As nearly as such things can be measured, a turning point in world affairs seems to fall not far from the turn of the half century. 1950 is not just another year; it is a God-given extension of time. If this golden year is squandered as so many of the others past have been, how much longer can our way of life prevail?
This is a big subject for one small naval officer. But the close of a half century under such circumstances is too rare and solemn an occasion to be wasted upon trivialities. There are times when plain people must think and speak about the kind of nation and world they most desire.
The author has, accordingly, sought to sum up his cogitations since the end of the last war. The views he shall express are in every sense his own, not those of the Navy Department or any other organization. The points he shall touch upon deal with the nation and its position in the world, not the affairs of the military who are the servants of that nation.
There is a tendency among those of us in the military services to come to feel that strategy is our particular province. Nothing, it is submitted, could be further from the truth. Strategy is born in parliaments and it springs from the governing heads of peoples. This means that, in a democracy, our strategy must come from the people themselves. The people through their elected representatives and with the assistance of an alert press must continue to look over the shoulders of their military planners. The selection of weapons, the decisions governing the degree of barbarism to be employed in war, and, above all, the determination of the national objectives to be sought in war are indeed the concern of the citizen himself.
These three factors—weapons to be used in war, methods to be employed in conducting war, and objectives to be sought through war—cover a broad field. They might be lumped together under the heading of a nation’s philosophy of war, but the author has chosen what he believes to be the more correct title, namely, “National Strategy.” And, as was said, National Strategy is by no means the concern of the military alone, nor is it something that the military alone can comprehend. This is a point we intend to dwell upon. It is a theme to which we shall return again and again. It is, indeed, the central theme of this article. Clemenceau had good reason for his famous dictum that “War is too important to be left to the generals!” The determination of America’s National Strategy is the primary concern of the citizens of our country.
Any discussion of National Strategy must begin with the national objective. The selection of a proper national objective is the most important single decision of a war. Upon it may hinge the question of whether or not we are going to win the war and then lose the peace. Twice within the memory of our present civil and military leadership we have won great wars at heavy cost in blood and treasure only to lose the ensuing peace. To repeat that mistake a third time is to beckon disaster.
Before we engage in war again we must first determine the kind of world we would like to see at the end of such a war. The value of any weapon, weapon system, tactic, or strategy must be measured in its ability to gain the desired end in the peace to ensue, balanced against its cost in human lives, human culture, and human property. To measure its effectiveness to achieve victory alone is to adopt a council of despair. A victory that is hollow should be sought only as a last desperate measure to avoid extinction.
We must also strive by every means possible to avoid prolonging the war to a point of complete exhaustion; and by this is meant exhaustion of the enemy as well as ourselves. This is another point that will bear emphasis. The proposition that a war is not won until an enemy is completely, utterly, and hopelessly defeated does not obtain the support of history, nor of logic either. Since man emerged from the anarchy of the Middle Ages most wars have ended in an agreed, as opposed to a dictated, peace. But beginning in the 19th century and seemingly becoming an obsession in this, the 20th century, is the new concept that, if we can succeed in utterly destroying those who oppose us, this will somehow solve our problems; that if we can have enough bullets in our arsenals, we can destroy the ideas that plague us.
The real aim in war is not destruction but how best to make the enemy change his mind with a minimum cost in blood and treasure to ourselves and with a minimum of destruction to the economic and cultural assets of the world in general.
If war is conducted in such a manner as to crush the enemy instead of inducing him to change his mind, then it will only arouse all his latent patriotism and play into the hands of his leaders. For history shows that, when sufficiently aroused, a people will fight on even after they no longer have the means of fighting in a fully organized manner. This was demonstrated in Germany in the last war.
Let us briefly review the situation existing two years before the end of the last war. The Stalingrad disaster came in February, 1943. The last German resistance in North Africa was wiped out in May, 1943. Italy was obviously tottering. By this time it was clear to both sides that the foundations of the Axis were sinking. Surely the German people yearned to end the war. But at the Casablanca Conference in January of that year the Allies adopted the fateful decision that it must be “Unconditional Surrender.” No great nation could with dignity and honor to itself, its history, its people, or their posterity comply with such a demand. Gagged by our own slogan, we could offer no terms, however severe, while our enemy could ask for none, however submissive.
