To the editor:
Goldman Sachs’ reply to the charge of moral bankruptcy certainly amounts to “Let them eat cake.” (William Skepnek, Public Forum, March 17). I would not, however, compare today’s Goldman Sachs to post-World War I France’s wish to write off her war debts with German reparations. Skepnek is right in saying that some Frenchmen made money in WWI, but many did so in other countries too, e.g. the German armaments’ giant, Krupp. It is also true that wealthy Frenchmen did not want to pay higher taxes, but they didn’t in Germany either, where taxers were lower. Ultimately, Germany paid very little in reparations by 1933, when they became defunct.
Furthermore, France needed German reparations after WWI not just to pay her war debts to the United States and Britain. Much of northern France had been damaged or destroyed in the war and had to be rebuilt. There was also great loss of life — about 1.5 million dead and 3,044,000 wounded — as witnessed by the memorials to WWI dead that can be seen in every town and village in France. A generation of sons went unborn while pensions had to be paid to widows and veterans. So, let us be critical of Goldman Sachs, but let’s also be fair to post WWI France.
By the way, French Queen Marie Antoinette was alleged to have said “Let them eat cake” in 1789, when she heard the people were demanding bread, but it may have been just anti-royalist propaganda.