Political Problems of a Coalition

Turning Points of the War

Roosevelt signing legislation. Wikimedia Commons

DEFEAT in war invariably brings in its wake an avalanche of apologetic writing by the losers. The leaders of the vanquished nation are intent on exonerating themselves; men of action, military and political, who made history without much thought of how it would be written, suddenly become concerned about the opinions of posterity. A debate, for the most part quite unedifying, begins at once and is apt to continue far beyond the point where it is of interest to any but historians.

The victors, on the other hand, are less given to post mortems. Having been convinced from the outset of the justice of their cause and the rightness of their policy, they take success as a matter of course. The seamy side of the conflict is soon forgotten and the uncertainties, the long chances, the wretched blunders are conveniently glossed over if not ignored. Books and articles on this last war there are in plenty, but for the most part they are in the nature of thrilling narrative, panegyrical biography or personal reminiscence. And yet it is perhaps even more necessary for the victors to take counsel with themselves and essay an honest appraisal of the record. Victory is a heady draught, all too apt to breed overconfidence and self-delusion. History is punctuated by disasters which followed on the heels of success, springing from exaggerated notions of past achievement or extravagant conceptions of national prowess.

Since war is indeed but a continuation of policy by other means, it follows inexorably that once hostilities have broken out political decisions must be subordinated to the requirements of strategy. In such circumstances traditional policies may have to be abandoned, natural sympathies may have to be sacrificed. The problem is further complicated by the fact that most modern wars are fought by coalitions of states that are frequently, nay almost proverbially, strange bedfellows. One overriding interest -- that of defeating a common enemy -- may bring them together, but a dozen other interests may

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