The United States meets the world

In 1865 the United States of America emerged from the nightmare of civil war. It had been won by the northern states of the Union bringing their overwhelming industrial superiority to bear on the agrarian Confederacy. This surging industrial might would be the central fact of the United States for the 100 years after Appomatox turning the America of Henry David Thoreau into the America of John Dos Passos in the next 50.

Between 1890 and 1913 the population grew from 62.6 million to 97.3 million. The increase in population worldwide was augmented in America by the influx of immigrants, mostly from southern and eastern Europe, but also from the Far East with over 1 million immigrants a year were arriving by 1914. This growth was in the cities, the urban population of the United States increasing from 15.3% in 1890 to 23.1% in 1913.

This growing population was supported by wheat production which grew by 256% between 1865 and 1898. In the same period corn production increased by 222%, refined sugar by 460%, coal by 800%, steel rails by 523%, and miles of railway track by 567%. Manufacturing grew thanks to the father of mass production, Henry Ford. According to D.M. Pletcher, “In newer industries the growth, starting from near zero, was so great as to make percentages meaningless. Thus the production of crude petroleum rose from about 3,000,000 barrels in 1865 to over 55,000,000 barrels in 1898 and that of steel ingots and castings from less than 20,000 long tons to nearly 9,000,000 long tons”. In 1890, the U.S. produced 9.3 million tons a year of pig iron, by 1913 this was up to 31.8 million. To put this in context, its pig iron production was, as Paul Kennedy points out, “larger than those of the next three countries (Germany, Britain and France) combined, and its steel production almost equal to the next four countries (Germany, Britain, Russia and France)”.

In 1880 The United States share of world manufacturing output stood at 14.7% by 1913 this had grown to 32%. In 1902 WT Stead wrote a book titled ‘The Americanization of the World’.

Thus, America had much the same problem as Bismarck and Wilhelm II had had to face in Germany; namely clearing a space on the world stage and creating an identity and a role in a world still largely defined by European empires. While ever Americans had the ‘Manifest Destiny’ of establishing their rule over all of America south of Canada and (not always) north of Mexico to occupy them there was no need for the US to have much to do with global politics. The Civil War and ‘reconstruction’ fostered this isolationism. Also many Americans had gone there, or were descended from people who had gone there, to escape the troubles of the old world.

However, in 1890 the census declared that the frontier was closed. The Native Americans of the High Plains had been subdued by the turn of the century and of the contiguous continental landmass only Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona remained as Territories rather than States. The US would now have to engage the world.

Presidents McKinley (1897 – 1901) and Theodore Roosevelt (1901 – 1909) were both willing to exercise American power overseas. In 1823 President Monroe had told British Foreign Secretary George Canning that the American continents “are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers”. In 1897 the US and Britain clashed over Venezuela and control of the Panama Canal. In the event Britain’s redeployment of its navy to guard against Germany defused the situation and in 1902 the two countries signed an agreement in which the British agreed to an American sphere of influence in American continental waters. There was a dispute with Canada over a unilateral redrawing of the Alaskan border and in 1902-1903 Washington mobilised its navy, this time against Germany, again over Venezuela.

As these disputes increased the US took steps to ensure that its military strength could support its new found role. Its army of only 34,000 in 1880 had grown to 164,000 in 1914. Its warship tonnage increased from 169,000 in 1880 to 985,000 in 1914.

This military strength was soon put to the test in defence of the Monroe Doctrine. In early 1898 the USS Maine was sent to Havana to protect American citizens there from the war between the Spanish army and the Cuban rebels. On February 15th the Maine mysteriously blew up and the finger of blame was pointed at the Spanish. America went to war. What one Senator described as a “splendid little war” ended in December that year with the US gaining control of Spanish colonies in the Philippines, the Pacific islands, Puerto Rico, and Cuba until its transition to democracy. The U.S. was now a major power.

