How Russians Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the War
The Pliant Majority Sustaining Putin’s Rule
HISTORY furnishes much evidence that peace based on injustice is merely a breeder of war: the Munich settlement of 1938 is perhaps a sufficient example. From this premise, the people of the United States have drawn the conclusion that they must be prepared to use their power in support of justice, as justice is defined by the international community. Now power has various aspects -- moral, political, economic, military. Of these I shall comment here only upon the last, and I shall do so by trying to answer several questions: Given the fact that we may have to exert our military strength abroad on behalf of justice, how may we prepare to do so most effectively? What kind of military establishment should we maintain? What general principles will guide us to wise actions?
To some advocates of air power, the answer seems so plain as hardly to be worth discussing: these experts would equip long-range planes with the strongest possible bombs, and prepare to dispatch them in the shortest possible time to an enemy's vital centers. It is all, for them, as simple as that. Without wishing to go over ground already almost too well harrowed by controversy, I venture to suggest that such a simplification is dangerous.
In the past, a belligerent who was able to bring new weapons or new tactics to bear against his enemy before the latter could produce similar new weapons or tactics, or develop countermeasures, usually triumphed decisively. But no matter what the nature of the new weapons, a war has tended to approach stalemate if both sides enjoyed them in about equal measure. Some such equality of weapons is possible in a combat in which we might engage. And when for this reason a stalemate approaches, even in a war full of novelties, resort must be made to fundamental factors, such as industrial capacity, manpower and will to fight. They are called into play most fully in the climactic act of warfare -- the forceful seizure by one Power of the area held by another. Victory involves tearing the enemy away from the ground area which is the foundation of his strength.
The idea of "possession" carries with it a number of attributes -- seizing, holding, using, denying use to others. In its basic sense, it implies the possession of land. Man is born, lives and gains his sustenance on land. Possession, control and use of a land area and its resources, or denial of its useful possession to the enemy, must always be the ultimate objective of both sides in a war carried to the limit. All elements of armed power may give indispensable help in accomplishing this result, but in the end possession of land must be exercised by the foot soldier. Machine guns, artillery, boats, ships and aircraft may, any of them, in a given set of circumstances, prove the greatest single factor. But the foot soldier must always be present, and if other longer-range elements are approximately balanced, the decision reverts to him. The thesis of this paper, then, is the need for the maximum development of the mobility and power of our ground force, to enable it rapidly to seize and maintain possession of land areas.
In 1940, when Great Britain was left alone in the field against the Germans, her enemy had a greatly preponderant air force, and a superb base for attack along the western littoral of Europe. The English targets were susceptible to both concentrated and diversified attack. But Germany was not able to project soldiers to take possession of English land areas. This failure was to prove decisive.
Later, even though air superiority passed to the Allies, the Germans, while devoting the major part of their war capacity to continental ground warfare, were still able to inflict mounting damage on England by V-1 and V-2 bombs. The struggle could be resolved only by the invasion and seizure of Germany -- that is to say, only by dispossessing the Nazis.
It is frequently contended that if the Allies had devoted a greater portion of their energy to bombing, invasion of the Continent would not have been necessary. But such a theory does not take into account the fact that millions of Russian ground troops forced Germany to expend a major part of her war effort on raising and equipping similar armies. Had Germany been left free to devote all her tremendous productive capacity to building planes and strengthening her anti-air defense, which means that the struggle would have become solely an air war, the best that we could have expected would have been a stalemate. Such a stalemate would have been a victory for Germany.
These considerations may appear trite, but that does not invalidate them; there are times, as Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, "when vindication of the obvious is more important than the elucidation of the obscure." Conclusions drawn from the "obvious" may, of course, be subject to dispute. It is often pointed out that Japan surrendered before invasion by ground forces had begun. On the other hand, it must be borne in mind that in similar circumstances Germany and England did not surrender. Further, the Japanese, inhabitants of an island, had seen more than half of their shipping destroyed and were vividly conscious of the inevitability of a disastrous invasion such as Allied ground forces had already imposed on Germany.
During World War I, the Germans seized a marked temporary advantage by introducing poison gas, and held some continuing advantage from the use of that weapon throughout the remainder of the war. This, however, did not prove decisive. In World War II, both sides were prepared to use deadly poison gas -- and neither chose to use it. The availability of poison gas to both sides operated as a sanction to prevent its use by either. Nonetheless, the possession of poison gas by both opponents did not prevent the outbreak of a major war, which became "total." Neither side could afford not to have gas, even though in itself the use of it could result in nothing more than a stalemate.
