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By Robert Self

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Extra resources for Britain, the US and the War Debt Problem, 1917-34 An Unspecial Relationship (British Politics and Society)

Sample text

He was equally optimistic about the effect upon America where there would be initial mistrust but a reaction in Britain’s favour would soon come: 28 Origins of the war debt problem For the moment the American conscience as regards Europe seems dead, but conscience does not die in so sentimental and idealistic a people; it is only numb; and if the British action were presented on the loftiest ethical grounds, a revulsion of feeling would quickly follow, which would not merely improve Anglo-American relations but would profoundly affect the whole American attitude towards Europe.

Their attitude may be shortsighted’, Rowland Sperling of the American Department minuted on 17 May, ‘but the fact remains that they are not yet convinced that the restoration of Europe affords them the best hope of getting their money in full’. A week later, however, key officials at the Foreign Office had all swung round to the Geddes view that ‘procrastination would almost certainly prejudice American opinion against us’. 8 Next day, the Cabinet turned its mind to the question in the first of four lengthy debates which culminated in the publication of the Balfour Note on 1 August.

Furthermore, Horne predicted that a settlement would enable Britain to exert a ‘favourable influence’ over new American tariff and shipping subsidy Bills, improve Anglo-American relations generally and finally allow the United States ‘to cooperate effectively in European affairs’. 9 Although there was the now customary division of ministerial opinion, the Cabinet agreed with the Chancellor that there was ‘nothing to be gained by delaying the opening of negotiations’. On the contrary, as Britain was ‘mainly interested in reaching a settlement in Europe’, they believed this could not be achieved until reparations were settled and France would not agree to this until it knew the position of its debts to Britain and America.

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