The Ticking Clock
The author begins by alluding that victory in WW1 brought the British Empire to the top, becoming the largest empire in history. Lloyd George, the Prime Minister during the wartime, intended to use this feat as a weapon to trounce over his political opponents.
Consequently, general elections were held on December 14, 1918 and as expected, the PM’s coalition party emerged the winner, taking almost 85 percent of the seats against the Liberals. An aspect of this victory was that most of the electoral seats were taken by Bonar Law’s Conservatives rather than by the PM’s Liberals.
These Conservatives’ political agenda differed from those of the Prime Minister. Days later, Winston Churchill was made the Secretary of State for War and for Air in the new cabinet. This move did not go down well with the general public. Fromkin writes, “…the appointment aroused violent opposition” (Fromkin 385). With such opposition, any decision made by Churchill was bound to undergo detailed assessments.
One of the major dilemmas that faced Churchill was Britain’s ambitious plan to replace the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East. He opposed these plans, arguing that Britain might lack money and manpower to undertake such a move. Lloyd George openly ignored him as he recognized that the occupation of the Middle East would result into major advantages.
Churchill undertook major activities aimed at reducing Britain’s expenditure. First, he directed the demobilization and bringing home of soldiers in the Middle East even though this move jeopardized Britain’s chances of imposing peace terms in the Middle East, leaving such matters in the hands of the German and Turk armies. By October 1919, most of the army had been demobilized even though Britain had not gotten her terms. Churchill also slashed expenditure on the army from 604 million pounds 111 million pounds by 1922.
In 1920 and 1921, the British economy collapsed virtually in all sectors. “Prices collapsed, exports slumped, companies went out of business, and the country was gripped by mass unemployment on a scale never known before” (Fromkin 387).
With these conditions, the empire debated on whether it could afford foreign policy adventures and even questioned whether she had the ability to maintain social peace at home. Faced with a fading army, a deteriorating economy, and a disintegrating society, the Prime Minister focused his attention on the Middle East and the world while Churchill, unheeded, continued to warn that time was running out.
The terms agreed at in the Middle East agreement seemed less important than the process by which they were reached. Besides, they were conducted in bad faith and this weakened the whole settlement. The negotiations had been shaped by Lloyd George’s plan of playing the US against Italy and France, while counting on the US to protect it from future threats. However, he realized that the US was not going to be its ally. “… [The US] was going to withdraw from world affairs and entangling alliances” (Fromkin 389).
Britain felt betrayed by the US while the US felt that Britain had betrayed the basic tenets for which the war had been fought. Finally, when the treaty was signed, it became apparent that Churchill had been right all along and that Lloyd George had done a terrible mistake by occupying the Middle East. Fromkin writes, “…but the Ottoman settlement, of which he was so proud, was to prove his undoing” (411).
Fromkin, David. A Peace to End all Peace, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1989. Print.