Monday, September 21, 2009

Objective and Subjective Causes of War

German troops outside of Warsaw, approx 21 September 1939

In strategic theory we say that war is influenced by the political conditions which define its nature. While subordination to objective politics and subjective policy is the rational element of war, it also consists (following Clausewitz) of irrational passion and uncertainty. War is thus a very unstable social activity.

The subjective causes of the war in question, World War II, are not debated much (that is besides by Patrick Buchanan), but one doesn't find much on the objective causes, that is the long-term political situation which was set up years before the Nazis took power in 1933.

In general, the pursuit of negative goals, that is, fighting for the complete or partial maintenance of the status quo, requires less expediture of forces of resources than the pursuit of positive goals, namely fighting for conquest and forward movement. It is easier to keep what you have than get something new. The weaker side will naturally go on the defensive.
These principles are obvious in both politics and the art of war, but only on the condition that the sides have a certain amount of stability and defensive capability in the status quo. In the same way that ocean waves grind the rocks on the shore against one another, historical conflict rounds off amorphous political formation, erodes boundries which are too sinuous and gives rise to the stability required for defensive capabilities.
However, sometimes this condition is absent. The Treaty of Versailles has filled the map of Europe with historical oddities. The class struggle has created a layer cake of different interests and factions on this map. In these conditions the pursuit of the negative goal of maintaining the status quo may be the weakest rather than the strongest form of waging war: sometimes a superiority of forces will be required for a defense rather that for an offensive, depriving the defensive of any meaning. . .

For centuries since the time of Cardinal Richelieu, French diplomatic thinking has been nurtured on the idea of creating conditions of fragmentation, open fields, and weaknesses in Europe. As a result of the work of French policy, whose ideas are expressed in the Versailles "Peace" Treaty, all of Central Europe - Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and so forth has been placed ina situation which completely rules out the possibility of defense and positional warfare. The French vassals have been skillfully placed in the position of a squirrel compelled to turn the threadmill of militarism. The art of French policy lies in the skillful creation of unstable situations. This is the reason for the impermanence of this creation. The idea behind the Versailles Treaty, putting Germany in an indefensible position, has made it physically necessary for Germany to prepare for offensive operations. Poland will stiall have the opportunity to ponder how it should thank France for the gift of the Polish Corridor, which has put Poland first in line for a German attack.

Aleksander Svechin, Strategy, pp 250-1, 1927

I would only point out that originally the German High Command after the First World War toyed with the idea of using guerrilla warfare to lure in the attacking allies and defeat them inside Germany. This was quickly rejected as impractical and unsuited to the German character and General von Seeckt proceeded to build a highly mobile and professional offensive force which would be able to attack Germany's enemies one by one and defeat them before they had mobilized their mass armies. All this within the restrictions of the Versailles Treaty which having been signed by Germany was the law of the land. So the political situation required offensive war against a surrounding hostile alliance, but forbad Germany the military to carry it out.

This offensive policy was supported by every Weimar government till the collapse of the Weimar system in 1932.

With France the center of gravity for the allied effort, Germany would be required to neutralize each of France's allies which bordered Germany - Czechslovakia, Poland and Belgium - before attacking France. After that a armistice could be decided upon with Britain. This was in fact the line of approach that Hitler took, which was part of his own plan for a war of conquest, but also followed the objective political conditions established in 1919.

So why did France decide on such a policy at the end of the First World War? It required the maintenance of a strong system of alliances with the new Central European states promising France a high level of influence and it tied the hands of the military to a policy which limited their options. The crisis came with the change in political leadership during the late 1920s and the construction of the Maginot Line starting in 1930. France did not have the resources to maintain the Versailles offensive strategy, and attempted to switch to a defensive strategy with heavy defenses, but the unstable political reality which the original policy had established remained. For this original strategy to have worked, the French would have had to have declared war on Germany in 1936 for entering the de-militarized Rheinland. Even when Germany attacked Poland, there was a great opportunity for France to attack in the west and clear the western bank of the Rhine which would have been a massive shock to the German people, whose support for Hitler's war in 1939 was lukewarm at best. . .


  1. An interesting historical parallel, the von Seeckt plan is basically a mirror image of the Napoleonic system (capture and convert all of Britain's European allies and then wait for the British to sign an armistice).

    The plan even foundered on the same rock, Russia.

  2. I think your post cries out for a companion discussing the arc of French politico-military thinking between the wars. I am far from expert, but my take on this is that the original "aggressive" French policy, the one that created the instability on the German borders, was the product of the Clemenceau generation of French leadership. That generation began to lose its hold on France about 1930. The group that took over is likely to have been dominated by what I think of as the "Verdun" generation of Frenchman; still shocked and traumatized by the horrors of 1916-1917. These guys wanted most to avoid a repetition of the nightmare they and their country has lived through around Fort Douaumont 14 years earlier. Hence the big forts and the abandonment of the "forward" strategy against Germany.

    They thought - as political leaders always think - they were doing their best to avoid the worst thing they could think of. They just didn't have the imagination to take in the political changes implicit in Nazism and the military changes wrought by the German officers of the Manstein/Rommel/Guderian cadre.

  3. Well, I was traumatized by my visit to the Fort Douaumont Ossuary where they house the bones of 130,000 *unknown* French and German soldiers.

    I can easily understand how an actual survivor of Verdun could be warped for life.

  4. I am so far from really understanding French interwar politics it'd take me six months to just get to where I had the background to understand where to start. But I do get a very strong feeling that the calvary of 1916 really did something to the generation of Frenchmen that came through it. Verdun was their living nightmare, and anything that could provide even a hope of preventing another was sacrosanct. The other thing about it that horrified them was the realization - most Frenchmen didn't know but the politicians and the senior officers knew - that Verdun destroyed the Army's will to fight. The "Nivelle Offensive" failure and the mutinies in the Chemin des Dames were directly related to the poilus' hatred of the "offence a la outrance" and their shitty living conditions.

    The politicians that won the war were the tigers of 1870, the men who were ready to kill and die rather than be beaten again. Those guys passed away after the war, and the guys who succeeded them we terrified of losing another generation to the trenches, and losing the Army in the process.

