The Corner

Re Settling Soviet Hash: A Soldier Speaks

It’s late on Sunday, the day K-Lo relaxes the usual rules on brevity, and, since this correspondent quite obviously knows his stuff—and expresses himself compellingly–I can’t resist. From a major in the United States Army, the final word on whether we should have “settled Soviet hash.”

Mr. Robinson,

Although your last writer is rather, er, detail-oriented it is exactly his misunderstanding of the big picture that undermines his analysis.

1. I would regard it as debatable that the Western Allies were “bigger” than the Soviet Army. For example, the UK had reached its manpower limits (hence the number of divisions) by 1944. The United States had basically reached the same point. To expand the Army further would have required drafting much younger or older people than Americans of that time considered appropriate. There were a lot of Soviet units that fought extremely well. His blanket assesment is a bit simplistic.

2. Yes, the Soviet Union received a great deal of logistics assistance from the United States. However, this in and of itself is not insurmountable. I think the writer is looking with a much later lense when he says the doctrines were “obsolete”. In fact such doctrines were well-designed with a relatively poorly-trained and -equipped force when dealing with a high quality force like Germany’s. America’s force being (in many, though not all, ways) qualitiatively worse than Germany’s would be even more poorly prepared (as was later demonstrated during the Korean War).

3. I think we can put the myth of stopping industry through arial bombing to rest. Its only been about 60 years since we first figured out that isn’t true.

4. That few miles drive to Antwerp repeatedly caused a great deal of trouble for American logisticians even after the Battle of the Bulge. The writer states the Soviets would be hampered by long supply lines. How long is the supply line from Antwerp to New York? Might there have been any port restrictions, given that after the war in 1945 a huge amount of fuel, coal, and food had to be shipped to Europe to take care of a civilian population on the edge of starvation? Or was this a mere “political” decision to feed Europe?

5. I would take issue with the argument of “morale”. As we have learned in Iraq, predicting how a population will respond to the end of a dictator is a difficult thing to do, and certainly nothing to base a policy decision on. Lots of rational people fought for the Soviet Union (and Stalin)…many of them (old and young) against all expectation think today that he was a hero. Maybe your author’s cost-benefit analysis isn’t what was considered “rational” in 1940s. This isn’t to say Stalin wasn’t a mass-murderer. Just that the calculus of loyalty is quite complicated.

Plus, exactly whose soldiers were going to be used to occupy Poland, Russia, Central Asia…Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and the rest while order would be restored? Canada’s? This again (post war occupation and rebuilding) would seem from modern examples to be just the thing that is most difficult. Governing Germany under conditions of social chaos post-war was a tough 2-3 year job….

Sure, it [choosing a policy of containment in the late 1940s instead of going to war with the Soviets] was “just a political decision”. Isn’t that the point? The United States sent its sons, its dollars, and its industrial might to the service of defeating Hitler. This was an agreed point. In the process the UK was maintained as an independent state, and many of the core nations of the modern EU were given the chance to rebuild themselves into prosperous social democracies. A pretty good day’s work, at no small cost.

Of course in a perfect world the whole world would be liberated. But maybe after seeing nearly 400,000 soldiers killed people (like Eisenhower), had had enough. Soldiers were exhausted, the job was done–and in America killing one extra soldier without a “political decision” is not just a mere statistic

As a soldier [I can tell you] that this stuff is tough. We don’t need any more easy-chair strategists lining us up for more than we can handle because its a “simple practical problem”. No matter what anyone says, its never simple!

Peter Robinson — Peter M. Robinson is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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