Monday, November 28, 2005

An Object Lesson On How Long Things Take

A couple of weeks ago I happened upon an interview on XM Public Radio between Bob Edwards and Sir Martin Gilbert, official biographer of Sir Winston Churchill. Gilbert, who has written ten million words in his lifetime about the great man, was talking about his latest volume, Churchill and America. I am well into it now and it is a great read. If you are a Churchill afficienado, then this would make a nice something from Santa!

Over the Thanksgiving holiday I found myself reading about the way in which the USA and Britain, Churchill using every piece of diplomacy and guile that he had in his toolbox, set up the Lend Lease program. The Land Lease Bill was passed by Congress in the first part of 1941, and allowed Britain to get the resources that it needed from the USA with payments deferred until the end of the War.

One of the hardest things for Britain was that one of the first actions of Harry Truman after V-E Day was to set in motion the process for repayment. My childhoo years in England were shaped by this American presidential action because not only was Britain having to rebuild itself after six years of conflict, but it was also having to make the initial payments for the materiel it had gotten from America. While my peers here were growing up amidst post-war prosperity, if anything, cicumstances in Britain were bleaker than during the conflict iself! But that is another story...

It just happened that not too many days ago I listend to an English economist talking on the BBC, and one of the comments that he made as an aside was that early in 2006 the United Kingdom will make its final payment on the debts incurred by Lend Lease, which began in 1941 and the installments started coming back to the USA in May 1945. Thus, a program that was established nearly 65 years ago, and on which the bill became due three months before I was born, is finally at the point of being wound up.

Several points can be made from this. One is that it is much easier to incur debts than it is to pay them off. A second is that if it had not been for the generosity of the United States, Britain would not have been able to hold the Nazis at bay until such time as America was ready to enter World War Two. If Lend Lease had not happened we would be looking at a very different kind of world today -- one that Churchill imagined would be dominated by tyranny.

A major point, however, is a good lesson for a culture that has been programmed to believe that circumstances can be resolved in 50 episode minutes with ten minutes for commercials! As I have said before, the Episcopal Church did not get into the present mess in five minutes, and it is certainly not going to get out of it in an hour. Britain needed ever single one of those billions of dollars to hold the Axis at bay, but I suspect that even Churchill did not think the UK would still be paying it off when his grandson, Winston S. Churchill, Jr., had begun collecting his old-age pension! When we enter a fray, the consequences are all long term.

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