    Add to that that the armies of the Allies of 1918 came out of WWI having learned almost nothing. As typical victors, their military imaginations were frozen locked in 1918; rolling barrages, tanks as rolling pillboxes supporting massed waves of infantry, aircraft as penny-packets escorting aerial observers or flying Snoopyesque counter-fighter attack by the French in 1936 very likely would have bogged down in western Germany and might even have been hustled ignominously back across the frontiers by Seeckt's small but excellent Heer and the nascent Luftwaffe, and the resulting political upheaval would probably have destroyed the Third Republic.

  5. ALERT: a must read (before it disappears).

    Sybil Edmonds has spilled on the American Conservative's website:

    Funny how the the 'old Left" (which some ways, but not all by any means, could describe me) and the 'Old Right' are now on the same sides ... I put it down to values, we always agreed on the most important common values.

    And now I get on better (and respect far higher) 'Old Right' people than the 'new lefties' or 'new right' or 'neocons' who I despise these days.

  6. FDChief-

    Nice comments. Agree that we see a generational shift in French politics during the late 1920s from those who commanded to those who fought the war of 1914-18. For the old guard the war had after all been about the reestablishment of France as a great power, after the defeat of 1870 and the loss of the eastern provinces. By implementing an aggressive policy, this would secure French dominance of Europe and tie the hands of the French military, that is subordinate them to political control. This is something forgotten today, that the there existed a good bit of hostility between France's political and military leadership.

    Svechin for instance quotes the French military theorist Laval:

    "A war should be examined in isolation as a gigantic duel between two nations. Rulers should specialize in politics while generals should specialize in strategy. Politics is related to war only to the extent it determines the extent of the sacrifice made by the nation in peacetime to organize the armed forces. In wartime politics continues to operate without regard to military plans. Once war is declared everyone should shut up. Strategy requires secrecy and unanimity. Discussions with politicians lead to anemia and a loss of will and energy. Politics in an opium for strategy and leads to weakness. All power to the chosen military leader! A politician who understands anything about the military profession is a chimera. One should not distact a military leader from his main business with politics. A general should answer a politician who wishes to interfere in his business in the same way that Pelissier, who besieged Sevastopol, answered the French Minisiter of War, 'If you want to command the Army, take my place'. "

    Btw, concerning a French offensive against the Rheinland in 1936 - Hitler had order the that Wehrmacht was to retreat at the first sign of French offensive action. The advance would have turned into a disaster for the Germans and a very impressive French victory . . .


    Interesting link.

    As to "old left" and "old right", your lot threw out the baby with the bathwater back in the 1960s. Not very smart that . . .

  7. From the French offensive strategic perspective in 1936 . . . the German center of gravity was German General Staff support of the the German political leadership, in this case political leadership a bold risk taker lacking however substance . . . Nazism could have been simply a flash in the pan . . . a loud noise sounded before a political disaster . . .

    Had the French declared war against Germany in 1936, with the subsequant mobilization of Belgium, Poland and Czechoslovakia; Austria as a neutral. The price for peace being Hitler's head on a plate. . . One perhaps starts to get a better understanding of modern history . . . objective and subjective causes/background . . . Quite different from the deeper and more stabil social conditions of our pre-modern past.

    Consider for instance the current siutation concering Iran . . .

  8. Ordering and following orders are two very different things. Hitler wasn't the Supreme War Lord at that point, and I can't imagine that the Heer would have been perfectly thrilled to scuttle back across the frontier as all that. It might...and then again, given the thoughtlessness that France had given to her offensive tactics, her "attack" might have been so botched as to practically invite a good bitchslapping. Hard to say.

    I doubt the Belgians or Poles would have mobilized; the former were hard neutrals, the latter more worried about Stalin than Hitler (with pretty good reasons). The Czechs might, and they had a decent little Army, but the south German border isn't a very inviting invasion route - the very reason Hitler wanted the Sudetenland!

    The "best" and most likely outcome I could see would have been France mobilizing, Hitler preemptively pulling back from the Rhineland and the resulting political shitstorm causing his government to collapse. But by '36 the Nazis were pretty well dug in...

    Anyway, hypotheticals are always chancy. We know what did happen, and I'm not sure how we can profit by the example. Iran seems to be sui generis; perhaps that's why the reactions are so all over the map.

  9. Chief,
    I won't cmt on France and the eve of destruction but I will cmt on Iran.
    I'm always confused ny the term ROGUE NATION when applied to Iran and NK. How are either moreso rogue than the US? NK is a bit confounding but both have understandable agendas which is more than i can say for America. Same goes for Russia.
    Politics should hinge on predictability.
    Now back to Hitler-he was unpredictable b/c he lived in an nether world. My point is that we must realize what we are doing on a logical level. It was impossible in 36 to know that Hitler was moving Germany into a Charles Manson wet dream.
    Great article.

  10. Hitler actually laid out his whole plan in his book when he was in jail during the 1920's. He did what he had written there, so he was predictable. The foreign politicians did not grasp it, though.

    All "193x what if" stories depend a lot on what Stalin would have done.

    The French would have had no chance against the USSR and the Italians would have been useless till '42 (they needed the time to get war-ready). The British needed two years to raise a respectable army (continental scale) and the Americans needed 2+ years and some small-scale experiences (Kasserine) to correct their doctrine.

  11. FDChief-

    I don't think the historical view we have today backs up your view concerning the Rhineland in 1936. Hitler was a gambler and had the French reacted aggressively (along with at least Polish and Czech mobilization) there is a good chance the General Staff would have stepped in. The German "invasion" force consisted of only a few infantry battalions and several artillery batteries.

    Even Dupuy who is usually rather reserved in his assessments, states that Hitler "would have been deposed" had the Rhineland operation failed. (Encyclopedia of Military History, p 1132)

    This was after all what the Generals had been waiting for. The Rhineland was a turning point for Hitler since this success was necessary to cement his aura of invincibility - without it you have no aura and thus no Fuehrer . . .