Unfortunate as the results of this decision may have been, it is the author’s belief that the Allies made an even more grave mistake some years earlier. This was when we adopted the policy of mass destruction by air bombardment, city by city.
The net result of these two decisions was to give the war a religious character with all the horrors of the wars of religion. Like a blood transfusion they gave years of further life to the war. Instead of separating the German people from National Socialism, which they might have destroyed as a bankrupt leadership is usually destroyed, they had the effect of whipping the Germans together under the Swastika, even though disaster was piled upon disaster. Indeed, German production was increasing at the height of the mass bombing of the cities. Production climbed up and up. The more we bombed the cities, the higher German production climbed. It was only when we moved away from the cities—when oil and, finally, transportation were attacked—that production was affected. In the end we were forced to conquer and subjugate the country foot by foot. Meanwhile, the destruction was such that today Europe is a gigantic slum, her economy exhausted, and her cities—the foundation of civilization and culture— rubble heaps which will not be rebuilt for generations, if indeed at all.
And what of us, the victors? Surely in all the pages of history there is nothing to match the anomaly of our position! Having spent our wealth to create chaos, we must now match these untold billions in an effort to undo our handiwork.
And so it came about that Hitler, like Samson, was left to pull the edifice of Central Europe down upon himself, his people, and us, the Western Allies—leaving Communism and Communism alone to gain thereby.
On the other hand—and this is the brighter side of the picture, if war has a brighter side —the history of past wars also shows that normally a nation must admit defeat when she can no longer furnish the sinews of war to her armed forces, and when at the same time those armed forces are unable to prevent the means of existence of the people from being gradually destroyed. This happened to Russia in World War I, which fact should have for all time ended the legend of unconquerable Russia. No nation is safe against defeat. The United States can be defeated. Russia can be defeated, and has been defeated many times during her long history. The last time, as was said, was in World War I. It is not the author’s intention to trace out the many causes of Russia’s collapse in that war, but it would be difficult to overemphasize the effects of the desperate military situation she came to face in the latter days of the Imperial regime. With Turkey holding the Dardanelles and Germany blockading the Baltic, 90 per cent of Russia’s imports were cut off in that war. Russia herself did not have the industrial capacity to supply her own troops with adequate quantities of munitions. The Russian soldiers, who were therefore compelled to fight without enough ammunition or even enough guns, suffered terrible losses, and their letters home told of their suffering. Then, as casualties mounted, crippled veterans began to fill the streets. It was a vicious circle in which the home front and the battle front were linked together by common suffering. The front subsisted on rumors and reports from the village, the village subsisted on tidings from the front. Morale followed an ever deepening downward spiral ending in the complete collapse of Russia.
So, in the calamitous event that another war should come, the problem will be how best to gain our national objectives without a too prolonged, exhausting, and bloody struggle.
There may be those who read this who do not agree. Their reading and interpretation of history may vary from the author’s. Certainly my conclusions concerning the effects of the mass destruction of the German cities run counter to those of many earnest and sincere men. It would be a happy event if the military could resolve all such differences of opinion. But, even so, the final decision is not ours; it rests with the people.
But let us return to the author’s contention that the real problem is how best to gain our national objectives without carrying the war to its ultimate conclusion. The question naturally arises: “What are our national objectives?” Our national objectives may be expressed in a number of ways, but our primary national objective should be to safeguard the United States in such a manner as to insure our physical security, our economic well-being, and our way of life as a nation. This objective is fundamental, as fundamental as the fact that self-preservation is the first law of nature.
As a corollary to this basic objective— and, indeed, as the most important means by which we hope to attain it—we seek a stable world community which will insure that:
First, each nation should be free to determine the type of government it deems best suited to its own conditions (and this does not mean imposing our form of democracy upon all other peoples).
Second, each nation should be free from all forms of encroachment from other nations.
