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Peace and Retrenchment

Peace and Retrenchment

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Excerpt from Peace and Retrenchment: The Prime Minister's Call to the Nation

Nay, more than that, that things should be even better than before the War, and that immediately on the click of the switch of Peace everything would leap back again to the normal, and be exactly as it was in 1914. No man who imagines that can have realised for a moment the magnitude of the disturbing events of the last five years, and certainly he can never have read the lessons of history. If a house is shaken or demolished you may build a better structure, but the new structure does not pop out of the ground like Aladdin's Palace on the rubbing of Aladdin's lamp; you have to build it. The direct cost of the War to the world was ?40,000,000,000, spent, not in reproductive enterprise, but spent largely in destruction. If 40,000,000 of able-bodied young men were to take a holiday for four years, and were withdrawn from the task of reproduction and wealth-creation in Europe and America, and for that period, they had had ?1,000 placed at their disposal to expend, it would give some sort of a notion of what war on this gigantic scale means. You would not expect at the end of the four years everything to be the same. You would not expect to have the habit of industry come back immediately, and you would certainly expect that the difficulties which had arisen would take some time to get over. What are the difficulties that arose immediately on the cessation of hostilities? Let me summarise them.

After-War Difficulties.

First of all, you have the change from war to peace conditions. I remember when I was Minister of Munitions how long it took the industries of this country to change from peace to war conditions. It will take them just as long to adapt the machinery and the workshops of this country to peace conditions after they have been working on war material for two or three years. Contractors were shy and even shuddered at orders. Orders were often even shyer. No one quite knew what was going to happen in respect to prices. That had a very paralyzing effect upon business. There was a shortage of labour owing to the fact that demobilization necessarily took time. There was a shortage of material. There were great transport difficulties. Then there were stories of great accumulated stocks of manufactured goods in foreign countries, which, on the signature of Peace, would rush into this country and depress prices. Sir A. Geddes and his predecessor had to deal with that situation, and to restore confidence. They took the necessary steps, which turned out to be eminently successful. A certain number of restrictions were imposed on imports by Orders terminating on 1st September next. That gave the community a sense of security, at any rate, up till 1st September. They could manufacture and deal in goods without the fear of this great inrush of accumulated stock coming into the country. The contractor could safely launch out without fear of the ice cracking under him. Then the supply of labour considerably improved. From the three Services - Navy, Army, and Air - 3,600,000 men have already been demobilized.

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