January 16, 2004

Good God! Mr. Wheatcroft: Do Your Math!

*Sigh.* Another Brit who has drunk too much port at his club over the course of his life, and says amazingly stupid things:

Geoffrey Wheatcroft: [The illusion of U.S. weakness] was one illusion the British did not share, but for them, the emergence of the United States as the greatest power on earth was a bitter pill. Some took refuge in denial. Winston Churchill hymned "the English-speaking peoples" and Anglo-American friendship in a way that glossed over the reality of profoundly different national interests. He also said that he had not become prime minister to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire, to which Franklin D. Roosevelt almost audibly replied that America was not fighting to preserve it. For Churchill, Roosevelt's Lend-Lease program was an act of selfless generosity, but as reviewers of Conrad Black's new biography of Roosevelt have pointed out, and as John Maynard Keynes saw at the time, its financial terms were very stringent, stripping Great Britain of its currency reserves and all but destroying its exporting economy...

First of all, the emergence of the United States as the greatest power on earth in the twentieth century was not a "bitter pill" for Britain. It was Britain's greatest strategic advantage. it's the equivalent of being dealt two aces in the hole at the start of a seven card-stud poker game--and then being dealt a third ace for the last, final hole card as well. The loss of World War II and the Nazi occupation of Britain--which is what would have happened without the United States--would have been a considerably more "bitter pill" than having an amazingly powerful ally willing to join your side in your big wars.

Second, this "profoundly different national interests." How, exactly, are America's and Britain's national interests different? Both share a profoundly strong national interest in stamping Nazis off the face of the earth, in containing Communism and then assisting in its fall, in the spread of democracy around the world, in peace, and in prosperity. Where are Britain's and America's national interests opposed? Is it the claim that Britain had a national interest in ruling India and Africa? I don't think so. The post-World War II British Labour and Conservative parties did not think so either. British and American national interests are astonishingly and profoundly closely aligned--as closely aligned as the national interests of America and Canada.

Third, this claim that U.S. policy during World War II "all but destroyed" Britain's export-based economy.... Look: Britain imported 17 billion pounds' worth of goods during World War II, of which America paid--in Lend-Lease and in post-World War II Marshall Plan and MSA aid--for 7 billion. Had America paid for all 17 billion pounds, then Britain would have had an extra 10 billion pounds' worth of overseas assets at the end of World War II. At a 5% real return on overseas investments, this would have boosted post-World War II British GDP by four percent. Because of Lend-Lease, Marshall, and MSA, Britain was 3% richer after World War II than it would have been had Roosevelt insisted on cash (or assets) on the barrelhead. Because Lend-Lease, Marshall, and MSA aid were not enough to pay for all of Britain's imports, Britain was 4% poorer after World War II than it would have been had the U.S. been generous to the extent of $17 billion rather than $7 billion. These are small differences--not the kind of differences that justify language like "all but destroyed." And Geoffrey Wheatcroft would know that he is guilty of vast overstatement, if, that is, he bothered to count.

After World War II, it was the United States and not Britain that was the leader of the western alliance. Why? Not because Roosevelt was a stingy, grasping, manipulative, anti-British politician. Britain was not the leader because it had 1/4 the population of the United States, because its factories were only 2/3 as productive as American workers, because it was willing to spend only 2/3 as large a share of national product on the military--these add up to an 800% gap in relative strength as a Great Power. That's a much larger gap in politico-military strength than the 4% gap in relative resources that could be attributed to America's failure to pay for all rather than one-third of Britain's World War II imports.

Nevertheless, Wheatcroft seems to believe--and it is conventional wisdom in the circles of some semi-sinister Tory sects--that the U.S. fought two wars during World War II: a war to destroy Naziism, and a war to destroy Britain's great power status. For example, Robert Skidelsky seems to believe this. Skidelsky writes (Robert Skidelsky (2000), John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Britain (London: Macmillan: 0333604563)) that:

(p. xv) "Churchill fought to preserve Britain and its Empire against Nazi Germany. Keynes fought to preserve Britain as a Great Power against the United States. The war against Germany was won; but, in helping to win it, Britain lost both Empire and greatness..."

(p. xxi) it was a tragedy that Hitler's being "in charge of a great nation... threw Britain into the arms of America as a suppliant, and therefore subordinate: a subordination masked by the illusion of a 'special relationship'..."

(p. 180) and there even seems some slight tinge of regret that Churchill had the "...underlying belief that the New World had to be yoked... to the Old" and thus "...the deference Britain paid to America's wishes... and [Britain's] failure to exploit crucial elements in its bargaining position--like fighting a more limited war, or even making a separate peace with Germany..."

Why so many Brits are attracted to the idea that World War II was in some sense a defeat, and that Churchill was somehow bamboozled by Roosevelt, I do not know. Too little math in school. Too much port.

And they have, somehow, forgotten what it is to be a Great Nation. Winston Churchill's Britain was truly a Great Nation because it placed itself in harm's way--when everyone else was running for cover--to fight and destroy Naziism. A Britain that made peace with Hitler in 1941 because American Lend-Lease aid was insufficiently generous would not be a Great Britain, but a Very Small Britain indeed.

As Winston Churchill said: "You ask, what is our policy? I say it is to wage war by land, sea and air--war with all our might and with all the strength God has given us--and to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs. Victory in spite of all terrors. Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival. Let that be realized. No survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for..." . That is Great Britain. For greatness does not lie in numbers of battleships or large foreign exchange reserves. Greatness lies in the use of power to shape the world for good. Which Churchill and his policies did.

