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Paris correspondents for American dailies proclaim this the final week of the Reparation conference. If the experiences of the past four months mean anything there is good reason to believe that the correspondents are wrong.
It is difficult to remember any two foregatherings of the nations which are in greater contrast than this present conference and that which has gone down in history as the Dawes Conference. There was politics and to spare in the Plan which was drawn up in 1924, but for sheer horse-trading no meeting of the representatives of the nations in recent years has compared with this one.
The history of Reparations is a history of international misunderstandings. In the years immediately after the war many of the delegates could be accused of wilful blindness. And in this blindness the Germans have often been foremost. With all the good will in the world they have come into conferences, and through failure to understand the other fellow and an unfortunate habit of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time have brought down the wrath of the Allies upon their heads.
It appears that perhaps the Allies have been guilty, however, on this occasion. At the time when the Experts were called together many observers insisted that the time was inauspicious. And the delays which the German delegation have thrown in the way of the Committee seem to indicate that they ar prolonging the conference for some ulterior purpose. Now it is declared by correspondents and others that the delay is occasioned by a desire to await the results of the British general election.
The present conference was called at a time when international affairs were pressing for solution, but when there was no single problem which was foremost. The meetings in 1924 took place at a time when Europe faced with anxiety a future made dark by unbalanced budgets and disordered currencies, when the dangers were known, and the end results of keeping on as they were going threatened disaster to several European nations, if not to all of them. To be sure, no one expected of that conference anything so successful as the Dawes Plan. But everyone was aware that nothing short of that could clear the atmosphere.
The problems which face the world today are no less threatening, but their threat is veiled by an improved position throughout Europe, balanced budgets and stabilized currencies. It seems that the lesson of the post-war period has not been thoroughly learned: that confidence, and confidence along, seems to be the great solvent. With confidence and any degree of good management the government can be saved, he currency stabilized, any near-miracle worked; without confidence almost any cataclysm seems possible, despite the best efforts of statesmen.
Perhaps it was good statesmanship for Herr Schacht to attempt to postpone the close of the conference until after the British elections. He is not to be blamed for the too early convocation of the committee. But confidence throughout Europe has received a great blow from the dilatory tactics of the Germans. The task of the Germans in trying to satisfy a divided public at home is not made easier by the division among the Allies themselves, and the uibbling over minutiae which has made this conference so different from the meetings of the Dawes Committee.
If it is true that much of the delay has been occasioned by a hope that a changed government in England would view further reductions for Germany with a favorable eye, it is to be feared that the hope is vain. Nations move slowly, and modern elections are too full of local issues to be determinative. The Germans would be well advised to make the best temporary terms which they can secure, with provisions for a reconsideration at some future date. Further delay seems dangerous to the economic welfare of the world. And breakdown implies so many threats to economic peace that it is almost unthinkable.
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