certain much higher estimates lately current), the corresponding wealth per head (to take Belgium's immediate neighbors) being $835 for Holland, $1,220 for Germany, and $1,515 for France. A total of $7,500,000,000, giving an average of about $1,000 per head, would, however, be fairly liberal. The official estimate of land and buildings is likely to be more accurate than the rest. On the other hand, allowance has to be made for the increased costs of construction.
Having regard to all these considerations, I do not put the money value of the actual physical loss of Belgian property by destruction and loot above $750,000,000 as a maximum, and while I hesitate to put yet lower an estimate which differs so widely from those generally current, I shall be surprised if it proves possible to substantiate claims even to this amount. Claims in respect of levies, fines, requisitions, and so forth might possibly amount to a further $500,000,000. If the sums advanced to Belgium by her allies for the general costs of the war are to be included, a sum of about $1,250,000,000 has to be added (which includes the cost of relief), bringing the total to $2,500,000,000.
The destruction in France was on an altogether more significant scale, not only as regards the length of the battle line, but also on account of the immensely deeper area of country over which the battle swayed from time to time. It is a popular delusion to think of Belgium as the principal victim of the war; it will turn out, I believe, that taking account of casualties, loss of property and burden of future debt, Belgium has made the least relative sacrifice of all the belligerents except the United States. Of the Allies, Serbia's sufferings and loss have been proportionately the greatest, and after Serbia, France. France in all essentials was just as much the victim of German ambition as was Belgium, and France's entry into the war was just as unavoidable. France, in my judgment, in spite of her policy at the Peace Conference, a policy largely traceable to her sufferings, has the greatest claims on our generosity.
The special position occupied by Belgium in the popular mind is due, of course, to the fact that in 1914 her sacrifice was by far the greatest of any of the Allies. But after 1914 she played a minor rôle. Consequently, by the end of 1918, her relative sacrifices, apart from those sufferings from invasion which cannot be measured in money, had fallen behind, and in some respects they were not even as great, for example, as Australia's. I say this with no wish to evade the obligations towards Belgium under which the pronouncements of our responsible statesmen at many different dates have certainly laid us. Great Britain ought not to seek any payment at all from Germany for herself until the just claims of Belgium have been fully satisfied. But this is no reason why we or they should not tell the truth about the amount.
While the French claims are immensely greater, here too there has been excessive exaggeration, as responsible French statisticians have themselves pointed out. Not above 10 per cent of the area of France was effectively occupied by the enemy, and not above 4 per cent lay within the area of substantial devastation. Of the sixty French towns having a population exceeding 35,000, only two were destroyed--Reims (115,178) and St. Quentin (55,571); three others were occupied--Lille, Roubaix, and Douai--and suffered from loot of machinery and other property, but were not substantially injured otherwise. Amiens, Calais, Dunkerque, and Boulogne suffered secondary damage by bombardment and from the air; but the value of Calais and Boulogne must have been increased by the new works of various kinds erected for the use of the British Army.
The Annuaire Statistique de la France, 1917, values the entire house property of France at $11,900,000,000 (59.5 milliard francs). An estimate current in France of $4,000,000,000 (20 milliard francs) for the destruction of house property alone is, therefore, obviously wide of the mark. $600,000,000 at pre-war prices, or say $1,250,000,000 at the present time, is much nearer the right figure. Estimates of the value of the land of France (apart from buildings) vary from $12,400,000,000 to $15,580,000,000, so that it would be extravagant to put the damage on this head as high as $500,000,000. Farm Capital for the whole of France has not been put by responsible authorities above $2,100,000,000. There remain the loss of furniture and machinery, the damage to the coal-mines and the transport system, and many other minor items. But these losses, however serious, cannot be reckoned in value by hundreds of millions of dollars in respect of so small a part of France. In short, it will be difficult to establish a bill exceeding $2,500,000,000 for physical and material damage in the occupied and devastated areas of Northern France. I am confirmed in this estimate by the opinion of M. René Pupin, the author of the most comprehensive and scientific estimate of the pre-war wealth of France, which I did not come across until after my own figure had been arrived at. This authority estimates the material losses of the invaded regions at from $2,000,000,000 to $3,000,000,000 (10 to 15 milliards), between which my own figure falls half-way.
Nevertheless, M. Dubois, speaking on behalf of the Budget Commission of the Chamber, has given the figure of $13,000,000,000 (65 milliard francs) "as a minimum" without counting "war levies, losses at sea, the roads, or the loss of public monuments." And M. Loucheur, the Minister of Industrial Reconstruction, stated before the Senate on the 17th February, 1919, that the reconstitution of the devastated regions would involve an expenditure of $15,000,000,000 (75 milliard francs),--more than double M. Pupin's estimate of the entire wealth of their inhabitants. But then at that time M. Loucheur was taking a prominent part in advocating the claims of France before the Peace Conference, and, like others, may have found strict veracity inconsistent with the demands of patriotism.
The figure discussed so far is not, however, the totality of the French claims. There remain, in particular, levies and requisitions on the occupied areas and the losses of the French mercantile marine at sea from the attacks of German cruisers and submarines. Probably $1,000,000,000 would be ample to cover all such claims; but to be on the safe side, we will, somewhat arbitrarily, make an addition to the French claim of $1,500,000,000 on all heads, bringing it to $4,000,000,000 in all.
The statements of M. Dubois and M. Loucheur were made in the early spring of 1919. A speech delivered by M. Klotz before the French Chamber six months later (Sept. 5, 1919) was less excusable. In this speech the French Minister of Finance estimated the total French claims for damage to property (presumably inclusive of losses at sea, etc., but apart from pensions and allowances) at $26,800,000,000 (134 milliard francs), or more than six times my estimate. Even if my figure prove erroneous, M. Klotz's can never have been justified. So grave has been the deception practised on the French people by their Ministers that when the inevitable enlightenment comes, as it soon must (both as to their own claims and as to Germany's capacity to meet them), the repercussions will strike at more than M. Klotz, and may even involve the order of Government and Society for which he stands.
British claims on the present basis would be practically limited to losses by sea--losses of hulls and losses of cargoes. Claims would lie, of course, for damage to civilian property in air raids and by bombardment from the sea, but in relation to such figures as we are now dealing with, the money value involved is insignificant,--$25,000,000 might cover them all, and $50,000,000 would certainly do so.
The British mercantile vessels lost by enemy action, excluding fishing vessels, numbered 2479, with an aggregate of 7,759,090 tons gross. There is room for considerable divergence of opinion as to the proper rate to take for replacement cost; at the figure of $150 per gross ton, which with the rapid growth of shipbuilding may soon be too high but can be replaced by any other which better authorities may prefer, the aggregate claim is $1,150,000,000. To this must be added the loss of cargoes, the value of which is almost entirely a matter of guesswork. An estimate of $200 per ton of shipping lost may be as good an approximation as is possible, that is to say $1,550,000,000, making $2,700,000,000 altogether.
An addition to this of $150,000,000, to cover air raids, bombardments, claims of interned civilians, and miscellaneous items of every description, should be more than sufficient,--making a total claim for Great Britain of $2,850,000,000. It is surprising, perhaps, that the money value of Great Britain's claim should be so little short of that of France and actually in excess of that of Belgium. But, measured either by pecuniary loss or real loss to the economic power of the country, the injury to her mercantile marine was enormous.
There remain the claims of Italy, Serbia, and Roumania for damage by invasion and of these and other countries, as for example Greece, for losses at sea. I will assume for the present argument that these claims rank against Germany, even when they were directly caused not by her but by her allies; but that it is not proposed to enter any such claims on behalf of Russia. Italy's losses by invasion and at sea cannot be very heavy, and a figure of from $250,000,000 to $500,000,000 would be fully adequate to cover them. The losses of Serbia, although from a human point of view her sufferings were the greatest of all, are not measured pecuniarily by very great figures, on account of her low economic development. Dr. Stamp (loc. cit.) quotes an estimate by the Italian statistician Maroi, which puts the national wealth of Serbia at $2,400,000,000 or $525 per head, and the greater part of this would be represented by land which has sustained no permanent damage. In view of the very inadequate data for guessing at more than the general magnitude of the legitimate claims of this group of countries, I prefer to make one guess rather than several and to put the figure for the whole group at the round sum of $1,250,000,000.