    What I am arguing here is simply the following of the objective strategic thread . . . the subjective policy if it fits the objective political conditions has a high degree of success if carried out with close attention to those objective conditions . . .

    The French should have followed the same strategy they had implemented in 1919, but failing to follow that strategy, in effect implementing a new strategy which was hopelessly contradictory to the objective political conditions they themselves had established led them and Europe to disaster. Churchill referred to World War II as the "unnecessary war", he was correct in so many ways . . .

    I have a comment on Iran as well, but will post that later.


    Please don't take my comment as being overly harsh. After rereading it myself I saw that it could have been so taken. I have a very good friend who is "old left" and a Brit and we have discussed this very topic. I agree that the old values needed to be rethought, especially in regards to women and racism, but the values shared by both sides were something to be retained. I've always had the feeling, that in the Left's desire to redo the world in the 1960s that they went a few steps too far . . . and opened the door to a whole set of unintended consequences . . .

  12. Sven-


    Just wondering as to your view on "Winteruebung" in 1936. Had the French reacted with massive force . . .

  13. Syd, I agree (and my father argued against that at the time ... I was a bit too young).

    The key thing was to build bridges along the shared values. And, in a lot of cases, in the UK at that time, it actually happened.

    Shared values: respect for the individual, education, health, not too much power for the Govt (yes really, the old left was always very skeptical about Govt power .. it had been used aginst them too often after all), investment in real things, skills, development ... a better quality of life (very important one this). And of course democracy, the lifeblood of a healthy nation.

    Growing up in Glasgow in those days as part of the working class we loved education and knowledge. People organised lectures at night, books were devoured (my grandfather had a first edition Einstein book on relativity). We might have been poor (and we really were, mind boglingly so by US standards) but knowledge was sought for itself, not just as a way to get a better job.

    As good Celts: arguments on art, music, poltics, econmics, science, technology went well into the 'wee small hours', especially with some beer and whisky to fire up the intellectual juices.

    Funnily enough my (later) uncle-in-law was quite big in the Conservative party and he was an 'old Tory'. We only argued about HOW to achieve the same ends .. not the ends themselves (note real 'old Tories' were very skeptical about oligarches (though loyal to the [powerless] Crown of course as a societal stabiliser) preferring 'moderated meritocracy').

    Yep, things took a very wrong turn in the late 70's, early 80's, both on the right and left (basically they both went into gaga land).

    Leaving us as the, what do you want to call us? 'Sensible'? Throwbacks to the 'greatest good for the greatest number'?

  14. Being a bit more technical on the point. For Hitler politics and military strategy were one, his strength and also his weakness.

    His bluff on the Czech was an example. And it was a bluff. And he won big.

    But politics, politics. A little thing called the 'Great Depression' had sapped allied Govt's focus (though fortunately not the UK’s fighter defence systems .. thankyou Dowding).

    France (the real victor of WW1, without their fighting ability and sacrifice the Allies would have lost, long before any US soldier ever arrived and the UK contingent at that time would have made very little difference).

    Plus, after the slaughter of WW1 French people had little truck with militarism.

    Then the 'military establishment' struck back after WW1. Common ideas of WW1 are the trenches and high slaughter. But in 1917/18 it had changed radically (thanks in no small part to an Australian - Monash). Manoeuvre, combined forces (air power, tanks, artillery, infantry) everything that happened in WW2 was developed by the Allies in late WW1 and shattered them.

    Against the wishes of the 'old boys' of course, and they took their revenge after the war. The radicals were drummed out of the service (Brook and Montgomery barely survived, but Percy Hobart, arguably the greatest tank expert in the World, was kicked out). The French clearing out of experts was worse (at least the British kept a few, though not many good people). The US, quite rightly downsized their military, unfortunately what they kept was worse than rubbish. Plus they still fantasized about wars against Britain, while quite cold bloodily creating a war against Japan. And began that long descent into the fantasies about airpower

    Russia was in military chaos, plus they had to fight quite recently in the past against the US/UK/French/etc “white Russians’. Worse they had Stalin. A more paranoiac, useless, ruthless, incompetent leader the world is yet to see.

    Hitler knew this, and played to this. Brilliantly … until overreach in 42, then he became a nutcase.

    He could have easily sued for peace until then, with quite a good deal. Leave France, parts of Poland, etc, and keeping a huge part of Eastern Europe. The West would have loved it .. Germany vs Russia (always the true enemy) the ultimate Anglo-Saxon Fantasy.

    Too late for him, a man called Roosevelt, who had a very different idea for the World (arguably the most canny and cunning politician the West has ever had), the man who fought 5 (military and political) wars at one time and won every one of them.

  15. "Too late for him, a man called Roosevelt, who had a very different idea for the World (arguably the most canny and cunning politician the West has ever had)..."

    Bismarck could put up a huge challenge to that claim.

  16. Sorry OldSkeptic.

    Stalin died of old age, as unquestioned ruler of one sixth of the world's surface. Not bad for a cobbler's son.

    You can truthfully call Stalin many bad words, but incompetent isn't one of them.

  17. Sven: I'll give you Bismarck with one caveat: he always seemed to lose his perspective when it came to political liberalism and/or socialism. His unwillingness to bend on that subject explains (I believe) the first half of the Twentieth Century. France and Britain - however grudgingly - become liberal democracies. Germany remains a Junker aristocracy until 1918, then after a period of unrule and turmoil becomes a facist state until 1945.

    If Bismarck had been willing to unbend towards labor and the social democrats...if his need to undermine Fredrich Wilhelm hadn't been so desperate that he helped produce the shortsighted autocrat Wilhelm II...the course of German history might well have been very different.

    Still among the "great" political leaders of history, still unquestionably a man of great talents and of enormous legacies. But IMO the one thing that Roosevelt had and Bismarck lacked was a sense for the coming importance of popular soverignty. Neither man was in any sense a populist - FDR ruled as much by his own fiat as the Iron Chancellor did - but FDR was canny about coopting the populists, socialists and liberals. Bismarck wouldn't or couldn't, and I think the course that set his nation on was far from optimal in both the medium and long terms.

