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James M. Fenwick

Books in Review

War Strategy

(July 1950)

From New International, Vol. XVI No. 4, July–August 1950, pp. 253–254.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Second World War
by J.F.C. Fuller
Duell, Sloan & Pearce, New York, 1949. $2.50.

The inversion of Clausewitz’s most well-known dictum which is now current, “Politics is war carried on by other means,” is something more than a facile witticism. It accurately describes the situation in the world today.

Prior to World War II large-scale wars could plausibly be considered as relatively rare aberrations in the evolution of society. Since that time war has generally come to be accepted as a normal mode of existence and peace as an interval in which new wars are prepared.

This change in attitude is probably most obvious in the United States, where the military factor heretofore has been only a minor part of the social structure. Today military considerations based on an orientation of war with Russia are major determinants of almost all aspects of national policy.

They lie behind economic aid to Europe, the political evolution permitted Germany and Japan, the current attitude toward Yugoslavia. At home they are reflected in the huge military establishment and its research program, the stockpiling of raw materials, the decentralization of production and government offices which is beginning, the drive against the Communist Party and the attack on civil liberties. The character of United States capitalism is making a huge and sometimes lumbering change.

What would Engels say today, that acute analyst of military phenomena, who in commenting on the Franco-Prussian war could write in 1878 that “this war compelled all continental powers to introduce ... a military burden which must bring them to ruin in a few years. The army has become the main purpose of the state, and an end in itself ... Militarism dominates and is swallowing Europe”?

The whole emphasis of Marxist analysis has shifted. Russia, Germany and the United States have each in their own way long since demonstrated their ability to weather economic and social stress greater than Engels ever dreamed of. Where in the socialist movement, taken in its broadest sense, can a serious discussion be aroused on, say, Luxemburg’s theory of capitalist crisis, at a time when Einstein announces that with the discovery of the H-bomb the destruction of all human life has become a technical possibility?

The Marxist who does not today devote the most serious attention to the study of the military problem runs the grave risk of becoming disoriented. There are two phases to it: a study of the military aspects of World War II and a reassessment of our former political estimates in the light of this information; and an application of these lessons to our current analyses.

With important exceptions, World War II is already the best documented conflict in history. The best analysis of the war to come to the attention of this reviewer is that of J.F.C. Fuller. Fuller, a retired English major-general, was one of the earliest proponents of tank warfare, has written numerous informative books on military subjects, possesses an objective interest in his craft, is not uncultured (he quotes freely in his works from Marx, Engels and Lenin – as well as from Petronius Arbiter, St. Augustine and Adam Smith, among others) – and was a supporter of Oswald Mosley’s fascist movement. The balanced tensions implied by these facts have by and large permitted him to produce a critical and objective book.

On some future occasion it will prove useful to extend Fuller’s analysis and to relate his main conclusions to World War III. For the time being we shall content ourselves with noting a few of his leading observations from among a larger number of very provocative judgments:

In sum, says Fuller, neither side had a viable overall strategy. Hitler improvised from year to year. The aim of the allies was to defeat Hitler. The limitations of this concept are visible today. Does the United States currently have an overall strategy? Obviously not; the problems of material and manpower are immense. Hence the current hesitations. What if the United States should win the war? But who dares think ahead that far? But does Russia have such a strategy? More than the United States, obviously, since she wields political movements in other countries. But even in these movements resides the menace of Titoism. Viewed realistically, her chance of knocking out the United States and still being strong enough to capitalize on it are slim.

This absence of a long-term strategy on the part of the major contestants is no accident – it is simply one more demonstration of the frightful – and frightening – impasse into which modern society has driven itself.

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