We are finally left with the following--
I need not impress on the reader that there is much guesswork in the above, and the figure for France in particular is likely to be criticized. But I feel some confidence that the general magnitude, as distinct from the precise figures, is not hopelessly erroneous; and this may be expressed by the statement that a claim against Germany, based on the interpretation of the pre-Armistice engagements of the Allied Powers which is adopted above, would assuredly be found to exceed $8,000,000,000 and to fall short of $15,000,000,000.
This is the amount of the claim which we were entitled to present to the enemy. For reasons which will appear more fully later on, I believe that it would have been a wise and just act to have asked the German Government at the Peace Negotiations to agree to a sum of $10,000,000,000 in final settlement, without further examination of particulars. This would have provided an immediate and certain solution, and would have required from Germany a sum which, if she were granted certain indulgences, it might not have proved entirely impossible for her to pay. This sum should have been divided up amongst the Allies themselves on a basis of need and general equity.
But the question was not settled on its merits.
I do not believe that, at the date of the Armistice, responsible authorities in the Allied countries expected any indemnity from Germany beyond the cost of reparation for the direct material damage which had resulted from the invasion of Allied territory and from the submarine campaign. At that time there were serious doubts as to whether Germany intended to accept our terms, which in other respects were inevitably very severe, and it would have been thought an unstatesmanlike act to risk a continuance of the war by demanding a money payment which Allied opinion was not then anticipating and which probably could not be secured in any case. The French, I think, never quite accepted this point of view; but it was certainly the British attitude; and in this atmosphere the pre-Armistice conditions were framed.
A month later the atmosphere had changed completely. We had discovered how hopeless the German position really was, a discovery which some, though not all, had anticipated, but which no one had dared reckon on as a certainty. It was evident that we could have secured unconditional surrender if we had determined to get it.
But there was another new factor in the situation which was of greater local importance. The British Prime Minister had perceived that the conclusion of hostilities might soon bring with it the break-up of the political bloc upon which he was depending for his personal ascendency, and that the domestic difficulties which would be attendant on demobilization, the turn-over of industry from war to peace conditions, the financial situation, and the general psychological reactions of men's minds, would provide his enemies with powerful weapons, if he were to leave them time to mature. The best chance, therefore, of consolidating his power, which was personal and exercised, as such, independently of party or principle, to an extent unusual in British politics, evidently lay in active hostilities before the prestige of victory had abated, and in an attempt to found on the emotions of the moment a new basis of power which might outlast the inevitable reactions of the near future. Within a brief period, therefore, after the Armistice, the popular victor, at the height of his influence and his authority, decreed a General Election. It was widely recognized at the time as an act of political immorality. There were no grounds of public interest which did not call for a short delay until the issues of the new age had a little defined themselves and until the country had something more specific before it on which to declare its mind and to instruct its new representatives. But the claims of private ambition determined otherwise.
For a time all went well. But before the campaign was far advanced Government candidates were finding themselves handicapped by the lack of an effective cry. The War Cabinet was demanding a further lease of authority on the ground of having won the war. But partly because the new issues had not yet defined themselves, partly out of regard for the delicate balance of a Coalition Party, the Prime Minister's future policy was the subject of silence or generalities. The campaign seemed, therefore, to fall a little flat. In the light of subsequent events it seems improbable that the Coalition Party was ever in real danger. But party managers are easily "rattled." The Prime Minister's more neurotic advisers told him that he was not safe from dangerous surprises, and the Prime Minister lent an ear to them. The party managers demanded more "ginger." The Prime Minister looked about for some.
On the assumption that the return of the Prime Minister to power was the primary consideration, the rest followed naturally. At that juncture there was a clamor from certain quarters that the Government had given by no means sufficiently clear undertakings that they were not going "to let the Hun off." Mr. Hughes was evoking a good deal of attention by his demands for a very large indemnity, and Lord Northcliffe was lending his powerful aid to the same cause. This pointed the Prime Minister to a stone for two birds. By himself adopting the policy of Mr. Hughes and Lord Northcliffe, he could at the same time silence those powerful critics and provide his party managers with an effective platform cry to drown the increasing voices of criticism from other quarters.
The progress of the General Election of 1918 affords a sad, dramatic history of the essential weakness of one who draws his chief inspiration not from his own true impulses, but from the grosser effiuxions of the atmosphere which momentarily surrounds him. The Prime Minister's natural instincts, as they so often are, were right and reasonable. He himself did not believe in hanging the Kaiser or in the wisdom or the possibility of a great indemnity. On the 22nd of November he and Mr. Bonar Law issued their Election Manifesto. It contains no allusion of any kind either to the one or to the other but, speaking, rather, of Disarmament and the League of Nations, concludes that "our first task must be to conclude a just and lasting peace, and so to establish the foundations of a new Europe that occasion for further wars may be for ever averted." In his speech at Wolverhampton on the eve of the Dissolution (November 24), there is no word of Reparation or Indemnity. On the following day at Glasgow, Mr. Bonar Law would promise nothing. "We are going to the Conference," he said, "as one of a number of allies, and you cannot expect a member of the Government, whatever he may think, to state in public before he goes into that Conference, what line he is going to take in regard to any particular question." But a few days later at Newcastle (November 29) the Prime Minister was warming to his work: "When Germany defeated France she made France pay. That is the principle which she herself has established. There is absolutely no doubt about the principle, and that is the principle we should proceed upon--that Germany must pay the costs of the war up to the limit of her capacity to do so." But he accompanied this statement of principle with many "words of warning" as to the practical difficulties of the case: "We have appointed a strong Committee of experts, representing every shade of opinion, to consider this question very carefully and to advise us. There is no doubt as to the justice of the demand. She ought to pay, she must pay as far as she can, but we are not going to allow her to pay in such a way as to wreck our industries." At this stage the Prime Minister sought to indicate that he intended great severity, without raising excessive hopes of actually getting the money, or committing himself to a particular line of action at the Conference. It was rumored that a high city authority had committed himself to the opinion that Germany could certainly pay $100,000,000,000 and that this authority for his part would not care to discredit a figure of twice that sum. The Treasury officials, as Mr. Lloyd George indicated, took a different view. He could, therefore, shelter himself behind the wide discrepancy between the opinions of his different advisers, and regard the precise figure of Germany's capacity to pay as an open question in the treatment of which he must do his best for his country's interests. As to our engagements under the Fourteen Points he was always silent.
On November 30, Mr. Barnes, a member of the War Cabinet, in which he was supposed to represent Labor, shouted from a platform, "I am for hanging the Kaiser."
On December 6, the Prime Minister issued a statement of policy and aims in which he stated, with significant emphasis on the word European, that "All the European Allies have accepted the principle that the Central Powers must pay the cost of the war up to the limit of their capacity."
But it was now little more than a week to Polling Day, and still he had not said enough to satisfy the appetites of the moment. On December 8, the Times, providing as usual a cloak of ostensible decorum for the lesser restraint of its associates, declared in a leader entitled "Making Germany Pay," that "The public mind was still bewildered by the Prime Minister's various statements." "There is too much suspicion," they added, "of influences concerned to let the Germans off lightly, whereas the only possible motive in determining their capacity to pay must be the interests of the Allies." "It is the candidate who deals with the issues of to-day," wrote their Political Correspondent, "who adopts Mr. Barnes's phrase about 'hanging the Kaiser' and plumps for the payment of the cost of the war by Germany, who rouses his audience and strikes the notes to which they are most responsive."