Posted by DeLong at January 16, 2004 12:33 PM | TrackBack

Comments

Brad -- It may be the Two Cultures thing. You know, the people who matter and the rest of us, who actually make and do stuff. The kickers are the 2/3 productivity and 2/3 investment in defense, both of which may be symptoms of a ruling class disengaged from the reality of the factory floor, and who do not care about the lving standards of the working class. The first undermines the productivity and the second the ability of the economy to provide guns along with a sufficient amount of butter. The biggest factor, that 1/4 population number is pretty intractable, though. Your thoughts?

Posted by: Jim Shirk on January 16, 2004 12:49 PM

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"Why so many [Tory} Brits are attracted to the idea that World War II was in some sense a defeat, and that Churchill was somehow bamboozled by Roosevelt, I do not know. Too little math in school. Too much port."

The Raj would have lived but for America. Britain could have had a colony the size of China were it not for soldiers like Dad. Good good good grief!

Posted by: anne on January 16, 2004 12:52 PM

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Good Post. However, I do think it was FDR's strategy at Yalta to create a bi-polar world, with everyone else being a greater or lesser client-state. This to prevent any more European Wars, and any more European Imperialism. To look at this only thru the prism of WWII is too narrow. The world had seen 500 years of European expansionism and competition, and repeated wars.

Whether Britain's post-war military decline was a failure of will, or simply acquiescence in a fait-accompli...well, look at Europe after the end of the Cold War.

I also think Churchill's famous "Iron Curtain" speech was in part an effort to create a new war in which Britain could again become a player.

Posted by: bob mcmanus on January 16, 2004 12:52 PM

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http://www.nytimes.com/2004/01/11/weekinreview/11whea.html?pagewanted=all&position= :For all that, there was little evidence of popular anti-American feeling in England then, or after the war either, up to this day. This is, among other things (as so often in our damp little island) a class question. Culturally, the British masses are much more friendly to America than what passes for our literary and academic intelligentsia.

Delusions of imperial grandeur. Like the French say, there is no nation as disgusting as British.

Posted by: Leopold on January 16, 2004 01:10 PM

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I don’t disagree, Brad, but — as an interesting side note — there is evidence that Britain was pushed out of work on atomic weapons and atomic energy during and after WW2 because of a US fear that they could be used to jump-start the British Empire. (Or so an American friend of mine who did her Master’s on the subject at the LSE tells me.) That would seem to indicate that at least some folks in the US were actively thinking about limiting British power after the war — possibly for the reasons you suggest, Bob.

Posted by: David Moles on January 16, 2004 01:15 PM

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"Whether Britain's post-war military decline was a failure of will, or simply acquiescence in a fait-accompli...."

But, what could possibly be wrong in living in a happy little Britain or Denmark or Netherlands? Britain is wonderful for so many of its people and can be more wonderful for more as it continues to develop. Is the point of British life to smash the freedom of Indians? Colonialism for Britain is gone, thankfully.

Posted by: anne on January 16, 2004 01:21 PM

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I'll have to go through this land-lease math a little. This Brit must be working for one of those tax advisors (as in the Andantech and LTCM LILO transactions) who are trying to convince the IRS that the owner of property would gladly rent it out for a return to capital less than the risk-free interest rate. Which is why Sen. Grassley is so steamed at tax advisors these days.

Posted by: Harold McClure on January 16, 2004 01:23 PM

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Let's see, land in the West was cheap in the 18th century. So if the US had sold the whole of the West for a few dollars for a few pairs of army boots during the Revolutionary Wars it would not have made and difference to us now because we can prove mathematically that the US would now be almost equally wealthy?

Also, did the British sell 10b pounds of assets during the second world war? If so, the calculation understates their losses. These assets would have been worth much more, conditional on the war being won --- which is the right comparison in this case.

Posted by: commentator on January 16, 2004 01:31 PM

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"How, exactly, are America's and Britain's national interests different? Both share a profoundly strong national interest in stamping Nazis off the face of the earth, in containing Communism and then assisting in its fall, in the spread of democracy around the world, in peace, and in prosperity."

You miss out "Apple pie" (or should I say "Bread and butter pudding"?).

Set at the highest level of aggregation, almost everyone's interests are the same. But there is considerable competition for large benefits (some of which go to small groups) of global influence which go to the global or regional hegemon, everything from the way your citizens are treated by the police when abroad, who get the ex-patriate bureaucratic jobs in the Suez or Panama Canal Companies etc, to who gets the big contracts from the Princely states (then in Arabia and India, now largely just in Arabia) which are in the informal empire, and, perhaps above all, whose vision of how, where and when to spread democracy, peace and prosperity comes out top. If interests can be defined in such a broad sense, then Britain, France, Germany and US all had the same interests in the last couple of years US Middle East policy. In some sense of course they do. But that doesn't stop it being a bitter pill that that the US gets to do its version (which many think counterproductive to democracy, peace and prosperity) and the others either watch or tag along.

For my part, I think that the UK has in fact done pretty well even on these criteria since 1945. It's probably hung onto more of their prestige, insider contracts and ability to project a global vision of foreign policy than it might have. But that doesn't mean it's a big difference from being no. 1.

Posted by: Will on January 16, 2004 01:50 PM

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Franklin and Winston, Jon Meacham's new book, has some interesting views about the friendship between FDR and Churchill and the political calculations involved throughout the war; I read it a couple of weeks ago, and it's part bio and part history. A good book.

