14 MARCH 1958, Page 21


The End of War ?

B5 D. W. BROGAN WHEN in Washington, 1 dine or lunch fairly often (as a guest) in the Army and Navy Club and, while waiting for my host, I have again and again inspected the portraits, busts and coloured prints that adorn the walls of the estab- lishment. There are the generals, the admirals. There are the coloured drawings of the old 'Great White Fleet'; the scenes from barrack life; the semi-Prussian uniforms of the late . nineteenth ,century; the set battle-pieces of the 'war between the states.' I have noted the manly chests of the Civil War heroes with their single medal and re- flected that the most lowly lieutenant of the late great war has a right to more 'fruit salad' on his bosom than had Grant, Sherman and Sheridan; that of the modern American officer it could be said in Oliver Gogarty's immortal words :

By heavens you'd be decorated And not Alcmena's chesty son Find room to put your ribbons on.

And in the summer of 1956, in a city where until the beginning of this century troops were nearly invisible and where, even after the First World War, it was difficult to find a thousand-odd troops for a ceremonial occasion, an order from the pugnacious, if incompetent, Secretary of Defence, Engine Charlie' Wilson, threatened to put all the Officers in Washington into civilian dress—and there, turned out to be 20,000 of them.

It is the main theme of this lively, highly in- telligent, highly critical, important and ominous book* that without anyone knowing quite how Or why the United States has moved from a state of nearly disarmed innocence to one of heavily armed and yet posSibbi impotent guilt or, at any rate, of deep and baffled unease. This book is Worth the most serious study for two reasons. Its examination of the American military situa- tion, its cold dismissal of most of the schemes of retaliation, 'massive' and otherwise, its ex- posure of the ambiguities of terms like 'brushfire' wars, its final declaration of faith that the human race will not commit the suicide for which it is now so well equipped (Millis estimates the Ameri- can atomic stockpile at 15,000 units), make this a book for every American to read and ponder. But it is almost equally a book that we should read and ponder; our destiny is linked with that of the Americans and we are at least as muddled. Only national modesty keeps me from saying More muddled.

The main part of Mr. Millis's book is devoted not to our present tragic dilemma, but,to a history of American military policy and achievement. They have very seldom coincided. Most Ameri- can wars were unplanned in origin, fought in unforeseen ways to unexpected conclusions; if War plans existed, they were irrelevant; if war lessons were taught, they were never learned. For the Americans were and are basically a civilian and, indeed, pacific people, with distrust of militarism built into their constitution and into

* ARMIES AND MEN: A STUDY IN AMERICAN MILITARY HISTORY. By Walter Millis. (Cape, 25s) their psyche. And yet today, that institution un- foreseen by the Fathers of the Republic, the Pentagon, dwarfs many indubitably more histori- cal American political artifacts, and the FBI, like the late Senator McCarthy, owed its possibly monstrous growth to the realisation that the United States had to live dangerously. 'The world will never be made safe for democracy, it is a dangerous trade.' So wrote Chesterton in the high noon of Wilsonian idealism. How right he was! `War is hell,' said General Sherman. How right he was! And sputnik, launched into orbit after this book was finished, has extended the dangers and the threats into outer space.

How did America get that way? It is the only serious fault in an admirable book that Mr. Millis discusses the problem too much in terms of American free choice and, when he sees limi- tations on that choice, they are domestic limita- tions like the certain firm refusal of the American people, if they had been asked the question, to pay the price that might have 'saved' China or given General MacArthur his complete victory. (FDR may have underestimated the degree of support he would have got for a bolder policy, but if he waited, passively, for the blow that turned out to be Pearl Harbor it was in great part because of known Congressional opposition, not because of suspected popular timidity.) In the same way, it is a pity that Mr. Millis ignores the failure of Wilson's attempted mediation in December, 1916, and the fact that the German General Staff chose submarine war with the dis- counted risk of American intervention as a cer- tain weapon of victory. What ruined their policy was the failure to knock Britain out in the summer of 1917. The Russian Revolution was an uncovenanted mercy that gave them the chance of victory on 'the Western Front—but too late, as, by that time, the Yanks were coming.

Mr. Millis, with much humour and occasional irony, has no difficulty in illustrating the per- manent refusal of the American people either to pay up or shut up. They would have their dignity, their right to pass moral judgment, their right to lead the world to higher and better things (like prohibition after 1918), all combined with a firm refusal to be ready to use force in this sinful world. As a result, nearly all American defence policies had a strong element of romantic fiction about them; they were designed to save New Jersey dairymaids from German or Japanese rape, not to promote any intelligible American policy.

I have no doubt that Mr. Millis is right and that a great part of the drive for a big navy was pure romanticism on Theodore Roosevelt's part, plus the influence of those twin doctrinaires, Rudyard Kipling and Alfred Thayer Mahan. But there was more of a case for rebuilding the United States Navy in the Eighties and Nineties than is suggested here. For not only was a Democratic Navy Secretary like William Whit- ney outraged at the abundant evidence of Re-

publican graft, but unless the United States was to give up its paternal view of the Monroe Doc- trine it would have to keep Mr. Secretary Blaine's big mouth shut or face an awkward showdown with Chile. For that ebullient Irish-American statesman (aided in his second avatar by the ex-secretary of the Land League, Patrick Egan) twice got the United States on to the brink of war with Chile, and the Chilean Navy might have given the Big Brother in the north a scare—or worse. True, the plans of the navy propagandists soon far surpassed the needs of the Monroe Doc- trine; they became pure art, or ships for ships' sake. But they were not mere nonsense at the beginning.

There are one or two minor points where critical holes can be picked; I have doubts about the alleged number of German army corps in 1914, about the admitted superiority of the Springfield rifle in 1917. The first effective use of rifled artillery was by the French in the Italian war of 1859. But these are trifles. Faced with annihilation or various forms of retreat, the American may look back with nostalgia to the happy days of the Mexican war, with .05 per cent. of the population engaged and, if we can believe young Samuel Chamberlain, a good time being had by nearly all. We are all, alas, in the same boat. We shall have to bale or swim.