On December 9, at the Queen's Hall, the Prime Minister avoided the subject. But from now on, the debauchery of thought and speech progressed hour by hour. The grossest spectacle was provided by Sir Eric Geddes in the Guildhall at Cambridge. An earlier speech in which, in a moment of injudicious candor, he had cast doubts on the possibility of extracting from Germany the whole cost of the war had been the object of serious suspicion, and he had therefore a reputation to regain. "We will get out of her all you can squeeze out of a lemon and a bit more," the penitent shouted, "I will squeeze her until you can hear the pips squeak"; his policy was to take every bit of property belonging to Germans in neutral and Allied countries, and all her gold and silver and her jewels, and the contents of her picture-galleries and libraries, to sell the proceeds for the Allies' benefit. "I would strip Germany," he cried, "as she has stripped Belgium."
By December 11 the Prime Minister had capitulated. His Final Manifesto of Six Points issued on that day to the electorate furnishes a melancholy comparison with his program of three weeks earlier. I quote it in full:
"1. Trial of the Kaiser. 2. Punishment of those responsible for atrocities. 3. Fullest Indemnities from Germany. 4. Britain for the British, socially and industrially. 5. Rehabilitation of those broken in the war. 6. A happier country for all."
Here is food for the cynic. To this concoction of greed and sentiment, prejudice and deception, three weeks of the platform had reduced the powerful governors of England, who but a little while before had spoken not ignobly of Disarmament and a League of Nations and of a just and lasting peace which should establish the foundations of a new Europe.
On the same evening the Prime Minister at Bristol withdrew in effect his previous reservations and laid down four principles to govern his Indemnity Policy, of which the chief were: First, we have an absolute right to demand the whole cost of the war; second, we propose to demand the whole cost of the war; and third, a Committee appointed by direction of the Cabinet believe that it can be done. Four days later he went to the polls.
The Prime Minister never said that he himself believed that Germany could pay the whole cost of the war. But the program became in the mouths of his supporters on the hustings a great deal more than concrete. The ordinary voter was led to believe that Germany could certainly be made to pay the greater part, if not the whole cost of the war. Those whose practical and selfish fears for the future the expenses of the war had aroused, and those whose emotions its horrors had disordered, were both provided for. A vote for a Coalition candidate meant the Crucifixion of Anti-Christ and the assumption by Germany of the British National Debt.
It proved an irresistible combination, and once more Mr. George's political instinct was not at fault. No candidate could safely denounce this program, and none did so. The old Liberal Party, having nothing comparable to offer to the electorate, was swept out of existence. A new House of Commons came into being, a majority of whose members had pledged themselves to a great deal more than the Prime Minister's guarded promises. Shortly after their arrival at Westminster I asked a Conservative friend, who had known previous Houses, what he thought of them. "They are a lot of hard-faced men," he said, "who look as if they had done very well out of the war."
This was the atmosphere in which the Prime Minister left for Paris, and these the entanglements he had made for himself. He had pledged himself and his Government to make demands of a helpless enemy inconsistent with solemn engagements on our part, on the faith of which this enemy had laid down his arms. There are few episodes in history which posterity will have less reason to condone,--a war ostensibly waged in defense of the sanctity of international engagements ending in a definite breach of one of the most sacred possible of such engagements on the part of victorious champions of these ideals.
Apart from other aspects of the transaction, I believe that the campaign for securing out of Germany the general costs of the war was one of the most serious acts of political unwisdom for which our statesmen have ever been responsible. To what a different future Europe might have looked forward if either Mr. Lloyd George or Mr. Wilson had apprehended that the most serious of the problems which claimed their attention were not political or territorial but financial and economic, and that the perils of the future lay not in frontiers or sovereignties but in food, coal, and transport. Neither of them paid adequate attention to these problems at any stage of the Conference. But in any event the atmosphere for the wise and reasonable consideration of them was hopelessly befogged by the commitments of the British delegation on the question of Indemnities. The hopes to which the Prime Minister had given rise not only compelled him to advocate an unjust and unworkable economic basis to the Treaty with Germany, but set him at variance with the President, and on the other hand with competing interests to those of France and Belgium. The clearer it became that but little could be expected from Germany, the more necessary it was to exercise patriotic greed and "sacred egotism" and snatch the bone from the juster claims and greater need of France or the well-founded expectations of Belgium. Yet the financial problems which were about to exercise Europe could not be solved by greed. The possibility of their cure lay in magnanimity.
Europe, if she is to survive her troubles, will need so much magnanimity from America, that she must herself practice it. It is useless for the Allies, hot from stripping Germany and one another, to turn for help to the United States to put the States of Europe, including Germany, on to their feet again. If the General Election of December, 1918, had been fought on lines of prudent generosity instead of imbecile greed, how much better the financial prospect of Europe might now be. I still believe that before the main Conference, or very early in its proceedings, the representatives of Great Britain should have entered deeply, with those of the United States, into the economic and financial situation as a whole, and that the former should have been authorized to make concrete proposals on the general lines (1) that all inter-allied indebtedness be canceled outright; (2) that the sum to be paid by Germany be fixed at $10,000,000,000; (3) that Great Britain renounce all claim to participation in this sum and that any share to which she proves entitled be placed at the disposal of the Conference for the purpose of aiding the finances of the New States about to be established; (4) that in order to make some basis of credit immediately available an appropriate proportion of the German obligations representing the sum to be paid by her should be guaranteed by all parties to the Treaty; and (5) that the ex-enemy Powers should also be allowed, with a view to their economic restoration, to issue a moderate amount of bonds carrying a similar guarantee. Such proposals involved an appeal to the generosity of the United States. But that was inevitable; and, in view of her far less financial sacrifices, it was an appeal which could fairly have been made to her. Such proposals would have been practicable. There is nothing in them quixotic or Utopian. And they would have opened up for Europe some prospect of financial stability and reconstruction.
The further elaboration of these ideas, however, must be left to Chapter VII., and we must return to Paris. I have described the entanglements which Mr. Lloyd George took with him. The position of the Finance Ministers of the other Allies was even worse. We in Great Britain had not based our financial arrangements on any expectations of an indemnity. Receipts from such a source would have been more or less in the nature of a windfall; and, in spite of subsequent developments, there was an expectation at that time of balancing our budget by normal methods. But this was not the case with France or Italy. Their peace budgets made no pretense of balancing and had no prospects of doing so, without some far-reaching revision of the existing policy. Indeed, the position was and remains nearly hopeless. These countries were heading for national bankruptcy. This fact could only be concealed by holding out the expectation of vast receipts from the enemy. As soon as it was admitted that it was in fact impossible to make Germany pay the expenses of both sides, and that the unloading of their liabilities upon the enemy was not practicable, the position of the Ministers of Finance of France and Italy became untenable.
Thus a scientific consideration of Germany's capacity to pay was from the outset out of court. The expectations which the exigencies of politics had made it necessary to raise were so very remote from the truth that a slight distortion of figures was no use, and it was necessary to ignore the facts entirely. The resulting unveracity was fundamental. On a basis of so much falsehood it became impossible to erect any constructive financial policy which was workable. For this reason amongst others, a magnanimous financial policy was essential. The financial position of France and Italy was so bad that it was impossible to make them listen to reason on the subject of the German Indemnity, unless one could at the same time point out to them some alternative mode of escape from their troubles. The representatives of the United States were greatly at fault, in my judgment, for having no constructive proposals whatever to offer to a suffering and distracted Europe.
It is worth while to point out in passing a further element in the situation, namely, the opposition which existed between the "crushing" policy of M. Clemenceau and the financial necessities of M. Klotz. Clemenceau's aim was to weaken and destroy Germany in every possible way, and I fancy that he was always a little contemptuous about the Indemnity; he had no intention of leaving Germany in a position to practise a vast commercial activity. But he did not trouble his head to understand either the indemnity or poor M. Klotz's overwhelming financial difficulties. If it amused the financiers to put into the Treaty some very large demands, well there was no harm in that; but the satisfaction of these demands must not be allowed to interfere with the essential requirements of a Carthaginian Peace. The combination of the "real" policy of M. Clemenceau on unreal issues, with M. Klotz's policy of pretense on what were very real issues indeed, introduced into the Treaty a whole set of incompatible provisions, over and above the inherent impracticabilities of the Reparation proposals.
