on the World Today
REARMAMENT, however necessary, is a misfortune for the British in a special sense. They have borne eleven years of “doing without.”The basic foods are still tightly rationed: meat, sugar, butter, eggs, cheese, bacon, tea, candy, and — seasonally— milk. Some of t he merchandise w hich reappeared in the shops during the past couple of years will again dwindle or vanish. There will he fewer pots and pans. Refrigerators, radios, and television sets will become scarcer. So will essentials like clothing. The man in line for a car will continue to mark time for three or four years before getting one, if he is lucky.
Many improvements which were near will fade from sight. That is particularly true of housing. Despite much building, the cumulative demand of millions is unsatisfied. Capital investment at home will be cut in order to finance military preparedness. Disappointment is in store for many who hoped to get decent homes soon. Industries long overdue for modernization must wait. To give armed power the right of way and to buttress the anti-Communist alliance, all sorts of plans for mechanization and plant renewal must fall back.
It is an epic of frustration. Just as the years of bleakness were yielding to less austere conditions the housewife and her family must watch pleasanter prospects recede. Vast sums which might have been spent on new homes, health, and education will go into the armed forces and into munitions.
How do people feel about the fading vision of better times? How are they taking rising prices, the threat of fewer goods, and coming tax boosts? A shock may be in store for all income groups when the Government unfolds its next budget in April. Pending that moment, people seem too preoccupied to wince before the lash falls. They are accustomed to a standard income tax rate equivalent to 45 cents on the dollar.
They are used to queuing for rations at the grocer’s and the butcher’s. Patient lines at the food shops have come to play a social role perhaps comparable to that of our post office and general store. They may be a nuisance to the mother with young children, but to many they are pleasant opportunities for gossip with neighbors.
Talking to people in pubs or buses, in homes or offices, one discovers that they have not yet reckoned what rearmament means in simple terms of the family budget. The British seldom grow excited after an ugly happening, much less before the event. The rising cost of raw materials is being passed on to retailers only with long delay, thanks to the cushion of continuing price controls. Excepting a low articles like blankets, the price of which suddenly went up 67 percent before Christmas, most things are growing dearer gradually. Only as rearmament passes from the planning stage to performance will the British feel its real impact.
Yet if parliamentary by-elections are a reliable indication, an appreciable number of people are showing their discontent by switching their voles from Labor and Liberals to Conseryatives. There are signs that the citizens want a change. The Tories are sniffing dawn after a long night out of office.
Even before Korea splashed across the front pages, Britain’s military effort was compartively large. In proportion to population the British were next to the top among non-Communist countries in the number of men in uniform—over 700,000. Only France Towed a higher ratio. Britain was spending 8.3 per cent of its national income on defense, compared yvith the United States’ 0.2 per cent. The British have been the only West Europeans yvith two years’ compulsory military scry ice.
A few weeks after the North Koreans attacked, the British Government announced its program for an increase of almost 50 per cent over the preKorea rate of military expenditure. The rearmament budget was set at 9.5 billion dollars for the next three years. Later it was decided to enlarge that program and to telescope the time lag. Delivery dtties art’ being speeded. Tanks, warplanes. guns, vehicles, and ammunition which factories were to have turned out in 1958 and 1954 are now to be available in 1952.
The Government is proposing to recall some of the Class Z resvrvists. These consist of about 4 million men who left the army, navy, and air force after the war without joining the regular reserve. One project would start by calling up 100,000 to 200,000 “ Z “ men for anything from three weeks’ to two or three months’ training. It would be a kind of sampling of general mobilization. These conscripts would be additional to the 380,000 who now register yearly and of whom about 225,000 enter the forces.
What Britain has done and is planning seems formidable compared with the accomplishments of other European allies. But it looks puny when contrasted willi the British peak effort in World War II. today something like 750,000 men are under arms: in mid-1945 there were more than 5 million in the forces and auxiliary services. Now Britain’s civil defense corps has just a liltle more than 100,000 members; the corresponding number in June, 1944, was 1.9 million. Unofficial estimates put the present total of workers supplying the forces at approximately 750,000 — in contrast to 5 million producing munitions in mid-1943.
The 8.3 per cent of national income Britain was devoting to rearmament may rise to 14 per cent or so when the three-year plan is in full stride. But during the war the comparable figure was 5.5 per cent. Thus Britain is still far from being on a war footing.
The shift of workers
About 400,000 workers being diverted from peacetime manufacture to war production are among the first to feel the effects of the rearmament. The shift of workers will be most perceplible within the iron and steel industries, shipbuilding, and aircraft, vehicle, and chemicals production. In textile mills, many will move from civilian garment and cloth manufacture to turning out uniforms, blankets, and other equipment for the forces. In food-processing factories, many will swilch from providing groceries to feeding soldiers.
