Fenwick Archive  |  Trotskyist Writers  |  ETOL Home Page

James M. Fenwick

Battle of the Pentagon Is Conflict over Strategy
of Slaughter in Third World War

(31 October 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 44, 31 October 1949, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

The B-36 hearings have more profound origins than simple inter-service rivalries. What is at stake is no less than the basic military strategy to be employed in defeating Russia?

The nub of the controversy at: this early stage of its evolution, as will be eventually revealed in the press, is the whole concept of strategic bombing. Opinions on the permissible limits of strategic bombing cut through all services, including the air corps.

Objections to the overextension of strategic bombing come under four heads:

  1. Its utility is limited, as the Strategic Bombing survey in its analysis of the effect of such bombing upon Germany in World War II shows;
  2. Emphasis upon strategic bombing, and the consequent financial and industrial mobilization necessary to produce long-range bombers and keep them in operation, will pare down the tactical (troop support) air force and the ground matériel which war against Russia with its vast terrain and tremendous manpower necessitates;
  3. The destruction which strategic atom-bombing entails would prevent a post-war consolidation of the world; and
  4. Strategic bombing, because of its lack of precision, is actually terror bombing of civilians. Nobody among the military takes this latter argument seriously, least of all its naval proponents.

Navy Power in Eclipse

This picture has been obscured by the hysteria of the admirals. The facts behind their neurotic symptoms are very simple. Russia is a land power; except for its submarine fleet, its naval forces are negligible. All present development indicates that in the coming war the navy will play a role entirely different from that it played, for example, in the Pacific operations of World War II.

The battleship and the heavy cruiser will have no genuine function. Naval activity will probably be confined to convoying, anti-submarine patrolling, assault landings and, if Russia should deny her opponents continental bases, some strategic bombing. Naval power as classically understood is entering an eclipse which may well be permanent.

Another factor making for a relatively reduced navy is the necessity for a maximum economy of the nation’s productive facilities. The commitment for the land forces will be so great (Russia, says General Bradley, can mobilize 500 divisions) and, given the effects of atomic-bombing upon men, materiel and productive equipment, the replacement demands will be so tremendous that the most careful budgeting will be necessary. The navy will feel its effects.

Whatever else may be said about bureaucracies, they are not insensitive to their own self interest. Hence the genuine and agonized cries Of the admirals in recent weeks. Their condemnation of atomic strategic bombing as being ineffective and immoral and the simultaneous demand for a larger share in these ineffective and immoral operations is a contradiction only for the limited civilian mentality.

That there may be validity in some of their criticisms of the B-36 is largely beside the point. The B-36 is undoubtedly an obsolescent design. But, obviously, better designs are in prospect. Its employment is premised upon the worst variant in the military conjuncture – the denial of European or North African bases to United States aircraft by Russian occupation and the consequent necessity of flying from domestic bases without fighter escort. But this might well be unavoidable. It is possible that the 65,000-ton carrier advocated by the navy would obviate some of these difficulties. But these arguments are largely rationalizations for their bureaucratic exclusivism.

No One Knows the End

The navy’s mass weeping of the past months has demonstratively revealed that the military unification program has run into rough weather. Its violence has temporarily obscured other conflicts – that of the air corps and the army over strategic versus tactical bombing, for instance.

History, it would seem, is posing problems which the inexperienced top military leaders of the United States are having grave difficulties coping with. The personnel problem is well symbolized by Francis P. Matthews, the secretary of the navy, who. when he took office, announced (with that militant amateurism characteristic of public figures in the United States) that all he knew about ships was gained handling a rowboat in Minnesota. Wherein lies the superiority of the sulking admirals has not always been obvious.

To bring about the successful conclusion of a war against a giant bureaucratic – collectivist power like Russia, with all its experience in manipulating masses, requires a combination of military competence, political insight, and emotional maturity which is hardly in evidence in the United States today and is probably impossible of achievement. Hitler was able to perform the feat – but only for the first two years of the war. And he was immensely more gifted in that direction than any visible public figure today. To mention the best of them, Eisenhower, is only to underscore the problem.

In truth, the problems of a war against Russia are fantastic in their magnitude and their complexity. A hitherto unparalleled industrial mobilization, material and human, will have to be made. Controls upon labor will be much more severe than they were in World War II. Living conditions will be more stringent. Nobody, least of all the military leaders now testifying before Congress, knows where it will all end.

But any outcome short of the socialist revolution will be an indescribable catastrophe for humanity. What we are witnessing in Washington today under the stepped-up international tension induced by the knowledge that Russia possess, the atomic bomb is the preparation of twentieth-century barbarism.

Let nobody be deceived by the ham acting of the admirals and their opposite numbers in the other services into thinking that anything less is involved. Cultures in decline don’t produce heroic figures. It is our fate that sorry comedians are the custodians of the atomic bomb.

Fenwick Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 24 August 2021