Posted by: Linkmeister on January 16, 2004 02:05 PM

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A while back, after a Masters degree at Oxford in economics and international organizations (the EU), I moved to London to do a graduate business degree aka an MBA. Permeating the entire class was a shy, awkward feeling about what we were doing: something a little furtive, seedy, underhand, and not at all what you would want to tell your future father in law. Downhill ever since, of course... nah, I've been having a wild time for 20 years! but in New York......

Posted by: Fast Pete on January 16, 2004 02:45 PM

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commentator writes: Also, did the British sell 10b pounds of assets during the second world war? If so, the calculation understates their losses. These assets would have been worth much more, conditional on the war being won --- which is the right comparison in this case.

Which is still a better deal than the 17b dollars they would have had to they would have had to sell off without lend-lease.

Posted by: Steven Rogers on January 16, 2004 03:17 PM

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With a few, relatively minor reservations, I broadly agree Brad's assessment.

It is worth recalling that America did not engage in the war in Europe until Germany declared war on America in December 1941, a few days after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. Shirer's assessment from his Washington location, reported in: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich [chp. 26], was that but for Germany's declaration war, America would have stayed out of engaging in the war in Europe:

"My own impression in Washington at that moment was that it might be difficult for President Roosevelt to get Congress to declare war on Germany. There seemed to be a strong feeling in both Houses as well as in the Army and Navy that the country ought to concentrate its efforts on defeating Japan and not take on the additional burden of fighting Germany at the same time. ."

At the start of the war on 3 September 1939, Britain's population was almost exactly half that of Germany's plus Austria's. From the fall of France in June 1940, Britain stood as a lone bastion in Europe against Germany and Italy until Hitler made the monumental blunder, from his own perspective, of invading the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. As Lukacs puts it in: Five Days in London, May 1940 (Yale UP., 1999):

"Churchill and Britain could not have won the Second World War; in the end America and Russia did. But in May 1940, Churchill was the one who did not lose it."

A settlement with Germany in May 1940 was a beguiling option. The British foreign office had maintained links with Germany's regime through Swedish diplomatic channels. When Churchill learned of this he ordered the links closed. The (Air) Battle of Britain through the summer of 1940 until September removed the likelihood of a threat to Britain from invasion.

We need to take with salt any suggestion that Britain's economic position after the war was improved as the result of Lend-lease and Marshall Aid compared with a settlement scenario in May 1940. Continuing the war cost Britain lives and financial assets as well as the destruction of material assets through war-time bombing. The resources applied in fighting the war had opportunity costs.

There was a dimension to Churchill that is not widely recognised. It is true that he championed opposition to appeasement of Hitler. But it is also true true that he championed opposition to the India Act of 1935, which he regarded as a sell-out of the British Raj because of provisions in the Act for increased self-government in India.

For most of the post-war period through to the 1980s, Britain fairly consistently committed a greater percentage of GDP to defence spending than other west European countries - with the possible exceptions of Greece and Turkey for limited periods. Indeed, it is argued by Correlli Barnett: The Lost Victory, that the benefits of Marshall Aid were mostly frittered away in maintaining overseas miltary bases across the further reaches of the British empire. From 1948 through 1960, Britain was committed to fighting a campaign against insurgency and terrorism in Malaya, arguably the only unequivocally successful military campaign against insurgency and its eventual outcome was benign - the creation of the independent, sovereign state of Malaysia in 1963.

Posted by: Bob Briant on January 16, 2004 03:39 PM

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Brad is, of course right. However, let me point out a slightly different perspective, one which is worngheaded, yet oddly powerful for us Brits.

The point is simply this. While we were acting as a "Great Nation", throwing ourselves in harms way, etc etc. The US, most conspicuously, wasn't.

If it had, in 1939, done what we did, then our decline would not have been so precipitate, and you would have had to pay a higher price for victory. On some level, we resent that.

Now, This is an irrational argument, and you don't need to point out to me, all the very sound reasons why FDR, would not, could not, commit himself to a "foriegn war". However, as Americans should currently understand, rationality doesn't always come into it when it comes to matters of national power.

Posted by: British Spin on January 16, 2004 03:50 PM

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>First of all, the emergence of the United States as the greatest power on earth in the twentieth century was not a "bitter pill" for Britain. It was Britain's greatest strategic advantage.

During the Suez Crisis of 1957, while repayments on lend-lease loans were still due, the US central bank shorted the pound and precipitated a finincial crisis. The US then refused to renegotiate the lend-lease loans and was therefore able to force its will on Britain. Up to that time Britain had been pre-eminent in the middle east. After it, the USA was pre-eminent.

While the British involvement in Suez is generally reckoned to have been a disgrace, the the US forced Britain to swallow as a result was hardly sugar coated. There have been a number of incidents since, such as the refusal to permit basing in Guantanamo during the Falklands war, that underline just how preposterous your opening remark is.

Posted by: Yellowcake on January 16, 2004 03:51 PM

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Brad, you literally and precisely - that is, in the technical meaning of things - do not know what you are talking about.
Let me show you.

'First of all, the emergence of the United States as the greatest power on earth in the twentieth century was not a "bitter pill" for Britain. It was Britain's greatest strategic advantage... The loss of World War II and the Nazi occupation of Britain--which is what would have happened without the United States--would have been a considerably more "bitter pill" than having an amazingly powerful ally willing to join your side in your big wars.' Two errors here. It is confusing a short term need with long term strategic needs, about the same as the French supposing their efforts in 1776-83 being to their own advantage. Second, it confuses a relative difference - losing as opposed to winning - with an absolute gain. It omits the fact that this was a Pyrrhic Victory, largely because of the USA.