The future will probably find all major Powers ready (in varying degree) with bombing groups, atom bombs, projected missiles, biological warfare, and so on. Will these weapons operate as sanctions to stop nations from fighting? Will they produce a stalemate because neither side can accept the counter-destruction which the enemy can wreak upon it? Or will their use be considered indispensable by both sides and cause local hostilities to grow into unlimited and total war? The prophet who will offer a simple dogmatic answer to such questions is confident indeed. Good sense requires the admission that the probabilities shade into one another.
The factors which go to make up an effective military establishment likewise interlock. The advent of the air age has added to the complex problem of gaining possession of a land area the important task of "possessing" the air space over it. Possession of a certain area of water is a much less tangible achievement than possession of a ground surface; and possession of a certain air space is less tangible still. By implication, it gives the possessor full freedom of action in the area. Failure to achieve control of the air space in a particular region can seriously compromise the "possession" of the land below.
The positive aspect of possession of the sea is the ability to send men and materials to any port around the world. But to do this, a nation must also have cargo ships and transports. If the realization of our national purpose involves a projection of our industrial and armed power overseas, we must be fully prepared to expand quickly the equipment that will be required. The bottleneck which most obstructed our military plans in the recent war was the shortage of amphibious craft. Urgent warnings that such craft would be needed had received little attention before the war; oddly enough, President Roosevelt, who in most things was keenly alive to progressive naval development, did not perceive their importance. The result was that when we found ourselves, in due course, with ground forces ready to fight, with aircraft ready to support and protect them, and with men-of-war to control the sea lanes, the tempo of our operations had to be slowed to the rate of production of landing craft. American industry did a magnificent job in turning out these vessels; but had production started earlier, the war would have been shortened and money and lives saved. In assessing the blame, the convenient answer is to hold the "brass" responsible. In part this is correct; the military leaders should have appreciated more sharply the importance of an amphibious force, and taken more vigorous action to equip it. But the difficulty went deeper. Even as late as 1939 and 1940, the idea of preparations to send American forces overseas was not acceptable to American public opinion. Proposals that amphibious craft should be built were usually rejected with the flat answer, "Why build combat transports when we're not going anywhere?" The construction of landing craft at that time would have created a storm of criticism which, for political reasons, had to be avoided.
When we brought the war to a conclusion we had more than two billion dollars' worth of amphibious craft and a tremendous production capacity. Now both are largely gone, and we are doing little in the way of construction and development. The idea of air power has so captured the public imagination that disproportionate sums are spent to construct bombing aircraft, and little is being done for the improvement of equipment, boats and special aircraft for projecting vital ground power.
Fortunately for Britain and ourselves, the Germans in 1940 had not foreseen the need of amphibious craft. In short, Britain after all retained some of the strategic attributes of an island Power. This is an important fact. Even though supply by sea is becoming increasingly difficult, an island position still has certain great advantages. In the recent war, the United States came to be regarded as the sole remaining major "island Power" in the full strategical sense, out of reach of attack by unfriendly Powers, and far more self-sustaining than Britain and Japan. There is a tendency now in some quarters to maintain that the increasing range and power of aircraft and rocket missiles (including those launched from enemy submarines off our coast) have deprived the United States of the advantage of her unique position, and that henceforth we must place all emphasis on protective measures in the continental United States. To correct this exaggerated picture, we may profitably study the British experience, political as well as military. The English Channel has narrowed, but its 20 miles of deep water are still an important military fact. Much more so are the stretches of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. For her own safety in times past, Britain has found it necessary to support the independence and integrity of European underdogs against aggressive continental Powers. Sea power was a potent and indispensable weapon in support of this policy, but was not always sufficient by itself. Full utilization of the possession of sea areas included the dispatch of expeditionary forces to strategic locations, an exploitation of sea power that was aided by beachheads in friendly hands. Thus ground forces were, for example, sent to the Netherlands in the sixteenth century against Spain, to the support of Central Europe against Louis XIV 100 years later, and to Portugal and Spain against Napoleon a century after that. Though such expeditionary forces were small, they exerted a leverage which multiplied their power many times, as when Moore and Wellington in the Peninsula kept alive the resistance movement of Spanish and Portuguese patriots and thus drained Napoleon's strength.