Britain’s 78,500 university students are in a special position. For a whole decade they have had to face conscription at the ago of eighteen. But they are free to choose between performing their military service upon leaving high school or deferring it until they complete their college careers. Anyone accepted by a British university is entitled to deferment. This does not mean exemption, for he must enter the forces before the age of twenty-six, unless medically unfit. In practice, about half the students go from high school into uniform; the ot her half ppstpone their military duties until after the university. Medical, engineering, science, and art students alike are eligible for deferment. They only need to ask for it. Deferment is also granted to young coal miners, farm workers, and merchant seamen.
Industrial production still rising
Besides solving their manpower problem, the British have to pay the heavy cost of rearmament. This growing financial burden can almost be met out of increasing production.
Britain’s industrial production in 1950 rose 9 per cent above the 1949 level. But that rate of improvement is unlikely to be sustained in 1951. Shortage of raw materials will fallen out the rising line. Production will falter while industries are being retooled for armaments work. Movement of workers from pence to war industries will also relard the upward trend. Government planners believe industrial output will rise by about 4 1/2 percent in 1951, instead of matching last year’s increase. It will even fall short of this modest target if the fuel and power shortage worsens.
That would not be the first calculation to have gone wrong. For one of the Government’s economic successes is now bursting in its face. The fattening of Britain’s dollar reserves, until recently a cause of rejoicing, is proving to have been unhealthy.
The sterling areas reserves bad shriveled to 1.34 billion dollars when the pound was devalued on September 18. 1945). By January, 1951, they had recovered to 3.3 billion. This improvement was due mainly to the British Commonwealth’s cut of almost 30 percent in imports from the U.S. and Canada. It now turns out, however, that by throttling their raw material purchases, the British impaired their economy and their rearmament.
Britain’s skimpy stockpiles deteriorated in 1950. Scant reserves of nonferrous metals, zinc, sulphur, timber, cotton, and other essentials fell sharply. These deficiencies are being felt throughout the economy. They will impede production. They will oblige the British to do without many easements almost within reach.
Struggling against shortages of labor and of raw materials, the Government decided on priorities. Rearmament will come first, but only by a stub nose. Export trade will follow right on its heels.
Exports will be put almost on a par with military preparedness, because they pay for imports of essential food and raw materials. If sales abroad drop, there is less money to purchase the materials Britain needs both to rearm and to supply civilian consumers. If exports shrink badly, the British fear they may again become the paupers they were in 1945.
The future of U.S. aid
To the extent to which Britain’s defense effort reduces exports, the United States will be expected to fill the gap with some form of lend-lease. Last August a Briyish note to Washington suggested that America should foot the bill for half the increase in Britain’s military expenditure. This would have meant a U.S. contribution to British rearmament amounting to 1.5 billion dollars over three years. The proposal was unacceptable and has been abandoned.
The future of U.S. military aid, including Anglo-American arrangements, was turned over to the North Atlantic ‘Treaty organization. These twelve governments re-created methods used at the birth of the Marshall Plan. Then, in 1947, delegates of sixteen European nations met in Paris to disclose their own plans. They explained how they could harness their own resources to recovery.
Today they are doing something similar. They are deciding how to trim public and private investment, housing, and in some countries even social services, to allow more money for rearmament. They are defining the impact of rearmament on their budgets, including taxation. They are weighing the influence of rearmament on their foreign trade. The North Atlantic approach differs in one fundamental from that of the 1947 Marshall Plan conference. Then the U.S. whispered its promptings from off stage. Today America is seated at the head of the table.
Our sllies are anxious
American leadership in the struggle against Communism, however, continues to arouse gnawing doubts in Britain and in Continental Europe. To brand this upsurge ot dissatisfaction as “anti-Americanism" is too simple. It is fear: fear that Europe’s fale is being decided over the heads of the Europeans themselves; fear that, if unchecked, American policy will draw Britain and Western Europe into war against China and into a third world war.
Despile British doubts and criticism, Britain will certainly be standing firmly at the United States’ side in an ultimate emergency. At present, though, we should not underestimate the stresses tugging at AngloAmerican solidarity.
The character and direction of our allies’ anxiety have been changing. At first their discontent was aimed almost entirely at MacArthur as a political general alleged to be carrying the United Nations into unwanted adventures. Next, as American and other UN troops were driven down the Korean peninsula by the victorious Chinese, MacArthur’s generalship itself was questioned.
In its latest phase, European criticism is not only stressing MacArthur’s fallibility. It is charging American leaders with failure to recognize the meaning of the Chinese revolution. Even President Truman’s State of the Union message contained one passage which played into the hands of the critics. Prevailing European opinion supports Mr. Truman’s condemnation of Soviet imperialism, but it parts company with him when he attributes the historic revolutionary upheaval in China to Russian “fomenting.”
Many British sense a peculiar switching of roles. They boast that they have broken with nineteenthcentury colonialism, and as evidence of this they point to India’s independence. Simultaneously they see America as “a nation created by revolution, but failing to understand other people’s revolutions.