  18. So I think I'm outgeneralled and am willing to concede defeat on the Rhineland - but my question would be, how realistic is the likelihood that a French move across the border in strength would have been a fiasco of Sedanesque proportions? The French Army of 1940 never showed any real flair for attack on more than a divisional scale. ISTM that the planning alone for such a maneuver might have been beyond the GQG in 1936.

    I'll have to go study whatever records exist of French Army exercises in the 1930s. Now I'm curious.

    And as Old Skeptic points out, the French pols in '36 helped castrate their own Army.

    Interesting to compare that to our own Army attempting to leverage our pols into writing them a blank check to fight native in central Asia. Neither act seems to me sensible for a nation intending a sensible foreign policy...

  19. FDChief-

    Agree on Bismarck. Max Weber of course had a lot to say on Bismarck . . .

    Amazing isn't it how this thread has gone in so many directions: From the invasion of Poland, to the 1936 march into the Rheinland, to the character of Hitler, to the 1960s, then back to FDR and Stalin and finally Bismarck . . . ain't this a great blog?

    I actually have some more stuff to post on the Rheinland and Poland, as well as Iran, but will take my time.

    My main interest here is in the close connection between objective political conditions and subjective policy and what the one can indicate about the potential success of the other . . .

  20. FDChief-

    "In January 1936, [French foreign minister] Laval announced his intention of asking the Chamber to ratify the Franco-Russian Mutual Assistance Pact, and this gave Hitler his cue. Outwardly, Hitler made a great show of courting France. He showed courtesies to French ex-servicemen and granted a number of cleveraly staged interviews to the French press. In the meantime, however, he informed [War Minister] Blomberg that in his opinion the proposed Franco-Russian treaty was a violation of the Locarno Pact, and that this left Germany free to reoccupy the demilitarized zone. Needless to say, he did not go through the formality of denouncing the Locarno Pact, his real intention being simply to present the West with a fait accompli.
    Blomberg did not see fit to say anything to [Army Commander] Fritsch or [Chief of the General Staff] Beck, but in February Hitler himself let Fritsch know what was in his mind. Fritsch was anxious enough for security reasons to reoccupy the zone, but told Hitler that he felt it would be utterly wrong to accept the risk of war on that account. Hitler definitely engaged himself on this point, having just received encouraging reports on the probable attitude of Italy and heard Neurath's opinion that the West would not march.
    It was not till March 6th, one day before the actual operations, that Beck and the General Staff were informed. Jodl has described the effect of this information. He says that the atmosphere was very like that of the roulette table when a player stakes his fortunes on a single number. At length it was decided to use as weak a force as possible so as to cut losses to a minimum in case of French counter-measures, and in point of fact only a single division was employed. Beck was even at this stage asking for the assurance that the left bank of the Rhine would not be fortified.
    France in her first moments of alarm mobilized 13 divisions . . ."

    Walter Goerlitz, History of the German General Staff, pp 305-6.

    Modern states employ bureaucratic means of control which allow a small number of officials to set the entire mechanism in motion. Once in motion, the French Army would have followed its orders and witnessed the route of the German Wehrmacht in relatively short order. Had the French advanced into the Rheinland the confusion on the German side would have been complete . . . and Hitler would have looked the total fool in front of his Generals. It should be pointed out here that General Beck is noted in history as having been in favor of the Rheinland operation, but Goerlitz tells us that he only learned of it the day before, so imagine his response had it ended in disaster . . .

  21. @FDChief:

    Germany didn't become liberal before the late 60's (and no nation actually became truly liberal at an earlier time). Yet, it became social conservative (the social insurance system being a civilization advance that the Americans have still not fully caught up to).
    It also had a strong left wing (Marx was a German, after all).

    Bismarck bended a lot towards the left parties with his social reforms, but he was a chancellor in a parliamentary monarchy in service of a conservative emperor and a conservative himself.

    "Junker" were not as relevant as their fame would suggest. Junkers were limited to Eastern Germany; east of the Elbe. South and West Germans were not affected by the "Junker" phenomenon. It's therefore worse than inaccurate to call pre-1918 Germany a Junker society.

    The French and British societies weren't much more liberal than Germany in the early 20th century, if at all. There's still a lot of propaganda and mythology involved in the topic.

    Germany's ultimate societal failure pre-1919 was probably to lose a war against terrible odds and to be the only state left to blame.
    We wouldn't talk about failures in the German pre-1919 society if the Italians hadn't picked another side in the war than before the war (the Italians were the really decisive participant of WW1 in my opinion).

    We might instead discuss the incredible militarism of Britain, which waged about 50 wars during the Victorian age - while Germany waged only two wars from unification to WWI (one of them on the same side as the UK).
    Or we might discuss the extreme militarism and mobilization of France, which called more of its men to basic military service (and for longer) than Germany while the German parliament denied the German army (armies) the permission to match the French army expansion before 1912/13 (Europe had suddenly an arms race fever in 1912-1914).

  22. Sven's last point about the British is a good one.

    The reason the British got into so many little wars was that they were busy running a world-spanning Empire and were constantly on the verge of over-reaching themselves due to the ambitions of individuals in the colonies (see the start of the Boer War for several classic examples).

    The US also gets itself into a lot of little wars. Our excuse is that we are the world's policemen. Are we also the cause of many of those wars?

    The French, on the other hand, are relatively easy to explain. As the Chief noted in a post on the GFT, they had been the primary antagonists of most of the rest of Europe for the last several hundred years (preferring to fight their wars in Germany, of course) and had their martial pride savaged in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. Given that perspective, it makes perfect sense that they'd go overboard in militarization and mobilization looking for revenge. WWI seems to have finally cured them of military ambitions with WWII being the icing on the cake.

  23. A policeman serves the people and obeys the law.

    The U.S. violates and enforces international law selectively based on its perceived interests.

    The proper parallel is a 200 lbs bully on a school backyard, not a policeman.

  24. The use of the term "Junker" was careless - I was tired and couldn't come up with a shorthand for "hereditary militaristic aristocracy".

