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The Bills of The Great War

In response to:

The Suffocation of Democracy from the October 25, 2018 issue

To the Editors:

Christopher Browning writes that “the Dawes and Young Plans [were] aimed at ensuring that our ‘free-loading’ former allies could pay back their war loans” [“The Suffocation of Democracy,” NYR, October 25]. I always understood these successive plans (1924 and 1929, respectively) as designed to scale down the reparations burden imposed on Germany by the Versailles treaty, which ended World War I. Our former allies may have found repayment of war loans burdensome, considering especially the deflationary monetary policies they followed in the interwar era; but nowhere have I read that they sought to shirk their obligations, as Browning’s statement implies.

Albion M. Urdank
Associate Professor
Department of History
University of California at Los Angeles
Los Angeles, California

Christopher R. Browning replies:

Ostensibly, first the Dawes Plan (1924) and then the Young Plan (1929) aimed at scaling back but also regularizing German reparations payments. But the US role in helping to negotiate them was not simply that of the altruistic outsider. In 1923 Germany partially defaulted on its reparations payments. The Allies raised the possibility that without reparations payments from Germany, they would be unable to make payments on their war debts to the US, and noted furthermore the unequal sacrifice they had already made during the war. The US president, Calvin Coolidge, was unsympathetic to such a linkage between reparations and war debts, remarking coldly that “they hired the money, didn’t they?” To avoid a chain reaction of defaults, however, the US then played an important part in negotiating the resumption of German reparations payments.