Monday, November 06, 2006

Europe, the Lend Lease Act, and Gratitude

In the comments on yesterday’s post, Rob Spear had this to say about Europe:

Americans absolutely should not do anything beyond giving support for the European nations undergoing this crisis. Part of the problem in Europe is a lack of national self-love caused by their liberation by the Americans from the Nazis. Europe would be a psychologically far healthier place if the Nazis had taken over, then been chucked out by resistance movements a generation or so later, after falling into decadence. The idea that your nation is so feeble it can only survive due to the benevolence of the kindly American super-power is not conducive to healthy patriotism.

Yorkshireminer offered this response (I have adjusted the punctuation and amended his typos; I hope he doesn’t mind):

Lend LeaseI think it is about time I debunked a few myths. I am an amateur historian, somewhat of an obsession of mine. I have no formal qualifications; I do not need them, nor even want them.

I left school on my 15th birthday and went to work down the coal mines in Yorkshire the following Monday. I can’t let a day go by without having to read. Nearly fifty years later I have my own library — a somewhat pretentious word. I have my own room filled with my books, a good comfortable chair, a stool to plonk my feet on, a good reading lamp, and a small side table where occasionally reposes a cut glass whiskey glass full to the top with a good single Scottish Malt Whiskey.
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Some Americans seem to be under the delusion that they paid for all the war, not only materially but also in blood, and the rest of us Europeans should be grateful. As an Englishman, when I put all the facts in the balance, I take my hat off to you, and say thank you, America; without you we couldn’t have won the war. I say it also with a sense of deep affection for your country, but let us look at the facts. When we the British stood with our backs to the wall after the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940 we had only the R.A.F. and a somewhat antiquated navy to defend ourselves with. Everything that we needed for our defence that we couldn’t produce ourselves had to be paid for in cash.

When the war started we transferred all our gold reserves to the Sun Assurance building in Canada. We used this gold to pay for our imports until these ran out, and when these ran out we had to liquidise all the assets the British had accumulated in America. These, by the way, were sold off at fire-sale prices — it was a buyers’ market; we were so desperate. The Americans even checked that we were not hiding anything from them — they even insisted that the last £50,000,000 in gold be transferred to America in a British Battleship from Cape Town when we were fighting for our lives, and needed every ship we had.

Have you ever wondered why America had such a large percentage of the world’s gold reserves sitting in fort Knox after the war? Now you know.

When we were literally bankrupt, the Lend Lease Act was passed. It wasn’t as most American think, a one-way street, that America paid the bill and the rest of the world got a free ride. It was certainly a two-way street for the British. While America provided £13,500,000,000 in lend lease the British provided £4,500,000,000. While in absolute terms America paid more, in relative terms the British paid the lion’s share. 1% of America’s gross national product was dedicated exclusively to lend lease; 15% of the British gross national product was devoted to lend lease, and the economy was distorted accordingly.

Another thing Americans should know is that machine tools were explicitly exempt in the Lend Lease Act. It was impossible for the British economy to modernise during the war. The capital stock of Britain was being degraded by bombs and overuse, and it was to cost Britain dearly — and also America — when the British economy collapsed during the winter of 1947, and America had to take over the obligations to certain countries in the Middle East.

Have you ever wondered why the British got out of Palestine so quickly in 1948? Now you know. Another fact you might like to know: when Marshall aid was offered to Europe, the goods bought had to be shipped in American ships, shipping that had been allocated to America to produce under the Lend Lease Act. It could just have well been allocated to Britain but it wasn’t. The British lost out there, when we needed as much foreign currency we could get to pay for the loan we had contracted with America to pay our way after they arbitrarily cut off lend lease after VJ day.

After the war Lord Keynes (if you don’t know who he was, google him) made an account of who had paid what and to whom during the war. It turns out that among the Allies Britain had paid 53%, while America had paid 47% of the total costs .