    But my understanding is that for as much as there has been a powerful movement towards social democracy in Germany since the mid-19th Century, Bismarck was NOT one to cater to it. His anti-socialist laws were pretty straightforward - no Paris Commune was going to occur in Berlin. While he did shape some social welfare legislation in the 1880s, he was a pretty staunch monarchist and conservative all the way until 1890.

    And his influence on Wilhelm II couldn't have been worse, and Wilhelm is pretty key to what happens in 1914. Which is not to say that the English and French were cooing doves; the Brits were going to be a problem so long as the Emperor insisted on a High Seas Fleet, and the French just plain wanted revanche for 1870. But the Kaiser made a bad situation worse, what with his touchiness and personal intervention. The "Entente Cordiale" was in reality a pretty thin agreement about colonies until Wilhelm's ire made it into some sort of nefarious anti-German pact - and by doing so helped make it one...

    No question, there were many problematic issues that led to WWI - and many more that affected its progress (the Italians? Really? With Caporetto and everything? This I gotta hear more of before I believe it...) and the wntire notion of "militaristic Germany" as the primary cause is lingering Allied propaganda. But, still, Wilhelm's personality and political upbringing had as much to do with it as anything, and Bismarck had a large part in them...

    And I'm afraid that I have to agree with Sven on the role of the U.S. abroad. We haven't been enforcing "the rules" but "our rules". While not unexpected or unusual in a Great Power, it doesn't make us the "policeman" of anything.

  25. Actually, policemen do tend to uphold the established order rather than the "law" (whatever that means).

    Just ask any early 20th century labor organizer.
    Given that understanding, I think that America is indeed the world's policeman.

  26. Ael: point well taken. Any Chicago cop would understand, too.

  27. SVEN,
    I read your replies with great interest and admire your alternative interpretations of facts, or should we say history?
    My cmt re; Hitler being unpredictable I'm referring to the fact that his policies became unhinged from reality. Assuredly he gave us a playbook but after 42 and 43 his policies were suicidal and delusional. At some point he became unhinged and it's difficult to pinpoint that event, at least for me.
    Nothing that I say is an apology for AH.

  28. SVEN,
    I've been told by Lisa that my last cmt to you was derogatory ; and that was not my intention.
    I do like your interpretations.

  29. Interesting comments. Also find it interesting that we don't have a new thread up yet . . .

    In a bit of shameless self-promotion . . .

    I'm participating in the Chicagoboyz Xenophone Roundtable . . .

    The closer we get to the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, the more "normal" the Germany of that time looks. Pre-emptive war is a big part of it. Funny how their argument circa 1914 makes soooo much more sense than ours does circa 2003. In terms of historical retrospect, they look quite good in comparison to the Allied scramble in Russia after 1918 . . . Or Italian policy after their entry into the war as Sven implies.

    Disagree on the point of Italy though, since rather Bulgaria is the key. Had they joined the Allies then Germany's position in the Balkans would have collapsed in 1916 . . . Read Falkenhayn. Italy presented a distraction for Austria, but also a drain on the Allies, so comes up as neither really + or - . . .

    Thinking about my 3 October post . . .

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  31. Seydlitz: Agree on Italy - as many German units the Italian Front sucked away from France it pulled British and French units, too. IT would have been interesting to see what the Italians and Austrians would have accomplished unmolested - is a double rout even possible?

    And speaking of the beginning of WW1, I have a discussion of First Marne up over here:

    Feel free to slice and dice as needed...

  32. Sel, but we managed to out-incompetent him in the end (after the brilliance of D-Day and saving the Med and knocking out at little cost Italy), we gave him most of Europe.

    We could easily have reached Berlin and Austria and CZ, etc. Despite all the propaganda the Soviets were at the end of their tether, running out of men and at the end of a long supply chain. If the allies hadn't invaded then they would have had to pull back to a more defendable line or be pushed (slowly) back before settling into a long bloody stalemate.

    But a certain General called Eisenhower, without any consultation with the British, decided to halt the Allied advance after they surged through after Veritable and Grenade. Nearly all of Germany was ours, plus a quick advance was now possible up through Italy.

    The greatest mystery of WW2, the price of Soviet support for the UN (word of mouth orders perhaps)? Eisenhower blindsided by Bradley and Patton and distracted into frigging around in South Germany? Who knows, but in all the (long) annuls of strategic/military incompetence in history this has to be in the top 10, or 5 or even 1.

    The Soviets thought all their dreams had come true and moved as fast as they could westwards, until Eisenhower panicked and got Monty to move up to Denmark cutting them off (possibly the fastest advance in WW2 that one) The US forces were all to far South by that stage basically frigging around and doing nothing useful.

    So Stalin was incompetent, got huge numbers of people killed and his Western Army nearly eliminated (and went into a funk for several weeks after Hitler invaded). If the Japanese had gone for the Northern attack, instead of as (the US wished and pushed them into) the Southern route, then that would have be it for for the Soviets.

    As it was he could take his entire Eastern force and move it westwards and that (plus getting some decent Generals out of the prison camps) saved his bacon. Plus a lot of luck (if the Germans had moved a month earlier instead of wasting time and resources in the Balkans, a nice British scam, then it would have been over whatever Stalin did).

  33. OldSkeptic-

    Disagree with your history on different points. Perhaps the most interesting for those following this thread here would be my view that Germany in 1941 simply did not have the policy machinery and material capability of defeat the Soviet Union if it was able to retain control in Moscow. Taking large amounts of territory did not add to German capabilities, but were rather a drain on them. It would have required a generation of intense effort and resources to covert occupied Belorussia and the Ukraine, not to mention the Caucasus into productive areas for effective German exploitation. While the German Army in 1941 was probably the best mass army of its - or even perhaps any - time that does not mean that it would have been up to fighting a war of attrition in Russia, while also fighting in the West. Clausewitz wrote that Russia could not be defeated by military means alone, but would require an effective policy to attract/divide Russian support for their own government. The very political nature of Hitler's regime and Army, as opposed to say the Kaiser's Army, precluded any effective attempt to win Russian support.

