Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 April 2022
Chapter 19 focuses on the political and moral stakes of one of the most contentious questions of the peace conference: on what grounds Germany was to pay reparations and how high the reparation claims of the victors were to be. It not only demonstrates how intricately the indemnity problem was linked with the fundamental question of who bore responsibility for the Great War and all the casualties and destruction it had caused, eventually leading to a clash between western claims of Germany’s “war guilt” and German efforts to refute them. Placing this problem in a transatlantic context, it also emphasises that the reparations conundrum was inseparable from the tectonic changes the war brought in the financial and economic spheres, especially America’s ascent to the status of the world’s pre-eminent economic and financial power and the massive indebtedness of Britain and France to the new “world creditor”. It thus casts fresh light on the question of why it proved impossible to negotiate a “rational” and mutually acceptable reparations settlement in 1919. And it reappraises why only limited advances towards a new financial and economic order and effective postwar reconstruction could be made. Finally, it highlights the far-reaching political consequences this had.