Further overemphasis of the rôle of air power in our military establishment flows from the current cult of the offensive. After World War I, many people thought that the defensive had become so strong that a resort to offensive war by an aggressive Power was unlikely, and if undertaken would prove unsuccessful against a reasonably good defense. There were writers who proclaimed that the defensive was to the offensive as three to one, and some believed that the disparity was even greater. A good many people, of course, disagreed with this thesis -- among them those who were responsible for the preparedness of the United States.
Now popular opinion has swung violently in the opposite direction, and has embraced the theory that offensive power is so overwhelmingly great that the defensive can do little to meet it. The German blitz through Holland, Belgium and France, the advent of tanks, strategic bombing, rocket missiles and atomic warfare, have made the offensive seem irresistible. The place of the defense in the military structure is now undervalued. Such oscillations of popular opinion are to be expected; but the conduct of successful war in the past has been guided by the principle that though primary emphasis should be placed on offensive power, defensive measures play an indispensable rôle.
The recent tendency to overemphasize the offensive is less hazardous to national security than was the previous illusion about the superiority of the defense. But it is dangerous to miscalculate the degree to which our own offensive power is likely to be decisive, and dangerous to assume that defensive preparations by ourselves and our enemies are futile. Generally speaking, the defensive should be regarded as a valuable and indispensable servant of the offensive, holding here, repelling there, freeing offensive power to get on with the attack. Tactical and strategical defensive action is an element of strength when correctly adjusted to the whole military effort. It is when the posture and psychology of defense take the form of immobility behind Great Walls and Maginot Lines that they herald decay and invite destruction. In a word, the criterion of wisdom and strength, in military thought as elsewhere, is balance.
To say which of the three services is most important in warfare is like trying to determine which is the most important leg of a three-legged stool.
The four general types of military operations may be summarized as follows: (1) control of sea areas, including the air space over them -- primarily the task of the Navy; (2) control of land areas, including the air space over them -- primarily the task of the Army; (3) operation in the air space over land areas under the control of the enemy -- primarily the task of the strategic bombing force; (4) various combinations of the above, with special emphasis on amphibious operations. With the continuously increasing part to be played by air, "amphibious" operations could more accurately be called "triphibious."
Sea power and ground power take and protect the bases from which strategic bombing can best be directed against the enemy. Sea power and ground power force the enemy to disperse his strength around the periphery of his territory, thereby decreasing the amount of effort which he can give to repelling strategic bombing attacks upon his vital resources and communications; and this in turn weakens his resistance to attack on land and sea. All components of three-dimensional military power must be adjusted to one another and to the accomplishment of required tasks. The "elements" of our military establishment cannot be divided simply into tanks, ships and aircraft. In modern war neither the ground force nor the navy can function without aircraft adapted to their particular tasks.
Strategic bombing is a special task and requires special aircraft. The airplane itself is not, however, a "task;" it is a weapon, or tool, which must be adapted to the particular job which it is called on to perform -- ground-air missions, sea-air missions, and strategic air jobs, of many varieties and, of course, in many combinations. Economy is promoted when tools can be developed for general use, as some can be, but the best economy is the efficiency which results from devising and using the right tool for the right job.
Before World War II, both the United States and Japan gave much attention to the development of three-dimensional sea warfare, and as the war went on, the United States Navy further integrated air and surface operations so that efficiency and striking power improved. This development was possible because, in peacetime, a naval aviator was a qualified naval officer, and naval officers, many of them aviators, became increasingly indoctrinated in aviation. Naval officers were air-minded, and, no less important, air officers were surface-minded; without this general understanding of naval principles, and experience and proficiency in surface operation, the air officer could not understand the possibilities of his own arm. In 1920 no naval officer -- aviator or non-aviator -- could have predicted the extent to which ships and planes would be integrated and provide a spearhead for naval operations. Yet without this peacetime integration of carriers, aircraft and other naval vessels, the United States would have lost the war in the Pacific.
Similarly, to be fully air-minded, the aviator operating over land in conjunction with ground forces must take an intimate part in developing both defensive and offensive air-ground operations. It is imperative that aviation infuse into ground force problems air experience, air ingenuity, air vision and air tempo. New concepts of mobility and attack must be generated. New types of planes, new landing equipment, must be evolved from these concepts and put into production. Such things require sufficient time for development, proper organization, and unremitting application of energy and imagination. The tasks require continuity of air personnel.
It is not sufficient merely to have air groups available if war starts; they must begin now to get ready for the ground-air tasks that may fall their way 15 years from now. Years will be required to create an experienced body of ground-indoctrinated air personnel and air-indoctrinated ground personnel and to develop special equipment and methods. This growth will be accompanied by continuously changing tactical concepts, and even changes in strategic concepts, to fit in with the increased mobility and offensive power that our ground-air force will acquire.
