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The Western Mail, 29th November 1932



Ignorance and Mistrust of Europe



“Every time we’ve sat in with the family of nations we’ve had our pockets picked.”  So said, an American businessman, as we were discussing in a Washington restaurant the question of war debts.

This remark is a due to America’s insistence on being paid the £28,000,000 on December 15.  Not since the American Senators threw overboard Wilson’s proposals for a League of Nations has there been such an angry wave of hatred and mistrust of Europe as in the last eighteen months.  So extreme is this feeling that on December 15, 1931, exactly one year to the day when Britain is due to pay her debt, an American Congressman rose in Congress and, before the representatives of the whole nation, branded the President of the United States as a “German agent,” because he had declared the Hoover Moratorium.

Referring to President Hoover, this Congressman said: “He proposed that we should take money away from the men and women of this country and give it to Germany.  He proposed to sell us out to Germany.  We cannot have an agent of Germany acting as President of the United States.”

“Generous Uncle”

Those sentiments were cheered by millions of hungry Americans, who look upon the foreigner as the cause of all their misery.  One Chicago worker, who had lost both his job and all his money because his bank had closed its doors, explained to me how he thought it had happened: “You see, I took my dollars to the bank.  The bankers took those dollars and sent them to New York, where the international bankers got hold of them and sent them to Germany.  They’ve stolen my dollars and they’ve got them in Europe, and now I’m bust.”

For that man the villain of the piece was the international banker in league with Europeans.  It would be of no avail to explain to that man the difficulties of foreign exchange in paying war debts.  He would merely laugh and say: “That’s just another little game to make Uncle Sam the sugar daddy of Europe.  You owe us the money.  How you get it is your own funeral.  We Americans are sick and tired of being the generous uncle for Europeans to get cash for their little schemes.”

Political Power of Farmers

If that is the opinion among the masses in the towns how still more backward must be the opinion in the villages, many of which are as far away from New York as Cardiff is from the United States.  The farmers have tremendous political power in America, because most of the Senators are elected by farmers.  They look upon New York as a cesspool of iniquity, and any suggestion which comes from Wall Street - and cancellation of the debts in their eyes is a Wall Street plot to rob the American farmer - as coming from an agent of Satan.  The Puritanism of the American farmer, which is still exceedingly strong, leads him also to regard Europe, which has sent so many criminal and atheistic and revolutionary immigrants into the United States, as a wicked place whose inhabitants are always anxious to deceive the innocent, gullible American.

These honest, simple folk, living far away from centres of discussion and news, have only local interests.  A newspaper which I have before me throws a striking light on the character of the small town and village American, who really has the fate of war debts and of world recovery in his hands.  It is called the “San Luis Valley Spreading over the Whole Valley is Our Goal”

Position Not Realised

The main item of news is “Sunday School Gives Good Instruction.”  An important column is headed: “State Outlook for Hogs, Poultry, Onions, Potatoes.”  Underneath comes: “Manassa Social Affairs,” with news items of which the following is typical: “It being Mrs. Joe Scholfleld’s birthday last Saturday, Mr. and Mrs. John Brady and Mr. and Mrs. Warner Ray decided to go and spend the evening with her and family and took with them ice-cream and cake.  The evening was greatly enjoyed, but disappointed when they went to serve refreshments and found the ice-cream had been stolen.”

It is the Joe Scholfields of America, living 5,000 miles away from wicked Europe and knowing little beyond the gossip of their valley and their local sales and purchases, who elect the Congressmen.  It is impossible for them to realise that the world has become a unit and that a drop in the pound sterling following upon insistence on payment of war debts will lead to a fall in the price which they get for their wheat and will increase their poverty.

U.S. Budget Deficit

These simple, puritanical people are now suffering as they have never suffered before.  Hundreds of thousands of them have been ejected from their farms. Millions of them are burdened down by enormous debts.  They are in despair, and they say: “Is this a time, when we are short of money ourselves, when we can afford to let off our debtors?”

They see the Budget deficit mounting up.  In 1930-31 the Budget deficit was £180,000,000, by July, 1932, this deficit had risen to £600,000,000, and already in the last four months another deficit of £125,000,000 has been added, making the total deficit at the present moment almost as large as the whole British Budget for one year.  They ask, “Shall we add still another burden to this tremendous deficit?”

The Americans do not realise that by insisting upon payment of war debts they are causing themselves losses incomparably greater than the loss of £28,000,000.  Nor do the politicians venture to enlighten them.  Nothing is so pathetic as the cowardliness of the American politicians at this moment.  They are so terrified of public opinion that they merely repeat what the public wants, namely: “Let the foreigners default if they can’t pay.”  It is an evil omen for the world that Roosevelt, the President-elect, has shirked his responsibility.  He has shown himself to be a skilful but petty politician, playing for mean personal and party advantages rather than to be a true leader.

Armaments and War Debt

Roosevelt and Hoover have, however, presented one reason for payment which contains much truth.  They ask how Europe can afford to spend so much upon armaments and yet not pay America.  They point out that armaments are increasing in Europe in spite of financial troubles and that the Disarmament Conference has, up to now, been a failure.  Will not Europe spend still more on weapons of destruction if they are let off their debts?  Such is their train of thought.  There is no doubt, therefore, that a measure of real disarmament would lead to a more liberal treatment of the war debt by the American Government.

At the bottom of the American insistence upon war debts lie, therefore, not greed and miserliness, but ignorance and mistrust of Europe.  There are signs that the ignorance is giving place to a fuller appreciation of the facts.  Senator Borah’s support of revision of war debts is such a sign.  But the mistrust of Europe can only be removed by European actions such as disarmament and the breaking down of tariff walls.  








Dollar,  Yo-Yo.


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