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Our New Geo-Patriotism

ISSUE:  Summer 1942

Defense Will Not Win the War. By Lieutenant Colonel W. F. Kernan. Little, Brown and Company. $1.50. America’s Strategy in World Politics. By Nicholas J. Spykman. Harcourt, Brace and Company. $3.75. Strategy for Democracy. By J. Donald Kingsley and David W. Petegorsky. Longmans, Green and Company. $3.00.

We are at a crossroads alike of history and of our relation to the rest of the world. Spring of 1942 finds us in full process of transition from the pre-Pearl Harbor mental state of a bystander—very interested but still a bystander looking on at the development of the current world conflict—to the post-Pearl Harbor mental state of a very active participant in the war. Moreover, we grow suddenly conscious of a world-wide demand, which we too share, that the United States take the lead—not only the military lead, but the political and intellectual lead. As to our enemies, we have no illusions about the opinion in which we are held by the Axis. Our enemies understand fully that we are the most dangerous of all the powers arrayed against the Axis. Others of the alliance may spell Axis stalemate and exhaustion, but it is we who spell emphatic defeat for Hitler, Mussolini and To jo. To ask the United States to defeat the Axis unaided is, to be sure, a large order, perhaps beyond our capacities. But we alone, acting as a unit of the alliance, can guarantee Axis defeat because of our unique combination of technical skill, productive power and man power, plus our vigor in employing these things. (And this in no way detracts from the qualities and resources of our allies.)

The consciousness of this position of ours has stirred a tremendous ferment in this country. This ferment is reflected in current books. Now that the United States of America, only a generation ago a provincial colonial state, has become a world power and a leader among world powers, the word “power” has become a favorite word. The word “strategy” is another. Before our eyes is the spectacular struggle called total war—war not only of generals and troops, but of housewives and radio broadcasters, of bankers and manufacturers, of workers and farmers, each fitting into a colossal picture of organized aggression. And we are at the head of our side of it. Small wonder that everyone has an answer for what we should do—and that every articulate advocate has felt a great impulse to set down his answer upon paper. Of course, in the spring of 1942, all these answers suffer from the fact that, first, they are proposals backed by the desire to win a war and remake a world, and second, they have been set down at a moment of changing ideas.

Colonel W. F. Kernan’s book, for example, which expresses the truism set forth in its title, “Defense Will Not Win the War,” is a protest against ideas that were vanishing even as the book was being written. It is a book written in a fine fervor; it is a book which has already left its dent by penetrating the consciousness of the sluggards who simply would and could not believe that America was assailable. It is the book of a military man who wants action, who wants to find the enemy’s weak spot and hammer at it in the bluntest and most direct way possible—a man who hates any and all things that curb his action. When Kernan assails sea power, it is because he assumes that sea power is tarred with the brush of “defense”; he assails fortification and brass hats and general staffs; he assails the warfare of 1914 to 1918—not because any of these things are really assailable, for they are things about which it is more than dangerous to generalize so broadly. Sea power, for example, may be an absolutely essential ingredient of the kind of overseas offensive that Colonel Kernan would launch, and it may be a great many other things to boot. But Colonel Kernan is a soldier, and for him strategy is the strategy of attacking with the new weapons of land attack that have made so many spectacular gains in land warfare during these last two years and a half. Colonel Kernan wants us to use those weapons, to beat the tar out of the Axis with them; he wants us to take visible ground and hold it—and that is just the way Colonel Kernan ought to feel about his branch.

An interesting companion to the Kernan book is “Strategy for Democracy,” by J. Donald Kingsley and David W. Petegorsky. Like Col. Kernan, these authors, specialists in the political rather than the military phase of the present struggle, want to attack; they believe in an offensive strategy. But for them the offensive is a political offensive, and their book (of which several chapters have been contributed by other eminent specialists in politics) is an argument for the political overcoming of many of the ills and ailments that have brought our civilization to this low and brawling state. In World War terms, this book is built upon the thesis—one that is far from untenable—that Wilson’s fourteen points were more important as weapons in overcoming our enemies than were all the guns and troops of the alliance. This argument holds that if we can offer the people of the world (including our enemies) a better world, one that looks as if it would really work, men will be willing to give up fighting for the sake of organizing that world.

Professor Kingsley and Mr. Petegorsky are inevitably going to meet with a discouraging amount of old-fashioned inertia and older fashioned law of the jungle in the actual historical working out of the war’s problems, and the worst stumbling blocks they meet may well be on our own side. But this, after all, is not a blueprint. It is a discussion, and one that should be read, because it is stimulating and frequently provocative—it is a symbol of healthy, vigorous minds at work on the very baffling problems of our time, and if it challenges other minds and starts more people thinking about things which must be solved by thinking, then it will certainly have done what its authors desired. Readers will find it at once an asset and a drawback of the work that it was written last year, when we were all thinking along lines more theoretical and less sternly realistic than those of 1942. It would be interesting to see a book produced by these authors on the same thesis in 1942. But perhaps it is even more interesting to see this 1941 summing up of their hopes and beliefs as they existed on that fateful Pearl Harbor Sunday.

Professor Nicholas Spykman, the author of “America’s Strategy in World Politics,” joins the authors of the books above mentioned in his advocacy of an offensive strategy. Indeed, the universal readiness for an offensive American strategy is presumably the reason why we reached a point at which we were drawn into the war—and the reason why we will surprise those enemies who believed us hopelessly committed to isolation and “defense.”

Professor Spykman’s book is a study in geo-power. In admirably clear and logical development, it puts us in our geographical place, seen from the global point of view, right in the middle of the enveloping and menacing horns of the threatening Axis. The book is devoted to one theme: how we can use our power to maintain a balance of power in the outer world, not only to make the world safe for our democracy but to make it a world in which America’s place in the sun is the dominant place.

This is good wartime doctrine. This is what we want to believe and what, at heart, all of us are striving for in the year 1942. We’re not going overseas to fight for fun or for theory or to maintain the level we had established before the tight began. At bottom, we believe we are fighting for a bigger and better America as part of a victorious United Nations, and Professor Spykman tells us what a geographical tool we have to work with. These pages explain the “geo” part of the new words like “geo-politics,” “geo-strategy,” and “geo-economics.” Here valleys and rivers, climate and seaports, become part of an unchanging geography in which we, with our new way of doing things, face the age-old problems that led to the great migrations and the great invasions. Here, suddenly, time becomes timeless, and we realize the unending nature of war across the face of grey granite and green field, salt water and sand beach. . . . We realize the heat and passion of war, and the motives that impel men to write books about strategy, even books as admirably cool and impersonal as “America’s Strategy in World Politics,” or as fervent as “Defense Will Not Win the War,” or as full of evolutionary yearning as “Strategy for Democracy.”


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