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attitude toward the Germans, against the better judgment of King Albert and his advisers; are cynical and opportunist in their Near-Eastern policy; and that swashbuckler militarism and the ambition to dominate Europe have changed habitat from Berlin to Paris.
Readers of THE CENTURY may protest that their admiration of France and confidence in France have not been shaken by what they read, but who does not confess to misgivings about the wisdom of the threat to invade the Ruhr? Who does not believe that Lloyd George has spoken more reasonably than Briand? Who does not feel that the unsheathed sword of France is retarding the establishment of peace in Europe and throughout the world? Everywhere I go I hear people saying that they love France and think France ought to have satisfaction from Germany, but at the same time there is the qualifying clause that France should be reasonable.
"What's the matter with France?" The question is not unjustified, but we cannot answer it fairly unless we consider its corollary, "What 's the matter with ourselves?"
We borrow a French word to express an idea for which the French themselves use another word. We speak of a person as being naïve in his reasoning or attitude, but the French would say simpliste. Simplisme is the error in reasoning of neglecting elements of a problem that ought to be considered in arriving at a solution. Because we are self-centered sentimentalists, we Anglo-Saxons are simplistes. In building up briefs to justify our actions and to condemn the actions of others, we admit contingency only when contingent factors affect us and have influenced us. When others cry out, "But
what would you have done in our place?" our answer is, "We are not in your place." The answer is final. Thus do we dismiss disagreeable and unwelcome conclusions.
Not only because it is unfair and unchivalrous, but also because it is dangerous, we must avoid comfortable and comforting simplisme in our thinking about the European situation. It may be true that the unsheathed sword of France is disastrous to reconstruction and the return of normal conditions, but does it follow that France is wrong in not having put back into the scabbard her sword? Could France have sheathed her sword before now? Can she sheathe it this summer? If Europe remains under arms during the third year of "peace," is the fault solely, or even primarily, France's? Or is Germany to blame? Or Poland? Can we look for the root of the trouble in Bolshevism? Each of these questions opens up a lot of speculation. By the mouths of our statesmen and the pens of our editorial writers we criticize and denounce and advise, but until we ask ourselves whether the attitude of France may not be due to what we have done and what we have left undone, we follow false leads. Winning the war came through pooling efforts and pooling resources. Will winning the peace come in any other way?
When May 1, 1921, was set as the date on which the total amount of reparation due from Germany to her victors would be fixed, it seemed a long way off. American delegates urged that the amount the Allies intended to exact be decided upon immediately and be stipulated in the treaty, but the
Allies would have had to determine the proportion of the indemnity each country was to receive. This could not have been done during the peace conference, which had already too many friction-breeding problems on its hands to risk another. It involved the filing of claims of all the victors. With the fluctuation of exchange and the uncertainty of cost of labor, material, and freight, those who suffered damages could not even approximate the sums necessary to make good their losses. The French advanced a powerful argument against the American suggestion of a fixed indemnity when they said that, since all admitted the liability of Germany to be far more than could be collected from her, it would be wise to wait a year or two to see how hard hit Germany was, and how the world would recover from the economic consequences of the war before deciding how much money could be collected. Mr. Lloyd George supported the French contention. Having recently won a general election on the promise to make Germany pay all the expenses of the war, he did not dare to return from Paris with a treaty containing a fixed sum for reparations.
British and American writers, among whom was the correspondent of THE CENTURY, believed that the failure to name a definite sum for the German indemnity put in jeopardy the rapid rehabilitation of Europe, and the French were roundly criticized for their triumph on this important point in the Treaty of Versailles. This view was upheld later in books and speeches by members of the British and American peace delegations. The prophecy has been proved true. But is the criticism just? We looked at this question as at others from the point
of view of our own interests. The indemnity was not the vital thing to us that it was to the French. We could afford the forming of a detached judgment, and it was easy for us to make ourselves believe that we had common sense and thought of the common weal on our side.
Subsequent events have seemed to us to justify our opinion. "I told you so" has come to our lips. to read into the omission of a fixed indemnity a conspiracy on the part of France to give her an indefinite strangle-hold upon Germany. Together with the stipulations concerning the trial of war criminals, which Germany could not fulfil, and the disarmament clauses, which gave unlimited opportunity for quibble and dispute, the unpaid bill for reparations furnished France with an excuse for retention of the Rhine provinces and further invasion of Germany.