I cannot here describe the endless controversy and intrigue between the Allies themselves, which at last after some months culminated in the presentation to Germany of the Reparation Chapter in its final form. There can have been few negotiations in history so contorted, so miserable, so utterly unsatisfactory to all parties. I doubt if any one who took much part in that debate can look back on it without shame. I must be content with an analysis of the elements of the final compromise which is known to all the world.
The main point to be settled was, of course, that of the items for which Germany could fairly be asked to make payment. Mr. Lloyd George's election pledge to the effect that the Allies were entitled to demand from Germany the entire costs of the war was from the outset clearly untenable; or rather, to put it more impartially, it was clear that to persuade the President of the conformity of this demand with our pro-Armistice engagements was beyond the powers of the most plausible. The actual compromise finally reached is to be read as follows in the paragraphs of the Treaty as it has been published to the world.
Article 231 reads: "The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies." This is a well and carefully drafted Article; for the President could read it as statement of admission on Germany's part of moral responsibility for bringing about the war, while the Prime Minister could explain it as an admission of financial liability for the general costs of the war. Article 232 continues: "The Allied and Associated Governments recognize that the resources of Germany are not adequate, after taking into account permanent diminutions of such resources which will result from other provisions of the present Treaty, to make complete reparation for all such loss and damage." The President could comfort himself that this was no more than a statement of undoubted fact, and that to recognize that Germany cannot pay a certain claim does not imply that she is liable to pay the claim; but the Prime Minister could point out that in the context it emphasizes to the reader the assumption of Germany's theoretic liability asserted in the preceding Article. Article 232 proceeds: "The Allied and Associated Governments, however, require, and Germany undertakes, that she will make compensation for all damage done to the civilian population of the Allied and Associated Powers and to their property during the period of the belligerency of each as an Allied or Associated Power against Germany by such aggression by land, by sea, and from the air, and in general all damage as defined in Annex I. hereto." The words italicized being practically a quotation from the pre-Armistice conditions, satisfied the scruples of the President, while the addition of the words "and in general all damage as defined in Annex I. hereto" gave the Prime Minister a chance in Annex I.
So far, however, all this is only a matter of words, of virtuosity in draftsmanship, which does no one any harm, and which probably seemed much more important at the time than it ever will again between now and Judgment Day. For substance we must turn to Annex I.
A great part of Annex I. is in strict conformity with the pre-Armistice conditions, or, at any rate, does not strain them beyond what is fairly arguable. Paragraph 1 claims damage done for injury to the persons of civilians, or, in the case of death, to their dependents, as a direct consequence of acts of war; Paragraph 2, for acts of cruelty, violence, or maltreatment on the part of the enemy towards civilian victims; Paragraph 3, for enemy acts injurious to health or capacity to work or to honor towards civilians in occupied or invaded territory; Paragraph 8, for forced labor exacted by the enemy from civilians; Paragraph 9, for damage done to property "with the exception of naval and military works or materials" as a direct consequence of hostilities; and Paragraph 10, for fines and levies imposed by the enemy upon the civilian population. All these demands are just and in conformity with the Allies' rights.
Paragraph 4, which claims for "damage caused by any kind of maltreatment of prisoners of war," is more doubtful on the strict letter, but may be justifiable under the Hague Convention and involves a very small sum.
In Paragraphs 5, 6, and 7, however, an issue of immensely greater significance is involved. These paragraphs assert a claim for the amount of the Separation and similar Allowances granted during the war by the Allied Governments to the families of mobilized persons, and for the amount of the pensions and compensations in respect of the injury or death of combatants payable by these Governments now and hereafter. Financially this adds to the Bill, as we shall see below, a very large amount, indeed about twice as much again as all the other claims added together.
The reader will readily apprehend what a plausible case can be made out for the inclusion of these items of damage, if only on sentimental grounds. It can be pointed out, first of all, that from the point of view of general fairness it is monstrous that a woman whose house is destroyed should be entitled to claim from the enemy whilst a woman whose husband is killed on the field of battle should not be so entitled; or that a farmer deprived of his farm should claim but that a woman deprived of the earning power of her husband should not claim. In fact the case for including Pensions and Separation Allowances largely depends on exploiting the rather arbitrary character of the criterion laid down in the pre-Armistice conditions. Of all the losses caused by war some bear more heavily on individuals and some are more evenly distributed over the community as a whole; but by means of compensations granted by the Government many of the former are in fact converted into the latter. The most logical criterion for a limited claim, falling short of the entire costs of the war, would have been in respect of enemy acts contrary to International engagements or the recognized practices of warfare. But this also would have been very difficult to apply and unduly unfavorable to French interests as compared with Belgium (whose neutrality Germany had guaranteed) and Great Britain (the chief sufferer from illicit acts of submarines).
In any case the appeals to sentiment and fairness outlined above are hollow; for it makes no difference to the recipient of a separation allowance or a pension whether the State which pays them receives compensation on this or on another head, and a recovery by the State out of indemnity receipts is just as much in relief of the general taxpayer as a contribution towards the general costs of the war would have been. But the main consideration is that it was too late to consider whether the pre-Armistice conditions were perfectly judicious and logical or to amend them; the only question at issue was whether these conditions were not in fact limited to such classes of direct damage to civilians and their property as are set forth in Paragraphs 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, and 10 of Annex I. If words have any meaning, or engagements any force, we had no more right to claim for those war expenses of the State, which arose out of Pensions and Separation Allowances, than for any other of the general costs of the war. And who is prepared to argue in detail that we were entitled to demand the latter?
What had really happened was a compromise between the Prime Minister's pledge to the British electorate to claim the entire costs of the war and the pledge to the contrary which the Allies had given to Germany at the Armistice. The Prime Minister could claim that although he had not secured the entire costs of the war, he had nevertheless secured an important contribution towards them, that he had always qualified his promises by the limiting condition of Germany's capacity to pay, and that the bill as now presented more than exhausted this capacity as estimated by the more sober authorities. The President, on the other hand, had secured a formula, which was not too obvious a breach of faith, and had avoided a quarrel with his Associates on an issue where the appeals to sentiment and passion would all have been against him, in the event of its being made a matter of open popular controversy. In view of the Prime Minister's election pledges, the President could hardly hope to get him to abandon them in their entirety without a struggle in public; and the cry of pensions would have had an overwhelming popular appeal in all countries. Once more the Prime Minister had shown himself a political tactician of a high order.
A further point of great difficulty may be readily perceived between the lines of the Treaty It fixes no definite sum as representing Germany's liability. This feature has been the subject of very general criticism,--that it is equally inconvenient to Germany and to the Allies themselves that she should not know what she has to pay or they what they are to receive. The method, apparently contemplated by the Treaty, of arriving at the final result over a period of many months by an addition of hundreds of thousands of individual claims for damage to land, farm buildings, and chickens, is evidently impracticable; and the reasonable course would have been for both parties to compound for a round sum without examination of details. If this round sum had been named in the Treaty, the settlement would have been placed on a more business-like basis.
But this was impossible for two reasons. Two different kinds of false statements had been widely promulgated, one as to Germany's capacity to pay, the other as to the amount of the Allies' just claims in respect of the devastated areas. The fixing of either of these figures presented a dilemma. A figure for Germany's prospective capacity to pay, not too much in excess of the estimates of most candid and well-informed authorities, would have fallen hopelessly far short of popular expectations both in England and in France. On the other hand, a definitive figure for damage done which would not disastrously disappoint the expectations which had been raised in France and Belgium might have been incapable of substantiation under challenge, and open to damaging criticism on the part of the Germans, who were believed to have been prudent enough to accumulate considerable evidence as to the extent of their own misdoings.