Rob, you might think that after this I am a rabid anti-American, but I am not. The reasons are twofold: while I might disagree what America does, I always feel that they are done for the right reason; there is a sense of common decency behind their motives; they might get it wrong but it is done for the right reasons.

The other reason is purely emotional: I was born in the middle of that bloody conflict and most of the male members of my family were up at the sharp end. My uncle died the night I was born flying Lancaster bombers over Germany, and another died at Anzio. We had very little and I remember very little of what was going on.

I have two distinct memories: one is the soldiers from our village coming back, and we had a parade. The other is my Mum receiving bottles of cod liver oil and concentrated orange juice. The cod liver oil was a gift from Canada, for which I am eternally grateful, the concentrated orange juice a gift from Florida. Can you imagine what it is like to be bribed with a teaspoon of concentrated Florida orange juice, when you are four or five, after you have ingested a teaspoon of cod liver oil, when the only fruit you have ever seen or tasted has been perhaps an apple or a pear?

For that pure transitory experience I will always be in America’s debt. I say thank you, America. But, Rob, please don’t get up and crow.
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In Rob Spear’s defense: I doubt that he was thinking about the British when he made his comment. France is more likely what came to mind, with its quick surrender, its collaboration under Vichy, and its notorious ingratitude under de Gaulle after the war.

But I can understand what Yorkshireminer is talking about. When I was in Yorkshire, twenty years after the time he describes, Britain was still depleted and austere from the effects of the war.

Everyone was so much poorer than what I was used to. Even middle-class respectable people had to get by on a tenth of what I, as a pampered and privileged post-war Yank baby-boomer, took for granted.

As I studied British history in a British grammar school, I learned the same things that Yorkshireminer is describing. British wartime leaders knew what they were giving up by choosing to fight the Axis. They could have made a sweet deal with Hitler and consigned the rest of Europe to take its chances under the jackboot.

Instead, Churchill (and Chamberlain, too) chose to do what was right, to do the only decent and honorable thing that could be done under the circumstances. They realized what was at stake, that Britain was likely to be destroyed economically, and that the Empire would have to be relinquished, but they did it anyway.

For that they deserve the gratitude, not just of America, but of the entire free world. For all practical purposes, the United States inherited the British Empire. And, despite the humiliation of living under the evil hegemony of American corporate capitalism, few people would prefer to pledge allegiance to the heirs of Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo (not to mention Stalin).

Britain gave us the Anglosphere, which is all that stands between civilization and the murderous barbarism of the Great Islamic Jihad.

There are many arguments British and Americans can get into, and many bones we have to pick with one another. But it behooves all who claim English as a native language to remember that we began all this together, and we are in it together still.

And from this are our lives writ large
From the beach at Dunkirk
To Pickett’s Charge
And it’s hard to go back
After coming this far
Down the road

      —Al Stewart, from “Three Mules”


antithaca said...

When I read Rob Spear's comment I was thinking of France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Italy...but not the UK. Perhaps this is foolish in the age of the EU but, I don't think of the UK as part of "Europe". I think of the UK as...the UK.

Ypp said...

And to be honest, Russians defeated more than half of German troops. Of course, their position was not a principal one, but they fought and it matters.

Roast Beef said...

Dont write England off just yet. England and the West are one and the same. I can tell you from personal experience, theres an English fire burning under all this crap that hasnt, and never can be extinguished. If our fathers took three hundred years of the Norman Yoke, and broke them; saw the flags of the Spanish Armada, and waved them away again; peopled the New Worlds of America, Canada, and Australia, and left the finest traditions of individual liberty and representative government everywhere they went on the globe; defeated European absolutist ideologies not once, not twice, but three times in two hundred years; if our fathers managed all that, are we really so degenerate, in only sixty years, as to hand the West to the bloody muslims? A bunch of desert-loving, woman-hating, camel-riding savages? Not while there's an Englishman still breathing. No chance.
England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, i trust, save Europe by her example. Once again.

