[Readers will recall that Lieutenant-Colonel Repington is the most distinguished British representative of the so-called ‘Western’ school of war experts. In this paper he gives an outline of his very interesting theories, in reply to M. Chéradame, who represents the ‘Eastern’ point of view, and with special reference to M. Chéradame’s article in the April Atlantic. — The Editor.]
America was not involved in the first acts of this terrible world-war, and necessarily had no responsibility whatsoever for the conduct of the campaign on the Allied side until she took a hand in the fighting.
The good management of the higher direction of the war became a matter of supreme importance to all Americans only when their sons and brothers went out to fight in the just cause of the Allies; and therefore it is that a correct understanding of the reasons for the past successes and failures of America’s new comrades-in-arms has for the past year and more become of the deepest interest to all citizens of the United States. We look to them to help and to advise in the direction which may be given hereafter to the grand lines of this greatest of all campaigns, for it is on the sane and far-seeing direction that all else depends. It is on this subject of the higher direction of the war that I propose to do a little thinking aloud, asking no reader to agree with me, unless he be convinced.
I. The Origin of the War
Opinions concerning the origin of the war and the responsibility attaching to various personages in various states for the outbreak of hostilities vary a good deal. My view is that the general staffs of the Central powers deliberately determined on what they called a preventative war, in order to forestall the moment when Russia’s impending military reorganization was likely, if not certain, to prevent the accomplishment of those ambitious projects on which nearly all Germans of the ruling caste had set their hearts.
This view will, I think, be shared by those few who followed closely the game of military beggar-my-neighbor which was played in the war offices of Continental Europe in the years just preceding the fateful August of 1914. Military bill followed military bill in rapid succession. Germany, by her last effort in this sense before the war, had beaten everything that France could do; whereupon Russia, arriving late on the scene, outdid Germany by military projects so vast in their scope, and so far-reaching in their effects, had they been given time to mature, that the German General Staff held that it could not allow this event to happen, and determined upon a preventative war at some date in the neighborhood of January, 1913, when the nature of the Russian reforms became fully known. A pretext was soon found in the Austrian Archduke’s murder at Sarajevo; and from that moment until all Europe was aflame the Germans steadily blocked all practicable avenues to peace.
A preventative war is the most immoral of acts and the most detestable of political crimes. To drench the world in blood because something may happen which has not happened, is both criminal and foolish; and so it was always considered by Bismarck, who left on record his abhorrence of a preventative war. When a power is in a position, or feels that it may be in a position, of military inferiority in relation of rivals, it can set its diplomacy at work; and there are many chances that some turn of fortune’s wheel will bring about a change in the general situation. The friendships and enmities of states are not permanent, but evanescent. In our time we have seen the most kaleidoscopic changes in international relations, and history is full of them. Do not the episodes of this war suggest that, if Germany had left well alone, she would have accomplished more by peaceful intercourse than she has gained in arms? Is it not probable that her bugbear, Russia, would have been soon transformed into a democratic state, from which no military aggression was to be feared? Has the preventative war been worth while? Who can affirm it? It is a question only whether it was most criminal or most foolish.
It is not necessary at this time of day to defend England against the absurd charge of having caused or desired the war. The official papers are open to all, to show how conscientiously our diplomacy strove and labored for peace; and the Lichnowsky revelations have since disclosed to all seekers after truth how sincere was our desire to avoid hostilities. It was not until Belgium and the sanctity of treaties were violated that we took the field, as we were bound by a solemn engagement to do. Just as we had not desired war, so had we not prepared for it. We had no army in the modern Continental sense, and it took us long, very long, to form one. This was a proof of peaceful policy, at least, if not of statesmanship.
