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Stalingrad On The Euphrates

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Stalingrad On The Euphrates

By Richard Girard 

The sinews of war, a limitless supply of money.  Marcus Tullius Cicero(106–43 B.C.), Roman orator, philosopher.  Philippics, Oration 5, section 5.             

What vast additions to the conveniences and comforts of living might mankind have acquired, if the money spent in wars had been employed in works of public utility; what an extension of agriculture even to the tops of our mountains; what rivers rendered navigable, or joined by canals; what bridges, acqueducts, new roads, and other public works, edifices, and improvements . . . might not have been obtained by spending those millions in doing good, which in the last war have been spent in doing mischief.  Benjamin Franklin (1706–90), U.S. statesman, writer. Letter, 27 July 1783, to Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society, after the American War of Independence (published in Complete Works, vol. 8, ed. by John Bigelow, 1887–88). 

War is a racket.  Major General Smedley Butler, USMC (1881-1940); War is a Racket, 1935.            

I have a near obsession with the history of the Second World War, particularly in the European theaters.  One of the most important questions of that war is what were the turning points; after which the Third Reich could no longer win the war.            

The Battle of Britain was the first time the Nazis were stopped.  The Battle for Moscow was the first time the Wehrmacht was thrown back.  Hitler declaring war on the United States started a countdown to a deluge of material, as America's massive industrial power would be brought to bear against the Axis powers; flooding the Allied Powers with trucks, tanks, planes, food, communications gear, and other material.  But, it was the breaking of the German Wehrmacht at Stalingrad that ended any possibility of Hitler winning the war.            

The Battle for Stalingrad saw the Wehrmacht's Sixth Army, twenty divisions strong, surrounded and obliterated by Soviet forces.  Four hundred thousand German soldiers were killed, wounded or captured; of the captured, only five thousand would ever return to Germany.  This campaign also saw one Italian, one Hungarian, and two Romanian field armies (amounting to 450,000 men) obliterated.  Additionally, one German Army Group (consisting of First Panzer Army and the Seventeenth Army) had barely escaped destruction, losing vast quantities of men and material in the process.  One-quarter of Germany's panzer divisions were crippled or destroyed, starting a process that would see three panzer divisions permanently written off in 1943.            

What was the cause of this catastrophe?  Underestimating Soviet reserves is part of the answer.  Field Marshal von Paulus' (commander of the Nazis' Sixth Army in Stalingrad) ineptitude was another.  Strategic overreach was a third.  But the most important factor in the Nazi's defeat was the intransigent tunnel vision of Adolf Hitler, who wanted desperately to take the city named after his mortal enemy, Josef Stalin.            

The same type of intransigent tunnel vision seems to be affecting President Bush's handling of Iraq.            

I am not saying that I expect American troops in Iraq to be surrounded and destroyed by Iraqi forces.  What I am saying is that the continuous redeployment of men and formations to Iraq (without the benefit of adequate replacements, re-equipment, or training) will break the American military as surely as Stalingrad broke the Wehrmacht.            

The post-Cold War American military was designed (to paraphrase author Tom Clancy in his novel The Bear and The Dragon) to act as a large, vicious dog on a very short leash.  Its size has been reduced by about one-third, enough for peacekeeping duties in concert with our NATO allies, or to provide combat forces to help defend our allies around the world.  However, the American military simply does not have the staying power (in terms of reserves and replacements) to be an occupation force.            

Any military organization's overall capability is dependent on its esprit de corps, the spirit of belonging to something special.  Esprit de corps is developed by discipline and tradition, passed from one generation of military personnel to another.  The sergeants (NCO's) and field officers (majors and lieutenant colonels) are the leavening that keeps any military vital, capable, and strong.  The American military is starting to lose that leaven.            

The disasters in Russia at the gates of Moscow and Stalingrad had reduced the numbers of officers and NCO's  available to the Wehrmacht to the breaking point.  In 1943, the Germans had to reorganize and reduce the size of their Infantry Divisions, from nine battalions of infantry to seven, a reduction of 28 percent.  They simply lacked the required numbers of field officers and NCO's for larger divisions.            

The U.S. Army had a different problem in the 1970's, and early 1980's.  All of the veterans from World War II and Korea had retired.  Many of the promising young officers and NCO's from the Vietnam-era had left the service, disillusioned with the military as a career.  It took more than ten years to rebuild the officer corps and the NCO cadres to any degree of effectiveness.            

Articles have been written about the Army's current inability to retain these vital personnel (Army Faces O-4, O-5 Shortage, Army Times, March 13, 2007; Despite A $168 Billion Budget, Army Faces Cash Crunch, Wall Street Journal, December 12, 2006), and very little is being done to rectify the problem.  Instead, huge amounts of money are being spent on mercenaries, arcane weapons systems, and the privatization of supply and support services.  Extended overseas combat deployments are breaking up families, and 25% of returning soldiers have been reported having PTSD and other mental health problems.  Many men and women who had chosen the military as their career, are now reconsidering their options. 

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Richard Girard is a polymath and autodidact whose greatest desire in life is to be his generations' Thomas Paine. He is an FDR Democrat, which probably puts him with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in the current political spectrum. His answer to (more...)

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