Yet, in August 1914, the new world was still reluctant to become involved in the quarrels of the old. Besides, there were 6.4 million German Americans in the US, many of whom were in favour of war against the Allies, and 3.4 million Irish Americans for whom war alongside Britain was unthinkable. President Woodrow Wilson told the German ambassador, Count Johann von Bernstorff, that “we definitely have to be neutral, since otherwise our mixed populations would wage war on each other”. The Chicago Herald said “Peace loving citizens of this country will now rise up and tender a hearty vote of thanks to Columbus for having discovered America” whilst the Wabash Plain Dealer heartily agreed, saying that they “never appreciated so keenly as now the foresight exercised by our forefathers in emigrating from Europe”.

It seemed as though America was fulfilling the hopes of John Winthrop in 1630 that America would become a “city upon a hill”. Wilson said “Look abroad upon the troubled world. Only America at peace! Among all the great powers of the world, only America saving her power for her own people…Do you not think it likely that the world will some time turn to America and say: ‘You were right and we were wrong’?”. On August 4th he issued a Proclamation of Neutrality, and urged Americans to be “impartial in thought as well as in action”.

Neutrality worked well for the US until the start of the first German submarine campaign in February 1915. Then the sinking of the Lusitania with the deaths of 128 Americans and the Arabic in August brought the US to the brink of war with Germany. Berlin broke off the U Boat campaign in the face of American anger and on November 5th, under pressure from cotton producers whose prices had fallen by 50%, Wilson and Secretary of State Robert Lansing sent a note to London protesting about the blockade of Germany.

The situation was growing more complex as the British began to arm merchant vessels and it became clear that Germany was just biding time before it recommenced the U Boat campaign. Responding to an approach by Sir Edward Grey Wilson sent Colonel House to London late in December 1915 to try to build an Anglo – American drive for a negotiated peace. In January Wilson proposed that the Allies should disarm the merchant vessels if the Germans agreed to give warning and safeguards to the sailors prior to attack. On April 18th 1916 Wilson warned Germany that the US would break off relations if submarine attacks continued and Bethmann – Hollweg agreed. The plan thrashed out by House and Grey that Britain, France and Germany would submit to American led peace talks provided the US agreed to join a post war League of Nations was put before the British government. After some evasion, and with the Allies grand plan for victory in 1916 ready to launch on the Somme and in Galicia, Grey informed Wilson that neither France nor Britain would follow this peace plan.

With the Germans on their best behaviour a wave of anti Allied sentiment swept America. As in 1812 the British search and seizure measures were considered an affront to American sovereignty while the British suppression of the Irish rebels and America’s long standing distaste for Tsarist absolutism combined to undermine the Allies claim of moral superiority. In the 1916 presidential election Wilson ran as a peace candidate and portrayed his Republican opponent Charles Evans Hughes as a warmonger. On November 7th Wilson was re-elected President. In December he said that relations with Britain “were more strained than with Germany” and prompted the Federal Reserve to make a statement which put a temporary halt to Allied borrowing on Wall Street. In January 1917 Wilson told Congress “There will be no war”.

But America had been turning a tidy profit from the war. Much of France’s industrial heartland lay in the area occupied by the Germans and Britain’s industry was wholly unsuited for the demands which the war and Lloyd George’s Munitions Ministry were placing on it so the Allies had to look to America for supplies. On January 15th 1915 the British made the American financier JP Morgan their sole purchaser in the US. In return Morgan promised to “use their best endeavours to secure for His Majesty’s Government the most favourable terms as to quality, price, delivery, discounts, and rebates, and also to aid and stimulate by all means at their disposal sources of supply for the articles required”.

Despite lecturing Europeans on peace the US was turning a tidy profit selling them vast quantities of weapons. Between 1914 and 1916 trade with the Central Powers fell as a result of the blockade from $169 million to $1.6 million but trade with the Allies rose from $824 million to $3.2 billion. By December 1916 40% of British military supplies were coming from the US and of the £5 million per day Britain was spending on the war £2 million was being spent in the US. By April 1917 1 million pounds of smokeless powder a day was leaving American factories for the Allied forces.