Third, all nations will be able to compose their differences and conduct their relations within the framework and based upon the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
Also, we must look to our international commitments for some of our National Objectives. An examination of these commitments shows that the United States cannot abandon Western Europe to enemy occupation with promise of later liberation. It has been said that Europe wants no second liberation as, indeed, why should she? And our people through their elected representatives have pledged the United States to defend Western Europe against such an event. By the Atlantic Pact we are committed to its defense, not its liberation after conquest. Only such a commitment can insure the full support of Western Europe and the growth of its military strength; only such a strategy, the strategy of a successful defense, can make sense out of all our policies since the war. In this particular the author is expressing no personal views, but is echoing the views stated unequivocally and repeatedly by individuals high in our government. These views were perhaps best summed up by Secretary of Defense Johnson on June 21, 1949, when he said:
Because the United States cannot—without grave distress to the civilized world—abandon Western Europe to enemy occupation with a later promise of liberation, our long-term strategy—in the event of war—must rest with containment and thereafter in the defeat of an aggressor land- army strength.
So much for our objectives. Now let us examine some of the tools we have for attaining them. In prosecuting a war, military action is not the only means at our disposal. Psychology and propaganda can also be effectively employed. However, the carefully planned and long continued psychological and propaganda campaign can be seriously discounted if uncoordinated military efforts cut diametrically across the lines of action promised or implied by propaganda.
Just as a boxer’s right hand must know precisely what his left is doing, a nation in mortal conflict must orient all its weapons— political, economic, psychological, and military—towards a common and clearly defined goal. They must be used together, not as separate tools, both in peace and in war. Campaigns should be a combination of all. In other words, they should be the accommodation of words to acts, and acts to words. The acts themselves must speak louder than words, but it must be in the same language as the words. When this is done, and only then, can the various elements of the national effort provide each other with mutual support rather then interference.
Furthermore (let us again return to our central theme and repeat) political consideration must govern the rest. For, in its final analysis, war is a political instrument— an instrument of national policy—a fundamental phase of politics. This is one of the eternal verities that neither the airplane nor the A-bomb can change. No strategical idea can be considered without first considering the political goal. Politics is, basically, a persuasive .thing. War is politics gone violent, but it must be persuasive violence.
The following is quoted from Von Clausewitz:
That the political point of view should end completely when wars begin is only conceivable in contests which arc wars of life and death, from pure hatred: as wars are in reality, they arc . . . only the expression or manifestation of policy itself. The subordination of the political point of view to the military would be contrary to common sense, for policy has declared the war; it is the intelligent factor, war only the instrument, and not the reverse. The subordination of the military point of view to the political is, therefore, the only thing which is possible.
The first step in preparing a plan for the defeat of an aggressor nation must, therefore, be the political plan. In arriving at such a plan we have certain strength factors which can be used as the basis for a dramatic appeal not only to the people of the enemy country but also to our own people. Our basic philosophy is built on the freedom of the individual and the dignity of man. Our people must be given a new and deep appreciation of this philosophy. This should not be difficult. We need no new argument to present to the people of America. It was all written long ago, written in phrases that burn and yet in words so simple that even a schoolboy can understand. It can be found in the Declaration of Independence, and in the Bill of Rights. It is in the Preamble of the Constitution. Our poets have sung of it and our Martyr President told it to us in his immortal address at Gettysburg.
It may be that the people of a police state can never comprehend a philosophy so profound and yet so simple. But, as the war runs its course, they can be made to appreciate some of its end products. The author is referring to the fact that we have no quarrel with the people of any land. We have no quarrel with a communal form of life if that is what they wish. We have no aims on territory that is truly theirs. Nothing would suit the average American better than to have all other peoples go their way in peace. Our quarrel is with any evangelistic and crusading government. We are unalterably opposed to all imperialistic, totalitarian, and police state governments which may be seeking to destroy our way of life and to press down upon us and all similar peoples the same crushing weight of tyranny that is now the unhappy fate of loo many. If war comes, we must convince the enemy people that they are not fighting what their leaders may tell them is a “reactionary, capitalistic attack intended to take away their lands and enslave them,” but, instead, that the war is for the liberation of all outside peoples from the oppression of the enemy’s own government.