Roast Beef said...

As for the whole UK-EU situation, I can tell you that here on the ground I dont know a single person who thinks of themselves as European or the UK as a part of Europe. The EU is a joke, something to laugh at, if it merits a mention at all. As Churchill once said to De Gaulle, 'if the choice is between you and the sea, we will always choose the sea.' May that remain the case. Whatever you hear of the BBC or national press, whatever you may think, the relationship between the UK and the US will always mean more to the ordinary people of this country than any other. The elites hate the US for the same reasons they hate the white working classes of my country: both share ambitions for personal betterment, don't know their place, have a love of personal independence, limited government, patriotism and the aggression necessary to safeguard freedom... I could go on! The wartime financial arrangements may have bankrupted Britain; certain sections of American society may have relished the prospect; but where in the world, when the British Empire withdrew, was better off fifty years later? How much did the US benefit from what anti-British, anti-colonial policies it may have pursued? And, without the concerted efforts of both allies, along with all the others who bled to save Europe, what would the world look like now? Worth remembering. For the West, the choice is simple. Remember what our peoples have acheived when working together for the greater good against the tyranny that threatened Europe. Stand together, or fall seperately.

Wally Ballou said...

David S is exactly right. It wasn't our war. We could have ignored it - and many wanted to. Our ocean buffer meant a whole lot more back then than it does today. We helped in Europe push back Hitler, mostly to help the British. We lost nearly half a million men in the war. Sure it was far less than Great Britain lost, as a percentage of population, but both lost far less than the Soviet Union - adna gain, the war was not an existential struggle for us.

And militarily, the US dominated the western front in Europe. Great Britain had done a magnificent job of resisting against incredible odds, but it took the Yanks, and their blood, treasure, industrial might and tactical skill, to actually roll Hitler's forces back.

Lend-lease and the Marshall plan undoubtedly benefitted some Americn businessman, but they also took a lot of money out of the pockets of ordinary American citizens, yet they were politically popular.

Finally, the post-war privations of Britain and Europe were not due to any US depredations, so much as the result of the tremendous physical losses of capital and manpower suffered during the war, and the rush to socialist management by British and European post-war governments. This effect was much lessened in the US, which stayed relatively economically "liberal".

Zonka said...

And don't forget that it was only this year, 61 years after the conclusion of World War II, that Britain finally will complete its repayment of monetary debt, from the lend-lease agreement, to the USA. (on December 31, 2006)...

See: BBC: 1945 war debt to US 'almost paid', from Wed. May 3, 2006

Baron Bodissey said...

jquestel --

That, sir, is a matter of opinion. Here in the Sovereign Commonwealth of Virginia there are alternative points of view...

Pickett got a Federal fort named after him in Blackstone, Virginia. Meade got a Federal fort named after him in Odenton, Maryland. Funny about that.

eatyourbeans said...

I can't get too worked up over WW2. Oncologically speaking, to kill off the malignancy we just about killed off everything good as well. The upshot is the walking corpse that is Europe today. A remark by a cynical old uncle, a D-Day vet, about why the Germans were such wusses. "Because we killed all the brave ones".

Wally Ballou said...

Thanks, Pat. That's a point of view not often heard over here. I am pro-British by nature, but I recognize that British foreign policy has always been fundamentally ruthless. We could do with a little more of that spirit of realism, but that's another story. We may have saved Australia and New Zealand to stop the Japs and to preserve American dominance in the Pacific, but our feelings of kinship with the Aussies was a big part of our motivation, too. And the price your folk would have paid if the Japanese had succeeded is too terrible to imagine.

There's a great scene in the WWII movie - "The Man Who Never Was" - where an English officer is talking to the man whose son's body the MI folk want to use as a decoy:

Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu: I can assure you that this is an opportunity for your son to do a great thing for England.
The Father: My son, sir, was a Scotsman. Very proud of it.
Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu: I beg your pardon?
The Father: Never mind. We're used to that. You English always talk about England when you mean Britain.