By far the safest course for the politicians was, therefore, to mention no figure at all; and from this necessity a great deal of the complication of the Reparation Chapter essentially springs.
The reader may be interested, however, to have my estimate of the claim which can in fact be substantiated under Annex I. of the Reparation Chapter. In the first section of this chapter I have already guessed the claims other than those for Pensions and Separation Allowances at $15,000,000,000 (to take the extreme upper limit of my estimate). The claim for Pensions and Separation Allowances under Annex I. is not to be based on the actual cost of these compensations to the Governments concerned, but is to be a computed figure calculated on the basis of the scales in force in France at the date of the Treaty's coming into operation. This method avoids the invidious course of valuing an American or a British life at a higher figure than a French or an Italian. The French rate for Pensions and Allowances is at an intermediate rate, not so high as the American or British, but above the Italian, the Belgian, or the Serbian. The only data required for the calculation are the actual French rates and the numbers of men mobilized and of the casualties in each class of the various Allied Armies. None of these figures are available in detail, but enough is known of the general level of allowances, of the numbers involved, and of the casualties suffered to allow of an estimate which may not be very wide of the mark. My guess as to the amount to be added in respect of Pensions and Allowances is as follows:
I feel much more confidence in the approximate accuracy of the total figure than in its division between the different claimants. The reader will observe that in any case the addition of Pensions and Allowances enormously increases the aggregate claim, raising it indeed by nearly double. Adding this figure to the estimate under other heads, we have a total claim against Germany of $40,000,000,000. I believe that this figure is fully high enough, and that the actual result may fall somewhat short of it. In the next section of this chapter the relation of this figure to Germany's capacity to pay will be examined. It is only necessary here to remind the reader of certain other particulars of the Treaty which speak for themselves:
1. Out of the total amount of the claim, whatever it eventually turns out to be, a sum of $5,000,000,000 must be paid before May 1, 1921. The possibility of this will be discussed below. But the Treaty itself provides certain abatements. In the first place, this sum is to include the expenses of the Armies of Occupation since the Armistice (a large charge of the order of magnitude of $1,000,000,000 which under another Article of the Treaty--No. 249--is laid upon Germany). But further, "such supplies of food and raw materials as may be judged by the Governments of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers to be essential to enable Germany to meet her obligations for Reparation may also, with the approval of the said Governments, be paid for out of the above sum." This is a qualification of high importance. The clause, as it is drafted, allows the Finance Ministers of the Allied countries to hold out to their electorates the hope of substantial payments at an early date, while at the same time it gives to the Reparation Commission a discretion, which the force of facts will compel them to exercise, to give back to Germany what is required for the maintenance of her economic existence. This discretionary power renders the demand for an immediate payment of $5,000,000,000 less injurious than it would otherwise be, but nevertheless it does not render it innocuous. In the first place, my conclusions in the next section of this chapter indicate that this sum cannot be found within the period indicated, even if a large proportion is in practice returned to Germany for the purpose of enabling her to pay for imports. In the second place, the Reparation Commission can only exercise its discretionary power effectively by taking charge of the entire foreign trade of Germany, together with the foreign exchange arising out of it, which will be quite beyond the capacity of any such body. If the Reparation Commission makes any serious attempt to administer the collection of this sum of $5,000,000,000 and to authorize the return to Germany of a part it, the trade of Central Europe will be strangled by bureaucratic regulation in its most inefficient form.
2. In addition to the early payment in cash or kind of a sum of $5,000,000,000, Germany is required to deliver bearer bonds to a further amount of $10,000,000,000, or, in the event of the payments in cash or kind before May 1, 1921, available for Reparation, falling short of $5,000,000,000 by reason of the permitted deductions, to such further amount as shall bring the total payments by Germany in cash, kind, and bearer bonds up to May 1, 1921, to a figure of $15,000,000,000 altogether. These bearer bonds carry interest at 2-1/2 per cent per annum from 1921 to 1925, and at 5 per cent plus 1 per cent for amortization thereafter. Assuming, therefore, that Germany is not able to provide any appreciable surplus towards Reparation before 1921, she will have to find a sum of $375,000,000 annually from 1921 to 1925, and $900,000,000 annually thereafter.
3. As soon as the Reparation Commission is satisfied that Germany can do better than this, 5 per cent bearer bonds are to be issued for a further $10,000,000,000, the rate of amortization being determined by the Commission hereafter. This would bring the annual payment to $1,400,000,000 without allowing anything for the discharge of the capital of the last $10,000,000,000.
4. Germany's liability, however, is not limited to $25,000,000,000, and the Reparation Commission is to demand further instalments of bearer bonds until the total enemy liability under Annex I. has been provided for. On the basis of my estimate of $40,000,000,000 for the total liability, which is more likely to be criticized as being too low than as being too high, the amount of this balance will be $15,000,000,000. Assuming interest at 5 per cent, this will raise the annual payment to $2,150,000,000 without allowance for amortization.
5. But even this is not all. There is a further provision of devastating significance. Bonds representing payments in excess of $15,000,000,000 are not to be issued until the Commission is satisfied that Germany can meet the interest on them. But this does not mean that interest is remitted in the meantime. As from May 1, 1921, interest is to be debited to Germany on such part of her outstanding debt as has not been covered by payment in cash or kind or by the issue of bonds as above, and "the rate of interest shall be 5 per cent unless the Commission shall determine at some future time that circumstances justify a variation of this rate." That is to say, the capital sum of indebtedness is rolling up all the time at compound interest. The effect of this provision towards increasing the burden is, on the assumption that Germany cannot pay very large sums at first, enormous. At 5 per cent compound interest a capital sum doubles itself in fifteen years. On the assumption that Germany cannot pay more than $750,000,000 annually until 1936 (i.e. 5 per cent interest on $15,000,000,000) the $25,000,000,000 on which interest is deferred will have risen to $50,000,000,000, carrying an annual interest charge of $2,500,000,000. That is to say, even if Germany pays $750,000,000 annually up to 1936, she will nevertheless owe us at that date more than half as much again as she does now ($65,000,000,000 as compared with $40,000,000,000). From 1936 onwards she will have to pay to us $3,250,000,000 annually in order to keep pace with the interest alone. At the end of any year in which she pays less than this sum she will owe more than she did at the beginning of it. And if she is to discharge the capital sum in thirty years from 1930, i.e. in forty-eight years from the Armistice, she must pay an additional $650,000,000 annually, making $3,900,000,000 in all.
It is, in my judgment, as certain as anything can be, for reasons which I will elaborate in a moment, that Germany cannot pay anything approaching this sum. Until the Treaty is altered, therefore, Germany has in effect engaged herself to hand over to the Allies the whole of her surplus production in perpetuity.
6. This is not less the case because the Reparation Commission has been given discretionary powers to vary the rate of interest, and to postpone and even to cancel the capital indebtedness. In the first place, some of these powers can only be exercised if the Commission or the Governments represented on it are unanimous. But also, which is perhaps more important, it will be the duty of the Reparation Commission, until there has been a unanimous and far-reaching change of the policy which the Treaty represents, to extract from Germany year after year the maximum sum obtainable. There is a great difference between fixing a definite sum, which though large is within Germany's capacity to pay and yet to retain a little for herself, and fixing a sum far beyond her capacity, which is then to be reduced at the discretion of a foreign Commission acting with the object of obtaining each year the maximum which the circumstances of that year permit. The first still leaves her with some slight incentive for enterprise, energy, and hope. The latter skins her alive year by year in perpetuity, and however skilfully and discreetly the operation is performed, with whatever regard for not killing the patient in the process, it would represent a policy which, if it were really entertained and deliberately practised, the judgment of men would soon pronounce to be one of the most outrageous acts of a cruel victor in civilized history.
There are other functions and powers of high significance which the Treaty accords to the Reparation Commission. But these will be most conveniently dealt with in a separate section.
