Friday, July 13, 2007

The Iraq War and the Ruhr Crisis

When supporters of the Iraq War or those who want America to attack Iran want to bolster their position, they frequently cite British and French appeasement of Hitler in the run up to WWII. Not only is this a bizarre analogy to make when America has already been at war for almost six year now, but it misses one very important but largely forgotten pre-WWII incident:

The Ruhr Crisis.

Following WWI, Germany struggled to make its reparation payments imposed on it by the Treaty of Versailles. France thought Germany was wealthy enough to make the payments and also thought they might be secretly hoarding resources to rebuild its military with. Britain was busy elsewhere at the time and tried to delay action on the repayment issue. But, on January 11, 1923, using the excuse of a delayed shipment of telephone poles, France, along with Belgium, invaded the Ruhr Valley, home of Germany's coal and steel industries.

The French didn't find any secret military stashes, and efforts to directly extract reparations proved to be disastrous. Strikes by the coal, steel and rail workers of the occupied Ruhr region slowed the region's output to near zero. The German government supported the strikers with payments in cash that they simply printed and sent, which led to hyperinflation. A series of insurgent attacks further destabilized the region and the German government, which led to several coup attempts, including the Nazi's failed Beer Hall Putsch.

The Ruhr Crisis was ended by the Dawes Plan in Spetember of 1924. It called for France and Belgium to withdraw their troops, Germany to renew its reparation payments with the help of an eased payment schedule, foreign loans, new taxes and an allied reorganized central bank.

Less than a decde later, the spectre of the Ruhr Crisis haunted Britain and France during the rise of German military strength and aggression under Hitler and played its part in their decision not to engage Germany militarily.

I think the occupation of Iraq may prove to be America's Ruhr Crisis. Once we finally withdraw from Iraq, it's doubtful that America will be willing invade another Middle Eastern country for decades to come.

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