I ask Americans to follow through the war this silver thread of the German intention to destroy Russia, because it explains much and will hereafter explain more and will hereafter explain more. The destruction of the military power of Russia, and the permanent removal of the German nightmare of a war on two fronts, was in my opinion the primary and the considered aim of the German General Staff, which meant to accomplish its purpose over the body of France was allied with Russia and was sure to be concentrated first. The German attack on France was only in one degree less criminal than the violation of Belgium. The Germans had no quarrel with France, or France with Germany. The French had withdrawn ten kilometres from the frontier, to avoid all risk of collisions, and at this distance from the border-line the first Frenchman was killed. The assault upon France was planned to be carried out by the great mass of the German troops, leaving few to contain Russia; and the plan was, after France had been struck down, to turn upon Russia and, in coöperation with Austria, to destroy the Russian military power.
The Germans simply ignored international law and justice, because they thought themselves strong enough to do so. Italy was Germany’s ally, although not for purposes of aggression. England, in a military sense, was regarded with contempt. Turkey was in Germany’s pocket; while America was far away and, at first, unconcerned. There was nothing to prevent Germany from acting as she pleased.
II. Our Initial Plans
Our British part of the Allied plan of campaign in this preliminary stage was to throw into France as rapidly as possible such military forces as we possessed, in order to meet the coming storm and help France to the best of our ability. We had to prepare to defend Egypt if Turkey came in against us, and to protect the head of the Persian Gulf. We had to sweep the German flag from the sea, to blockade Germany as closely as respect for the interests of neutrals permitted, and to dispossess her of her colonies, which formed dangerously useful bases for her war against our maritime commerce. No difference among us occurred in working out these plans, which slowly matured and effected their purposes.
The French part of the German plan broke down on the Marne, as everybody knows; and a second attempt to carry matters to extremities in the West failed at Ypres, before the steady countenance of the Allied troops. The Russians were already in East Prussia, sacred soil to the Junkers; the Austrian army had proved a disappointment; her offensive strategy in the West until Russia had been tackled and beaten down. The campaign of 1915 nearly effected this object, and during that year the British new armies were not sufficiently matured, nor the French sufficiently recovered, to undertake anything very serious against the defensive troops and system which the Germans had established before they turned their faces to the East. But the back of the original German plan was broken at the Marne and at Ypres, and the problem of the war on two fronts had become even more difficult for Germany than she had anticipated.
III. The Dardanelles Expedition
It was in this year of 1915 that the Western Allies bean that series of political blunders which have had such a large share in the prolongation of the war and in the escape from our grasp of the laurels of victory.
America by now realizes our position in 1914 and 1915, from her own experiences in 1917 and 1918. It took us long to raise the men, long to train them, longer still to find the officers, cadres, guns, rifles, clothing, and equipments. All the vast preparations which Germany had been making over a period of forty years, we had to arrange in a hurry in the midst of war. Our little Expeditionary Force of six divisions had gone out, and had fought valiantly to beat back the first wave of invasion and the most dangerous of all. But it had suffered terribly, and many of our regular officers and N.C.O.’s, who would have been invaluable to us in forming the new armies, lay buried in the blood-stained soil of France. It was not till May, 1915, that the first division of our new armies reached France, and we had meanwhile started on a fresh campaign which was the first of our four great commitments in the East.
When Turkey entered the war, we desired, very naturally, to wipe her off the account as speedily as possible. The best means was to strike at her capital and the seat of her power, which was indeed a military position of exceptional strength but was open to the attack of maritime powers like England and France, whose fleets were strong enough to keep Germany and Austria quiet and have something to spare. A blow at Constantinople was the right strategy, and the fall of the historic city would have exercised a magical influence upon events. Not the least of the advantages would have been the opening up of a line of communication with Southern Russia by the Black Sea. All that was needed was that the attempt should be made after such sound and careful preparation, and with such strength, that failure would be, humanly speaking, impossible, and that the launching of this attack should not imperil success in the principal theatre, where we were engaged with what were still the main German forces.