The forms in which Germany can discharge the sum which she has engaged herself to pay are three in number--
1. Immediately transferable wealth in the form of gold, ships, and foreign securities;
2. The value of property in ceded territory, or surrendered under the Armistice;
3. Annual payments spread over a term of years, partly in cash and partly in materials such as coal products, potash, and dyes.
There is excluded from the above the actual restitution of property removed from territory occupied by the enemy, as, for example, Russian gold, Belgian and French securities, cattle, machinery, and works of art. In so far as the actual goods taken can be identified and restored, they must clearly be returned to their rightful owners, and cannot be brought into the general reparation pool. This is expressly provided for in Article 238 of the Treaty.
(a) Gold.--After deduction of the gold to be returned to Russia, the official holding of gold as shown in the Reichsbank's return of the 30th November, 1918, amounted to $577,089,500. This was a very much larger amount than had appeared in the Reichsbank's return prior to the war, and was the result of the vigorous campaign carried on in Germany during the war for the surrender to the Reichsbank not only of gold coin but of gold ornaments of every kind. Private hoards doubtless still exist, but, in view of the great efforts already made, it is unlikely that either the German Government or the Allies will be able to unearth them. The return can therefore be taken as probably representing the maximum amount which the German Government are able to extract from their people. In addition to gold there was in the Reichsbank a sum of about $5,000,000 in silver. There must be, however, a further substantial amount in circulation, for the holdings of the Reichsbank were as high as $45,500,000 on the 31st December, 1917, and stood at about $30,000,000 up to the latter part of October, 1918, when the internal run began on currency of every kind. We may, therefore, take a total of (say) $625,000,000 for gold and silver together at the date of the Armistice.
These reserves, however, are no longer intact. During the long period which elapsed between the Armistice and the Peace it became necessary for the Allies to facilitate the provisioning of Germany from abroad. The political condition of Germany at that time and the serious menace of Spartacism rendered this step necessary in the interests of the Allies themselves if they desired the continuance in Germany of a stable Government to treat with. The question of how such provisions were to be paid for presented, however, the gravest difficulties. A series of Conferences was held at Trèves, at Spa, at Brussels, and subsequently at Château Villette and Versailles, between representatives of the Allies and of Germany, with the object of finding some method of payment as little injurious as possible to the future prospects of Reparation payments. The German representatives maintained from the outset that the financial exhaustion of their country was for the time being so complete that a temporary loan from the Allies was the only possible expedient. This the Allies could hardly admit at a time when they were preparing demands for the immediate payment by Germany of immeasurably larger sums. But, apart from this, the German claim could not be accepted as strictly accurate so long as their gold was still untapped and their remaining foreign securities unmarketed. In any case, it was out of the question to suppose that in the spring of 1919 public opinion in the Allied countries or in America would have allowed the grant of a substantial loan to Germany. On the other hand, the Allies were naturally reluctant to exhaust on the provisioning of Germany the gold which seemed to afford one of the few obvious and certain sources for Reparation. Much time was expended in the exploration of all possible alternatives; but it was evident at last that, even if German exports and saleable foreign securities had been available to a sufficient value, they could not be liquidated in time, and that the financial exhaustion of Germany was so complete that nothing whatever was immediately available in substantial amounts except the gold in the Reichsbank. Accordingly a sum exceeding $250,000,000 in all out of the Reichsbank gold was transferred by Germany to the Allies (chiefly to the United States, Great Britain, however, also receiving a substantial sum) during the first six months of 1919 in payment for foodstuffs.
But this was not all. Although Germany agreed, under the first extension of the Armistice, not to export gold without Allied permission, this permission could not be always withheld. There were liabilities of the Reichsbank accruing in the neighboring neutral countries, which could not be met otherwise than in gold. The failure of the Reichsbank to meet its liabilities would have caused a depreciation of the exchange so injurious to Germany's credit as to react on the future prospects of Reparation. In some cases, therefore, permission to export gold was accorded to the Reichsbank by the Supreme Economic Council of the Allies.
The net result of these various measures was to reduce the gold reserve of the Reichsbank by more than half, the figures falling from $575,000,000 to $275,000,000 in September, 1919.
It would be possible under the Treaty to take the whole of this latter sum for Reparation purposes. It amounts, however, as it is, to less than 4 per cent of the Reichsbank's Note Issue, and the psychological effect of its total confiscation might be expected (having regard to the very large volume of mark notes held abroad) to destroy the exchange value of the mark almost entirely. A sum of $25,000,000, $50,000,000, or even $100,000,000 might be taken for a special purpose. But we may assume that the Reparation Commission will judge it imprudent, having regard to the reaction on their future prospects of securing payment, to ruin the German currency system altogether, more particularly because the French and Belgian Governments, being holders of a very large volume of mark notes formerly circulating in the occupied or ceded territory, have a great interest in maintaining some exchange value for the mark, quite apart from Reparation prospects.
It follows, therefore, that no sum worth speaking of can be expected in the form of gold or silver towards the initial payment of $5,000,000,000 due by 1921.
(b) Shipping.--Germany has engaged, as we have seen above, to surrender to the Allies virtually the whole of her merchant shipping. A considerable part of it, indeed, was already in the hands of the Allies prior to the conclusion of Peace, either by detention in their ports or by the provisional transfer of tonnage under the Brussels Agreement in connection with the supply of foodstuffs. Estimating the tonnage of German shipping to be taken over under the Treaty at 4,000,000 gross tons, and the average value per ton at $150 per ton, the total money value involved is $600,000,000.
(c) Foreign Securities.--Prior to the census of foreign securities carried out by the German Government in September, 1916, of which the exact results have not been made public, no official return of such investments was ever called for in Germany, and the various unofficial estimates are confessedly based on insufficient data, such as the admission of foreign securities to the German Stock Exchanges, the receipts of the stamp duties, consular reports, etc. The principal German estimates current before the war are given in the appended footnote. This shows a general consensus of opinion among German authorities that their net foreign investments were upwards of $6,250,000,000. I take this figure as the basis of my calculations, although I believe it to be an exaggeration; $5,000,000,000 would probably be a safer figure.
Deductions from this aggregate total have to be made under four heads.
(i.) Investments in Allied countries and in the United States, which between them constitute a considerable part of the world, have been sequestrated by Public Trustees, Custodians of Enemy Property, and similar officials, and are not available for Reparation except in so far as they show a surplus over various private claims. Under the scheme for dealing with enemy debts outlined in Chapter IV., the first charge on these assets is the private claims of Allied against German nationals. It is unlikely, except in the United States, that there will be any appreciable surplus for any other purpose.
(ii.) Germany's most important fields of foreign investment before the war were not, like ours, oversea, but in Russia, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, Roumania, and Bulgaria. A great part of these has now become almost valueless, at any rate for the time being; especially those in Russia and Austria-Hungary. If present market value is to be taken as the test, none of these investments are now saleable above a nominal figure. Unless the Allies are prepared to take over these securities much above their nominal market valuation, and hold them for future realization, there is no substantial source of funds for immediate payment in the form of investments in these countries.
(iii.) While Germany was not in a position to realize her foreign investments during the war to the degree that we were, she did so nevertheless in the case of certain countries and to the extent that she was able. Before the United States came into the war, she is believed to have resold a large part of the pick of her investments in American securities, although some current estimates of these sales (a figure of $300,000,000 has been mentioned) are probably exaggerated. But throughout the war and particularly in its later stages, when her exchanges were weak and her credit in the neighboring neutral countries was becoming very low, she was disposing of such securities as Holland, Switzerland, and Scandinavia would buy or would accept as collateral. It is reasonably certain that by June, 1919, her investments in these countries had been reduced to a negligible figure and were far exceeded by her liabilities in them. Germany has also sold certain overseas securities, such as Argentine cedulas, for which a market could be found.