By April 1917 Britain was spending $75 million a week in the US and it was estimated that it had only enough credit left for three weeks spending. In other words that was how long the Allied war effort had left. Faced with the prospect of Allied bankruptcy many American creditors began to worry.

Luckily the Germans, demonstrating the diplomatic ineptitude that had done so much to bring the war about in the first place, came to their rescue with two horrendous blunders. Indeed, it is striking how at every end and turn, be it the massacres in Belgium, the sinking of the Lusitania or the execution of the British nurse Edith Cavell, the Germans rarely failed to hand the Allies a propaganda coup and confirm the ‘Hun’ reputation the Allies had fixed them with.

The first blunder came on January 9th 1917 when Germany decided to resume unrestricted submarine warfare. Bernstorff was informed on the 19th and, following his directions but much against his instincts, he informed Wilson that the submarine campaign would begin again on February 1st. This prompted Wilson to finally sever diplomatic links with Germany. When Bernstorff was handed his passport and packed back to Germany he said “I am not surprised. My government will not be surprised either. The people in Berlin knew what was bound to happen if they took the action they have taken. There was nothing else left for the United States to do”.

Yet this still did not mean war. On February 3rd Wilson addressed Congress and said “I refuse to believe that it is the intention of the German authorities to do in fact what they have warned us they will feel at liberty to do…Only actual overt acts on their part can make me believe it even now”. As late as February 26th Wilson could tell Congress that “The overt act which I have ventured to hope the German commanders would in fact avoid has not occurred”.

War became inevitable with the second blunder. On March 1st American newspapers printed details of the Zimmerman Telegram which had been sent to Bernstorff from the German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmerman on January 16th. It was nothing less than a German proposal for an alliance with Mexico against the US. It said that “we shall make war together and together make peace. We shall give general financial support, and it is understood that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in New Mexico, Texas and Arizona”. The message had been intercepted and decoded by the British, who realised its significance and promptly passed it on to the Americans.

The Chicago Tribune warned its readers to realise “without delay, that Germany recognizes us as an enemy”. In Cleveland the Plain Dealer said that there was “neither virtue nor dignity” in remaining neutral. Wilson admitted that “armed neutrality, it now appears, is impracticable”. The author Willa Cather said that “Even to those quiet wheat growing people (of Nebraska) the siege guns before Liege were a menace…Something new, and certainly evil, was at work among mankind”. As Robert H. Ferrell wrote, “In the annals of international stupidity during the 20th century, or any other century, this famous telegram hardly has an equal”. Within two weeks the Russian revolution was under way to remove the Tsar and, thus, an obstacle to American involvement with the Allies. Wilson spoke of “The wonderful and heartening things that have been happening in the last few weeks in Russia”.

On the evening of April 2nd Wilson went to Congress to recommend war with Germany saying that “The world must be made safe for democracy”. “We shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest to our hearts – for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own government, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free”. An eyewitness said that “As the President proceeded in his address, the tension of suppressed excitement grew until it burst all bounds…As the President recommended the declaration of war, applause which seemed universal, rolled through the whole assembly from floor to gallery”.

Later that evening Wilson remarked to his secretary “my message today was a message of death for our young men. How strange it seems to applaud that”. On April 4th the Senate voted 82 to 6 in favour of war and on the 5th the House of Representatives backed it by 373 votes to 50. The following day the United States declared war. The panicked money men on Wall Street calmed as the prospect of Allied bankruptcy evaporated. As soon as America entered the war $3 billion dollars was earmarked for ‘Liberty Loans’ to the Allies.

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Joyeux Noel

On Christmas Eve 1914 German soldiers around Ypres, trying desperately to recreate something of their distant homes, were decorating their trenches with candles and singing carols. A few hundred yards away in the British trenches similarly homesick and weary men joined in the singing.