We can only begin to realize the possibilities of such direct appeals to people of an enemy country by recalling another historical example; namely, what happened in 1941, during the early days of the Nazi invasion of Russia. Germany and Russia are traditional enemies. Yet the German troops in 1941 were welcomed as liberators with joyful enthusiasm by the populace of West and Central Ukraine. Six million fully armed Russians laid down their arms in the face of the German advance. Unfortunately for the Germans, the German Army, instead of capitalizing on conditions encountered, conducted a war of plunder. The “Liberators” soon disposed of the Soviet regime and introduced an even harder regime and a system of abstract cruelty which committed the old German mistake of measuring foreign peoples according to their own standards and assuming a different mind to be an inferior mind. Welcome was turned into hate and the territory behind the front became covered with a more and more disturbing partisan war. It provided Stalin the chance to arouse latent Soviet patriotism and to call the people to “holy patriotic war against the bloody German land robbers.” Even so, it took six months for the Communists to shift their line from ideology to nationalism and to stir up sufficient patriotism among the Russians to induce them to fight their hardest. In fact, the Russian General Vlassov, after his capture by the Germans in early 1942, was able to organize an army of several hundred thousand Russians to fight against the Soviet regime.
At this point it is well for us to remind ourselves that it is not the task of the military to establish our political plan in the event of war. Indeed it would be disastrous for the military to usurp this prerogative of the people and their elected representatives. Politics is not our field, and the bones of past democracies strew the path of military men who, forsaking their chosen profession, entered the political arena. But, in the light of the foregoing, it is the author’s opinion that our political plan for the defeat of an aggressor nation should call for a limited war with an unlimited alternative, and with the defense of Western Europe a basic tenet of that plan.
It should be a limited war since we seek a negotiated rather than a dictated peace. No demand for unconditional surrender should be made. As consistent with military requirements, it should be a just and humane war. The employment of weapons of mass destruction on other than militarily effective targets therefore becomes a matter of gravest concern. A decision to engage in genocide— that is, the mass destruction of humanity— would hardly be in consonance with our aims to achieve peace through negotiation. It is also well to add that any such random slaughter of helpless civilians weighs heavily upon the conscience of many of us and bears examination in relationship to the decent opinions of mankind.
It should have an unlimited alternative since we must be prepared for all eventualities, including the possibility that, regardless of the wisdom of our basic political plan, enemy fanaticism, stamina, leadership, or other qualities may make it necessary to finally conquer and subjugate that enemy.
Based upon such a plan as has just been outlined, we should proclaim at the outset of the war that:
(I). We regard the great mass of the enemy people with admiration and friendship.
(II). We offer friendship for all who support our cause.
(III). Our great hope is that the enemy people may soon be free from the yoke of imperialistic dictatorship—free to guide their own destiny, free to improve their standard of living, and free to resume their place in the world family of nations.
(IV). Meanwhile, we are determined that the rest of the world will not be enslaved by their government, and we are dedicated to the destruction of its policy of interfering with the affairs of outside peoples.
(V). In consonance with this, we intend to free all satellite and subject nations.
All practicable methods should be employed to encourage defection among the enemy’s armed forces. Prisoners of war should be treated well. Selected ones should be trained and sent back among the enemy forces to advise them of our treatment of prisoners and to encourage others to desert. Where possible, defecting forces should be organized, equipped, and induced to fight against the regime. The enemy people should be encouraged to offer passive resistance to the regime and to engage in acts of sabotage. However, early revolt should not be encouraged as, without our immediate and effective aid, this would only lay these people open to the most brutal reprisals. And, another thing, we should emphasize that it is not our intention either to carry out reprisals against any enemy persons or class of individuals, or to acquire any territory which is truly theirs.
If the invasion of the enemy’s home land becomes necessary, the struggle, of course, will begin to acquire the character of a war of unlimited objective. However, we should continue to seek constantly to create and capitalize upon opportunities to revert to the limited objective and achieve victory by appeal to the enemy people. Shortly after the invasion is undertaken we should:
First, establish a liberal government on enemy soil under enemy leaders chosen for then- ability to command the confidence of the enemy people;
Second, require our occupational troops and military government to be firm but humane and not comport themselves as conquerors but act as advisors and counselors to the limit of their ability;
Third, after a reasonable period recognize the newly established government as a sovereign government of an Allied power;
Fourth, give solemn promise to withdraw from enemy soil as soon as satisfactory conditions have been established;
Fifth, encourage revolt among the enemy people and furnish revolutionary forces with arms, equipment, and supplies.
