“Squeeze Germany until the Pips Squeak”

“Squeeze Germany until the Pips Squeak”

Writ­ing in the Ari­zona Repub­lic, Clay Thomp­son prop­er­ly cor­rects a read­er. It was not Churchill who coined the phrase, “we shall squeeze Ger­many until the pips squeak.” Mr. Thomp­son cor­rect­ly replied that the author was like­ly Sir Eric Camp­bell-Ged­des, First Lord of the Admi­ral­ty  in 1917-19. No soon­er had Ged­des uttered it than the line was ascribed to Prime Min­is­ter David Lloyd George. It worked well in the 1918 British gen­er­al elec­tion, which Lloyd George hand­i­ly won.

Lloyd George was per­son­al­ly not revenge-mind­ed. But as a politi­cian he was all too ready to adopt the pop­u­lar cry “Hang the Kaiser.” (Pun­ish­ing the Kaiser was resist­ed by very few besides Churchill. A dan­ger­ous vac­u­um, Churchill warned, might occur if the Hohen­zollerns were deposed.)

Churchill in Cologne, Ger­many, 1919.

Churchill, as Thomp­son says, crit­i­cized severe ret­ri­bu­tion against Ger­many at the time. He con­tin­ued to say so in The World Cri­sis, his mem­oir of World War I. He was true to his max­im, “In vic­to­ry, mag­na­nim­i­ty.” As Sec­re­tary of State for War in 1918-19, Churchill argued that the Allies should ship boat­loads of food to block­ad­ed Ger­many after the Armistice. Lenient terms, he added, should be offered the defeat­ed enemy.

Squeezing Germany

“Squeez­ing Ger­many until the pips squeak” was a good vote-get­ting slo­gan, but it is too sweep­ing to say that the peace of 1919 led direct­ly to Hitler. As the his­to­ri­an R.J.Q. Adams wrote:

Britain required a restored Ger­many, returned to eco­nom­ic sta­bil­i­ty…. Though defeat­ed, Ger­many remained a uni­fied vital nation of more than 60 mil­lion souls who had fought the British and French to a stand­still on the west­ern front for more than three years. Her recov­ery, regard­less of the desires of her for­mer ene­mies, was vir­tu­al­ly inevitable. It is not dif­fi­cult to see why there were many to whom appeas­ing such a nation was attractive.

“Squeez­ing” was the adver­tised approach, at least in pub­lic, of most Allied lead­ers. It com­mit­ted Ger­many to vast repa­ra­tions, con­tribut­ing (but not sole­ly caus­ing) an eco­nom­ic col­lapse in the 1920s. We should not how­ev­er over­rate this. The Ger­mans paid many mil­lions in repa­ra­tions. But they also received about 50 per­cent more than that in US loans.

Of course it can be argued that with­out the drain of repa­ra­tions, the Ger­man state would have been bet­ter able to with­stand post­war eco­nom­ic chaos that led in due course to Hitler. But oth­er aspects of the treaty were also ques­tion­able. For exam­ple, Churchill argued that the return of Germany’s for­feit­ed colonies, was a real­is­tic form of appeasement.

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

6 thoughts on ““Squeeze Germany until the Pips Squeak”

  1. Reply­ing to David, below: Well, the 1871 treaty of Frank­furt just took away a region of France called Alsace-Lor­raine which had been Ger­man-speak­ing since the fall of the West Roman Empire. Fur­ther­more, a huge chunk of the 3.8 bil­lion gold franc war indem­ni­ty due to be paid by France was off­set by count­ing French canals and rail­ways as well as oth­er infra­struc­ture in Alsace-Lorraine.

    And the treaty of Brest-Litovsk saw no indem­ni­ties at all. It was sup­posed to give free­dom to the non-Russ­ian peo­ples of the fall­en Russ­ian Empire, end­ing the threat to Ger­many from the east. Noth­ing more. How­ev­er, in the years from 1918 to 1921 the young Sovi­et Union man­aged to recon­quer Ukraine and Byelorus­sia (except for the west­ern parts which went to Poland in 1920), the Cau­casian Republics, as well as ex-Impe­r­i­al Russ­ian Cen­tral Asia. Sovi­et attempts, under­tak­en in the same peri­od of time, to re-take Fin­land, the Baltic states and Poland came to grief, however.