These limiting conditions were not fulfilled. The story of the conception and preparation of our expedition to Gallipoli is to be found in the first report of our Dardanelles Commission, the text of which should be read by every American. I do not propose to narrate all the faults, which were rather in design and preparation than in execution, or to gibbet the individuals principally concerned they belong to history now. A sad history, if a glorious one. All that matters as a lesson for us all is, that we sent inadequate forces and could not even maintain those which we sent, for the excellent and sufficient reason that we did not then possess the forces necessary to secure victory. Sooner or later, in this as in other military operations, the respective armies had to meet and fight. We were never in a position to meet the massed Turkish forces within short call of Constantinople in open battle, and to accomplish our design; while in the meantime we remained too weak in France to accomplish anything serious. We had begun the fatal course of dividing our forces, with the result that in neither West nor East did we promote the success of the common cause.
Americans who read the diatribes of people like M. Chéradame against those who advocated concentration on the West must bear in mind certain facts which the Eastern school of strategy studiously neglects to mention. The first division of our new armies landed in France, as I have said, in May, 1915, and a few divisions were seriously engaged in September of that year. But the new armies as a whole were not fit to fight on a large scale until July, 1916; and all the reproaches of the Easterners, that we failed to do this, that, or the other, whether it be a march to the Danube or upon Vienna or Budapest, is seen in all its naked but unabashed folly when any reasonable being compares the plan with the forces available to execute it.
It was not only the men who were wanting for secondary operations in the spring and summer of 1915, but also the guns, munitions, and air-craft. We were still terribly short of guns in France in May, 1915, when we endeavored to attack in Artois in coöperation with the French. We were particularly short of high explosive shell, and some comments of mine, cabled from France, upon our failures and losses from this cause, led to the creation of our first Coalition Government and the establishment of a Ministry of Munitions. Ut it was not until a year later than a good flow of heavy guns and munitions began, as the result of these changes; and when the Easterners cover us with their maledictions for not recommending or approving eccentric expeditions during 1914, 1915, and 1916, the withers of us Westerners are unwrung; for we all know that never at that time did we possess the forces of all kinds necessary for the conduct of such expeditions, without risking the safety of our position in France.
IV. The Saloniki Expedition
In spite of the failure at the Dardanelles, the Allied governments, at the instance of France, sent a fresh expedition to Saloniki in October, 1915, with the ostensible object of succoring Serbia, as every strategist knew beforehand; and all the prognostications which we Westerners made before a man was landed at Saloniki were fulfilled to the letter. An Allied army, of perhaps half a million men in the aggregate at one time, has remained immured at Saloniki ever since, wasted by fever, and contained by a few Bulgarian divisions strongly posted in the mountains. Our Saloniki expedition encouraged Roumania to come in, to her ruin, led to grave difficulties with Greece, accomplished nothing in a military sense, and deprived our Allied armies in France in 1915, 1916, 1917, and even to this day, of a reinforcement which, had it been present in France, might in any one of these years have turned victory to our side and have converted, in Napoleonic terms, a bataille ordinaire into a bonne bataille. The principle of concentration of effort at the decisive point had been neglected, and we paid the penalty.
V. Our Campaigns of 1916 and 1917
Though the Allied plan of campaign for 1916 suffered grievously, owing to the Gallipoli failure and the absence from the decisive theatre of the Saloniki army, it was well and truly made. All the Allies were to attack together, or as nearly as might be, and Verdun held out gloriously for four months, until the other Allied armies were ready to intervene. The British, Russian, and Italian armies all fought well, and by the united efforts of all the Allies the Central powers were reduced, by the end of 1916, to such a serious condition that the Kaiser in December of that year offered to negotiate. We were then at the top of the market, and it was a good moment to sell out. Our reasons for not adopting this course belong to the political and diplomatic history of the time, with which I am not now dealing. The war went on.
The year 1917 was one of light and shade, but the sombre shades predominated. In March the Russian Revolution broke out, and there gradually ensued that crumbling of all authority and discipline which mortally wounded the Russian armies and ended by destroying them. But in April America stepped into the ring, and it became a primary interest to the Allies to hold on with all their strength until the American armies were in a situation to bring effective aid. From our own experience we could not reckon on such aid on a grand scale before the autumn of 1918 at the earliest, and our proper course was, after the full and disastrous consequences of the Russian collapse were realized in June, 1917, and still more after the Italian defeats in October of the same year, to hold on grimly and to sacrifice all secondary considerations in order to maintain our ground in the principal theatre, where America proposed to unite her forces with ours.