Gryffilion said...

Not to try to draw a line in the sand and start choosing sides...but the British didn't "gloriously lose" every battle they were in.

First case: The Battle of El Alamein. The British Eighth Army under Bernard Montgomery (and formerly Claude Auchinleck) blunted the German advance into Egypt and took control of the Suez Canal and Middle Eastern oil fields, marking the end of Axis expansion in Africa.

Second case: The 11th British Army Group, which held fast against the Japanese invasion in Burma from 1944-45, with the assistance of American air forces.

As an avid student of WW2, I am by no means ignorant of the peril Australia was in during Japan's expansion into the Pacific. I remember reading an article about an Australian ship that was attacked by A6M Zero fighters. The illustration still stands out in my mind: a dying Australian machine-gunner, barely able to stand, firing at an oncoming Japanese plane while his blood spills freely over the listing deck.

I am also keenly aware of the opinion the Aussies hold the "bleedin' pommie bastids" in. But we shouldn't write off the Brits' accomplishments during the part of the War when America was only just starting to get involved. They set the stage for a larger Allied victory, and for that we owe them credit.

MikeZ said...

It's a good thing to be reminded that things are never all black or all white. My hat's off to you, Yorkshireman. You're following in the footsteps of our own Eric Hoffer. Just because one works hard, doesn't mean he can't read a lot, and just because one reads a lot, doesn't mean he can't work hard.

Some of what I know about postwar Britan comes from the book "84 Charing Cross Road". I recommend it.

Terry Crane said...

To make it clear: US contribution was not liberation of Europe from Nazis, but prevention of Europe takeover by advancing Soviets.

Gryffilion said...


"As someone who describes himself as 'an avid student of WW2', that is a profoundly ignorant statement."

I think both the Baron and Dymphna will attest that my studies of WW2, while by no means complete, are extemely avid AND passionate. My lack of knowledge of the battle of El Alamein is simply due to my focus on the American part in the war, not the Commonwealth parts.

I have to say I'm a little surprised at the vehemence of your comment. Was I not pro-Aussie enough? Did I need to down a case of Foster's and chunder in the old Pacific Sea before you'd take me seriously?

My intention was merely to counter what seemed to be a "F*** the Poms" attitude that was creeping its way onto this post, not to pound the doubtless doughty and brave Indian, Burmese, African, Australian, New Zealand, etc., etc. members of the British Commonwealth forces.

Gryffilion said...

....Will it help my case at all if I told you two I read Barry McKenzie and say "Stone the crows, I'm so shikker I can't crack a fat!" when I've had a skinful of heavy? (I actually do. Ask my roommates.)

TonyGuitar said...

America Misses

Americans avoid facing and understanding the problem at our peril.

The fundamentalist march is gaining strength and it is a complex headache to deal with.

The American people have chosen to not deal with the problem, but rather to look the other way and hope for the best.

The majority of the American people do not realize the true and urgent nature of the common thread running through the Taliban, Hezbollah, al Quaeda, the Muqtada al Sadr killing squads of Sadr City Iraq, and Hamas.

Americans fail to see the peril clearly because the Media has managed to avoid joining the dots so that no clear picture of understanding is generally available.

This is a time when all free nations should be joining with the EU and Nato to restrain Iran from its Islamofascist take-over of the Middle East.

If the radical Mullahs , [ not the citizens], of Iran are allowed to take over Iraq and build their world Centre of Terrorism from that base, just as Osama bin Laden declared, our military conflicts will become desperately massive.

Pulling out of Afghanistan and Iraq would condemn millions of people who hoped for a free and civilized life to massive torture and death. Citizens of Iran also had hopes of a modern way of life but can not speak out now without losing their heads.

Today we seem to be repeating history under similar storm clouds of war to those overhead in 1938 before our struggle against Hitler. = TG

Americans = N. Americans Canadians included.