In 1944, the paratroop landings at Arnhem in Holland were too far ahead of the ground force and suffered disaster because the surface troops could not come up quickly enough; yet in the future, thoroughly developed air-ground technique will probably permit airborne troops to be projected even farther ahead. If other nations exploit the possibilities of such integration and we do not, we may have a rude awakening from our dreams of the offensive omnipotence of air power alone.
The United States has had airborne divisions; tactical air groups have been assigned to ground commands for protracted periods; and we have had air reconnaissance of sorts. But there has been no continuity in such efforts at integration, little interchange and circulation of officer personnel, and insufficient development of air equipment to meet the special needs of ground operations. The U. S. Air Force is now in a department of its own, and the strategic bombing force profits from the new arrangement. Whether the new defense organization will be able to develop and integrate ground tactical air with the ground forces remains to be seen, however. It certainly will not do so unless the top command in both the Army and the Air Force place greater emphasis on its importance. Changes in organization are necessary, and must be worked out by the two services in close collaboration, aided and prodded by the Secretary of Defense. A premium must be placed on ground-air force duty which will attract talented men to it and keep them there. Such a step will not diminish the over-all amount of effort devoted to the air arm. On the contrary it will increase it, just as happened in the Navy.
With all this we cannot neglect sea power. It is, of course, our intention to continue to exercise, in conjunction with our Allies, control of every ocean in order that we may maintain our strategic frontiers abroad, and in order that we shall be able to force a continental enemy to guard an enormously extended perimeter.
A great asset in this task is the excellence of our submarine force. Among other things, submarines provide flexible and almost invulnerable platforms from which rockets can be projected. By the same token Russian submarines can threaten our shores and challenge our undisputed use of ocean communications. As long as Soviet bases for ocean operations were confined to the ports of Eastern Siberia and the Arctic coast of European Russia (none of them a warm water harbor) the Russian submarine personnel, of doubtful efficiency in any case, faced such handicaps that we were relieved of a serious submarine menace. If, however, North China and Yangtze Valley ports are added to Dairen, Port Arthur and North Korea, and, further, if Western European ports were occupied by Russia, the threat could become serious. Mr. Churchill in the second volume of his recent memoirs relates how his fears of the German submarine menace (after the fall of Norway and France had opened up ports outside the North Sea) exceeded even those anxieties felt about the German air attack and invasion. It seems obvious that the prudent and forehanded defense against Russian submarines rests upon a foreign policy, and a supporting military structure, that prevent a wide extension of Russian submarine bases.
Sea power not only enables us to trade with and assist our friends, but provides flexibility of attack: with the triphibious forces we can strike in any direction we desire. But we can do so only if we have powerful and mobile ground-air units ready to send to selected beachheads. The ground force, or ground-air force, is the ultimate and decisive element that can bring a major war to a successful conclusion. The strategic air force weakens the enemy's will and industrial power. Sea power forces him to spread himself thin. The ground-air force cashes in. The United States should have the most effective army in the world, though not the largest. The criterion of effectiveness is the ability to move rapidly and to deliver from one or more unexpected directions the overwhelmingly powerful attack which is commensurate with our overwhelmingly great industrial strength.
Our political objectives as well as our military needs require that these mobile ground-air forces always be in readiness. Generally stated, our prime political objective is to establish a comity of free nations in which each is able to contribute its part to the enrichment of a composite world civilization. But the plight of the world community is similar to that of the frontier communities of the American West a hundred years ago. It was necessary on the frontier to form vigilante groups to protect the community from bandits. The posse comitatus was usually led by a strong and determined individual, and the members of the posse always had to be ready to take up arms until such time as the community had matured and a régime of law had been established. The United Nations, the instrument of political organization through which the slowly developing world community aims to achieve its purpose, has, as yet, only limited powers of decision, and it has no military power for enforcement. In the event of a flagrant assault by lawless elements on peaceable members of the emerging world community, the United States must be ready to provide leadership to the posse of law-abiding nations.
We cannot meet our duties as a World Power without physical strength and fortitude of spirit. If our strength is to have maximum effectiveness, we must make sure that the elements of our military power are flexible and in balance. We have the largest and best navy. We must keep it so. We have the best strategic air force. We must keep it so. The integration of our ground forces, which are first rank in quality, with an expanding ground-air element, is today the most pressing task of our military leaders.