'Second, this "profoundly different national interests." How, exactly, are America's and Britain's national interests different? Both share a profoundly strong national interest in stamping Nazis off the face of the earth, in containing Communism and then assisting in its fall, in the spread of democracy around the world, in peace, and in prosperity. Where are Britain's and America's national interests opposed? Is it the claim that Britain had a national interest in ruling India and Africa? I don't think so. The post-World War II British Labour and Conservative parties did not think so either. British and American national interests are astonishingly and profoundly closely aligned--as closely aligned as the national interests of America and Canada.'

This is, bluntly, nonsense - and the only extent to which it is shared by today's UK groups is itself an artefact of the world made by that decline. Here's how. First, more confusing of long and short term. Second, the UK did not have an interest in democracy - setting democracy up as a goal was a US thing; for Britain it was a means to an end, and not even a priority for right wing groups (you are plain wrong about post war conservatives, until they were themselves changed in the mid 1960s). LIBERTY was a far stronger priority. Third, it's short sighted to think in terms of "ruling" India etc.; British aims were for getting all those to self supporting dominion status, in which they would have aided Britain economically in an empire preference way and as strategic supports for defence. Connubium and Commercium. Fourth, the alignment of US and Canadian interests is itself an artefact of this US ground cover plant reworking of the world; in the mid 1920s US planning rated war in Canada a greater likelihood than with Japan. Oh, and it's worth noting the pressure the USA put on Britain to abandon the Falklands, and how little and how obsolete the materiel it made available when old promises were called on - the old promises that had made Britain pull back the out of area capability it was shown it needed.

Here's some more nonsense: 'Britain was not the leader because it had 1/4 the population of the United States, because its factories were only 2/3 as productive as American workers, because it was willing to spend only 2/3 as large a share of national product on the military--these add up to an 800% gap in relative strength as a Great Power.' On the other hand, the British Empire committed more combatants until after D-Day. In the First World War, it was Briatain that supplied the wealth and France the strength - the reverse situation. Yet in that war France got the leadership, counting blood a greater sacrifice than treasure.

And then, Brad, you insult our intelligence by trying to make us like it. We may have to live with it, and we may feel inclined to try to undercut you in your turn for the greater good, but don't try to make us internalise your own set of values - as so many already have. It's circular reasoning to get us to adopt your values and then prove that what was done was right according to those. Tautologically, the USA ha sempre raggione by those values, just like Mussolini in his day. So much for joint interests.

And it's also worth noting that this process was going on in the inter-war period, including pre-1941 US acquisitions of British naval bases. Do you suppose that the USA would pull out of Gan if the British asked, any more than it pulled out of Guantanamo Bay? If peace and good order were general goods, why substitute Pax Americana for Pax Britannica from 1914 on? For the USA's hand is visible in the West Indies from that time on, doing a much worse job and with less withdrawal once peace and good order were restored (compare and contrast the fate of the Ionian Islands with that of the Danish Virgin Islands).

Posted by: P.M.Lawrence on January 16, 2004 04:00 PM

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*Sigh* Another American who either (a) thinks that all Brits spend their time drinking port in clubs or (b) is indifferent to the detrimental effect of mindless stereotyping on the force of his argument.

Which is a shame, because the substance of the post is much greater than its rather cheap introduction would suggest. Of course the UK had no right to any particular level of economic support - or indeed any economic support at all - from the US, but the question of whether the support which was given was arranged with at least half an eye on the wider US advantage is a real one. Again there is no reason for US support to have been disinterested - and the history of human nature and of international relations suggests that it would have have been extraordinary if it had been.

For a well rounded account of immediate post-war Britain, I would strongly recommend Never Again by Peter Hennessy. Amazon US shows it as unavailable, but Amazon UK has it at http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0099301210/1667

It's worth reading to get a sense of the wider social and political context which informed economic decision making. Hennessy quotes the then First Secretary at the British embassy in Washington. Asked whether at that time the British ever changed the mind of the US government on a matter of substance, he replied:

"There certainly wasn't any occasion when the Americans cancelled Lend-Lease without any notification to us; not when in spite of Keynes' pleading, they decieded that the loan to Britain would be accompanied by [the pound] going convertible; not when the wartime agreements about atomic power were ignored and the McMahon Act was passed... On none of these occasions, in my recollection, were we successful in dissuading the Americans from what they intended to do anyway."


Posted by: marek on January 16, 2004 04:07 PM

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I find it fascinating that some Brits still go through the same empire withdrawal that some Russians do after the dissolution of the Soviet Union - and for 50 years longer. Probably not Spanish - they lost their empire too long ago. I wonder about French though.

Posted by: Leopold on January 16, 2004 04:50 PM

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"The loss of World War II and the Nazi occupation of Britain--which is what would have happened without the United States--"

Not a chance. The Nazis never had anything approaching a snowball's chance in hell of invading the British mainland. Even if the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy had magically been wiped from the face of the earth and the Germans had a totally undefended coastline to attack, they didn't have the naval logistics to transport and supply nearly enough troops to defeat the ground forces sitting in Britain even in mid-1940. Of course this is academic because they could not destroy the RAF capacity to resist an invasion (the Luftwaffe could attack targets across the south of Britain, but the RAF could always withdraw its surviving forces to bases in the north of Britain, out of reach of German attack until the time of a landing). And it is academic because they could not destroy the Royal Navy's capability to resist an invasion (the Germans had no naval capability to take out the RN's battle groups, their air force could not attack the fleet's northern bases such as Scapa Flow, and the Luftwaffe's antiship capability wasn't good enough to take out even ships sitting in the middle of the Channel fast enough to destroy an invasion). And all that is academic because even if the Germans had more military capability, their amphibious assault experience was lacking and their planning tended toward fantasy. (For example, their plans called for the invasion fleet to sail across the channel at night with lights out... with every soldier on board having orders to fire on unidentified vessels).

