France wanted revenge on Germany in every possible way. The French tried to extract reparations to the last possible sum, undeterred by the arguments of economists that Germany could not pay. But France insisted even more on keeping Germany isolated in international relations and without the physical means to wage war.
In France both World War I and the postwar difficulties caused even more serious dislocation than they did in Britain. France had lost proportionately more in human lives and in material damage than had any other major belligerent.
Two million Frenchmen in the prime of life were either killed or so seriously mutilated as to be incapable of normal living. In a land of only 39 million with an already low birth rate, this human loss affected all phases of activity. Three hundred thousand houses and twenty thousand factories or shops were destroyed.
Constitutional recognition of the essential independence of the dominions seemed to make them more loyal. The status acquired by the dominions with the Statute of Westminster in 1931 was symbolized by a change in terminology.
They were no longer to be considered parts of the British Empire, but free members of the British Commonwealth of Nations. In this new relationship, Britain would have to negotiate with the Commonwealth countries about tariffs, trade conditions, or immigration as with foreign countries.
The years between the wars were of great importance for Ireland. In 1916 the British put down the Easter rebellion with grim determination, creating nearly a hundred Irish political martyrs. The British government did not dare extend conscription to Ireland until April 1918, and that attempt led Irish nationalists to boycott the British Parliament. The crisis of 1914, postponed by the war, was again at hand.
Neither the Conservatives nor the Labourites were able to carry out their full platforms. The Conservatives were frustrated by the refusal of the Commonwealth countries to go any further than to accept certain limited imperial preferences.
Against the background of economic depression, British domestic politics during the twenty years’ truce continued to display a fairly clear class basis.
The Conservatives, still often called Tories, tended to get the support of aristocrats and of middle-class people, who generally wanted to attack new problems with traditional methods and with a minimum of government intervention. The Labour party tended to get the support of trade unionists and of intellectuals from all classes, who demanded that the government intervene more vigorously in the economy.