Only as a last resort when all other measures have been adjudged a failure, should we commit ourselves to final and unlimited war. But we must be prepared for this ultimate alternative. We must be realistic, and realism demands that we avoid all wishful thinking. It may be that the ideological issue is so irreconcilably passionate that the thought of surrender would be foreign to their minds. Or it may be that starving people, unemployed through the dislocation of their industries, might think their best hopes of individual survival lay in becoming brigands and bandits. It is the game of underground resistance, the guerrilla, a form of warfare to which people have traditionally resorted in last extremity.
But there is one other and compelling reason why the ultimate invasion and subjugation of the enemy must be a part of any correct plan for the defeat of that enemy. Otherwise it contains the cardinal weakness of all blitzkrieg plans, namely, failure to consider alternatives.
There is a seductive attractiveness to the blitzkrieg plan. It offers victory without counting the ultimate cost. It hypnotizes with the glittering promises of its strategy but does not explore the alternatives that may arise when the enemy fails to cooperate. It is fair to say that it is this kind of thinking that dominates the minds of too many Americans today. The American people would very much like to believe that there is a way of winning a decisive victory by a short war —but with big machines and a small number of men. They would like to believe what General Mitchel told them in 1925 in his book called Winged Defense: “It is probable that future wars again will be conducted by a specific class as it was by the armored knights in the Middle Ages. Even the population will not have to be called in the event of a national emergency, but only enough of it to man the machines that are most potent in national defense.”
There is a fascination to the idea of a quick decisive war with few casualties for the victor that seems irresistible. Re-enforced by the invention of the atomic bomb, the intercontinental bomber, and the guided missile, and egged on by certain wild-eyed fanatics acting as armchair strategists, this belief in a quick, bloodless victory exercises such sovereign influence upon the thinking of some of our people that public men, diplomats, and even the military themselves must consider it in shaping the grand strategy of a future war. Again, in this particular, the author is expressing no personal views, but is echoing the views of such distinguished men as Secretary of the Air Force Symington, and Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Vandenberg, both of whom have deplored such loose thinking.
But to return to these fanatical advocates of quick decisive warfare, such people may be admirable gadflies but they are disastrous guides. Thus far history has been strangely reticent in backing up their contentions. The blitzkrieg tactic has won many battles but few wars. The Germans named blitzkrieg warfare but did not invent it. Four times since 1812 it has been employed in large scale war. Only once—in the Franco- Prussian War—was it successful. In the other three conflicts—Napoleonic Campaign against Russia, World War I, and World War II—it ended in disastrous failure. The Russians failed to cooperate when Napoleon reached Moscow; the English were equally stubborn after Dunkirk. Nor has the assertion that the machine would shorten war proved any more valid. It took two years to defeat Napoleon at the height of his power (1812-1814), four years to defeat Imperial Germany (1914r-1918), and six years to defeat Nazi Germany (1939-1945).
The essence of blitzkrieg is to strike swift, sure, and hard for a quick decision before the enemy can rally. The end sought is a short war, utilizing the full effect of shock. It is a valuable tactic when intelligently employed. Its effect on a weaker foe can be paralyzing, as was the case when Germany struck Poland in 1939. Under such circumstances it may even minimize slaughter and destruction. But the real test in war lies in combat between more nearly equal opponents. Here the weakness of blitzkrieg is at once apparent. It then becomes THE PLAN and dominates the whole structure of National Strategy. It then requires so much to be thrown into the blow that insufficient reserves remain. Its weakness lies in the planless struggle that follows if blitzkrieg fails. For this reason it has become the time- honored weapon of desperation employed by aggressor nations who, when uncertain of their ability to wage a long war, will chance it all on a single cast of the die.
To initiate war with blitzkrieg is, in reality, to start war with the coup de grace. Using the coup de grace to start war is “putting the cart before the horse.” The coup de grace is, as its definition states, “a decisive finishing stroke.” It should not dominate war; it should terminate war. If used otherwise than in its classic role it should be regarded actually as the coup de main. As such, then, it is a facet, an integral part of the over-all plan. But it is not the main plan and must not dominate the main plan.
Certainly we must neglect no opportunity to deal the enemy a mortal blow. But if the opponent is not knocked out in the first, second, or third round, there must still be a plan for his ultimate defeat.
