19 AUGUST 1922, Page 4



THE first thing to remember in the case of the break- down of the Conference is M. Thiers' famous political motto : Tout au serieux ; rim; en tragique. It seems a very grave matter that the Conference could not agree upon the fundamental problems put before it, and yet after all it may well turn out that the failure to agree was a blessing in disguise. If we had chosen an unwise policy of compromise, tempered by the fear of consequences, we might easily have done more harm than good. Palliatives are all very well when the condition of a patient is not very serious, but palliatives may prove dangerous obstacles to recovery when they are used instead of true remedies.

If we look dispassionately at the events of the last few clays, we see that all that has happened has been a failure to patch up a settlement. At the same time, it has become obvious that though individual Powers may threaten, and statesmen and, still more, newspapers, may talk about " the tremendous nature of the issues involved," and of " the awful perils with which we are faced," underneath all this rhetoric all parties concerned are evidently determined not to drive matters to extremes. There has been a great deal of helplessness and a good deal of hopelessness, but it is abundantly evident that nobody wants a deadly quarrel. Though M. Poincare is perturbed by the thought that he might put French public opinion against him if he yielded too early even to the inevitable, there are indications that he would be very glad if the current of events should force France out of the dangerous position into which she has drifted, and in which she must remain, if she presents a mere non possumus to all the proposals for a- settlement that are made to her—i.e., if she merely insists upon her pound of flesh.

This unwillingness to take responsibility either by com- pletely resisting or by completely yielding to the British proposals is reflected in the suggestion that the French Ministry might convoke the Chambers. Though, as a rule, we are not much enamoured of statesmen who, instead of giving a lead, try to throw off their responsibilities on to representative assemblies, we should, in the present case, be glad if the matter could be put before the French Parliament. That might prove a way of giving a wide publicity to our _plans, and of making the French people as a whole understand what is the real issue between our Government and their Government. If this were to lead to some disillusionment on the part of the French people, it would still, in our opinion, be to the good. The French public, not unnaturally perhaps, considering their sufferings and considering the deep sense of pity and indignation felt and expressed for those sufferings, have come to regard themselves as having a kind of prescriptive right to an indulgence beyond ordinary amity and good-feeling. This habit of mind makes any show of sympathy with the troubles of other nations, or even with our own, seem something approaching an injury or an injustice to France. That is a dangerous, if intelligible, mood and every true friend of France must hope to see it pass.

One of the great difficulties at the present moment between us and France is the entirely different way in which the two peoples look at affairs whether of business or of politics. In England our maxim in the conduct of all commercial matters—and we cannot help believing it a wise one—is " Cut a loss and run a profit." French business people, we understand, are not by any means so universally enamoured of this generalization. They are much more tenacious in their efforts to retrieve a loss than they are to embark on a new and redemptory speculation. In the present case, however, we do not despair of making France see that, even though she may think us wrong in the abstract, it is neither reasonable nor prudent for her to try to impose her policy upon us. Above all, we hope to be able to make her see that by following our own policy we are putting no humiliation upon her, nor deserting her in any way. We are merely accepting the facts as they are, and dealing with them on the principle that the consequences will be—nay, must be—the consequences inherent.in the facts.

We can show unquestionably that whether we are right or wrong we are not by our proposals invading the regions in which France has the right to choose for herself alone. France cannot claim a right of veto over our acts, or condemn our readiness to prevent a break-up of the economic structure of Germany, and with it of all Central Europe, by merely calling our acts " favours " to Germany. In reality, they are favours to ourselves and to the human race as a whole. In other words, France must be shown that she cannot make us do what the labourers in the vineyard wanted to make the lord of the vineyard do in the case of his payments to the late workers. The men who had toiled all the day were not angry about their own wages. They were desperately angry because the men who had come in at the eleventh hour were not getting less than they themselves got. But the lord of the vine- yard very properly pointed out, what is indeed the basis of the true Christian religion, that B's benefits can never be injurious to A so long as A gets what he agreed to get. No man, that is, can in effect carry moral relativity so far as to say that benefits to him are not benefits if they have also been obtained by somebody else who is less deserving. Perhaps the best way to show that we are not—to use the current phrase—" talking through our hats " or adopting the artifices of the special pleader against France is to sketch what in our opinion ought to be the policy, and the action, of our Government—to set forth, that is, what we feel sure is the policy which the British People as a whole would like to see adopted. The first move in that policy would be to stabilize our position not merely by talking about paying our debt to America in full but by actually paying it, and paying it in the way that the Americans want it paid—i.e., by funding " it. Remember that by " funding " is meant not going into the open money market and asking people to lend us gold which can then be paid to America, but creating bonds or inscribed stock—whichever is preferred— bearing an agreed rate of interest. The details of such an arrangement should depend largely upon America. In other words, we should say to the American Committee appointed by Congress to deal with the matter what the bank clerk says to anyone who presents a cheque : " How would you like to take it ? " We must give our nine hundred millions sterling, or whatever is the exact sum, to the Americans in the way they like to take it.

