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The Atlantic Monthly | September 2002

[From "Homeland Insecurity," by Charles C. Mann]

Why the Maginot Line Failed

In fact, the Maginot Line, the chain of fortifications on France's border with Germany, was indicative neither of despair about defeating Germany nor of thought mired in the past. It was instead evidence of faith that technology could substitute for manpower. It was a forerunner of the strategic bomber, the guided missile, and the "smart bomb." The same faith led to France's building tanks with thicker armor and bigger guns than German tanks had, deploying immensely larger quantities of mobile big guns, and above all committing to maintain a continuous line—that is, advancing or retreating in such coordination as to prevent an enemy from establishing a salient from which it could cut off a French unit from supplies and reinforcements. (Today, military strategists call this "force protection.") But having machines do the work of men and putting emphasis on minimal loss of life carried a price in slowed-down reaction times and lessened initiative for battlefield commanders.

Ernest R. May, Strange Victory: Hitler's Conquest of France (2000)

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Charles C. Mann, an Atlantic correspondent, has written for the magazine since 1984. He is at work on a book based on his March 2002 Atlantic cover story, "1491."
Copyright © 2002 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; September 2002; Homeland Insecurity; Volume 290, No. 2; pp 81–102.