Before summarizing, the author would like to come back once again to the man in the street and our responsibility to him. It is felt that, in our obsession for unity of command, we are abdicating this responsibility. Today decisions vital to the future security of the United States are being made in the upper echelons of the Department of Defense at the level of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—and above. Vital information concerning these decisions is being withheld from the Armed Forces in general and from the American people who have a right to know on what basis their fate is being decided. Those responsible for making these decisions are not required to answer for them to the American people. Meanwhile the clamor is growing for a single Chief of Staff.
Recently the author was taken to task by a friend in the Air Force because of his stated opinion that no officer of any service could satisfactorily serve as the single Chief of all the Services. My Air Force friend said that, if such a statement were true, it represented an indictment of our service educational systems. I do not agree. It is, instead, an indictment of mankind—an indictment based upon the sad experiences of the past which have taught us that we must protect ourselves from ourselves.
The author is all for unity of command up through the theater level. But at the top military level, wisdom dictates the same system of checks and balances as exists at the top civil level. Otherwise grave strategical blunders and abuse of power will surely follow. Fortunately there is not the need for quick, decisive action at that level. Strategic planning of such magnitude requires careful and exhaustive weighing of too many profound and conflicting elements. Quick decision would be dangerous.
Obviously those who seek greater centralization are earnest and sincere men. This drive towards power is nothing new; it is as old as civilization. As governments grow bigger, as civilization itself becomes more complicated, the proponents of centralization contend that the issues have become too technical, the tempo too fast for the slower democratic procedures; that powers formerly belonging to the people should now be placed in the hands of experts who, of course, will wield them for the benefit of the people.
At first these powers are handed over willingly. But, as power becomes concentrated, it falls into the hands of fewer and fewer men upon whom the people are able to exert an ever diminishing influence.
There is nothing so debilitating to the human mind as power. Power causes great men to lose their perspective. The Argentines have a name for it. They call it “high sickness”—the sickness that comes from height. Power creates around those who wield it a group of weaker men whose chief aim in life is not to advise but to please their masters. As the great Lord Acton said, “All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
In a highly centralized organization the democratic system of checks and balances disappears. Decisions are made; problems are resolved by one man or a single group of men. The opposition, if any, is gradually discredited and eventually disappears. No voice is raised (that is, within the law no voice is raised) against the decisions of those in authority. Harmony and apparent efficiency prevail within the organization until it is tested from without. And then it is too late. Finally and inevitably those in authority make a mistake—a fatal mistake that goes on indefinitely without correction. It is human to do so. And in a highly centralized organization no one dares prevail against the decision.
Now the author is perfectly aware of the fact that there are those who will ask: “Do not democracies err too? Are they not prone to make the same fatal blunders?” The answer is no! Not unless the whole philosophy to which we are dedicated is false. There is true wisdom in our democratic system of checks and balances. This is something on which we could write at length without beginning to touch the subject. Fortunately we do not have to try. Edmund Burke said it for us. Burke said: “The individual is foolish, the multitude for the moment are foolish when they act without deliberation; but the species is wise, and when time is given to it, as a species it always acts right.”
There is much that could be said in summation, but there are only three points that need to be hammered home:
First, war is a political instrument—an instrument of national policy. We may deplore it, as indeed we should, but stark realism demands that we recognize its ever present danger, and reason dictates that we acknowledge its political genesis. If politics is to be persuasive, if policy is to be sane, then war, for all of its insensate folly, must be conducted sanely. Slaughter and destruction must be limited insofar as is humanly possible, barbarism must be curbed, and the end sought must be a negotiated rather than a dictated peace. Armed victory is not the ultimate goal. The war must be won in a manner that will permit us to realize the kind of world we seek in the peace that follows.
Second, over-centralization not only imperils our democratic system of checks and balances, but carries within itself the seed of eventual military defeat.
And third and finally, lest we forget, war is a desperate and dangerous business. Men die; nations fall. He who expects a quick and easy victory is a fool indulging in the folly of a fool. Yes, he can hope for the best; but he must plan for the worst.
Let us repeat for one final time, these are not matters of concern to the military alone; nor are they matters which the military alone can comprehend. They are the primary concern of every thinking citizen of our country!