Martin Gilbert: What might have happened if Haig had his way?

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Sir Martin Gilbert’s books include The Atlas of the First World War.]

Imagine: in October 1918, Lloyd George’s Cabinet is planning for a prolonged struggle in 1919. Haig’s solution promises to avoid a confrontation even bloodier than the Somme or Passchendaele. The Government agrees. Germany’s main condition is to keep the vast swath of Russia that her troops have occupied since the Bolshevik revolution and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March.

With peace made with Germany on Haig’s terms by mid-October, the British troops already in Russia have a German ally to help them to crush what Churchill calls “the foul baboonery of Bolshevism”.

The even worse spectre of a Bolshevised Germany is also averted. German revolutionary activities in the ports, and in Berlin itself, are crushed by German troops from the Western Front.

The Kaiser re-enters Berlin before the revolutionary railway workers seize the junctions and prevent his return (as they intend to do in November). Hitler, returning from the hospital where he was treated for gas inhalation, finds not a demoralised Germany, but a confident, victorious one, of which he can be proud. Nazism never comes to pass.

In the Middle East an early peace with Turkey hardly dents British ambitions. General Allenby has been master of Jerusalem since the end of 1917. Only the French suffer, as Damascus is still under the Turks: but for Britain that is a bonus, forestalling French ambitions where they most clash with those of Britain. Lloyd George, with his prewar experience as Chancellor of the Exchequer, sees yet another benefit. Britain’s mounting war debt to the US grows no more. The Cabinet discussions of how the war would be fought in 1919 are against a background of growing British indebtedness. By making peace with Germany, Britain can destroy the eleven-month-old Bolshevik regime. Imperial Russia pays the vast war debts it owes Britain, debts that the Bolsheviks will refuse to pay.

With that money Britain really is able to build a postwar Britain “fit for heroes”...

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