As for the ultimate outcome of the war, if the US did not intervene militarily and did not give freebies to the allies, but was still willing to sell stuff to them, Soviet victory is at least as likely as Nazi victory. The Soviets fought the German invasion to a standstill before they received any significant aid from the western allies. Much of the aid essentially went to enabling the counteroffensives of 1943 onward and turning the stalemate into rapid Soviet advance (for example US trucks contributed greatly to their mobility). Without US military intervention and large scale aid, the war on the eastern front would have gone on much longer but the Soviets had a very good chance of eventually winning it. The Soviets had too much territory and too many industrial resources still remaining after the early German offensives stalled.

Posted by: Ian Montgomerie on January 16, 2004 05:19 PM

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A couple of points:

1. The English upper classes in their clubs drink mostly champagne and claret. Probably beer consumption exceeds that of port, I'm afraid, desite the attractions of port and Stilton. Though it's true that Englishmen of all classes drink much more than most Americans.

2. Anti-Americanism among the English upper classes is more due to the Americanization of the English lower classes than anything the Americans may or may not have done. References to lend-lease (or Suez or whatever) are simply rationalizations (which is why they're impervious to math).

Posted by: jam on January 16, 2004 05:40 PM

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It's the USSR, not the USA, that defeated the Germans in WWII. Juesx take alook @ where the Nazi forces were located, their casualties, etc., and it's patently obvious.

Posted by: Dick Fitzgerald on January 16, 2004 08:23 PM

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Bob Briant writes: We need to take with salt any suggestion that Britain's economic position after the war was improved as the result of Lend-lease and Marshall Aid compared with a settlement scenario in May 1940. Continuing the war cost Britain lives and financial assets as well as the destruction of material assets through war-time bombing. The resources applied in fighting the war had opportunity costs.

Bear in mind that the sort of people that Britain would have been settling with in 1940 would have meant that said setlement would not have been worth the paper it was written on.

As to the Axis actually conquering Britain: What Ian Montgomerie said. Operation Sealion would have functioned primarily as a means to get a lot of landsers killed and the German river barge fleet(the proposed means of transport for the German Army across the Channel) gutted beyond recovery.

Posted by: Steven Rogers on January 16, 2004 08:47 PM

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There's an old saying, before you judge a man first walk a mile in his shoes. While it is perfectly natural for Britain to count as an advantage a strong ally in the U.S., consider this proposition. If you truly think there is no reason the Brit's might be chagrined at the relationship, then imagine that the situation were reversed. Imagine it was the Britain that still had far-flung hegemony, wealth, cultural dominance, and the superior military. Then ask yourself if you are American (as I am) if you would prefer to live in that world over this one.

Most Americans if they were honest would say we like being king of the hill.

Posted by: Oldman on January 16, 2004 09:16 PM

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A rather obvious point that all have forgotten in this thread, including DeLong: The British Empire's rapid decline was assured not by WWII, but by WWI. The First World War was far more costly to Britain than the second -- that's what destroyed an economy that has only truly began to recover in the last two decades. You've got to remember, England was bled just as dry as Germany by 1918 -- in terms of both blood and treasure. It ended as pretty much a draw among those two, with both equally bankrupt and without an entire generation of young men.

One thing allowed a ravished England to muddle on a few decades more with pretentions of empire: A rapidly-industrializing America's entry into that war. This allowed the Western alliance to set the terms of the new world order at Versailles. Absent that, Churchill wouldn't have presided over the dismantling of the empire in the '50s; David Lloyd George or Stanley Baldwin would have 30-odd years earlier. For Britain, World War II was simply the coda.

And there is very much a cautionary tale here for the imperialistic Bush neocons.

Posted by: Rod Proctor on January 17, 2004 04:26 AM

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Oldman is, I think right. Surely being the UK is nicer than being, say, Libya, in terms of a jolly relationship with lots of powerful states and with the Top Dog. But it's much, much better to be the Top Dog, and the institutional memory of having been the hegemon stays for a long, long time. (If it gets to the stage where China or India no longer have to give a flying whatever about what the US thinks, then no matter how common their interests are at some fundamental level, the US will still be a little aggrieved about it, at least culturally.)

The cultural power of being Top Dog gives you an enormous capacity for self-absorption which you have, rather painfully, to lose when the status goes. I'm thinking here of an oddly uncritical Brad DeLong post(1) but also of Howard Dean's(2) remark that "there are now almost 400 people dead who wouldn't be dead if that resolution hadn't been passed and we hadn't gone to war" - plus, presumably, several thousand Iraqi non-people.

(1) http://nasilemak.blogspot.com/2003_11_30_nasilemak_archive.html#107053889488124619

(2) http://nasilemak.blogspot.com/2003_11_02_nasilemak_archive.html#106797142906616676

Posted by: Nasi Lemak on January 17, 2004 05:24 AM

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"Oldman is, I think right. Surely being the UK is nicer than being, say, Libya, in terms of a jolly relationship with lots of powerful states and with the Top Dog. But it's much, much better to be the Top Dog, and the institutional memory of having been the hegemon stays for a long, long time. (If it gets to the stage where China or India no longer have to give a flying whatever about what the US thinks, then no matter how common their interests are at some fundamental level, the US will still be a little aggrieved about it, at least culturally.)"

If that happened in 2040, then the grandchildren of the neocons will still be b*tching up a storm in 2100 - I guarantee it.

