A Theory Dosed on the Attitude of the Enemy This Year.
Germany Will Not Attack
A Theory Dosed on the Attitude of the Enemy This Year.
THAT the war will not continue for more than another year is the view expressed by A. Shadwell in the course of an article in The Sineteenth Century. In developing this opinion, he outlines what he conceives to be the German military policy this year with a clearness that carries a certain degree of conviction. It is, in brief, that Germany is depending entirely on her U-boat campaign and is prepared to stand upon the defensive on
land; nay, is compelled to do so. The a of any move, against the badly disorg mixed Russians would seem to lend weight 11 this view. However, let Mr. Shadwell develop the theory himself. ^
Events have moved so fast of late though the future is still uncertai/i it «is less obscure than it was a few months ago. I The veil is thinner and some things can be seen through it. One is that the war will no' last very much longer, by 4hich I mean th it it will not drag on indefinitely or even foi two OT three years, ft cannot; the pace is to hot and the strain too great, ft might have »een otherwise. If the pace had slackened a id a
lull had occurred giving time for rest and recuperation. the war might have been drawn out longer. That is what used to happen in the old wars, which lasted for decades. Troops used to go regularly into winter quarters and there were long periods of inactivity with armistices and occasional spells of peace. Warfare was not continuous. Nor when it went on did it involve efforts comparable with those demanded by this war. in which the whole strength of the belligerent nations is thrown into the struggle. This unprecedented strain we owe to the German military policy which set the pace in the scale of armies and •development of weapons in preparation and. finally, of operations in action. The result is to make a long-drawn war impossible; the strain cannot be borne. And by a just decree of fate the consequences of Germany’s owif policy are recoiling on her own head.
The German invitation to discuss peace in December was intended to secure a respite from the strain, an interval for rest and recuperation at least, if nothing else. It was not the first attempt, but it was the most definite and significant; it marked a stage in the course, which can be clearly traced as we look back. The scale of military action prepared for many years was planned^with a view to a short war. The elaborate calculations on which it was based did not take into account the possibility of a long one. which in itself proves that the object was military aggression. For had it been truly defensive the possibility of indefinite duration must have entered into the calculations and have counselled the husbanding of resources. A few sudden and irresistible blows were contemplated and all the preparations were adjusted to that strategy. A war of years on such a scale of effort must produce a state of exhaustion which would ïfe too heavy a price to pay, whatever the military result. That is the Nemesis which has been slowly overtaking Germany, as the war has extended itself from year to year. Her rulers have seen it coming nearer ftep by step. They have refused to admit it to their deluded people or even to themselves. They have put the vision aside and buoyed themselves up with hopes; they haye discovered reassuring signs and invented new dispositions; driven from one ground of confidence they have found another. They are at it still with Hindenburg lines and Uboats. But steadily the shadow at their heels has drawn nearer and grown more menacing, as the war has extended and the pace has increased. Last winter they became acutely conscious of it and of the need to escape. So we had the overtures for negotiation, which would have secured at least a slackening of the pace and a breathing time, if they had been accepted. The move had other objects, but this was the military one. It failed and the pace has continued to increase.
That seems to me the vital fact iq the present stage of the war and the reason why it cannot drag on indefinitely. It is the pace that kills. It has produced the great Hindenburg strategy, which I venture to think is plain enough. Perhaps it is presumptuous to say so about a matter surrounded by so much mystification and so many conflicting expert opinions; but I have been hardened into presumption. Once too diffident to form any opinion on these high matters and content to drink in with humble ear the wisdom of expert commentators, I have gradually undergone a complete change through their really astonishing display of incapacity and my own luck in venturing on some interpretations and predictions. I now regard most of them as sign-posts to the wrong road and use my own judgment, such as it is. I fancy most people do the same. After all the German dictator has been very frank about his strategy; and, as I have observed before, commentators on the war would make fewer blunders if they took German official utterances more literally and were less concerned to discover some recondite meaning or to twist them into ridicule. I may add for the benefit of the German papers which will probably quote this remark that it applies equally to their comments on utterances here. Of course, public men occupying important postions do not say all they think and they sometimes “talk wild”; but there is generally some substance in what they say and upon occasion they actually say what they mean. It is more profitable to
study these utterances soberly with an eye to the solid matter than to take it for granted that they are all nonsense and tit for nothing but ridicule or that they conceal some deep and different meaning. We can see the foolishness of this treatment plainly enough in enemy comments on the statements of our own public men, and that should be a lesson to avoid it on our side.