Great Britain and the United States have no budget deficits to face. We explain this by our willingness to tax ourselves and by drastic reduction of military and naval expenses. "An admirable example the British set us, and we are following it," said a treasury official to me in Washington the other day. "Now, if the French would tax themselves, and if they would put their army back on peace footing, they would n't be in such a hole." The same evening I read in Washington's most influential newspaper, "If the French stop bothering the world about a debt they will never collect, and realize that prosperity comes from working, as we Americans do, we shall have peace.'
Although it has been impressed upon them over and over again, British and Americans do not seem to understand
that northern and northeastern France were industrial and mining regions, from which France derived most of her wealth; that these regions were ruined by fighting over them and by the German occupation; and that France still suffers not only from the loss of their normal revenue, but also from the necessity of incorporating in the national budget enormous sums for reconstruction. Neither the British nor we face this unique problem. Yet, Yet, when we speak of the French taxing themselves and cutting down expenses to avoid budget deficits, we give smugly the illustration of ourselves and how nobly we are solving financial problems, as if there were a similarity between our own situation and that of France. We can get along without the German indemnity because the Germans did not kill millions of us and cripple our industries from Pittsburgh to Chicago. France cannot get along without the German indemnity. We can tax ourselves and not break under the load, although we groan, because, taken for its entire period, the war made us wealthy. The British were hard hit, but, as Mr. Austin Chamberlain complacently explained to the House of Commons, the map of the world showed why the British Empire need not worry about meeting its obligations.
Most economists agree upon two points: that Germany cannot pay what has been demanded of her, and what under the threat of renewed invasion she finally agreed to pay, unless she becomes a more successful and more formidable competitor in world markets than she was before the war; and that the plan of making Germany pay according to her prosperity (that is, the tax on exports) will be worked out only if the creditors of Germany
take over the governing of the country.
The first point is not hard to understand. Payments abroad are made by favorable trade balances. Gold marks are to be found by selling goods. many gold marks Germany will be able to pay into the coffers of other countries depends upon how much she sells outside her own borders. Consequently, Germany's good faith alone is not sufficient to enable her to live up to the obligations she has assumed. Unless we allow her to reënter our markets and other markets from which we have driven her, she will quickly default in indemnity payments.
The second point is more subtle. If we had no internal-revenue inspectors, and no laws to compel individual men and corporations to show their books for inspection, American national honesty would not stand the strain put upon it. Expenses would eat up profits. To get the sixty million inhabitants of the German Empire working for a generation to pay to their conquerors of 1918 sums in part dependent upon their prosperity will require rigid control of public and private budgets from Berlin down to the smallest commune and corporation. For if we do not govern the Germans, and tell them what they can and cannot put into their budgets for expenses, in a very short time we shall find that they have no surplus. Operating expenses and "indispensable" public works will take all the money the Government can raise in taxes. Private enterprises will find ways of spending money in producing and improving up to the point where nothing will be left beyond the bare margin necessary for cost of production to meet competition.
The British already grasp these two points. They look with equal dismay
upon German competition in world markets and upon British coöperation in governing (which involves policing) Germany. The tone of the British press is unmistakable: Germany must pay, of course, but do not count upon our help in making her pay, and, above all, we must not pay for her! If American public opinion, now at ease because we are outside the European muddle, had any conception of what helping to collect the indemnity meant, our reactions would be the same as those of the British.
Despite the anxiety we still feel over the indemnity, there is general satisfaction that Germany, on the date set in the treaty, agreed to the victors' indemnity demands. We breathe a sigh of relief. At last that question has been settled. The disaster of a French invasion of the Ruhr has been averted. But I wonder if we realize that the decision of Berlin was due not to the warning of Lloyd George, but to the unsheathed sword of France. Would not the indemnity question be still before us had Briand refrained from mobilizing the class of 1919 on the Rhine? Germany has promised to pay the indemnity. The amount fixed is to the French a minimum amount. It is foolish for us to believe that France will consent to its reduction, or that France can be dissuaded from using force should Germany default. The problem, then, is not solved. And we have no right to ask France to sheathe her sword until we are prepared to offer an alternative to the compulsory collection of the indemnity. If it is proved that Germany cannot pay without injury to British and American commercial interests and without involving Great Britain and the United States in intervention in the affairs of
Germany, it is our imperative duty to offer to help France in her financial impasse. To denounce Germany is futile. To scold France is shameful.