Posted by: Barry on January 17, 2004 06:12 AM

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Steven Rogers: "Bear in mind that the sort of people that Britain would have been settling with in 1940 would have meant that said setlement would not have been worth the paper it was written on."

Hitler was not a person to be trusted, that is for sure and he personally made the strategic choices in the Third Reich. Germany had signed a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union (SU) in late August 1939 and then a Friendship Treaty in late September after the war had started. For all that, Germany invaded the SU in late June 1941, evidently to the complete surprise of Stalin, who had been dismissing incoming intelligence reports of a forthcoming invasion as "disinformation".

Invading the SU with an under-equipped army was a military blunder - Hitler had learned nothing from the debacle of Napoleon's army in 1812. However, the invasion was entirely consistent with the Fuhrer's strategic vision of gaining "lebensraum" (living room for the German volk) in the east and the enslavement of the Slav peoples of eastern Europe.

There are several indications that Hitler envisaged a completely different role for Britain in his world view. As best I can judge, Hitler envisaged a German hegemony over mainland Europe while Britain retained its overseas empire. Hitler had a respect for the concept of the British empire and even regarded its administration as a model for Germany's occupation of mainland Europe.

The evacuation of some 350,000 British troops from France at Dunkerque in April-May 1940 would have entailed arguably greater losses had the German army pressed its military advantage as it was placed to. It seems, the Fuhrer had decided on restraint for reasons that are not transparent. The usual interpretation is that Hitler wanted to show magnanimity in victory to leave scope for negotiations. Despite that, Churchill, with the full support of his coalition war cabinet, decided to fight on, alone if need be. Any negotiations for a settlement were entirely ruled out. In May 1940, the (Air) Battle of Britain was yet to come. From a British perspective, the possibility of an invasion was a real threat and contingency planning was put in hand, including, by some reports, possible use of banned weapons on invasion beaches.

It happened that I lived thu' the war in inner London as a small boy. Speaking recently with older people of my generation, they certainly recall believing at the time that the threat of an invasion was real enough. The Dunkerque evacuation of the British army from France had left the army with little military equipment to fight land battles in Britain. Defence depended crucially on the air force and the navy. The German strategic assessments concluded that the military risks of invasion were too great unless air superiority could be achieved. It wasn't, which is why the Luftwaffe switched in autumn 1940 to night-time bombing and the Blitz on London.

As we now know, Joseph Kennedy, the American ambassador to Britain at the time, thought we would crack. We didn't but there were unresolved questions about maintaining supplies of food and munitions to continue the war. Ascendancy in the Battle for the Atlantic was not assured until the later part of 1943, thanks then mainly to a combination of long-range aircraft capable of patrolling the Atlantic crossing, and, especially, to British decryption of the German navy's coded wireless traffic so as to track and destroy submarines and their supply ships. About 60,000 merchant seamen were lost in the Battle for the Atlantic, approximately the same as the total number of civilian casualties in Britain from bombing. The onslaught of V1 Flying Bombs (the precursor of cruise missiles) and V2 ballistic rockets on London in the months following the Normandy landings in June 1944, killed about 7,700 people. Evacuation of London at the time was considered - and rejected.

Posted by: Bob Briant on January 17, 2004 06:40 AM

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I think the Germans could probably have starved us to death had we not had American help; it's also true that Roosevelt was in a positiion to drive a hard bargain and did so. Obviously, we would much rather be in the position of selling the Americans what they needed for national surival rather than vice versa.

But Brad's normally fine judgement is flaky yere -- not just about Wheatcroft, who is a long way from a crusty port drinker -- but about the simple and obvious fact that we used to be a strong and independent nation and now we are not. We are a dependency of America's. Unlike the French, we don't control our own nukes. We cannot fight wars without American permission. Where British and American interests conflict, as they frequently do, American interests always triumph. To put this point with Brad-ish paternalism, when the British and American governments disagree about Britain's best interests, the American interpretation wins. YOu, as Americans, may find it painful and shaming to be ruled by George Bush. It;s a quite different order of unpleasantness to be ruled by him and not even to be able to vote against him.

I don't really believe that any American can really imagine how this feels. Why should they? No Englishman could have done so 100 year ago, and we still have geat difficulty admitting these obvious facts, not least because lots of us really like and admire America. I do myself. But this admiration is complicated and rueful. I'm pretty certain that the otherwise inexplicable hysteria of the British Right agains "Brussels" is, in part, an expression of repressed anti-Americanism.

Posted by: Andrew Brown on January 17, 2004 09:01 AM

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"I find it fascinating that some Brits still go through the same empire withdrawal that some Russians do after the dissolution of the Soviet Union - and for 50 years longer. Probably not Spanish - they lost their empire too long ago. I wonder about French though."

And America will go through the same thing. Probably sooner than most think.

Posted by: Ian Welsh on January 17, 2004 09:10 AM

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Posted by Andrew Brown : I'm pretty certain that the otherwise inexplicable hysteria of the British Right agains "Brussels" is, in part, an expression of repressed anti-Americanism.

But if you guys feel occupied by America is European integration not a way out? Create European military forces, kick Americans and happily launch your nukes at someone.

Posted by: Leopold on January 17, 2004 09:19 AM

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Posted by Andrew Brown: "we used to be a strong and independent nation and now we are not. We are a dependency of America's. Unlike the French, we don't control our own nukes. We cannot fight wars without American permission. Where British and American interests conflict, as they frequently do, American interests always triumph."

