Comment of the Day: Graydon: Liveblogging World War I: March 24, 1927: John Maynard Keynes in 1927 Looking Back at Winston Churchill on “The Great War”: “War is about either compelling the other party to admit defeat (difficult; that happens in the mind)…
…or destroying their ability to resist you. Everything in the institutional structure of armies is about destroying the ability, because that’s what works reliably.
The Great War was begun with expectations of maneuver that had been proven correct a decade previously. That had been correct since Gustavus Adolphus in the 1630s.
Only industrialization meant war between Great Powers could produce, not meeting engagements and decisive battles, but a continuous front. Once you’ve got a continuous front, you can’t flank. You can’t, generally, assault. (You can attack but the methodology is very very different than what would be understood in 1910 as assault.) The dominance of logistics becomes complete.
The general staffs more or less cognitively collapsed when flanking got taken away; a combination of high average age, immense risk producing great caution, and a complete lack of any kind of coherent theory to set in opposition to the experience of the previous four centuries of horse, guns, and foot.
(The theory got developed between the Great War and Hitler’s War. The Russians had far and away the best doctrine going into Hitler’s War/The Great Patriotic War.)
Combine that with a view of casualties as a cost of doing business, a deep institutional habit of viewing the attack as solely decisive, and a complete lack of reliable intelligence, and you get a vast bloody civilization-wrecking disaster.
None of that’s the preference of any of the General Staffs; they certainly didn’t want any of the results of the Great War. Literal failure to imagine the consequences.
Originally published at www.bradford-delong.com.