Now that Germany has capitulated, and is, according to Lord d'Abernon, British ambassador at Berlin, in earnest in accepting the burdens of the Treaty of Versailles, ought not the French to put their army on a peace footing, cut down expenses, and get back to work? Let them follow the sensible example of the British and Americans! Throughout the Englishspeaking world the minds of the people are concentrated on the "return to normalcy." The way the centenary of Napoleon's death was celebrated in France annoys us. Has the victory they could not have won without us turned the heads of the French? are suspicious of militarism, and we do not purpose to encourage France or any other nation in keeping things stirred up. When Lloyd George thundered against the Poles, we cried "Amen!" And we added that the French were responsible for the Polish childishness.
But here, as in the indemnity question, we have considered the situation in terms of ourselves. We are not worried about Germany, because we have nothing to fear from Germany. Her navy is sunk, and we have taken measures to prevent its recreation, especially in the matter of submarines and naval aircraft. We feel that Germany's merchant marine is crippled for a long time, and that the lessons of the war will enable us to prevent a revival of German political and economic propaganda outside of Europe. As a result of the war we have attained the
things men fight for security and prosperity. If we still felt insecure or if we believed that Germany was still in a position to threaten our prosperity, our attitude toward Germany would be different. Until we were the victors, no matter what the cost, we should not have laid down our arms. Putting ourselves in France's place, then, can we honestly argue that France should sheathe her sword?
There is a military party in France, of course, as there is in all countries, and one finds the Bourbon and Prussian types of mind in high places. But in a country ruled as France is ruled, militarists, jingoes, and imperialists are able to shape policies only in so far as the great mass of the electorate finds itself in fundamental agreement with their fears and hopes. As long as French public opinion fears Germany, plans for reducing Germany to impotence will be listened to. As long as French public opinion hopes to make the Germans contribute an important part to France's yearly budget, there will be no irresistible sentiment against keeping under arms enough soldiers to force Germany to pay.
It is a mistake to think that the French are blind to facts and logic because of their hatred and fear of the Germans. One does not know French character who says that the French are trying to kill the goose and still hope for the golden egg. The French think things out, and they do not fool themselves as we do. The French know that they run a risk of killing the goose in trying to get the golden egg, but they need the egg so badly that they are willing to take the risk. And, then, it is not a risk; for they think it would be as advantageous to them to kill the goose as to have the egg.
If one could persuade the French to forget their history from 1870 to 1918, to believe that their industries and mines were in a position to compete on equal terms with Germany in world markets, that budget deficits did not need to be met, that the Lorraine frontier was as good a defense as the English Channel or the Atlantic Ocean, and that a nation of fewer than forty millions could raise as strong an army by a levée en masse as a nation of over sixty millions, we should find them as "reasonable" as ourselves. By being "reasonable" we mean trusting Providence that everything will work out well in the end. If only the French were "reasonable"! Surrounded by a plethora of this world's goods, we see no reason for the fears of the Frenchman who wonders how he is going to make both ends meet. All he has to do is to get back to work. Safe from attack in our Anglo-American geographical isolation, we are impatient with the Frenchman for keeping his army mobilized, for attempting to make Poland a strong ally to replace Russia, for raising African armies to fill the gaps caused by the hecatomb of the nation's youth, and for drawing the claws of a beast whose attack would be fatal were he given another chance.
France insists upon the fulfilment of the disarmament stipulations of the Treaty of Versailles and that Poland be given a large part, if not all, of upper Silesia. Until then, and not until then, will France sheathe her sword. Starting to pay the indemnity is not enough. The Ruhr basin is still threatened. France may march in at any moment.
We insist that everything cannot be accomplished at once, that we must play fair with Germany in Silesia and