#whitefeather diaries

The cost of weapons

Friday 15 August 2014

Laurence's comments about aeroplanes are a reminder that World War I saw several relatively new weapons become commonplace. Germany and Britain, along with other countries, had increased military spending in the run-up to the war. This build up of arms is considered by many historians to have been one of the factors that precipitated war. Increased spending on arms led to heated debates in Parliament and the media in the years before the war.

In 1905, Francis Channing, Liberal MP for East Northamptonshire, argued against increased taxation when the money raised would go on warfare.

Allowing for the repayment of capital charges for military and naval works, the total expenditure on war and armaments during the last ten years amounted to something like £400,000,000. Through the policy of war, expansion and reckless Imperialism, the whole of that money had been thrown into the sea.

Placed at five per cent, the mere interest on that sum would have provided universal old-age pensions for ever without any further appeal to the taxpayer.

Joseph Walton, Liberal MP for Barnsley, quoted a question he had heard a voter ask a candidate at an election in Scotland.

Am I to understand, sir, that whilst you are prepared to spend £31,000,000 over the army and navy, you are only willing to spend £8,000,000 on education? That is, £31,000,000 for blowing brains out and only £8,000,000 for putting brains in?

In Germany, the Social Democratic Party also criticised high taxes that went to the build-up of arms. In the 1907 election the party declared:

Our representatives in the Reichstag will reiterate our old demand – for burdens to be imposed on those who can bear them most easily, and whose professed patriotism induces them constantly to vote fresh additional estimates for unproductive projects and armaments, while keeping a close fist on their own spoils.

The first two extracts are quoted by Selling to Both Sides, a research project into the role of the arms trade in World War I, run by On the Record and the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). The third extract is quoted in Not Our War: Writings against the First World War, edited by A.W. Zurbrugg (Merlin Press, 2014).

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