“First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours”, recalled Graham Williams of the Fifth London Rifle Brigade, “when we started up ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’ the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing – two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war”

Josef Sewald of the 17th Bavarian Regiment rememberedI shouted to our enemies that we didn’t wish to shoot and that we make a Christmas truce. I said I would come from my side and we could speak with each other. First there was silence, then I shouted once more, invited them, and the British shouted ‘No shooting!’ Then a man came out of the trenches and I on my side did the same and so we came together and we shook hands – a bit cautiously!”

“We shook hands, wished each other a Merry Xmas, and were soon conversing as if we had known each other for years” wrote John Ferguson of the Second Seaforth Highlanders.We were in front of their wire entanglements and surrounded by Germans – Fritz and I in the center talking, and Fritz occasionally translating to his friends what I was saying. We stood inside the circle like street corner orators…What a sight – little groups of Germans and British extending almost the length of our front! Out of the darkness we could hear laughter and see lighted matches, a German lighting a Scotchman’s cigarette and vice versa, exchanging cigarettes and souvenirs”

100,000 men from the British, French and German armies took part in the Christmas Truce of 1914. The truce lasted into the following day when joint memorial services were held for the dead and football matches were played in no mans land.

Christian Carion’s powerful 2005 film ‘Joyeux Noel’ captures something of this moment. Carion depicts the truce as the last fleeting prospect that the horror of the next four years could be avoided. By this fourth month of the war the economies and societies of Europe, with the exception of Germany, had not yet given themselves over to total war, the mobilisation of all the states resources toward conflict. The historian Herbert Butterfield had written “(total war) heralds Armageddon, the giant conflict for justice and right between angered populations, each of which thinks it is the righteous one. So a new kind of warfare is born – the modern counter part of the old conflicts of religion” To mobilise a whole population the aims of total war must be millennial, the enemy must be dehumanised. Playing football or praying with him jeopardises that.

But the real tragedy of ‘Joyeux Noel’ and the truce itself is that even by this early stage it was probably too late. Contrary to AJP Taylor’s ‘war by timetable’ thesis World War One was not an accident but the predictable result of two decades of the aggressive and incompetent foreign policy of the idiotic Kaiser. This had hardened attitudes even before 1914. A British soldier, Bruce Bairnsfather, wrote “on our side, not for a moment was the will to win the war and the will to beat them relaxed. It was just like the interval between the rounds in a friendly boxing match”. Robert Graves asserted that the truce was “no emotional hiatus, this, but a commonplace of military tradition—an exchange of courtesies between officers of opposing armies”

‘Joyeux Noel’ has faults. The presence of a Danish opera star (Diane Kruger) in the trenches stretches credulity and towards the end the film works too hard to build a narrative out of these spontaneous events. But it does invite you to share what an unknown British soldier described in his a letter to his mother as “the most memorable Christmas I’ve ever spent or likely to spend”

This article originally appeared at Middlebrow Magazine

How Ireland’s 88-year experiment in self-government came to an end

A Province Once Again?

On December 17th 1922 the Union flag was lowered over the Royal Barracks in Dublin, marking the end of British rule in southern Ireland. To a large extent (quite how large was the cause of the brutal civil war) this moment marked the achievement of the dream of Patrick Pearse who, on Easter Monday 1916, had announced, “We ordain that the elected Representatives of the Irish people alone have power to make laws binding on the people of Ireland”.

On November 22nd 2010, the 88-year experiment in Irish self-government came to an end. Worried that Ireland’s economic woes could infect them, its partners in the Euro, accompanied by representatives from the IMF, descended on Dublin to demand that the Fianna Fail government accept a loan. After days of brow beating and arm twisting that would have put Lloyd George and Churchill to shame, the Irish acquiesced.

The Irish experiment in self government ended in regret. In their anger, the Irish cursed everything that had happened to their economy in the previous twenty years, anything to do with the ‘Celtic Tiger’ was now reviled. This risked throwing a decent fiscal baby out with rancid monetary bath water. The famously low corporation tax of 12.5% introduced in the 1990s attracted business to Ireland; by 2001, more than 13% of all Foreign Direct Investment into the European Union went to Ireland. Between the late 1980s and Ireland’s entry into the Euro, this helped to add 500,000 jobs to the Irish economy’s existing 1.3 million. This led to a doubling of Irish GDP per capita. Then the Euro came along.

