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6 The Knock-out Blow in Question Before President Wilson acquiesced to his generals' western strategy, which Pershing believed would result in an American victory in 1919, Lloyd George began to equivocate on his policy of the "knock-out blow."1 Significantly, the prime minister became interested in a negotiated peace with Berlin only after America came into the war. Setbacks to Britain's Continental allies, especially Russia's precipitous decline, and his pessimism about Haig's offensive weighed far more heavily on his mind in September than the question of American help during the last half of 1918 and 1919.2 Russia was hanging in the war by a thread, with socialists there and elsewhere clamoring for peace negotiations. The Italian high command had stopped its offensive action for the remainder of the year. The French had twice postponed their offensive on the Chemin des Dames, intended to draw off German reserves from Haig's Flanders front. With American assistance still in the future and cracks appearing in the anti-German alignment, Haig's single-minded and single-handed concentration on the German army in the Ypres salient might be a prescription for national disaster. As President Wilson considered and rejected Lloyd George's proposal for creating a special Anglo-American relationship to see the war against German militarism through to victory, the prime minister contemplated peace negotiations with Germany's warlords. In midSeptember 1917 the startling news was received in London from Spain and France that Germany might be interested in negotiating a peace on terms generally favorable to Britain.3 The first of these peace feelers was official. Initiated by the German secretary of state, Richard von Kuhlmann, who believed that Britain would make peace if Germany did not establish itself on the English Channel, the message arrived in London by way of the Spanish Foreign Ministry. It made no mention of terms, expressing only the willingness to make a peace offer. The second peace feeler was unofficial and its roots mysterious, as Balfour on September 24 tried to explain to the War Cabinet (which now included Sir Edward Carson, who had been added in July, and 100 Trial by Friendship George N. Barnes, who had replaced Henderson in August as the Labour party's voice). Baron von der Lancken, an official in the German occupation government in Belgium, had on von Kiihlmann's instructions contacted Aristide Briand, a former French premier, through one of the Frenchman's acquaintances, a woman who was half French and half German. The suggested terms from the LanckenBriand source, if genuine, represented substantial concessions by Berlin: Belgium and Serbia were to be restored, Alsace-Lorraine returned to France, Italy compensated with territory, and Britain given colonial concessions.4 Just as important as what was said in these suggested terms was what was omitted. No mention was made of Britain's eastern allies, Romania and Russia. The evidence strongly suggests that Lloyd George considered sacrificing Russia to achieve a peace that would generally satisfy the interests of Britain and her west European allies. He told the War Cabinet that he thought the Germans "proposed to acquire Courland and Lithuania, and to make some arrangement in regard to Poland as her spoils of war." This would mean that "two great Empires would emerge from the war, namely the British Empire and Germany."5 If legitimate, the suggested German terms were at least as favorable to the British as those discussed by House in London during American mediation efforts in 1916. Such a peace, however, would not destroy the menace of German expansionism. Lord Milner was quick to warn his colleagues that "it would mean Germany coming out of the war more powerful than she entered it, and another war in 10 years time." Lloyd George certainly recognized this danger, and he expressed a willingness to fight on, "but only provided that the Chief of the Imperial General Staff could advise that we could smash Germany, with Russia out of the war and the blockade gone. Germany would be able to supply herself in course of time with wheat, copper, tungsten and other metals."6 Lloyd George wanted to explore with the French the unofficial Lancken-Briand peace feeler, which could be quickly repudiated if discovered by the other Allies. Balfour, however, insisted that the American ambassador, Walter Hines Page, be informed, because President Wilson was "particularly interested in all matters connected with terms of peace."7 Hankey recorded Lloyd George's disingenuous response...


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