    So even with the military they had, and the best operational plan . . . (?)

    the odds are against a German victory against the Soviet Union in 1941 imo. Better for Germany would have been the continued de facto alliance with Stalin while continuing to knock Britain out of the war.

    Next comment will be on Iran . . . promise.

  34. "My cmt re; Hitler being unpredictable I'm referring to the fact that his policies became unhinged from reality. Assuredly he gave us a playbook but after 42 and 43 his policies were suicidal and delusional."

    I think he was predictable in his grand strategy (his daring behaviour up to 41 was unpredictable, though). The grand strategy itself was suicidal and delusional.

    I don't know what you mean with 42-43, as the really relevant decisions happened in 38-41. The war was lost by late '41 and that was obvious by late '42. His late influence was quite a disaster, but only inside of a bigger disaster.
    I didn't see anything derogatory.

    Btw, there's more of my writing at my blog; *shameless self-promotion on*
    *shameless self-promotion off*

    - - - - -

    About Italy in WWI; I consider it to have been decisive because it was after all the one that (barely) sided with the winners.
    Austria-Hungary would have remained intact and in good shape for fighting by 1918 without the Isonzo battles and France wouldn't have been able to press much on Germany with a Western Alps front to cover.
    In sum, that would have meant about 5-10 million more axis troops by early 1918 and a few million less Allied ones.
    I know that 'certain' late-comers are often called the decisive factor, but I would first give that title to the Italians.

    The Bulgarians were hardly of much importance because of the geographical and logistical restrictions on the Balkans. They wouldn't have been able to achieve much in short time. Their relevance was more on the operational than strategic level.

    WWI was imo decided by the bidding for Italy. The Allies offered most of the A-H coastline while the Axis offered mostly French Corsica. The Italian government had more appetite for the Eastern territories. That decided WWI more than any battle in my opinion.
    The Italian government decided WWI. Now that's difficult to digest, isn't it?

    It reminds us of the political nature of war, as a reminder for CvC's work.

  35. Germany 1941-1943 was a powerhouse of militarism, and even post June, 1944, Germany's border integrity still enjoyed a militant population.

    Now, to put it all in perspective, and the reason I think Eisenhower was smart to allow a stall his own Blitz into German proper was that there is a time and place to execute a penetration of a hostile nation.

    Engage speculative thinking here:

    If Eisenhower decides to cross into the Rhineland minus concurrent pressure coming from the East means that the western front allies will meet a very agitated and well garrisoned German militia along with disciplined German military forces. Once again, well equipped, and all veterans.

    That would mean that Eisenhower's forces face a highly motivated, albeit, realistically defeated Western German front that is not pressured to defend the East.
    Can you say, "Pyrrhic victory."
    Why Pyrrhic?
    An undersupplied Army is a guaranteed way of loosing the one asset every Army

    Now if you were to say to speculate that Eisenhower go all Psyop's and start making deals with the German command's offering safe surrender options without the necessary 'shootout' that may be an interesting topic.

    So, if Eisenhower waits for the two prongs of the Russian forces to breach the German frontier then there is a combined effort for both Russians and Allies to throw on the pressure, and for the Germans a decision is made...who do you defend against, and to whom do you want to surrender too?

    The end result: The Germans defend against the Russians and surrender, as much as possible, en-masse to the "Americans."

    It is a good thing, then, that Eisenhower "stalled."

    Now as for the stall itself, I think that had a lot to do with the supply lines than anything else, and that would be my educated guess.

  36. Sven-

    I think you are reading too much into the Italian contribution and also ignorring the strategic situation. There was no way that Italy was going to join the Central Powers with Britain fighting with the Allies. She would have been open to invasion at any point along her long western coast and would have been cut off from her imported raw materials/foodstuffs. The Royal Navy would have seized all Italian shipping they could get their hands on. . .

    Germany's goal according to Falkenhayn was to keep Italy neutral as long as possible. Her demands for territorial concessions from Austria were impossible to fulfill since this would have started a similar demand from Romania. When the Italians did declare war on Austria in May 1915 (but not on Germany) the Austrians already had seven divisions set aside to guard their front against Italy. The Austro-German offensives against Russia continued . . . Over the long haul the Austrians did lose heavily on the Italian front, but not really comparable to what they lost against Russia.

    Now consider Bulgaria . . . Bulgaria joins the Allies in the summer of 1915 (instead of joining the Central Powers as they did) and aids Serbia which is under strong pressure from Germany and Austria. Greece, fearing Bulgarian plans to retake Macedonia joins the Allies as well. Turkey is hopelessly isolated and the entire Balkans are now open. Romania seeing Austria's situation of being tied down on three fronts makes an ultimatum to the Dual Monarchy - Transylvania or war . . . without Bulgaria anchoring the Balkan front, the whole southeast would have collapsed . . .

  37. "Germany 1941-1943 was a powerhouse of militarism..."

    I doubt that "militarism" has a meaning in times of major conventional war (with nearly 10% of the population mobilized into the armed services) on the own continent.

    The Germans were shocked about the beginning of the war in 1939. There were no spontaneous festivities during the mobilization as in 1914.

    The high tide of support for Hitler was actually in the summer of 1940 after the surprising success over France and with expectation for a peace later that year.

    Keep in mind that Italy was an Central power before the war. The series of events did not require it to declare war on the Entente, but Italy effectively switched sides.

    P.S.: I really wrote Axis/Allies in regard to WWI in my earlier comment. That's embarrassing.

  38. Sven-

    You're arguing treaty legalistics and I'm arguing strategy . . .

    BTW, this is not a new view that I am presenting, but rather a quite old Clausewitzian view . . .

    Svechin wrote about the centrality of the Balkans to the Great War in 1927.

    When I have a question I always go back to On War. Perhaps another reading of On War is in order . . . ?

  39. Sven: Still trying to figure out the Italy thing.

    Italy was a pretty poor member of the Central Powers to begin with; their relations with Austro-Hungary were poisonous; look at their reaction to the start of the war. Pretty much says that they were looking for a way out of the pact. If you posit Italy coming in actively on the CP side you might as well postulate the Ottomans staying neutral or the U.S. as well...