The experiment ended in excess. When they entered the Euro in 1999, the Irish inherited the low interest rates of the Euro area’s dominant economy, Germany. Able to borrow cheap, government and individuals alike went on a spending binge. Between 2000 and 2003 public spending rose by 48%. The boxwallahs from Brussels and Washington arrived at a Dublin Airport – whose manager is on a salary twice that of the German Chancellor.

For individuals, debt as a percentage of household income rose from 68% in 1999 to 113% in 2004 to keep up with house prices, which tripled over just ten years. Irish banks were happy to help the housing bubble inflate, tripling their lending between 2002 and 2007 to over €360 billion. Builders borrowed to supply the housing to meet this growing demand. At the height of the boom in 2006-2007, approximately 90,000 new dwelling units were built in Ireland. In the UK in the same year – with a population 13 times the size of Ireland – the number was just 120,000. When all this was revealed as unsustainable, Country Leitrim was found to have three housing units for every resident.The experiment ended in confusion. The Irish weren’t sure who or what to blame for their economic collapse. The ‘who’ became the ever popular bogeyman, ‘bankers’, the ‘what’ became fiscal austerity introduced to balance the budget. In reality the ‘who’ should be the politicians and European leaders who took Ireland into an unsuitable and unsustainable currency arrangement, letting economic reality get trampled in the rush toward the dream of “ever closer union”. The austerity is a consequence of this disastrous decision.
And it also ended in irony. There is a certain historical symmetry about the fact that the last German handout to Ireland, a boatload of rifles which found their way to the bottom of Cork harbour in 1916, were sent to aid Irish independence, to accomplish Pearse’s dream. The current one is intended to do exactly the opposite.

The last foreigner ‘invited’ to Ireland to sort the country out was Henry II of England and his descendants ended up staying for 700 years. Given the rumours surrounding the state of Portugal, Spain and Italy’s finances, you wouldn’t bet on the chaps from Brussels sticking around that long, although, if a bungalow in Leitrim tickles their fancy, there will be plenty of places for them to stay.

But given Ireland’s history of bloody struggle for its independence, we can ask whether it was all worth it. Commenting on Eamonn De Valera’s typically impenetrable alternative to the treaty with Britain, ‘External Association’, one participant in the Dail debates commented “For centuries men have been willing to fight and die for the cry of ‘Up the Republic!’ I can’t imagine many dying for the cry ‘Up External Association!’”

Indeed, would Tone, Emmett or Pearse have died and caused so many other deaths for the right of Irishmen and women to have their fiscal policy dictated in Germany? What would Thomas Davis write now? A Province Once Again?

This article originally appeared at ConservativeHome

The battle of London

They want you to keep paying for their education

“We want the MPs to hear our voices” said one student. When they listened what did they hear? “Fuck fees”, “Tory scum” and “My toilets’ Clegged”. It was difficult to discern anything worth listening to.

Efforts to get across whatever message we were supposed to be hearing went beyond a few moronic chants. Government buildings were attacked. Shops were looted. Students sought out TV cameras to pull faces in front of. The statue of Churchill was vandalized. Protestors swung from the flags on the Cenotaph. Price Charles and his wife were attacked on their way to a charity gala.

Much of the violent overspill around Oxford Circus was carried out by rioters released from the Police ‘kettle’ at Westminster. The Police should have kept them there. The trouble was not kettling but a lack of it. Indeed, attempts, yet again, to paint the student violence as a response to Police tactics were rather undermined by the students use of snooker balls and flares as weapons, neither readily available in Parliament Square.

This was simply an attempt by a violent mob to intimidate a democratically elected government into doing what it wanted. It was an assault on democracy.