Briefly stated, the Hindenburg strategy is to hold fast the land front with the least expenditure of strength and to transfer the offensive to the sea. It is the reply to our own strategy, which is to hold fast by sea and strike with full strength by land. This is a most remarkable and surprising development of the war, which no one could have anticipated. The great land power and the great sea powerdescribed by an ill-fitting metaphor as the elep'hant and the whale have changed places. Each sets its hopes of victory on success in the other’s sphere, while its own most cherished and powerful weapon is relatively passive. But there is a difference. Our land offensive is full, fair and open fighting, man to man, gun to gun, machine to machine; the German sea offensive is not fighting at all. At least it is not, so far; though that may come and very likely will. But even if proper sea-fighting comes, that is not what the Germans are relying on. They are relying on the destruction of merchant shipping. It is as though the Allies, instead of meeting the enemy in battle, were to burrow their way into Germany and set to work from subterranean ■ holes destroying crops, warehouses and stores together with such civilians as happen to get in the way. Such is the German sea offensive, which constitutes the active part of the Hindenburg strategy. It is even less like proper fighting because it is directed against neutrals as well as against the enemy, which entails the disadvantage of turning them into enemies.
This strategy has a double purpose. One is to slacken the pace where Germany has need of rest; the other is to accelerate it where we are most vulnerable, so that we shall be exhausted first. I submit that this is the real strategical position and that the Germans have no present intention of a military offensive on any front. Their plan is to sit tight and let us “bite on granite,” while they starve us out at sea. If it succeeds they have no use for a land offensive; there will be time enough for that when it fails, and by then they will
be rested and better prepared. Marshal von Hindenburg has himself explained the idea on sundry occasions, and mast recently in the interview published in a Barcelona paper only a few weeks ago. The large strategical reserve he has formed is intended primaril> to make his fronts doubly secure. It is, he said, “ready for defence or Attack at any point we may choose.” That is to say. he will be guided in his use of it by circumstances, and sircumstances which meains our offensive dictate a defensive use. He' evidently expected it after the Somme experience, and he puts defence first. It is a measure of prudence. He could not be sure with what determination. strength and speed we should pres* the Western attack, and it might be that the fortified lines could not sustain it without a strong backing thrown wherever necessary at the right moment. The Somme proved that once more the weapon has beaten the shield, and just as forts yielded to big guns at the beginning of the war. so entrenchments and the new defensive system have yielded to the new gunnery backed by air observation, which pjive the way for infantry supported by tanks.
This, then, is the central situation, apart from subsidiary operations and issues. And the pace has become so furious that it CHnnot possibly last long, by which I do not mean that the end will come within two or three months, though that is possible. Anything is possible and no precise prediction can be more than a guess. There are too many uncertain and incalculable elements. What I mean is that the effort has now grown to such magnitude and intensity, both on the active side of operations and on the passive side of endurance, that the forces of man and the resources of nature cannot sustain it for more than a limited time say another twelve months at the most. Of course it may slacken, but of that there is no sign. A great-deal will depend on the coming harvest, if no decisive change occurs before then. Another bad harvest would hasten the end by exhaustion, and this is a very queer season; an even worse harvest than the last is quite on tlie cards. The American authorities are said to be preparing for a “long war," and they must be better informed about the enemy's capacity for resistance than most of us are here. But we are not told what is their idea of a long war. If it means several years then I believe they are mistaken.
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