The story of our 1917 campaign in France and Flanders is told in Field-Marshal Sir Douglas Haig’s dispatch of December 23 last. When this campaign began, we still hoped for Russian support, which was promised at a given date. Russian leaders were as good as their word, but their armies, honey-combed by indiscipline, broke in their hands, and by June or July, 1917, it should have been obvious to everyone that the Russian collapse had altered the conditions of the contest to our serious disadvantage. Germany, less by the weight of her arms than thanks to the internal convulsions of Russia, had gained her object in the East.
The peace treaties with Bolshevist Russia, the Ukraine, and Roumania followed. But to confirm this success and exploit it, Germany needed the acceptance of the fait accompli by the Allies, and, as they were not prepared to tender it, a great German victory in the West became indispensable. We were liable to be attacked in 1918 by some 220 German divisions, and Italy to be assailed by the bulk of the Austrian forces. We were on the defensive in the West until America appeared in force, and it was obviously Germany’s game to crush us before she arrived.
In June, 1917, the duty of England, France, and Italy was, therefore, to place in the field in the West every man that they could raise and train to meet the threatening storm. France did all she cold, but had suffered immense losses and could not do very much. Italy worked hard and reorganized her damaged armies. We failed to increase our armies in France, because of the belief which prevailed in certain exalted quarters in England that no decision could be reached in the West and that we were over-insured against the success of a German attack in France. Turning with natural aversion from the bitter and superficially unproductive fighting on the Western Front, our governors looked to the East and conceived the unfortunate project of prosecuting our campaign against the Turks, in the hope that we could win the war by a march upon Aleppo.
The successful campaign of Allenby in Palestine followed, in the winter of 1917-1918, while our expedition to Mesopotamia acted in concert with it, although separated from it by several hundred miles, mostly of desert. We won Jerusalem as we had won Bagdad, and our prestige in the East rose proportionately; but all this time we were sacrificing the substance for the shadow. By March, 1918, we had 1,300,000 men drawing rations in our three Eastern theatres of war, including white and Indian troops and labor units. The maintenance of such numbers, at the cost of the permanent diversion of some three tons gross of shipping a man, threw a tremendous strain on our tonnage; and as every ship passing along the Mediterranean was liable to submarine attack, we suffered heavy losses there. Most of our difficulties respecting food at home, and the transport of America troops to France, arose from our political infatuation for these Eastern triumphs. About one quarter of our total maritime losses is said to have been incurred on the Mediterranean route.
I did not think, and do not think, that we ever possessed the surplus of troops to justify our Eastern adventures. Our business was to make sure of victory in the West first of all, and only to roam in other fields when victory in the West was made absolutely safe. This result we had not, in my opinion, secured. The view of our most experienced soldiers was that we should stand on the defensive in Egypt and Mesopotamia, and concentrate all available men in France, which was regarded by all competent strategists, including those of Germany, as the principal theatre, where the main masses would meet and where victory would be decided. We thought, and think still, that victory in the principal theatre would give us all that we wanted elsewhere and decide the terms of peace in our favor, and that no victories in the secondary theatres, no matter how mirific and soul-stirring, could decide anything. All our best soldiers were unanimous on this subject, but our political chiefs were not converted to our view, and policy ruled and dictated operations.
