Monday, 4 March 2013

A Private Chat About Provoking a War


The following text cites a conversation between a prominent British imperial politician and an American diplomat in London, in 1910. It is an interesting example of what key players say when they feel free to speak their mind. This was before Wikileaks, after all ...

"As Germany's industrial and financial power as well as its trade increased, a growing antagonism between Germany and the British Empire arose. Everywhere the ambitious German industry confronted a British competitor avidly observing the growing danger to his monopolistic trade relations, jealously guarded until then. A 1910 conversation between Lord Balfour, leader of the British Conservative Party, and Henry White, then United States Ambassador in London, shows the contrast between the two European industrial powers, and the attitude of the British leadership:

Balfour: We are probably fools not to find a reason for declaring war on Germany before she builds too many ships and takes away our trade.

White: You are a very high-minded man in private life. How can you possibly contemplate anything so politically immoral as provoking a war against a harmless nation which has as good a right to a navy as you have? If you wish to compete with German trade, work harder.

Balfour: That would mean lowering our standard of living. Perhaps it would be simpler for us to have a war.

White: I am shocked that you of all men should enunciate such principles.

Balfour: Is it a question of right or wrong? Maybe it is just a question of keeping our supremacy. "

(This text is from Georg Franz-Willing, ‘The origins of the Second World War’, Journal of Historical Review, Vol 7, Number 1, Spring 1986, p 97. The Balfour-White conversation was taken from a biography of Henry White) 


Tony Norfield, 4 March 2013

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