Courtesy Reuters

National Defense: Plan or Patchwork?

PAUL REYNAUD published a little book in 1937 called Le Problème Militaire Français. Two years before, France had decided to extend military service from one to two years. Was that a sound method of building the army? Was that real preparedness? M. Reynaud answered "no," it was "only patch-work." He said that to let Germany have the advantage in respect of the "modern instruments" for destruction would permit the ancient threat weighing on France to grow in terrible proportions. "On the contrary, if we know how to play the new card which the evolution of warfare offers us, we will find again all our advantages, for it is above all in the realm of quality that it is within our power to seize the advantage since the superiority of numbers is, alas, denied us."

Generals, ministers and parliamentarians did not heed Reynaud's words. A few months before, the government had demanded credits of nineteen and a half billion francs for defense preparations. That figure was arrived at by totaling the requisitions of the three defense ministries. In Washington, recent figures seem to have been arrived at by totaling the requests of two services -- the army and navy -- for themselves, and for a third service, the air force, which they share and in which they compete with each other. France, Reynaud declared, made no attempt "to determine whether, given the actual means of our state of defense, the perils which the country ran, and existing or probable alliances, it were better [for each billion francs] to construct a cruiser or five hundred planes or a thousand tanks. Doubtless the ideal thing would be to have the strongest army, the strongest air force, the strongest navy; but is this possible? If it is not possible, we must choose, that is to say, decide."

France had no machinery for such decisions. Neither has the United States. To be sure, France had a "trinity of national defense" -- the three ministers heading

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