Courtesy Reuters

Policy and Strategy in the War in Russia

The Winter Interlude

POLITICAL and strategical designs are still subject to the fortunes of war. Strategical initiative may be paralyzed at any time by unforeseen and unpredictable factors. A totalitarian government may suddenly attack a country with which it is formally at peace, and thereby gain the advantages of the strategical initiative. A democratic government, even if it foresees armed conflict, must generally wait to take any military action until its people have learned from the failure of patient and prolonged negotiation that there is no alternative to war. This handicap on democracies at the outset of hostilities is of course well known. We may remember, however, that what are advantages and handicaps at the start may become the opposite in the course of a long war entailing grievous disappointments and heavy sacrifices.

Thus a nation which has limited military and economic resources for a long war may, by seizing the political and strategical initiative, secure an initial preponderance that holds the promise of real victory. The hopes based on this likelihood of victory constitute a great national asset -- so long as the likelihood lasts. But the reaction to even a delay in achieving victory can be much more violent and more dangerous in a nation which is under a dictatorship than in a democratic nation which has had slowly to overcome its initial military disadvantages and disillusionments. For example, the equilibrium of a nation like Germany, which knows that it can win a war only by keeping the strategic initiative, may easily become unstable. The older generation in particular, which only 25 years ago underwent experiences similar to those it is undergoing today, may be expected to be particularly sensitive to the sudden, almost instinctive, impression of having lost the strategical initiative even without having suffered any strategic reverse. This may be the reason why Hitler eventually decided to make out that the terribly hard winter was even more of a delaying factor in the war in Russia than actually was the case.

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