The Last War and the Next

THERE are two wars always interesting to every generation: the last war, and the next one.
Through the Fog of War, by Captain B. H. Liddell Hart (Random House, $2.50), deals with the last one: and in Our Maginot Line (Carrick and Evans, $2.50) and The Ramparts We Watch (Reynal and Hitchcock. $3.00) Mr. Livingston Hartley and Major George Fielding Eliot, respectively, discuss situations and prospects leading up to another world-wide assault at arms.
Captain B. H. Liddell Hart is one of the brash young men who emerged, fluent and immensely productive, from the first World War. Military biographies have flowed from his pen: Scipio Africanus and General Sherman. Foch and T. E. Lawrence. He has done clinical studies on the Great Captains, not only unveiling but dissecting them. He has published two histories of the 1914—1918 episode; discussed at length the military art past, present, and future: and prepared British Staff Manuals. In all these he is more on the brilliant than on the profound side, but he is usually plausible and generally readable.
Through the Fog of War takes its thesis from Thucydides, although Thucydides put it more compactly: ’The accurate knowledge of what has happened will be useful again, because according to human probability, similar things will happen again.’ In effect, the book is a sort of summation of the author’s World War material, and it owes its interest to the fact that sources not originally available have been opened to him. and he is sufficiently honest to offer reconsiderations of earlier, incompletely documented views. Here are final judgments on the great and on some of the near-great of the embattled nations, soldiers and statesmen alike. Britons will derive no comfort from his comments on the character and acts of Earl Haig and of Sir Henry Wilson: American readers will find gratifying breadth and perception in his estimates of General Pershing and General Peyton March, the most liberal so far enunciated by any Englishman.
The epilogue, seventeen pages of historical evaluation, is Captain Liddell Hart at his best. his conclusions judicious and well-considered. The second great conflict of the twentieth century, he holds, began in July 1936. The nations are now, in Asia, in Central Europe, in Spain, and in North Africa, manoeuvring for position before the main stroke is delivered. On the whole the Captain is not optimistic. But the book is calculated to make one think; and any book which does that is useful.
I find Mr. Livingston Hartley’s title confusing and misleading. The Maginot Line is a system of permanent defenses guarding the French eastern frontier, a sort of streamlined Chinese wall, unproved and of debatable value. Mr. Hartley’s analogy is our Monroe Doctrine, the intangible wall which has stood for a century against European aggression in the Western Hemisphere. I think the figure a little strained. The proposition offered can be simplified: it is, in brief, that should the French and English democracies go down in disaster before the Central European dictator states, and should Japan triumph in Asia, the United States must be prepared to hold inviolate the Western Hemisphere, and if we fail to protect the coasts of the Americas, North and South, from alien lodgments, we are doomed.
It is a workable proposition if you can get past the first step, which is no less than the collapse of the British Empire. The author sets up a case for such a collapse, but not convincingly. It seems to me that, for the present at least, he overestimates the military, economic, and social resources of the Rome-Berlin axis, and underestimates the Royal Navy, the French Army, and the stark elements of resistance in French and English blood.
The remaining two thirds of his book deals with the United States, its immediate geographic and strategic situation with reference to such a collapse. His discussion is diffuse, his abundant material poorly ordered, and his documentation spotty: why, for instance, should a commentator give as a reference, for American shipping figures during the World War. a 1938 speech by a Nebraska Congressman? The War Department figures are available in public documents. And I am a little suspicious of current newspaper dispatches as the source material for serious history and for considered judgments. On the other hand. Mr. Hartley’s conviction that we should tie in the Western Hemisphere is sound and sensible, whether for peace or war. No isolationist. Mr. Hartley closes with the urgent recommendation that we throw our paramount power to the support of those European democracies which to-day arc aligning against the dictator states: hi Magi not Line would approach coincidence with the steel and concrete fabrication on the eastern marches of France.
Major George Fielding Eliot’s The Ramparts We Watch is an informed and balanced presentation of the strategic problems now confronting the United States, oriented firmly on the mission of national security, assembled and set forth by an orderly mind. Every military and naval problem resolves itself into certain component parts: what is the objective? What means are necessary to attain it, and what resistance must such means overcome? Where, when, and how shall operations be initiated? It is a reasonable formula, and Major Eliot follows it. He studies our geographic characteristics, with reference to the Atlantic approach to our shores; to the Caribbean approach; and to the Pacific Ocean side, and our Pacific Ocean commitments.
We have long been secure behind two oceans. and the tenuous shield of the Monroe Doctrine has covered the South Atlantic angle. Major Eliot finds us still comparatively safe, but not entirely so: our oceans have shrunk with the machine age; the famous Doctrine is questioned here and there. The measures for absolute security he finds within our means, and cheaper now than any war would be: a steady foreign policy, entailing the uncompromised integrity of all the Americas; adequate military and naval establishments created and maintained; and behind all a citizenship informed as to events and trends, and willing to make small sacrifices in order that large ultimate sacrifices may be avoided by us and by our children. Incidentally, the book contains a compact and adequate account of our existing establishments for national defense, with the purpose and scheme of employment of each component— a thing every taxpayer should read. The Ramparts We Watch is recommended without reservation.