A Summary of the Military Situation as it Stands Now.
A Five-Year War
A Summary of the Military Situation as it Stands Now.
A CLEAR summary of the war situation is given by Frank H. Simonds in the American Review of Reviews. He is pessimistic, not on the score of the ultimate outcome of the war, but with reference to the outlook for 1918. He now predicts a fiveyear war, if not longer. It is interesting to note that in 1914 Col. MacLean predicted in the Financial Post a seven-year war. Mr. Simonds writes:
Like 1917, the New Year opens in the midst of discouragement and depression for the Allies, in whose number we are now reckoned. For the first time during the present war a year begins with no legitimate reason for expecting victory, decisive victory, during its course. Unless all signs fail, the end of the year will see the war still in progress; and there is every prospect that it will see Germany able to make headway against her enemies and in possession of Allied territory on the western front.
In a sense the lack of great optimism at the opening of the fifth campaign of the World War—and the Civil War was decided early in the fifth campaign—is due to a growing appreciation of what modern war really means. We recognize now, as we did not three years ago, how stupendous is the task of defeating a people in arms and prepared for war. From the first abdication of Napoleon to the coming of the present European conflict, all European wars of importance had speedy decisions. Waterloo, Sadowa, Sedan, Lule Burgas and the Bregalnitza, each within a few weeks of a declaration of war proclaimed the outcome of the contest. Only in our own Civil War was the outcome long doubtful and the struggle protracted in a way to sugest comparison with the present contest.
Thus the world was led to expect a speedy solution of the great problem raised by the World War. Yet, looking backward in history to similar struggles of other countries, there is written much of more than passing contemporary value. France, in the Revolution and under Napoleon, defied Europe for more than twenty years. And France of the Revolution was unprepared for war. Her conscript armies began their campaigns in rags and ended them quartered in the palaces of every European capital. Not even the army which Napoleon led to Austerlitz had such an advantage in numbers and preparations over the Russian and Austrian armies as the German armies possessed over their British and French foes three years ago, when they set out for Paris. But they had Napoleon.
With the wars of Napoleon or of Louis XIV. in mind, it is easier to understand the protraction of the present struggle and to realize that the decision may yet be postponed for years. Decisive victory last year was only remotely possible even if'Russia had stayed in the battle line and contributed her
Meantime the Russian collapse has released some hundreds of thousands of German and Austrian troops, a considerable portion of whom were compelled to remain on the Eastern front until Russia was definitely out of the war. Since Russia is out and negotiating a separate peace, these troops will now constitute a strategic reserve; they are the material with which Germany can build a new offensive campaign, and with their arrival the offensive on the West front has passed to Germany. For the first time since Verdun, Germany has the means both as to men and guns to risk another great offensive.
And the German press and the German critics are all agreed that such an offensive is now to take place. One is tempted to suspect the good faith of such declarations, for Germany has not in the past used the brass band method to advertise her strategy in advance of putting it into operation; neither the Dunajec nor Verdun was preceded by press
agents. Yet there remains the solid fact that Germany has the resources for an offensive, and there is obviously sound reason why she should now seek by an offensive to get a decision before the American army is ready, as she sought to get a decision at Verdun before the British were ready.
Since there will be no reinforcement of the British and the French until the American army is ready for action, and since the American army cannot be ready in great numbers before the campaign of 1919, although some thousands may be in the firing line before spring, there is, then, no reason to expect a decision this year, as the result of Allied military achievement in the field, and there is every reason to expect that Allied effort may be restricted more severely to the defensive than in any previous campaign of the whole war. We must then face the probability of a five years’ war, at the shortest, looking at the military considerations; as to victory won by economic weapons in a shorter time, this remains always possible and never likely.
It seems to me that it is the part of wisdom for the Allies to make clear to their publics in advance of the next campaign what its course promises to be, for in doing this they will abolish vain hopes and avoid the consequences of disappointments, which seem to me bound to follow too great optimism now.
In the first place it seems to me utterly unlikely that there can be any decision, on the military side this year. Russia is out of the war; the Allies have no right or reason to hope that any changes at all that are conceivable in Russia will help them or bring back to them any Russian aid. The defection of Russia has released many troops and it has involved Rumania, which will be compelled to make peace on German terms. Russia and Rumania, together, by making separate peace, will release something like a million and a half German, Austrian and Bulgarian troops, all of which save the Bulgarians can be used upon the Western and Italian fronts or behind the German and Austrian lines to improve communications and speed up industry.