Bad policy makes bad war, and so it has ever been. So convinced was I that we were pursuing a highly dangerous course, that I left the London Times, with which I had been associated for fifteen years, because I could not obtain the indispensable editorial support for my views; and in January, 1918, I took service with the Morning Post, which was an independent organ, with Mr. H. A. Gwynne for editor, whose views accorded with mine. Here I straightway began to inform the public of the dangers which we were running by our dispersion of force in the East and by our failure to increase, or even maintain, our strength in the West; and I pointed out plainly the coming menace of attack by the united forces of the enemy. Our War Cabinet would not listen to me; but two months later the Germans fell upon us in overwhelming strength, and the crudity of our strategy stood revealed to the world. The German claim that they had disposed of 600,000 of our men by April, and had captured 1500 of our guns, was an absurd exaggeration, which Americans can safely divide by two; but our losses were heavier than we had ever experienced within the same limits of time, and the theory of our over-insurance in the West had been proved to be a complete fallacy.
VI. Our Policy Reversed
The campaign which I made in favor of the war organization and the strategy which our soldiers advocated brought upon me the bitterest personal attacks; but anyone who concerns himself with public affairs is open to such attacks, and must be content to accept them with equanimity. All that mattered was that our War Cabinet, convinced, not by my pen but by the weight of the enemy’s sword, immediately took steps to change their policy, and not only passed a new Military Service Act extending the service age to fifty, and to fifty-five in certain cases, but included Ireland within the act, called up by administrative order scores of thousands of youths previously in civil occupations, and filled our dépôts with recruits. They also totally revised their bankrupt policy of Eastern adventure, so dear to the heart of M. Chéradame and the dangerously influential body of amateur strategists who worked with him.
Whether these wholesome and necessary changes of policy will or will not have come in time will probably be known to America before these lines appear in print; and I shall say only that, since our War Cabinet changed their policy, they have done their level best to make amends for the past, and that no differences now divide us. We stand greatly beholden to America for allowing her troops, as a temporary measure, to fill up our depleted ranks in France. But whether success or failure may ensue, it remains true, terribly and disastrously true, that the change of policy came at least six months after the time when it should have been adopted; and the moral is that Americans should profit by our experience, look well ahead, and base their policy on sound strategic reasoning.
VII. Eastern School Fallacies
All the schemes of our Easterners, so far as I have been privileged to study them, have been devoid of a military basis. They have been purely political in scope; and when policy neglects to take military conditions into account, history usually describes such policy as bad and is damning in its judgments.
Let Americans of intelligence study, for example, the proposed march to the Danube from Saloniki, and the march by Laibach on Vienna. In the first case, they will find few carriageable roads, one miserable railway of a mountain type and easily destroyed, a sea of mountains, few supplies, and every conceivable difficulty in the way of the march of a large army which, had it reached the Danube, would surely have found an Austro-German army of superior strength across its path.
The march by Laibach on Vienna would have had only two railways at its disposal in Northeastern Italy, and again, difficult country beyond, and inadequate railway facilities to support a large army, which would have been met on the road to Vienna by superior forces of the Central powers. These latter had and have such good means of concentrating on the Danube or round Vienna, that we could not wisely have undertaken either adventure with less than a million men, and no administrative officer has yet been able to guarantee that such an army, in such country, could be either lodged, fed, or supplied on the lines of communication proposed.
All these schemes, which were inherently inept, fell to the ground in June, 1917, when the Russian armies refused any longer to fight. But the underlying idea of our Easterners, of surrounding the Central Empires, with their 115,000,000 inhabitants, was always preposterous. We can put hurdles round sheep, but to pen in wolves with hurdles in labor lost. The Easterners talked each other into folly after folly. They took our higher political councils of defense by storm. But military support for their dreamings there was none. The touch of the enemy’s sword at St. Quentin caused the crazy façade of the Eastern school to collapse like a house of cards. It is now discredited, and as discredited people always rate others for their faults, I am not surprised that they should rate me, whose unpleasant but necessary duty it has been to expose their errors throughout the war.
VIII. The Case for the West
The strategy which regarded the West as the principal front could not in my opinion be gainsaid. Germany was our chief enemy, and her fall would bring down her allies; while the converse was not true, and no disasters to Turkey would produce a decision. In the West the main armies of our chief enemy stand, and have always stood, even in 1915. If we won in the West, we won everywhere, and if we failed in the West, we lost everywhere, so far as the Continental phase of the war was concerned.
