I have been enjoying Adam Hochschild’s To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918, which covers the British role in World War I. My favorite section details how the British responded when it turned out they had a drastic shortage of binoculars, which at that time were very important for fighting the war. They turned to the world’s leading manufacturer of “precision optics,” namely Germany. The German War Office immediately supplied 8,000 to 10,000 binoculars to Britain, directly intended and designed for military use. Further orders consisted of many thousands more and the Germans told the British to examine the equipment they had been capturing, to figure out which orders they wished to place.
The Germans in turn demanded rubber from the British, which was needed for their war effort. It was delivered to Germany at the Swiss border.
What are the possible theories?
1. It was a two-front war, and thus the British could offer the Germans a deal, knowing part of the costs of the rubber supply would fall on the combatants at the Eastern front, or perhaps even other combatants at the Western front.
2. The deal may have appealed to commercial interests in each country.
3. Politicians may have expected to survive the war, and to have their country survive the war, and in the meantime they wanted the war for their side to go better rather than worse, for reasons of public relations or to appeal to their military lobbies.
4. The traders may have disagreed about the relative merits of what they were exchanging, as is the case on Wall Street every day.