    So the BEST case is the Italians stay neutral. This frees up the Austrian divisions for action in the Balkans and Russia. I'd be VERY surprised if Austrian units would have been sent, or if sent would have done well, on the Western Front. But it doesn't actively affect the Entente Powers otherwise.

    But even in the historical record, the Italians spent most of 1916-1917 getting hammered on the Isonzo and Caporetto; their losses were more than the Austrians by something like a factor of 2. The only German units there are freed up after the Kerensky Offensive fails. The material support the Allies have to give Italy is probably about the same as the maneuver units Germany contributes to Austria.

    I'd hesitate to call anything about the k.u.k Common Army "in good shape", in 1918 or elsewhen. Austrian units performed capably when decently led, but they also had some of the worst of the Central Powers troops, and the overall effect of the Austrians was to act as a drain on Germany, who had to bolster their "ally" to keep them in the fight just as the Entente had to bolster the Italians. With Italy neutral, the Austrians manage to nearly get routed by the Serbs on the Dvina in 1914. I'm not sure that breaking the Austrians breaks Germany and makes for an Allied victory - I think seydlitz can make as good a case for the Bulgarians being critical to 1918...

    And I can't believe we're not even discussing the Japanese!

  40. Looking back at the last post, two corrections:

    1. It was the DRina, not the DVina River, and

    2. The Austrians pretty much fought to a stalemate rather than got pasted. Mind you, given the relative strengths of the two opponents, I would still snark that to get held to a 0-0 draw was pretty much the military equivalent of a 6-nil shellacking...but I wasn't fair to the Austrians and I want to correct myself.

    Anyway, I still have to shake my head a little at the whole "Critical Italy" hypothesis. Curious to read some of the standard WW1 authorities and see what they say...

  41. Sheerakhan, supply was not the issue. As usual Monty had made sure that there was sufficient logistics to get to Berlin (and Eisenhower had started to listen to him again after going into ga-ga land in Sept 44, after Monty saved his butt at the Bulge), which for the British was of such symbolic importance that it was not funny.

    No instead Eisenhower stopped the advance, without any discussion with the Joint Chiefs of Staff (US & UK) or Churchill (who went ballistic). Instead the US frigged around heading into South germany after Hitler's last stand or whatever nonsense it was.

    By the way completely ignoring nearly a million German soldiers in North Germany, Norway, etc.

    The Russian's saw their moment and pushed as fast as they could, finally panicking Eisenhower (and everyone else). With US forces all out of position (after abandoning the North) only Monty's 21st Army Group (UK, Canadians mostly with some NZ, SA and Indians, as the Australians had all left for the Pacific in 43) was in any postion to do anything. Thus the, arguably, fastest advance in WW2 history to get North enough to cut off the Russians before they got to Denmark. Oh and some Germans still fought, so it was not a cakewalk, it was bloody fighting all the way.

    Memo to Military Historians The Germans surrendered to Monty first, before Eisenhower and the Russians. Though basically he bluffed them as he did not have the forces to take them on if they had kept fighting. He manged it because he scared the crap out of them.

    Not a bad feat, considering he had been told before D-Day that the UK had ran out of men and he would not get any more replacements for casulties (as had Canada and then later the US).

    So the reasons you give are not credible, either it was an agreement of some kind or mindboggling incompetence (or a bit of both of course).

    Anyway a lot of Eastern Europe paid the price with 50 years of Soviet tyranny, thanks Ike they could say.

  42. Sven
    My cmt on Germany/ Hitler post 42 is that it was impossible to predict or understand that any major European nation would elect , either thru their leaders or otherwise , to accept a total destruction rather than end hostilities thru political means. This has always been incomprehensible to me, but then again so is the entire War. To me that is.

  43. Okay, Old, I completely disagree with you, and I think you are off base in your judgement of Eisenhower, and I suspect, with no proof, that your opinion has been colored by David Colley's book, "Decision at Strasbourg."

    Here are some of my sites...
    page 65

    Please read these sites so that you can understand my view point and thus my educated opinion: Eisenhower was determined to bleed the German defenses white, and not loose more forces to take a city that, to him, represented a pyrrhic victory and was a waste of human life to was.

    "According to Grigoriy Krivosheev's work based on declassified archival data, Soviet forces sustained 81,116 dead for the entire operation, which included the Battles of Seelow Heights and the Halbe;[7] some earlier Western estimates are much higher.[6] Another 280,251 were reported wounded or sick during the operational period. Included in that total are Polish forces, which lost 2,825 killed or missing and 6,067 wounded in the operation.[7] The operation also cost the Soviets about 2,000 armored vehicles, though the number of irrevocable losses (write-offs) is not known. Initial Soviet estimates based on kill claims placed German losses at 458,080 killed or wounded and 479,298 captured.[nb 8] The number of civilian casualties is unknown.[8]

  44. Oh geez...

    "Here are some of my sites..."


    Correction, should read...

    "here are some of the sites I use in my studies..."


  45. Really liked the way this thread developed and the amount of ground we covered. I'm still thinking about the objective and subjective causes/background concerning Iran and will post something in the future.

  46. I disagree Sheer.

    Eisenhower (and Bradley and a small extent Patton) was a product of the 'old school', his strategic thought was built around the Civil war and WW1 attrition.

    He struggled with the concept (perfected at the end of WW1) of concentration with sufficient logistics and reserves to push through a break. Let alone varying thrust lines or even something as basic as outflanking.

    The US did shed vast amounts of blood at silly and pretty meaningless points such as:
    Metz (que?).
    Hurtgen Forest.

    At the time of the 'Bulge' the US had no reserves. At Eisenhower prodding it was constant activity right across a front from Switzerland to where the 21st Army group was.

    He had insufficient logistics to support it, let alone following up a breakthrough (and he had no reserves as stated before).

    So 6 long bloody months went past as the Germans could parry with inferior numbers of forces, while the US bled white (they even started to run out of men as well and Eisenhower had to get Marshall to send over more men).

