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, 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 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.”