David Lloyd George’s War Memoirs and the Creation of Israel
I thought I knew a lot about World War I until I stumbled across the War Memoirs of David Lloyd George. Lloyd George was Chancellor of the Exchequer when the war broke out and subsequently became the head of a specially created Ministry of Munitions independent of the War Department, formed to overcome the shell, rifle and artillery shortage that was responsible, along with a defective strategy, for the carnage in France.
Britain never had a big standing army. It depended on its overwhelming strength in the Navy to protect the home islands and the sea lanes to its colonies on which its survival depended. So, when World War I broke out, and lasted longer than most anticipated, the need to put the nation on a war footing to overcome Germany’s superiority in armaments and trained manpower became paramount.
Lloyd George’s Memoirs are a look at the war from the driver’s seat. His pivotal positions: first as Chancellor of the Exchequer, then as Minister for Munitions, then as Prime Minister, put him at the center of the events leading to, during and after World War I. Some of the facts in these volumes are truly horrifying. In an unfortunate bit of luck, the Memoirs were not published until 1933, when the world was beginning to gear up for round two. So, Lloyd George’s Memoirs never got proper play or publicity. Also, they are long.
Luckily for world history, British politicians have a penchant for and an incredible gift as diarists. Lloyd George is a brilliant writer, as well as observer. Two examples from Lloyd George: "Financiers in a fright do not make an heroic picture." Vol. 1, p. 100; "Military imagination makes up in retentiveness what it misses in agility." Vol. 1, p. 113.
Palestine and Cordite
The shell shortage was caused by several production bottlenecks, one of which was filling the shells. British factories were producing mountains of shells, but filling them with explosives was problematic. One reason was a shortage of acetone, an essential ingredient in cordite. Acetone came from wood alcohol. Britain was not covered with vast forests. As the war progressed, acetone became harder to obtain and much more expensive.
Dr. Chaim Weizmann, a chemist at the University of Manchester, had volunteered his services to the war effort. After hearing about the acetone problem, C. P. Scott, editor of the Manchester Guardian, introduced him to Lloyd George. Weizmann worked night and day, eventually inventing a process to make acetone from maize.Â Weizmann’s efforts helped to ease the shell shortage at the front.
“When our difficulties were solved through Dr. Weizmann’s genius I said to him: ‘You have rendered great service to the State, and I should like to ask the Prime Minister to recommend you to His Majesty for some honour.’ He said: ‘There is nothing I want for myself.’ ‘But is there nothing we can do as a recognition of your valuable assistance to the country?’ I asked. He replied: ‘Yes, I would like you to do something for my people.’ He then explained his aspirations as to the repatriation of the Jews to the sacred land they had made famous. That was the fount and origin of the famous declaration about the National Home for Jews in Palestine.
“As soon as I became Prime Minister I talked the whole matter over with Mr. Balfour, who was then Foreign Secretary. As a scientist he was immensely interested when I told him of Dr. Weizmann’s achievement. We were anxious at that time to gather Jewish support in neutral countries.” (italics mine.) Vol. 2, page 50.
And which neutral country with Jewish support do you suppose Lloyd George had in mind? USA! USA! USA!Â Until the end of the twentieth century, Germans were the largest single immigrant group to the United States. So, the Balfour Declaration promising a homeland for the Jews in Palestine was designed to garner the domestic political support of German Jews in the United States for a British and French victory over the Central Powers in World War I.
Not everyone in the United States supported Britain. Along with the Germans, another large immigrant group, the Irish, were neutral at best on the basis of my enemy’s enemy is my friend. On July 30, 1916, two million pounds of explosives destined for Britain were detonated in New York Harbor by sabotage. The Black Tom explosion created the equivalent of an earthquake measuring 5.5 on the Richter scale, was heard as far away as Maryland, felt in Philadelphia and caused widespread damage and injury. Thus, winning the support, or at least the continued neutrality of the United States was a major foreign policy objective of the British.
As Lloyd George wrote: “Human valour is no shield against high explosives or machine-gun bullets. It soon became evident to clear eyes and gradually to the most obtuse vision that the war would be fought and ultimately decided in the workshop and the laboratory.” Vol. 2, p. 75 Industrial production had come to waging war.
So the Balfour Declaration was a direct consequence of the need to placate domestic Jewish opinion in the United States during World War I and the United States support for creation of the State of Israel in 1948 was a direct result of President Harry S. Truman’s need to get Jewish support for his re-election effort in the same year. So, is it any surprise the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu graduated from high school in Pennsylvania and that Michael B. Oren, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States grew up in West Orange, New Jersey and did not even go to Israel until he was fifteen years old, in 1970.
From the viewpoint of the indigenous Arabs, Israel could easily be considered an American colony masquerading as an independent country.