Concentration in the West, indispensable by reason of the fact that the chief German forces were, and still are, massed there, was also convenient, since France was close to us. We could protect the Channel crossing, and in France we found everything necessary for the prosecution of the war in the most vigorous manner. We were in a friendly and a civilized country, with the roads, railways, billets, and all other facilities for carrying on war on a formidable scale. We had the grand French army beside us, and the Belgians too. We could reach out a hand to Italy if she needed our help, and she could help us, transfers of troops taking place by rail and overland. All our losses of men and material could rapidly be made good from home, and our sick and wounded could quickly be evacuated. So long as we remained capable of offensive strategy in the West, the Germans were held there, and final victory was beyond their grasp. Our true object was, or should have been, continually to pile up force until the main armies of our chief enemy were broken down. We were spared in the West the tremendous drain on our tonnage inevitable in campaigns in Eastern theatres, particularly when the U-boat became dangerous; and so long as we dominated in the West, we dominated the whole war, and none of the German conquests in Russia could fructify.
Subject to the changes which may take place before these lines appear in print, this general statement of the supremacy of the Western Front remains true for America to-day. The British Isles and the British and American navies stand between the incoming American transports and the enemy, who is able to harm only a fraction of the American forces by the sporadic raids of submarines, which are countered by the Allied naval offensive and by the convoy system.
France is the theatre of war nearest to America. With France America has indissoluble links of sentiment, and in France she finds only friends. All our British ports and resources are open to America, and in France, more profitably than anywhere else, can the new American armies be best deployed. I am surprised only that, at this late period of the war, it should be necessary to proclaim the supremacy of the Western Front, for the proposition has been demonstrated by every act of the war, and in a wholly unanswerable manner.
IX. America and War Direction
So much for the past, and now for the future. I do not doubt that America will vote for the war in the West being fought to a finish, and will realize that Italy is part of the Western Front and inseparable from it. In what precise situation a continued German and Austrian offensive, still delayed as I write, will find us Western Allies a few months hence, is not a subject upon which I propose to speculate. The essential matter is that we and America propose to go on, no matter what happens; and when all the English-speaking world is united in a great and glorious purpose, I reckon it invincible. If we can hold our own for the next few months, especially if the Allied armies hold together and are not separated by a German break-through at Amiens or elsewhere, I make no doubt that the arrival of the American armies, and the reinforcements which we now have in training at our dépôts, will redress the lost balance of advantage.
But even were the worst to befall, and the Continental phase of the war to close temporarily to our disadvantage, we should be no worse off against the German tyranny than we were in 1810 against the tyranny of Napoleon; and though the war would then change its aspect, we should still pursue our aims with implacable perseverance until they were achieved. It is in the manner of the English-speaking race never to make peace until after victory.
I wish to ask Americans, when they are here in great force, and necessarily are called upon to take a more prominent part in the strategic direction of the campaign, to examine every question that arises with open minds, and not to be misled by phrases and catchwords which are traps for the unwary. I beg them to ask why and how, in the case of every project put before them, and to accept nothing unless good and convincing reasons for it are furnished them. We think that we have a right to count upon the fresh minds, fresh ideas, and fresh vigor that a country like America can bring tot eh common stock; and the more prominent the place that American leaders take in our councils, the better shall we be pleased.
Such a phrase, for example, as that of ‘the single army’ is liable to be misconstrued. The single army can never exist. There will always be a French, American, Italian, and British army. Differences of language, customs, character, training, and armament will always exist between them. To have created a single army, we should have begun a quarter of a century ago. An international army is not a national army, and nothing will make it one. There is an Inter-Allied army, and that is all. Over this Inter-Allied army we have accepted, fully and unreservedly, the command of a great French general, and we are all determined to support him in a whole-hearted manner. The question of unity of command has been settled once and for all. But because this is so, we need not abandon our sense of realities, or suppose that we can safely sink our individualities and become an amalgam. To descend lower than the divisional unit in breaking up our national forces would, in my opinion, be a serious danger, and I hope that we may never come to it. The national division at least must remain the tactical unit of execution, except for such temporary purpose as reinforcing the depleted ranks of an Ally; and we must see how things go on with armies formed of divisions of different nationalities, before we finally accept such form of armies as the best solution.