That being accomplished, we shall have a free hand. In the first place we can say to America : " Now we are both creditor nations. Without our position being affected by the double relation of debtor and creditor, we are in a position to ask you to help us stabilize the trade of the world. That abstraction, you will readily admit, means incidentally enabling the Germans to take their proper part in international trade. That is a work which must be accomplished if Europe and the civilized world as a whole is ever to come back to a position of tranquillity and prosperity." If for reasons connected with her home problems America feels herself unable to join us in this work, then we must do it by ourselves. We must not sulk or act foolishly merely because we get a disappointing answer from America.

We will assume, for the sake of argument, that we shall have to work alone, though we shall have—and of this we have no doubt —the sympathy of America as a Government and as a great commercial com- munity. As a creditor nation we should next go to the French as the Power most deeply indebted to us, and tell them that we realize that they will have a great deal of difficulty in paying what is our due. We have, however, a scheme to propose to them which, though it will not put money into our pockets, will, we think, greatly help to bring about a return of the world's prosperity. " What is really injuring the world now is the fact that we forced Germany to promise to pay a great deal more in the way of reparations than she could possibly pay without doing deadly injury to all who wish to do business with her. Next, we propose to take account of these promises of reparation payments, alt no doubt morally due and well deserved if it were possible to give them economic fulfil- ment, in the following way. We say to each reparation creditor of Germany that we will accept the German promises to pay, as repayment of the debts due from the Allies to us. When the German paper is passed round to us by the various Allies we shall take it and at once tear it up, cancelling it for ever. In addition we will cancel, without any consideration, whatever is owed in the matter of reparations by Germany to ourselves. In this way the German reparation bill will be automatically reduced to a sum which Germany can in all probability pay without involving herself in a ruin which would in turn involve the ruin of the rest of the world."

But the offer which we thus summarize is not all. We should propose a still further simplification of the repara- tions question. We should insist that there should be nothing indeterminate about the amount to be paid by Germany to France. It should be a definite sum to be paid in so many fixed payments over a period of, say, three or five years, and then come to an end. The result of such an arrangement would be that Germany would be given a benefit to work for. She would not, as now, be oppressed with the feeling that it was hopeless for her to struggle against the flood of indemnity. Needless to say it would be much better for France to receive something definite, if reduced in amount, than to dream of the phantom millions of Versailles which Fate has shown can never be hers. To sum up, our policy should be that of inducing France to cut her loss. But, owing to the unfortunate self-regarding mood into which France has drifted, we would do more than this. We would, in order to help her to shake it off and to give her confidence, offer France the strongest possible guarantee that we would stand by her—horse, foot and artillery—if shewas ever exposed to an unprovoked attack by Germany. This guarantee, moreover, would enable France to give up spending the vast sums she is now devoting to her army and navy to the terrible embarrassment of her economical situation. At the same time, and in order to give that security to Germany which she needs so as to obtain solvency, and so to be able to help in the work of the world, we would give a similar guarantee to Germany. We would, that is, tell her that we would not allow her to be wantonly attacked by any other Power, either on her eastern or western frontier. Such guarantees need not prove to be any embarrassment to us. That, roughly, is the programme which we have felt for the past year must be adopted, and it is the policy which we believe Englishmen in general would like to see carried out. No doubt it may seem to the superficial observer a policy in which all the sacrifices are ours and all the benefits somebody else's, but in reality it is a businesslike as well as a worthy policy. Though, no doubt, some Frenchmen might be annoyed at it, it does not, as a matter of fact, violate a single right which belongs to the French. No just-minded Frenchman can say that by adopting it we are doing any injury to France or breaking any agreement with her, either in the letter or the spirit. We have every right as a Sovereign Power to choose such a policy and to make the various offers which we hold should be made to France and the other Allies. Of course, if France refused to take advantage of our offer to allow her to pay her debts to us in promises which it is obviously impossible for Germany to keep, we cannot compel her to do so. What we should have to do in that case would be to ask her to pay us in gold, as agreed. We should then lend the money to Germany.. Germany would thereupon give it back to France, an arrangement which we venture to say would not be nearly so profitable financially to France as the one which we have proposed. In any case the policy just sketched is one, as we have said, which we have a right to propose and carry out—one which no reasonable man could declare hostile to France merely because it will be beneficial to Germany. Remember, in conclusion, that by adopting a policy which is beneficial to Germany we refuse absolutely to admit that it involves any moral endorsement of German evil deeds. It does not make us abandon our view of the delinquency of German policy before the War. The policy we favour is based on the sound principle that we must not be guilty of the supreme folly of ruining ourselves and the rest of the world in order to teach Germany a moral lesson or to punish her for past crimes.