“Squeeze Germany until the Pips Squeak”

by Richard M. Langworth on 14 September 2014

1919Cologne3

Churchill in Cologne, 1919

Writ­ing in the Ari­zona Repub­lic, Clay Thomp­son prop­erly cor­rects a reader who believes it was Churchill who coined the phrase, “we shall squeeze Ger­many until the pips squeak” when he was “sec­re­tary of the navy.” Mr. Thomp­son cor­rectly replied that this was not Churchill but, among oth­ers, Sir Eric Campbell-Geddes, who served as First Lord of the Admi­ralty (civil­ian head of the Navy) in 1917-19. The line has also been ascribed to Prime Min­is­ter David Lloyd George and others.

Churchill, as Thomp­son says, crit­i­cized this pol­icy in The World Cri­sis, his mem­oirs of World War I. True to his maxim, “In war, resolution…In vic­tory, mag­na­nim­ity,” Churchill, who was Sec­re­tary of State for War in 1918-19, argued that the Allies should ship boat­loads of food to Ger­many after the Ger­man sur­ren­dered, and that lenient terms be meted out to the defeated enemy.

But “squeez­ing Ger­many until the pips squeak” was indeed the pol­icy adopted by the Allies at Ver­sailles, com­mit­ting Ger­many to vast repa­ra­tions and squeez­ing so hard they con­tributed to a Ger­man eco­nomic col­lapse in the 1920s, lead­ing ulti­mately to Hitler.

Thanks to Clay Thomp­son for punc­tur­ing this par­tic­u­lar instance of “Churchill­lian Drift.”

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