Monday, May 4, 2015

Germany, Greece and Enlightened Elites. (And ii)

(From part i)

According to Moggridge (1995), Keynes was made aware of the Plan by Morgenthau himself. Rightly or not, Morgenthau and Harry Dexter White (another key Plan advocate) seemed to believe that “in short, Keynes seems to be in our side” [*]

Harry Dexter White and John Maynard Keynes, 1946. [A]

Moggridge doubts that: “It is true that by the summer of 1944 Keynes had come to favour [Germany’s] dismemberment, but his attitudes on other matters were not as simple as White believed."

A little later, Moggridge quotes Keynes from a report to the Chancellor of the Exchequer:
"Morgenthau started off on this before coming to our main business … When Harry White broached the same subject I took the line that all plans relating to Germany which I had seen so far struck me as equally bad, and the only matter I was concerned with was that it should not be the British Treasury which had to pay reparations or support Germany. I gathered that the plan is not quite as crude as it appeared in the reports from Quebec. All the same it seems pretty mad, and I asked White how the inhabitants of the Ruhr were to be kept from starvation; he said that there would have to be bread lines but on a very low level of subsistence. When I asked if the British, as being responsible for that area, would also be responsible for the bread, he said the U.S. Treasury would if necessary pay for the bread.” [#]
Keynes sounds stunningly subdued for a man who could pour scalding contempt on his opponents -- as he did on the Russian “Leninists” -- or the author who, in the immediate first post-war, resigned in frustration from his advisory role during the Versailles peace conference to write these prescient and dramatic words:

“If we aim deliberately at the impoverishment of Central Europe, vengeance, I dare predict, will not be limp. Nothing can then delay for very long that final Civil War between the forces of Reaction and the despairing convulsions of Revolution, before which the horrors of the late German war will fade into nothing, and which will destroy, whoever is victorious the civilization and progress of our generation.” (“The Economic Consequences of the Peace”, here)
Why the change in Keynes' tone?

Frankly, I have no idea. I haven’t found any conclusive pronouncements to explain that (if the readers know of one, by all means, shoot). 

Perhaps in the effort to not offend his influential and powerful Bretton Woods transatlantic counterparts, Keynes preferred to remain non-committal, ambiguous, even feigning callousness: if the British Prime Minister, in his hour of need, learned to humble himself rather abjectly before a powerful colonial, Lord Keynes could be forgiven for following suit. 

Diplomacy, it seems, may involve the recognition that discretion is the best part of valour: you are bold against those who can't reply, only. If that was the cause of his low profile, a man of Keynes' legendary humility must have suffered enormously.

Perhaps in the deepest secret, Keynes, who was otherwise notorious for his sudden and radical changes of mind, on this subject remained courageously of the same opinion and vehemently opposed the Morgenthau Plan.


In any case, if I were German, I'd have little to thank Roosevelt, Morgenthau, Churchill, Keynes, and their fellow Olympians: it wasn't their magnanimous disposition that saved your country. It was their fear of the Red Army.

Further, to know about Keynes' casual views on ethnic cleansing would only send chills down my spine.

And if I were Greek, I would not expect more generosity from Frau Merkel than the generosity Roosevelt was ready to dispense on the Germans, or Reichkanzler und Führer Hitler had planned for Eastern Europe; or more sympathy and courage from Herr Schäuble than the sympathy and courage Keynes exhibited.

Lacking the Red Army bugaboo to scare these people into generosity, I'd try to find another way out, really quick.

But, alas, I'm neither German nor Greek.

[*] Moggridge, op. cit. p. 772.
[#] Moggridge, op. cit. p. 776

Image Credits:
[A] "Assistant Secretary, U.S. Treasury, Harry Dexter White (left) and John Maynard Keynes, honorary advisor to the U.K. Treasury at the inaugural meeting of the International Monetary Fund's Board of Governors in Savannah, Georgia, U.S., March 8, 1946." Source: Wikipedia/IMF. This file is in the public domain.

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