Top positive review
Can't pay, won't pay
on 8 July 2017
A first hand account of the meetings in Paris at the end of the 'European Civil War'. To describe them as peace negotiations is stretching the English language. Firstly, Germany played no part in the 'negotiations' and secondly 'peace' had already been established following Germany's sudden implosion after the Armistice.
What comes across is the need to 'punish'. In some circles, a desire to turn the clock back not just to pre-1914 but to pre-1870. Or as Mr Keynes puts it, a desire for a 'Carthaginian peace'.
The most famous aspect of this book concerns Mr Keynes forensic analysis of the economics of the peace proposals, especially the rapaciousness of the reparations and his prediction of the consequences. He doesn't just carp from the sidelines. He offers a more logical alternative based on an economic analysis of Germany's ability to pay. However, emotion, not logic, was uppermost in most people's minds after the deluge. So like a judge passing twenty life sentences on a murderer, the reparations bill grew higher. It should be noted that Mr Keynes was writing in 1919 and the final, even higher Rechnung, was not put before Germany until 1921.
Equally fascinating is the personal account of the roles and characters of the key players; Wilson, Clemenceau and Lloyd-George. This is a 'gloves off' contemporary assessment. One can labour through too many hagiographies of these protagonists and still not grasp their mettle. Mr Keynes pulls no punches in his assessment of this mixture of nascent and moribund Super Power leaders. This section of the book was compelling.
His outlook is based in economics but backed by a deeply moral Utilitarian conviction. He decribes as 'abhorrent and detestable' the policy of depriving generations of Germans the 'right of happiness' . Many historians have subsequently discussed whether the Treaty 'caused' the Second World War and countless exam questions been written on the same theme. One can take sides in this debate but it is also possible to see other less controversial predictions in this work; he foreshadows a European Economic Union based on free trade and a putative World Bank.
Most profoundly he focuses on War Debt, a topic more likely to raise yawns among many history students but of crucial importance in understanding the realpolitik of future decades. Effectively, the USA funded the 'European Civil War' using the British Empire as security for the loan.
You may approach such a dry sounding tome with trepidation but this brilliant book could deeply affect the way you interpret the world since 1919.