There are two great dangers which present themselves to our minds in France: one, that the hitherto excellent relations of staffs and troops of different nationalities may not survive defeats or misfortunes suffered when the various nationalities are mixed up on the battle-front; and secondly, that the administrative services may break down when national armies are scattered in divisions all over the Western Front. Both questions are independent of the question of the single command, which is now irrevocable.
I regard good relations between the several nations of the Allies to be the most priceless of all treasures. The loss of them I should regard as worse than the loss of a battle. I think that there is danger to good relations in the creation of armies, each of a dozen or more divisions, out of heterogeneous material; and if our national armies had all been held together, I should have preferred it. The new system only came into force in France early in April, after the initial German attack, which began on March 21, had been at least temporarily checked; and this new system has not yet, as I write, stood the test of serious battle. On the administrative side, England and America draw most of their supplies, stores, munitions, and equipments from their own territories. With their armies held together, and with good and regular communications, the functioning of supply is a comparatively simple matter; but when divisions are scattered far and wide, and mixed up with other nationalities, the business of the rearward services becomes gravely complicated, and subject to excessive difficulties which I would gratefully have seen our national armies spared. With every display of tact, goodwill, and ability, and, above all, with success in the field, these dangers may be averted; but to those acquainted with the practical handling of large forces in the field, the administrative complications appear serious; and for the two reasons which I have given, I think that it remains to be proved whether the breaking up of national armies is an advantage, or the reverse. I do not like it, and cannot dishonestly abandon my professional convictions and pretend that I like it, just to drift easily along with the prevailing current.
X. The Recovery of Russia
The second great matter with which American leaders will have to deal, is the whole vast question of the conduct of the war outside the Western theatre. American leaders must study this gigantic problem and help in the solution of it. I am not now thinking about the Eastern campaigns, to which I have referred in the earlier part of this article, but to much larger aspects of the world-war and above all to Russia and the questions which revolve around Russia. Russia, as we all know, went out of the war because she collapsed internally. Two parts of Russia signed treaties of peace on compulsion of events. These treaties were not the expression of Russia’s will, but were exacted from her weakness. Torn with internal dissensions, Russia accepted a truce with the external enemy, in order to make peace in the interior; but no Russian has yet said that this truce in itself was good, or that the dismemberment of Russia was acceptable. It was in fact wholly bad and inacceptable, and most of the better elements in Russia reject it with contumely and only wait for the hour when they can denounce it. The brutal and overbearing conduct of the Germans in the Ukraine and elsewhere has completed the disillusion, and though many towns and territories have called the Germans in, so that order may prevail, it is not from love of Germany but because it was necessary on any terms to find space to breathe in a mad Russian world.
The Germans are exploiting Russia and treating her as a vulture treats a carcass. They have cut off from her vast territories which they have openly annexed, and their columns are already far in the interior, and even on the Don. Every day their appetites grow as resistance diminishes, and there is almost no ambition in the wide realms of Asia that they do not now entertain. With time, and given the continued passivity of the Allies, there are no limits which can be set to these plans. The Germans are at the foot of the Caucasus. Soon they will be across it, and they already are intriguing with the republics, kingdoms, and khanates of Central Asia. They form their Austro-German prisoners in Russia into bands, and send them forward armed, often under Russian officers, to seize centres of communication farther East. There are no obstacles in their path, and no moderating word from home restrains them. Germany has set out upon the conquest of Asia as a preliminary to the domination of the world, and allows her unslaked thirst for aggression no limitations of al.