    Added to that terrible personal management, dreadful medical and psychiatric care the death/injury/sickness rate was appalling. It was a recipe for endless attrition and risked, as happened a breakthrough by the Germans at a weak point.

    I should add that even Eisenhower queried Bradley as to why there was so little forces at the Ardennes. To which Bradley confidently replied that the Germans couldn't come through there. Trouble was that it was the same route that they had taken to invade France in 1940!

    This WW1 attitude was more than just the inability to concentrate forces it applied to Generalship. Bradley with a HO of 10,000 men, SHAFE with God know how many. Logistic command based in Paris and living the high life, while most fighting US soldiers had no leave at all since D-Day (the few who did then got turned around for the Bulge).

    Amazingly the average fighting US soldier was far more poorly treated than his opponent in the Wehrmacht! The US REMF's did really well of course.

    Only because of the Bulge (with Bradley and Eisenhower facing being fired) did he finally put Monty back in charge, who quickly sorted it out. True story of Monty when he was back in charge, he was horrified at so many US soldiers not getting hot meals in such cold weather. Some hadn't had a decent meal in months.

    Finally, and after being pilloried by the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Brook crucified him at one meeting, humiliating him by his lack of knowledge of his own forces deployments and logistics) he got back on track and allocated the forces and logistics to attack through the North (duh).

    Even Patton came around long before Bradley and Eisenhower and advocated attacking the North (like where the majority of Germans were plus the Ruhr, etc). He independently came up with a plan that was virtually identical to Monty's (Patton may have hated Monty .. despite Monty quite respecting him [Monty gave him the starring role after D-day after all]..but he was too good a soldier not to see the obvious when he wasn't having his head turned by glory seeking).

    So not wanting to attack strong points doesn't seem a likely reason as to why they let the Soviets get the majority of Germany, including Berlin. The US had already gone though bypassing them (ah la Patton in his PLANNED big advance) or hitting them straight on (say) Patton again who bashed away at Metz for months.

    You just to have to look at a map of the Soviet, US, UK and French zones of control after the war ended. The Soviets had the east and a large section of the North. The UK the North West, after protecting Denmark and the all important Baltic no less. And the US? Stuck down in the south.

    Guarding Switzerland I suppose.

    I don't mean to be so cynical but it was the Western Allies greatest strategic blunder of the war.

  47. Just some notes about the Hurtgen failure:

    It delayed Veritable and Grenade the real Western Allied attack into Germany:

    "the U.S. one (Operation Grenade) was delayed by the threat and then the actuality of flooding by water released from the Roer dams. This delay allowed the Germans to concentrate their defence on the Anglo-Canadian assaults, but they were unable to do much more than to slow it in localised areas. When the Americans were able to advance, some 2 weeks later, there were few reserves left to face them and they made rapid progress until they encountered the German rearguard near the Rhine."

    This was because of the US disaster at Hurtgen:

    "In hindsight, military historians are no longer convinced by these arguments. Charles B. MacDonald, a US Army historian and former company commander who served in the Hürtgen battle, has described it as "a misconceived and basically fruitless battle that should have been avoided."[7]:239:

    "Historical discussion revolves around whether the American battle plan made any strategic or tactical sense. One analysis[7]:240-241 is that U.S. strategy underestimated the strength and determination remaining in the psyche of the German soldier, believing his fighting spirit to have totally collapsed under the stress of the Normandy breakout and the reduction of the Falaise Pocket. American commanders in particular misunderstood the impassability of the dense Hürtgen Forest and its effects of reducing artillery accuracy and making air support impracticable. In addition, American forces were concentrated in the village of Schmidt and neither tried to conquer the strategic Roer(Rur) Dams nor recognized the importance of Hill 400 until an advanced stage of the battle.[13]"

    Losing men on meaningless actions of attrition was not a priority for the US at that time.

  48. Heh I love winning an argument.

  49. "Heh I love winning an argument."

    LoL, OldSkeptic, your attempt at winning this argument through the clever use of the flu which pretty much incapacitated me for the past week, along with conspiracy with my wife to keep me busy prior does not constitute a debate victory!
    Debate through other means? Yes, but victory, not so fast there.

    "He had insufficient logistics to support it, let alone following up a breakthrough..."

    Wait a minute, up thread you said that I was wrong about this, and now you're trying to use this very fact to support the contention I have been using...Old, you're tricky!

    "So not wanting to attack strong points doesn't seem a likely reason as to why they let the Soviets get the majority of Germany, including Berlin."

    Which brings me to my point, Eisenhower didn't see the point of taking Berlin...let the Soviets have it if they want to kill themselves taking it...and as the numbers show, they did loose a whole sh*t load of men just taking Berlin, not to mention getting into Germany proper.

    Now, you, me, and the whole Western World with the benefit of hindsight, and the experience of 45+ years of US vs USSR cold war, but in the middle of the swamp the European theater, with Berlin being the one piece of land covered in gators, Eisenhower wasn't really interested in capping the center of the island with the American flag.
    In his viewpoint at that moment without regard to the future, and with no respect for the enemy (read: Germany) Eisenhower made a concious decision to let the Russians have their way with the Germans.
    And considering what the Germans did on the Eastern front to the Russians in terms of complete and total barbarity to Russian civilian and troops, along with the humanitarian obscentities that our troops discovered in the camps...there wasn't a whole lot of sympathy for Germany's future at that time in the US military.

    I'd be willing to bet that as far as a lot of Americans were concerned, cut Germany up, divide it amongst the neighboring nations, and make cease to exist as a nation altogether.

    I guess what I'm getting at is that Eisenhower was looking at the war, and America's position in it long term...his actions, his decisions which you would consider gutless, wandering, unfocused were purposefully designed to say, "you know, we're here as a service to our European allies...and thats about it."
    For America in 1941-45 the real war, the war that was personal, and dirty was the Pacific theater...Japan was America's real enemy...Germany's declaration of war on us was just icing on the cake for Roosevelt, and I say that with little to support it.

    As a cautionary statement about history, and something I take pains to check myself on is to remember that I was born sixteen years after the end of WWII...the mindset and worldview of America pre-WWII was/is quite different than ours today.