In the second place the collapse of Russia and the surrender of Rumania, due to Russian desertion, have wholly changed the German temper. Six months ago the mass of the German people desired peace because they did not believe absolute victory was possible; they were equally convinced that they could not be decisively beaten. But now, with Russia and Rumania out, with Italy terribly beaten recently, the German people have gained a new confidence, and at the same time the extreme militaristic and autocratic elements have gained absolute control. Thus at one time Germany has obtained the men for a new offensive and her people have acquired a confidence and an expectation of success which will lend them to make additional sacrifices and endure fresh burdens.
On the Allied side the situation is equnlly plain. Britain, France, and Italy have at least as many troops under arms as Germany and Austria now possess. There is not the slightest reason to believe that on the West front Britain and France will not be able to match man against man and gun against gun with Germany and Austria during the campaign that is now to begin, and they should be able to do this without relying upon the American troops, which are slowly but surely increasing in numbers and will be able to hold portions of the line next summer, although they will not be fit for any such ambitious effort as the new British armies made at the Somme last year and before Arras this spring.
But the Allies have no considerable advantage in numbers. They cannot hope, by pursuing the war of attrition next summer to exhnust German numbers, while theirs still remain sufficiently great to bid for a decision. In a word, a state of balance has been reached on the West front. Were the Allies confronted by the same necessities as the Germans. they might risk all upon a despernte offensive but they have not the same necessities. They have a new ally coming up all the time, a new ally who can be depended
upon to supply a million men in 1919 and, in the meantime to give ever increasing aid on the sea and in the furnishing of food -and munitions. As Wellington waited for the Prussians at Waterloo, the new Allies can afford to wait for America in this war.
The Germans, on the other hand, cannot afford to wait. Their submarine campaign no longer promises victory, it is slowly but surely being mastered and a year hence the situation is likely to be better for the Allies in the matter of shipping than now. German victory before America arrives may be possible, it may prove impossible, but it is the one clear chance of realization of German war aims and victory after America gets up is unthinkable. Germany has now to spend her last reserves acquired through Russian collapse in seeking a decision, as Napoleon put his Guards in at Waterloo, hoping to smash the British before the Prussians could get up in sufficient numbers.
As for the Allies, they have to parry this blow as they parried two similar blows, the one at the Marne, the other at Verdun. That their armies can do this, the past would seem to prove unmistakable, for the Germans will have no such advantage in 1918 as they had in 1914 and 1916. But the problem is only military in a minor degree, the real test must come among the people of France, of Italy and of Britain, for it is against the will and determination of the people behind the fronts that the Germans are going to strike, primarily.
The object of this war is to destroy the German belief that his people are a superior people to whom it is permitted to break every law and violate every convention of humanity and decency in the effort to dominate mankind. Peace with the German, while he holds to this doctrine, is impossible on any terms, because no agreement would outlast his return to strength. And as this German view was a national view, it can only be abolished when the whole nation have been brought to surrender it. Lincoln in our Civil War saw that there could be but one ending; that compromise was impossible with those who were determined to disrupt the nation and who made their main demand secession.
In this war we have passed the Antietaro and the Gettsburg; we have escaped the greatest peril; and it is now merely a question of time until by suffering, if not by conquest, the German people are driven to abandon that portion of their doctrine which threatens the safety of all nations. Week by week and month by month the casualty lists are the most potent influence. Germany is bleeding to death, her sons are falling to British, French and Italian guns; they fell to Russian and they will presently fall to American. Her enemies are dividing their losses; she cannot divide hers. Last year the French lost 300,000 in their conflicts with the Germans; the British, perhaps 800.000; but the Germans lost not less than a million and probably a million and a quarter. In 1916 he lost 700,000 against the French, an equal number against the British, and 350,000 against the Russians and his other foes. In the same year the British and French losses were perhaps 750,000 apiece. In two years Germany has lost 3.000.000 men in battle; France a little more than a million; the British a million and a half. But Germany cannot continue to lose at this rate against these enemies, and in 1919 she will have to pay tribute to the United States also.
To win by attrition is a long road, but it is a sure road. More than this, it insures that after the war the Germans will find themselves handicapped for a generation at least by the destruction of their male population. As compared with her great industrial rivals, the United States nnd Britain. Germany will he crippled for an indefinite time. She is using up her future now. And so her local victories, like the far more considerable victories of Napoleon, can be endured with equanimity, so long as the will to fight of the Allies remains unshaken. We might have lost the war at the Marne, or at Verdun. Germany might have won. had Russia gone and the United States remained neutral, but Germany cannot win now unless tbe German really Is a super-man, and the American, the Briton, and the Frenchman. Inferior and decadent people. And if this were true the Germans would deserve to win.
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