From now on it is not the chancelleries which must impose the solutions of great problems; but it is the mass of the public in Europe and America.
THE ANXIETIES OF THE VICTORS
We have seen the process by which the idea of the indemnity for damages, which was not contained either in the peace declaration of the Entente, nor in the manifestations of the various parliaments, nor in the first armistice proposals, nor in the armistice between Italy and Austria, was introduced in the armistice with Germany, out of pure regard for France, without taking heed of the consequences. Three words, said Clemenceau, only three words need be added, words which compromise nothing and are an act of deference to France. The entire construction of the treaties, after all, is based on those three words.
And how fantastic the demands for compensation have become!
An old Italian proverb says, “In time of war there are more lies than earth.” Ancient and modern pottery reproduce the motto, which is widespread, and whose truth was not understood until some years ago. So many foolish things were said about the almost mysterious manoeuvres of Germany, about her vast expansion, her great resources and accumulated capital, that the reality tended to become lost to sight.
These absurd legends, formed during the War, were not forgotten, and there are even now many who believe in good faith that Germany can pay, if not twenty or twenty-five milliards a year, at least eight or nine without any difficulty.
France’s shrewdest politicians, however, well knew that the demand for an enormous and unlimited indemnity was only a means of putting Germany under control and depressing her to the point of exhaustion. But the others maintained this proposal more out of rancour and hatred than from any actual political concept. It may be said that the problem of the indemnity has never been seriously studied and that the calculations, the valuations, the procedures, have all formed a series of impulsive acts co-ordinated by a single error, the error of the French politicians who had the one aim of holding Germany down.
The procedure was simple.
In the first phase the indemnities came into being from three words inserted almost by chance into the armistice treaty on November 2, 1918, reparation des dommages. It was merely a matter of a simple expression to content public feeling: Je supplie le conseil de se mettre dans l’esprit de la population francaise.... It was a moral concession, a moral satisfaction.
But afterwards, as things went on, all was altered when it came to preparing the treaties.
For a while the idea, not only of a reparation of damages, but of the payment of the cost of the War was entertained. It was maintained that the practice of making the vanquished reimburse the cost of the War was permitted by international law. Since Germany had provoked the War and lost it, she must not only furnish an indemnity for the losses, but also pay the cost.