I'm unsure why Britain is a dependency of America, anymore than Canada is, or why military prowess is taken as a sure sign of greatness. Being a nuclear superpower didn't prevent the decline of the Soviet economy and the collapse of its empire. It's arguable that Britain spent too much on military defence post-ww2, at least compared with the rest of western Europe. It is difficult to regard Vietnam as a triumph - and Britain's government in the later 1960s decided to stay out of that.

At its height, the prescient were able to foresee that Britain's empire had a limited shelf-life. In 1852, Disraeli wrote in a letter: "These wretched colonies will all be independent, too, in a few years and are a millstone round our necks."

Britain's enduring legacy to global history is handed on in terms of a language, an illustrious literature, magnificent science (Newton, dependable marine chronometers, vaccination, electric induction, Maxwell's unified field theory of electricity and magnetism, Darwin's theory of evolution, Thomson's discovery of the electron, Baird's invention of television, Fleming's discovery of Penicillin . .), an empiricist tradition in philosophy, political economy, central banking, and pervasive systems of law and governance.

Karl Marx is buried in a London cemetry. There is a piquant irony in that the foremost prophet of the inevitable collapse of capitalism sought safe refuge in the capital city of the foremost capitalist state of his time.

"I'm pretty certain that the otherwise inexplicable hysteria of the British Right against 'Brussels' is, in part, an expression of repressed anti-Americanism."

I'm not up on psycho-analysis but British reservations about the course of European integration amount to more than just a "Rightist" knee-jerk.

Posted by: Bob Briant on January 17, 2004 12:03 PM

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Well, I base my remarks on three things -- the one is that the whole debate about CND in the Eighties here was conducted as if it were a matter of Britain's "Independent" nuclear deterrent, when one of the few uncontestable facts whas that it wasn't and couldn't be independent.

The second is that the split about Europe runs right through the middle of the British right. It's really not a right-left divide in any normal sense. There is, of courae, a rational case to be made against the europena union as it's now emerging. But it is deeply irrational to argue that -- say, a common European army -- involves a loss of British sovereignty, in a way which the alternative does not. Yet that is what the American party on the Right is constantly urging. All of the arguments in favour of our fighting in the Iraq war had a profound unreality, in as much as they were made without stating the only important fact, which was that Bush wanted the war.

The third reason is that this anti-Americanism is repressed (and so partly irrational) because we can't admit to ourselves the speed and comprehensiveness of our collapse. See above.

Posted by: Andrew Brown on January 17, 2004 01:40 PM

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There's the additional point that the economics of the post-war period defines many of the key differences between modern British and modern American culture.

Britain, like the rest of Europe, had to face the task of reconstruction, whereas the US was able to a great extent to channel its wartime manufacturing base into the production of consumer goods.

That's to say, Americans got lots of consumer appliances and chrome-laden cars, while the British got (alongside rationing) the National Health Service.

I suspect that some of the 'resentment' (if you can really call it that) is that the US emerged from WW2 with comparatively miniscule damage to its civilian infrastructure. Not having cities bombed has certainly influenced American policy since WW2 -- you only have to look at the reaction to 9/11, with the oft-stated 'but that happens to /other/ countries'...

And Ian Montgomerie is correct: there would have been no Nazi occupation of Britain, Lend-Lease or not. Not even the most speculative of counterfactuals gets you there.

It's curious, though, that too many Americans have a sketchy knowledge of what happened between September 1939 and December 1941.

Posted by: ahem on January 17, 2004 02:35 PM

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In May 1940, Churchill was not placed to know whether Hitler intended to invade the Soviet Union in breach of the mutual Non-Aggression Pact of August 1939. America's entry into the war in Europe was an unpredictable prospect. What if Germany had not declared war on America shortly after Pearl Harbor in December 1941 . . ? Wars and their contingencies appear clearer in retrospect than at the time.

A more rational course for the Third Reich, instead of opening a second front against the Soviet Union in June 1941, would have been to consolidate hold of occupied countries in western Europe and play a waiting game, possibly mobilising the industrial resources for a greater war effort. As Speers notes, German production of war planes actually peaked in the winter of 1944-5. The war economy had been run with substantial slack.

Meanwhile, in 1940 Churchill's government was faced with the problem of supplies of food and munitions if the war was to continue, which is where Lend-Lease came in.

On the orders of the Fuhrer, the German military command continued to plan and prepare for the invasion of Britain through to the early autumn of 1940 but assembled invasion barges were subject to repeated bombing attacks and the planned invasion was indefinitely postponed on 17 September. However, even that did not stop the preparation of detailed plans for the administration of Britain after the invasion, including long lists of those who were to be sought and detained. That was an angels on pin-heads exercise but the loss of shipping in the Atlantic was real enough and rising. Ascendancy in the Battle for the Alantic was not established until well into 1943. It was unforeseeable in 1940 or even 1942 whether and when that might be achieved. Nor was the scale of onslaught of the V-weapons, the V1s and V2s, after the Normandy landings in June 1944 foreseeable. There was also a prospective V3 weapon, multiple small rocket missiles targeted on London, but the firing tubes, deeply embedded in sea cliffs, were located and bombed.

Posted by: Bob Briant on January 17, 2004 06:02 PM

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ahem writes: And Ian Montgomerie is correct: there would have been no Nazi occupation of Britain, Lend-Lease or not.

If Britain made a peace with Germany in 1940, it was likely US would not help the Soviets. In that case German armies could take Leningrad, Moscow, Stalingrad and get to the Caspian oil (in reality the goods started flowing in 1941 and even if the flow was small, there was an alliance and there was hope). The rest of Russia would get a collaborationist goverment (like France) with the capital somewhere to the east of the Ural mountains. At that point Britain would become utterly alone in Europe and Hitler could starve it, invade it or just demand the goverment change at his leisure. Whether Germans would solve the technical task of transporting their troops over the Channel - they solved all the rest. How about this "most speculative of counterfactuals"?

