By David Lloyd George, Prime Minister of BritainÂ
Review by David T. Jones
In contrast to his “rally round the flag” defense of English participation in World War I approximately six months earlier, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George had a more positive note to proclaim in December 1917: U.S. entry into the war. Indeed, he exulted in being the first British minister to “salute the American Nation as comrades in arms.”
In a 2700 word address, Lloyd George expounded upon the merits of U.S. participation, not just because of the obvious and early material, military addition it would have to combat effectiveness, but because of the moral effect of adding a great democracy to the fight.
Lloyd George was almost lyrical in proclaiming that it was clear now that the war embraced democracies versus military autocracy, epitomized by Prussian-led Germany, which he spent some time excoriating for its repressive military excesses and threatening political arrogance. “Prussia was not a State—Prussia was an army.” However, he was overly sanguine in praising Russia’s transition to democracy. In Lloyd George’s rather myopic view, Russia “has fought for the freedom of Europe. They wanted to make their own country free, and they have done it.”
And, he was even more sanguine in predicting that U.S. entry into the war “will insure a beneficent peace.” Noting that the United States had always fought for liberty, Lloyd George claimed that “this is the greatest struggle for liberty that they have ever embarked upon.” The war was a struggle for freedom otherwise, Lloyd George, opined that the United States would never have decided to participate. (Various U.S. commentators such as Senators Norris and LaFollette disagreed.)
Lloyd George was, however, pragmatic in the material requirements of effective U.S. military participation. He recalled German (von Hindenberg) rationale for attacking U.S. shipping to the effect that Germany believed its submarines would prevent the United States from early significant participation in the war. Thus, Lloyd George, proclaimed that the answer was straightforward: “the absolute assurance of victory is to be found in one word—ships; and a second word—ships; and a third word—ships.” He noted with pleasure the commitment to build 1000 ships of 3000-ton capacity. Likewise, he was pleased that the United States was sending officers and experts to learn from British and others what mistakes to avoid, and alluded to the many errors England had made during the first three years of war.
But perhaps most poignantly, Lloyd George saw the war as one to end all wars. Thus he noted, “I can see peace coming now—not a peace which will be the beginning of war; not a peace which will be an endless preparation for strife and bloodshed; but a real peace. … Today we wage the most devastating war earth has ever seen; tomorrow—perhaps not a distant tomorrow—war may be abolished forever from the category of human crimes.”
Doubtless the subsequent failures associated with the Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations were beyond bitter in their disappointment.