Our object must be to recover touch with Russia and to help her in her delivery from her invaders. I do not think that the absorption of Russia is a practicable policy, because it is against all measure and all reason. Poland, an incidental victim of the happening, will resist the final destruction of her nationality to the death. The Bolshevists hate the Germans and all that they stand for. Ukrainia now knows what German protection means. The Cossacks are, above all things, jealous of their ancient customs and their land. Though Russia is chaotic for the moment, there is a common bond in the hatred which Germany inspires among all, and it needs but the appearance of Allied forces to change the aspect of affairs.
There was danger at one time that we Allies, disgusted by our apparent desertion by Russia and by the horrors of the Revolution, might accept a peace at Russia’s expense. The lassitude caused by a long and wearing war increased the danger. From making that great political error we were saved by the clarion note of President Wilson’s warning that he meant to stand by Russia as by France; and as he is the protagonist in this new phase of the contest, I venture to suggest that Americans should take the lead in advocating ways and means for carrying their President’s policy into effect. I do not think that the President’s policy is only sentimental and idealistic. I believe that it can be translated into military action and carried into effect; but to enter deeply into this subject would involve a discussion on strategy which would be highly inexpedient.
There are certain principles on which all action must be based. First, all action implies Russian consent, and, if practicable, Russian invitation. Secondly, it can be undertaken only with the surplus of troops remaining over, after security in the West is assured. Thirdly, we should use all avenues of approach to Russia in order to galvanize into life as many Russians as possible, and present Germany with as many centres of resistance as possible. Lastly, we can use now, and at once, all the Allied forces of Japan, China, and India, and the forces of our present expeditions in the East, for the accomplishment of our ends, without derogating from the cardinal principle of concentration, because the bulk of these forces, by their nature and present geographical distribution, are utilizable in the Middle and Far East and are not now utilizable on our Western front, except after intolerable delays.
I doubt whether the political and military regeneration of Russia can be accomplished during the war, except with external military help. But if that help can be given, the war of partisans now being carried on by Russians will assume a different character. It was the presence of Wellington’s army in Spain that rendered both possible and efficacious the Spanish rising against Napoleon, because the dispositions of armies to wage a guerilla war, and those needed to meet organized armies are wholly different and irreconcilable. When columns are broken up to fight partisans they become an easy prey to hostile armies; and when they are collected to fight these armies, the partisans become masters of all the country around, cut off stragglers and supplies, and render the life of the invader intolerable.
To the subject of ways and means for carrying into effect President Wilson’s declared policy American soldiers and sailors will no doubt give their most earnest attention, and I can only say that time presses, seasons are fleeting, and that all we Allies in Europe desire nothing better than to see Russia restored to her rightful position among the nations.
XI. The Great Things
I hope that Americans, looking across the ocean that unites rather than divides us, will see only the great things and take no notice of the little ones. The British Empire, after nearly four years of war, remains absolutely united and determined to prosecute the struggle till victory is achieved. We, looking across the water at you, see the same great things, a people united and resolute in effort to accomplish a great and unselfish purpose. We care nothing for the criticism which must fall on all administrations during the progress of such a war as this. We knew that you had to pass through all the difficulties that best us. We welcome your sons and brothers as our own, trusting that they will learn, in the great comradeship of arms, to like us more as they know us better, and that mighty consequences, pregnant with good for the world, will come out of this terrible evil which has fallen upon humanity.
We appreciate with the deepest feelings of respect the high moral standard which your President has set up, his firm guidance in great affairs, and the grandeur of his conceptions. Far removed from the heat and dust of the conflict, he sees clearly the magnitude of the issues at stake, and with penetrating and unfailing clearness of vision points out to us all the path of honor and of safety. These things, the leadership of your President and the energy and patriotism of your people, are exceedingly helpful to us, and enable us to regard the future with confidence, in the firm belief that America, having set her hand to this giant’s task of overthrowing the most dangerous despotism that has ever threatened the world’s peace, will never turn back or faint by the way until her mission is accomplished.
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