(iv.) It is certain that since the Armistice there has been a great flight abroad of the foreign securities still remaining in private hands. This is exceedingly difficult to prevent. German foreign investments are as a rule in the form of bearer securities and are not registered. They are easily smuggled abroad across Germany's extensive land frontiers, and for some months before the conclusion of peace it was certain that their owners would not be allowed to retain them if the Allied Governments could discover any method of getting hold of them. These factors combined to stimulate human ingenuity, and the efforts both of the Allied and of the German Governments to interfere effectively with the outflow are believed to have been largely futile.
In face of all these considerations, it will be a miracle if much remains for Reparation. The countries of the Allies and of the United States, the countries of Germany's own allies, and the neutral countries adjacent to Germany exhaust between them almost the whole of the civilized world; and, as we have seen, we cannot expect much to be available for Reparation from investments in any of these quarters. Indeed there remain no countries of importance for investments except those of South America.
To convert the significance of these deductions into figures involves much guesswork. I give the reader the best personal estimate I can form after pondering the matter in the light of the available figures and other relevant data.
I put the deduction under (i.) at $1,500,000,000, of which $500,000,000 may be ultimately available after meeting private debts, etc.
As regards (ii.)--according to a census taken by the Austrian Ministry of Finance on the 31st December, 1912, the nominal value of the Austro-Hungarian securities held by Germans was $986,500,000. Germany's pre-war investments in Russia outside Government securities have been estimated at $475,000,000, which is much lower than would be expected, and in 1906 Sartorius v. Waltershausen estimated her investments in Russian Government securities at $750,000,000. This gives a total of $1,225,000,000, which is to some extent borne out by the figure of $1,000,000,000 given in 1911 by Dr. Ischchanian as a deliberately modest estimate. A Roumanian estimate, published at the time of that country's entry in the war, gave the value of Germany's investments in Roumania at $20,000,000 to $22,000,000, of which $14,000,000 to $16,000,000 were in Government securities. An association for the defense of French interests in Turkey, as reported in the Temps (Sept. 8, 1919), has estimated the total amount of German capital invested in Turkey at about $295,000,000, of which, according to the latest Report of the Council of Foreign Bondholders, $162,500,000 was held by German nationals in the Turkish External Debt. No estimates are available to me of Germany's investments in Bulgaria. Altogether I venture a deduction of $2,500,000,000 in respect of this group of countries as a whole.
Resales and the pledging as collateral of securities during the war under (iii.) I put at $500,000,000 to $750,000,000, comprising practically all Germany's holding of Scandinavian, Dutch, and Swiss securities, a part of her South American securities, and a substantial proportion of her North American securities sold prior to the entry of the United States into the war.
As to the proper deduction under (iv.) there are naturally no available figures. For months past the European press has been full of sensational stories of the expedients adopted. But if we put the value of securities which have already left Germany or have been safely secreted within Germany itself beyond discovery by the most inquisitorial and powerful methods at $500,000,000, we are not likely to overstate it.
These various items lead, therefore, in all to a deduction of a round figure of about $5,000,000,000, and leave us with an amount of $1,250,000,000 theoretically still available.
To some readers this figure may seem low, but let them remember that it purports to represent the remnant of saleable securities upon which the German Government might be able to lay hands for public purposes. In my own opinion it is much too high, and considering the problem by a different method of attack I arrive at a lower figure. For leaving out of account sequestered Allied securities and investments in Austria, Russia, etc., what blocks of securities, specified by countries and enterprises, can Germany possibly still have which could amount to as much as $1,250,000,000? I cannot answer the question. She has some Chinese Government securities which have not been sequestered, a few Japanese perhaps, and a more substantial value of first-class South American properties. But there are very few enterprises of this class still in German hands, and even their value is measured by one or two tens of millions, not by fifties or hundreds. He would be a rash man, in my judgment, who joined a syndicate to pay $500,000,000 in cash for the unsequestered remnant of Germany's overseas investments. If the Reparation Commission is to realize even this lower figure, it is probable that they will have to nurse, for some years, the assets which they take over, not attempting their disposal at the present time.
We have, therefore, a figure of from $500,000,000 to $1,250,000,000 as the maximum contribution from Germany's foreign securities.
Her immediately transferable wealth is composed, then, of--
(a) Gold and silver--say $300,000,000.
(c) Foreign securities--$500,000,000 to $1,250,000,000.
Of the gold and silver, it is not, in fact, practicable to take any substantial part without consequences to the German currency system injurious to the interests of the Allies themselves. The contribution from all these sources together which the Reparation Commission can hope to secure by May, 1921, may be put, therefore, at from $1,250,000,000 to $1,750,000,000 as a maximum.
As the Treaty has been drafted Germany will not receive important credits available towards meeting reparation in respect of her property in ceded territory.
Private property in most of the ceded territory is utilized towards discharging private German debts to Allied nationals, and only the surplus, if any, is available towards Reparation. The value of such property in Poland and the other new States is payable direct to the owners.
Government property in Alsace-Lorraine, in territory ceded to Belgium, and in Germany's former colonies transferred to a Mandatory, is to be forfeited without credit given. Buildings, forests, and other State property which belonged to the former Kingdom of Poland are also to be surrendered without credit. There remain, therefore, Government properties, other than the above, surrendered to Poland, Government properties in Schleswig surrendered to Denmark, the value of the Saar coalfields, the value of certain river craft, etc., to be surrendered under the Ports, Waterways, and Railways Chapter, and the value of the German submarine cables transferred under Annex VII. of the Reparation Chapter.
Whatever the Treaty may say, the Reparation Commission will not secure any cash payments from Poland. I believe that the Saar coalfields have been valued at from $75,000,000 to $100,000,000. A round figure of $150,000,000 for all the above items, excluding any surplus available in respect of private property, is probably a liberal estimate.
Then remains the value of material surrendered under the Armistice. Article 250 provides that a credit shall be assessed by the Reparation Commission for rolling-stock surrendered under the Armistice as well as for certain other specified items, and generally for any material so surrendered for which the Reparation Commission think that credit should be given, "as having non-military value." The rolling-stock (150,000 wagons and 5,000 locomotives) is the only very valuable item. A round figure of $250,000,000, for all the Armistice surrenders, is probably again a liberal estimate.
We have, therefore, $400,000,000 to add in respect of this heading to our figure of $1,250,000,000 to $1,750,000,000 under the previous heading. This figure differs from the preceding in that it does not represent cash capable of benefiting the financial situation of the Allies, but is only a book credit between themselves or between them and Germany.
The total of $1,650,000,000 to $2,150,000,000 now reached is not, however, available for Reparation. The first charge upon it, under Article 251 of the Treaty, is the cost of the Armies of Occupation both during the Armistice and after the conclusion of Peace. The aggregate of this figure up to May, 1921, cannot be calculated until the rate of withdrawal is known which is to reduce the monthly cost from the figure exceeding $100,000,000, which prevailed during the first part of 1919, to that of $5,000,000, which is to be the normal figure eventually. I estimate, however, that this aggregate may be about $1,000,000,000. This leaves us with from $500,000,000 to $1,000,000,000 still in hand.
Out of this, and out of exports of goods, and payments in kind under the Treaty prior to May, 1921 (for which I have not as yet made any allowance), the Allies have held out the hope that they will allow Germany to receive back such sums for the purchase of necessary food and raw materials as the former deem it essential for her to have. It is not possible at the present time to form an accurate judgment either as to the money-value of the goods which Germany will require to purchase from abroad in order to re-establish her economic life, or as to the degree of liberality with which the Allies will exercise their discretion. If her stocks of raw materials and food were to be restored to anything approaching their normal level by May, 1921, Germany would probably require foreign purchasing power of from $500,000,000 to $1,000,000,000 at least, in addition to the value of her current exports. While this is not likely to be permitted, I venture to assert as a matter beyond reasonable dispute that the social and economic condition of Germany cannot possibly permit a surplus of exports over imports during the period prior to May, 1921, and that the value of any payments in kind with which she may be able to furnish the Allies under the Treaty in the form of coal, dyes, timber, or other materials will have to be returned to her to enable her to pay for imports essential to her existence.