Posted by: Leopold on January 17, 2004 06:21 PM

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The Soviets did not need US help to beat the Axis, they managed that quite well on their own over the winter of 1941-1942. No lend-lease would have slowed the pace of the Red Army's march to Berlin, but the USSR would have prevailed without it.

Operation Barbarossa was the Wehrmacht's best punch, and the USSR survived. In fact, recent scholarship by Glantz and others indicates that in fact the Germans were closer to collapse over the winter of 1941-42 than the Rooskies were.

Posted by: Steven Rogers on January 17, 2004 07:12 PM

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Steven Rogers writes: The Soviets did not need US help to beat the Axis, they managed that quite well on their own over the winter of 1941-1942.

Actually, in 1941 the goverment left Moscow and in places there was no troops between German armies and the city. So "quite well" may be a little generous. And, as I said, even if the flow of goods was small, there was an alliance and there was hope.

It is funny however that most people that posted in this group seem to think that the Russians did not really need US and Britain to beat the Germans (just "slowed the pace of the Red Army's march"). I wonder if this is how history is taught in Britain.

Posted by: Leopold on January 17, 2004 07:28 PM

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Stalin remained in the city. No troops between the Germans and Moscow? How do you come up with that one, pray tell? As to hope, Stalin did not need to give the Soviet people hope, he had the NKVD.

"It is funny however that most people that posted in this group seem to think that the Russians did not really need US and Britain to beat the Germans (just "slowed the pace of the Red Army's march")."

Because they did beat the Germans in 1941/42. Without a Second Front, the USSR would probably not not have conquered Germany, but without lend-lease, the USSR would still have beaten Germany.

Posted by: Steven Rogers on January 17, 2004 08:56 PM

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Steven Rogers writes: No troops between the Germans and Moscow? How do you come up with that one, pray tell?

First I said in places. Second in the history of WWII it is well known. Why post when you do not have a clue?

Posted by: Leopold on January 17, 2004 09:58 PM

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What places? Here is a well-known fact for you: Operation Typhoon ground to a halt well short of the outskirts of Moscow. I have several clues, many of them drawn from David M. Glantz's books Stumbling Colossus and When Titans Clash. I wonder if you are current on the current work concerning the eastern Front?

Posted by: Steven rogers on January 17, 2004 10:17 PM

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For example, http://www.worldwar-2.net/timelines/war-in-europe/eastern-europe/eastern-europe-index-1941.htm :

27/11/1941 : German Panzer’s only 19 miles from Moscow. Some armed patrols have penetrated in to the western suburbs of the city and managed to get a good look at the Kremlin.

Or http://serpukhov.su/dima/war/eng/eclbat.htm :

There were gaps and breaks, where at all there were no armies. It explains a little-known episode: German motorcycle scout battalion, most likely, is unexpected even for itself, has rushed on suburb of Moscow, where was defeat by Soviet Tank Brigade, put forward on a position.

Posted by: Leopold on January 17, 2004 10:20 PM

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I have doubts concerning that first website. All the books and articles I have read on the subject go with the 40 mile distance for German combat formations. Do you have a print cite for that figure?

I am familiar with the claim that a German recon formation penetrated the Moscow suburbs. "The Germans ould see sunlight glinting off the spires of the Kremlin" is a line that appears in a few print sources. Makes a good story, but there is considerable arguement as to the provenance.

As to the gaps and breaks, they existed on both sides of the line - usually in areas where the other side was not capable of exploiting them. Along the feasible lines of advance, the Red Army was present in force.

I am not sure what point you are arguing here. Are you saying the Germans were on the brink of victory? Again, recent scholarship is drifting towards the view that it was the Germans who were closest to total collapse, not the Soviets.

Posted by: Sreven Rogers on January 17, 2004 11:13 PM

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So, just to clarify:

---- Leopold:
Actually, in 1941 the goverment left Moscow and in places there was no troops between German armies and the city. So "quite well" may be a little generous.
---- Steven Rogers:
No troops between the Germans and Moscow? How do you come up with that one, pray tell?
---- Steven Rogers:
I am familiar with the claim that a German recon formation penetrated the Moscow suburbs.
----

Now that is clear,

Steven Rogers: I am not sure what point you are arguing here. Are you saying the Germans were on the brink of victory?

My point was that the alliance was important to the Russians and that if Britain made peace with the Germans, US might not have helped the Russians either. In that case the Soviet Union would probably try to make peace with Germany in 1941-42 (in fact, Russian intelligence tried to find some communication channels to the Germans through the Bulgarian ambassador in 1941). And if the Russians made their peace with the Germans (and lost Ukraine, the Caspian oil and most of their industrial potential), Britain would be left alone with Hitler who never let a treaty to stop him when he wanted something.

Posted by: Leopold on January 17, 2004 11:49 PM

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I am familiar with the claim, I'm not saying I accept it, or that most military historians accept it.

Soviet suspicion and paranoia towards the British and Americans was legendary throughout the war, so I have my doubts as to how important the alliance was to them.

German behaviour in the occupied territories had made the consequences of defeat perfectly clear, therefore I strongly doubt that the Soviets would have made any peace that cost them the Ukraine, Caspian Oil and most of their industrial potential. The Germans would have to take them, and other than the Ukraine, they were incapable of doing so.

Posted by: Steven Rogers on January 18, 2004 12:14 AM

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