In the final reply of the Allies to this counter-proposal there is one important provision, which I have not attended to hitherto, but which can be conveniently dealt with in this place. Broadly speaking, no concessions were entertained on the Reparation Chapter as it was originally drafted, but the Allies recognized the inconvenience of the indeterminacy of the burden laid upon Germany and proposed a method by which the final total of claim might be established at an earlier date than May 1, 1921. They promised, therefore, that at any time within four months of the signature of the Treaty (that is to say, up to the end of October, 1919), Germany should be at liberty to submit an offer of a lump sum in settlement of her whole liability as defined in the Treaty, and within two months thereafter (that is to say, before the end of 1919) the Allies “will, so far as may be possible, return their answers to any proposals that may be made.”
This offer is subject to three conditions. “Firstly, the German authorities will be expected, before making such proposals, to confer with the representatives of the Powers directly concerned. Secondly, such offers must be unambiguous and must be precise and clear. Thirdly, they must accept the categories and the Reparation clauses as matters settled beyond discussion.”
The offer, as made, does not appear to contemplate any opening up of the problem of Germany’s capacity to pay. It is only concerned with the establishment of the total bill of claims as defined in the Treaty—whether (e.g.) it is $35,000,000,000, $40,000,000,000, or $50,000,000,000. “The questions,” the Allies’ reply adds, “are bare questions of fact, namely, the amount of the liabilities, and they are susceptible of being treated in this way.”
If the promised negotiations are really conducted on these lines, they are not likely to be fruitful. It will not be much easier to arrive at an agreed figure before the end of 1919 that it was at the time of the Conference; and it will not help Germany’s financial position to know for certain that she is liable for the huge sum which on any computation the Treaty liabilities must amount to. These negotiations do offer, however, an opportunity of reopening the whole question of the Reparation payments, although it is hardly to be hoped that at so very early a date, public opinion in the countries of the Allies has changed its mood sufficiently.
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I cannot leave this subject as though its just treatment wholly depended either on our own pledges or on economic facts. The policy of reducing Germany to servitude for a generation, of degrading the lives of millions of human beings, and of depriving a whole nation of happiness should be abhorrent and detestable,—abhorrent and detestable, even if it were possible, even if it enriched ourselves, even if it did not sow the decay of the whole civilized life of Europe. Some preach it in the name of Justice. In the great events of man’s history, in the unwinding of the complex fates of nations Justice is not so simple. And if it were, nations are not authorized, by religion or by natural morals, to visit on the children of their enemies the misdoings of parents or of rulers.