The Reparation Commission can, therefore, expect no addition from other sources to the sum of from $500,000,000 to $1,000,000,000 with which we have hypothetically credited it after the realization of Germany's immediately transferable wealth, the calculation of the credits due to Germany under the Treaty, and the discharge of the cost of the Armies of Occupation. As Belgium has secured a private agreement with France, the United States, and Great Britain, outside the Treaty, by which she is to receive, towards satisfaction of her claims, the first $500,000,000 available for Reparation, the upshot of the whole matter is that Belgium may possibly get her $500,000,000 by May, 1921, but none of the other Allies are likely to secure by that date any contribution worth speaking of. At any rate, it would be very imprudent for Finance Ministers to lay their plans on any other hypothesis.
3. Annual Payments spread over a Term of Years
It is evident that Germany's pre-war capacity to pay an annual foreign tribute has not been unaffected by the almost total loss of her colonies, her overseas connections, her mercantile marine, and her foreign properties, by the cession of ten per cent of her territory and population, of one-third of her coal and of three-quarters of her iron ore, by two million casualties amongst men in the prime of life, by the starvation of her people for four years, by the burden of a vast war debt, by the depreciation of her currency to less than one-seventh its former value, by the disruption of her allies and their territories, by Revolution at home and Bolshevism on her borders, and by all the unmeasured ruin in strength and hope of four years of all-swallowing war and final defeat.
All this, one would have supposed, is evident. Yet most estimates of a great indemnity from Germany depend on the assumption that she is in a position to conduct in the future a vastly greater trade than ever she has had in the past.
For the purpose of arriving at a figure it is of no great consequence whether payment takes the form of cash (or rather of foreign exchange) or is partly effected in kind (coal, dyes, timber, etc.), as contemplated by the Treaty. In any event, it is only by the export of specific commodities that Germany can pay, and the method of turning the value of these exports to account for Reparation purposes is, comparatively, a matter of detail.
We shall lose ourselves in mere hypothesis unless we return in some degree to first principles, and, whenever we can, to such statistics as there are. It is certain that an annual payment can only be made by Germany over a series of years by diminishing her imports and increasing her exports, thus enlarging the balance in her favor which is available for effecting payments abroad. Germany can pay in the long-run in goods, and in goods only, whether these goods are furnished direct to the Allies, or whether they are sold to neutrals and the neutral credits so arising are then made over to the Allies. The most solid basis for estimating the extent to which this process can be carried is to be found, therefore, in an analysis of her trade returns before the war. Only on the basis of such an analysis, supplemented by some general data as to the aggregate wealth-producing capacity of the country, can a rational guess be made as to the maximum degree to which the exports of Germany could be brought to exceed her imports.
In the year 1913 Germany's imports amounted to $2,690,000,000, and her exports to $2,525,000,000, exclusive of transit trade and bullion. That is to say, imports exceeded exports by about $165,000,000. On the average of the five years ending 1913, however, her imports exceeded her exports by a substantially larger amount, namely, $370,000,000. It follows, therefore, that more than the whole of Germany's pre-war balance for new foreign investment was derived from the interest on her existing foreign securities, and from the profits of her shipping, foreign banking, etc. As her foreign properties and her mercantile marine are now to be taken from her, and as her foreign banking and other miscellaneous sources of revenue from abroad have been largely destroyed, it appears that, on the pre-war basis of exports and imports, Germany, so far from having a surplus wherewith to make a foreign payment, would be not nearly self-supporting. Her first task, therefore, must be to effect a readjustment of consumption and production to cover this deficit. Any further economy she can effect in the use of imported commodities, and any further stimulation of exports will then be available for Reparation.
Two-thirds of Germany's import and export trade is enumerated under separate headings in the following tables. The considerations applying to the enumerated portions may be assumed to apply more or less to the remaining one-third, which is composed of commodities of minor importance individually.
These tables show that the most important exports consisted of:--
(1) Iron goods, including tin plates (13.2 per cent), (2) Machinery, etc. (7.5 per cent), (3) Coal, coke, and briquettes (7 per cent),
these five classes between them accounting for 39.2 per cent. of the total exports. It will be observed that all these goods are of a kind in which before the war competition between Germany and the United Kingdom was very severe. If, therefore, the volume of such exports to overseas or European destinations is very largely increased the effect upon British export trade must be correspondingly serious. As regards two of the categories, namely, cotton and woolen goods, the increase of an export trade is dependent upon an increase of the import of the raw material, since Germany produces no cotton and practically no wool. These trades are therefore incapable of expansion unless Germany is given facilities for securing these raw materials (which can only be at the expense of the Allies) in excess of the pre-war standard of consumption, and even then the effective increase is not the gross value of the exports, but only the difference between the value of the manufactured exports and of the imported raw material. As regards the other three categories, namely, machinery, iron goods, and coal, Germany's capacity to increase her exports will have been taken from her by the cessions of territory in Poland, Upper Silesia, and Alsace-Lorraine. As has been pointed out already, these districts accounted for nearly one-third of Germany's production of coal. But they also supplied no less than three-quarters of her iron-ore production, 38 per cent of her blast furnaces, and 9.5 per cent of her iron and steel foundries. Unless, therefore, Alsace-Lorraine and Upper Silesia send their iron ore to Germany proper, to be worked up, which will involve an increase in the imports for which she will have to find payment, so far from any increase in export trade being possible, a decrease is inevitable.
Next on the list come cereals, leather goods, sugar, paper, furs, electrical goods, silk goods, and dyes. Cereals are not a net export and are far more than balanced by imports of the same commodities. As regards sugar, nearly 90 per cent of Germany's pre-war exports came to the United Kingdom. An increase in this trade might be stimulated by a grant of a preference in this country to German sugar or by an arrangement by which sugar was taken in part payment for the indemnity on the same lines as has been proposed for coal, dyes, etc. Paper exports also might be capable of some increase. Leather goods, furs, and silks depend upon corresponding imports on the other side of the account. Silk goods are largely in competition with the trade of France and Italy. The remaining items are individually very small. I have heard it suggested that the indemnity might be paid to a great extent in potash and the like. But potash before the war represented 0.6 per cent of Germany's export trade, and about $15,000,000 in aggregate value. Besides, France, having secured a potash field in the territory which has been restored to her, will not welcome a great stimulation of the German exports of this material.
An examination of the import list shows that 63.6 per cent are raw materials and food. The chief items of the former class, namely, cotton, wool, copper, hides, iron-ore, furs, silk, rubber, and tin, could not be much reduced without reacting on the export trade, and might have to be increased if the export trade was to be increased. Imports of food, namely, wheat, barley, coffee, eggs, rice, maize, and the like, present a different problem. It is unlikely that, apart from certain comforts, the consumption of food by the German laboring classes before the war was in excess of what was required for maximum efficiency; indeed, it probably fell short of that amount. Any substantial decrease in the imports of food would therefore react on the efficiency of the industrial population, and consequently on the volume of surplus exports which they could be forced to produce. It is hardly possible to insist on a greatly increased productivity of German industry if the workmen are to be underfed. But this may not be equally true of barley, coffee, eggs, and tobacco. If it were possible to enforce a régime in which for the future no German drank beer or coffee, or smoked any tobacco, a substantial saving could be effected. Otherwise there seems little room for any significant reduction.
The following analysis of German exports and imports, according to destination and origin, is also relevant. From this it appears that of Germany's exports in 1913, 18 per cent went to the British Empire, 17 per cent to France, Italy, and Belgium, 10 per cent to Russia and Roumania, and 7 per cent to the United States; that is to say, more than half of the exports found their market in the countries of the Entente nations. Of the balance, 12 per cent went to Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria, and 35 per cent elsewhere. Unless, therefore, the present Allies are prepared to encourage the importation of German products, a substantial increase in total volume can only be effected by the wholesale swamping of neutral markets.