The left is continually tying itself in knots. Presently we have the spectacle of so-called Anarchists fighting for greater government involvement in education. We have the same people who decry the toppling of the Allende government in Chile in 1973 as an attack on democracy supporting the same behaviour in the UK.

Indeed, one of the striking features of the history of mass civil disorder in the UK is just what a left wing phenomena it is. In the 1970’s the National Union of Mineworkers set out to reverse the decision of the British electorate and, successfully, topple the Conservative government of Edward Heath. In 1984 the NUM tried once again to reverse an election result it didn’t like. That attempt met with failure.

It has passed into left wing folklore that smashing up shops round Trafalgar Square in 1990 brought down Margaret Thatcher. It didn’t. The riots happened in March and Thatcher departed in November with some surprisingly good local election results for the Conservatives in between. It was Howe and Lawson who brought down Thatcher and they did it over Europe, not the Poll Tax.

But even if we accept this interpretation of history think what it means. That if you don’t like the actions of a democratic government violence is an acceptable resort. If that is what you think then congratulations, pull up a stool next to General Pinochet and the 7/7 bombers in the Anti Democracy Arms for that is exactly what they thought.

It is because they are such bad losers that elements of the left are so anti democratic. For democracy to work participants must be committed to it even when it produces outcomes we might not like. This is what stops elections in the UK being merely triggers for civil disorder as they have been recently in Guinea. Everyone is a democrat when they win, it’s what you do when you lose that matters.

The likes of Ed Miliband will reply that the Lib Dems have subverted democracy by ditching their pre election pledge. But in a representative democracy such as ours the Lib Dem MPs are well within their rights to do this. If anything this ought to lend strength to the argument that markets (where exchanges are mutually beneficial or they don’t take place at all) are a superior method of resource allocation than politics (where exchanges are zero sum). This leads to the obvious conclusion that a smaller role for government in this allocative process would be optimal. Sadly we are still waiting for the left to join these two rather proximate dots.

In praise of western civilization

Like Karl Marx. Dead as well as wrong.

When Gandhi was asked what he thought of western civilization he famously replied “I think it would be a good idea”

On November 30th a resolution came before the United Nations, as it does every two years, condemning extra judicial, summary, and arbitrary executions. Since 1999 the resolution has included a specific reference to “sexual orientation” as an unacceptable basis for execution. This year the UN voted to drop the reference.

Here is a list of the countries that voted to drop it

Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belize, Benin, Botswana, Brunei, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, China, Comoros, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Cuba, North Korea, Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Syria, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Tanzania, Uzbekistan, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe

This tells us two things; first, it tells us that the UN is surely a more useless and more insidious organisation than anyone suspected when it allows the likes of Zimbabwe and Iran to vote on human rights matters. One of the few things George W Bush got right was ignoring it. We should steer clear of this wailing chamber for despots.

Secondly it shows us just how empty Gandhi’s smug little crack was. Not a single European country west of the Vistula and Carpathians voted for this amendment. For all the prattle about its religious fundamentalism the United States didn’t vote for it. South America also comes out of it pretty well too, an exception being Cuba which is a paradise for workers as long as they aren’t gay. In fact, with the exception of Russia, every single country voting for this amendment comes from the non western world notably Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

The west is not perfect as demonstrated by the continuing agitation for a gay marriage amendment to the constitution in the US. But even there the kind of violent homophobia that is state sanctioned in Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Bangladesh, Guyana, the Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, Qatar, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Uganda is confined to fringe weirdos like the verminous Westboro Baptist Church.

Much the same is true of women’s rights. Outside the west legal discrimination in employment or legal issues is actually the less gruesome end of a spectrum which stretches through to the grotesque extremes of genital mutilation and female infanticide. Where does that leave Gandhi? Like Marx; not only dead but wrong as well.

So we in the west deserve a pat on the back. We should ditch the misguided pseudo-historical shame and dangerous cultural relativism and say it plainly; Western civilization is the best there is and everyone would be better off with more of it.