    Ger­man indem­ni­ties after WW1 amount­ed to 132 bil­lion gold marks. This might have been doable, had the vic­tors not insist­ed on being paid in gold or in their own cur­ren­cies. That was unfor­tu­nate­ly impos­si­ble with Ger­man goods being de fac­to exclud­ed from their for­mer export mar­kets with the help of exor­bi­tant tariffs.

    In my hum­ble opin­ion, Deighton is pos­si­bly nei­ther a liar nor an idiot, but Ger­manophobes such as he score guilty on both counts all too often.

  2. Of course the eco­nom­ic prob­lems of Ger­many were a fac­tor in the rise of Com­mu­nism and Nazism there. But the humil­i­a­tions of the Treaty and of Danzig (Gdan­sk) upon a proud pop­u­la­tion and their lan­guage and cul­ture con­tributed might­i­ly to Hitler’s rise. Indeed with­out the votes of north­east Ger­many, Hitler may nev­er have gained pow­er. Restric­tions on the mil­i­tary were humil­i­at­ing too. But since there was no per­ma­nent Allied occu­pa­tion, the Ger­mans were able to cheat almost from the very begin­ning and devel­op their air force, 88 guns, U-boats, etc. Repa­ra­tions per se did not cause Hitler, but the Ver­sailles Treaty cer­tain­ly was the ful­crum by which Hitler turned the Ger­man peo­ple into vic­tims and posed as the true defend­er of “Ger­man rights” and “Ger­man pride.” Hitler under­stood the appeal of nation­al­ism and the hurt pride of the Ger­man peo­ple, and exploit­ed them to his benefit.

  3. Not exact­ly. The words were by Eric Ged­des, not Lloyd George, whose ini­tial impulse was for a mag­nan­i­mous peace. But as Charles Mee writes, “Squeeze Ger­many until the pips squeak” became the ral­ly­ing cry of the 1918 British elec­tion, the Lib­er­al Party’s pop­u­lar­i­ty recov­ered, and “Lloyd George was ebul­lient.” 2) The real cru­sad­er for ret­ri­bu­tion was Alfred Harmsworth, Lord North­cliffe, and his pow­er­ful news­pa­pers. Thrice reject­ed by Lloyd George for the cab­i­net North­cliffe had per­son­al as well as polit­i­cal moti­va­tions for his stri­dent advocacy.

    Nei­ther is it cor­rect to say the British and French accept no blame for the ret­ribu­tive peace. Britain’s mis­takes at the Peace Con­fer­ence have been wide­ly aired by his­to­ri­ans, notably R.J.Q. Adams. French his­to­ri­ans for their part have long crit­i­cised the French equiv­a­lent, post-1918 slo­gan, “L’Allemagne paiera!” (Ger­many will pay). Nor has Woodrow Wil­son escaped blame, for the naivete that inspired too many of his impuls­es in the Peace Treaty. I have, how­ev­er, mod­i­fied the above post to sug­gest that harsh treat­ment of Ger­many was con­sid­er­ably mit­i­gat­ed by the USA, which loaned Ger­many more mon­ey than they had to pay in repa­ra­tions. In short, this is a big, com­pli­cat­ed sub­ject, not con­ducive to sweep­ing generalizations.

  4. And that was the open­ing shot that began the Sec­ond World War, which did not begin when Ger­many invad­ed Poland. It began when those words were uttered by an insane Welsh b——, David Lloyd-George. Woodrow Wil­son did not know who he was deal­ing with at the Peace Con­fer­ence. The British and the French still con­tin­ue to believe they are inno­cent of any wrongdoing.

  5. “com­mit­ting Ger­many to vast repa­ra­tions and squeez­ing so hard they con­tributed to a Ger­man eco­nomic col­lapse in the 1920s, lead­ing ulti­mately to Hitler.”

    This has become such a stan­dard of his­tor­i­cal dog­ma that I thought that it might be a good idea to present an oppos­ing view by a seri­ous his­to­ri­an, dis­cussing just this question:

    “the treaty that final­ly emerged was not vin­dic­tive com­pared with Germany’s peace with France in 1871 or the terms Ger­many inflict­ed on Lenin’s Rus­sia in 1917. In post­war Ger­many, politi­cians made much of the £1,000 mil­lion charged to Ger­many in repa­ra­tions. Less was said about the £1,500 mil­lion loaned to her by Britain and the Unit­ed States.” (Len Deighton, Blood, Tears and Fol­ly, Pim­li­co, 1995, p. 133)

    My first approach to this ques­tion would be to check Mr. Deighton’s num­bers, but I haven’t got the time or incli­na­tion to even start on such a project right now.

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