There was no greater victory for the United States than the tumultuous win at the End of World War Two. Right?
Well, yeah. More or less. Except… We lost Berlin. We lost Prague.
We won the war, but lost the peace.
A battle of political wills had been raging in the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force ever since the 101st Airborne set parachuted-foot on French soil: Should the Allies advance on through France and into Germany along a narrow, concentrated front with a spear-head aimed at Berlin, or should it be done more cautiously along a broader, wider front?
Those who fought the actual war, and slogged through the blood and the mud like Omar Bradley and Generals Patton and Hodge advocated for a swift, piercing blow along a narrow front– the quicker they got in, slit Hitler’s throat, and got out, would mean fewer American casualties, and, they all noted, likely result in a blunting of Soviet advancement through central Europe.
But, those that led the war from behind desks and drivers of their limousines, such as Generals Eisenhower, Smith and Montgomery were more concerned with the political ramifications than the military ones, and argued for a broad, slower advance.
Well, first of all, there was general surprise at the velocity of the advance. Churchill himself was never fully confident that a toe-hold could be carved out in Normandy, and as a prickly result, no final plan was cemented once the Atlantic Wall had been breached. That, and, once Operation Cobra had blown a hole in the hedgerows, and the Nazis began to flee back to the Fatherland, SHAEF and Eisenhower fell for one of the oldest tricks in the book:
Believing he was dealing with a rational enemy.
It wasn’t so much that Adolf Hitler was underestimated. It’s not even that the information about the guy wasn’t out there to be read and digested. More simply, Hitler would say some of the most outrageous things that defied generally understood norms, and they would be chalked up to some sort of misunderstanding between the enlightened West, and the brute force of the ancient Teutonic mindset. And there, the logic crumbled.
On the one hand, the Striped Pants Boys at the State Department and even in the War Department insisted that, when Hitler went off on one of his tirades about conquest and militarism, we couldn’t understand the mind of the German warrior class that was steeped in Wagner and Fredrick the Great and dreams of Valhalla, and thus we had to make allowances for our misconceptions. We needed to understand them.
And, on the other hand, they would insist that Hitler was a man of peace who simply wanted what was historically Germanic, or to correct some of the excesses of Versailles.
The intellectual tension between the two views, though, is obviously infinite. The two mindsets were irreconcilable. The lack of simple logic in not understanding this was stunning. It was delusional. Hitler, for example, had waxed rhapsodic in his dreary tome Mien Kampf about the inexorable need of Germany to acquire “living space” (“lebensraum“) from the lands of the east.
Never mind that scores of millions of folks already lived there. But, the entire world-wide diplomatic and military corp was stunned when Hitler attacked Russia in the waning months of 1940. What did the world expect? Who else but Russia was in the east? Hitler simply did what he said he would do. Nothing more, nothing less.
But, this line of cheap intellectualism infected the American diplomatic and military mind to a degree that one might recognize in the current political battles here in 2012 America. But, more on that in a moment.
Still, the debate raged: Narrow, concentrated front (Patton), or wide, methodical front (Eisenhower)?
Patton was the man of action, of calculated risk based on real-life experience. Eisenhower was the man of learned diplomacy, of coalition-building and executive decision-making. He was also something Patton was not: A repository for ALL the information– diplomatic, intelligence, and supply. Eisenhower knew everything.
And Eisenhower assumed, of course, that the intelligence was correct.
One of the most fulsome bits of on-going information that poured in to SHAEF, especially while the allied advance was gobbling up ten or twenty miles a day through the heart of Germany was that, once Hitler’s government eventually collapsed, that the German High Command would high-tail it out of Berlin, and scramble for either southern Bavaria or western Austria. There, it was widely rumored, in the high and impenetrable mountains, the Nazis had built an entire defensive fortress near Berchtesgaden, from which they would conduct a guerrilla war, once the Nazi government had fallen.This fortress was called the “National Redoubt”.
The best and the brightest in our military intelligence services were convinced that Hitler would go to the ends of the earth to fight for his “thousand-year Reich”. These military scientists read the ongoing cables that our Enigma machines were decoding, and they all pointed to this. Certainly, Hitler would eventually be cornered like a rat, and he would sue for peace, if only to save his beloved Fatherland from ultimate annihilation.
So, it made sense, Eisenhower was sure, for the Allies to move along a broad front and divide their forces, allow the Russians to take Berlin, and send our boys down to Bavaria to capture and secure the rump ends of the Hitler government. Besides, the Russians were our good allies, and they would play fair, right?
That’s what all the military and diplomatic establishment said. And, if Eisenhower was anything, he was the epitome of the Establishment. So, the best advice of all the professionals was, basically: Hitler is a garden-variety Conqueror. In the end, he would save his countryman from total destruction, and head for the Redoubt. From there, he would direct the insurgency that would harass and kill the occupying forces in the name of the Fatherland.
After all, it only made sense that Hitler would do this. Eisenhower would do the same thing, certainly, in Hitler’s jodhpurs: He might sacrifice himself, ultimately, for the life of His Nation.
Of course, in accepting this line of decoded military intelligence, SHAEF and Eisenhower had to reject another: That Hitler had embarked upon a scorched-earth policy that would deny the evil “Jewish world banking conspiracy” any Germanic plunder amid the ruins. Nobody but a madman, it was thought, would do such a thing to a nation he had led with such (apparent, to the untrained eye of a tyranny-watcher) devotion and love. No leader would ever order the pastures and fields poisoned, the coal mines blown up, the dams and power-plants destroyed, the churches and schools and hospitals and museums set afire. But, that was the road Hitler chose. No doubt. And absolutely no Redoubt.
If it hadn’t been for a key corps of German officers finally finding the eggs to disobey The Fuhrer, Germany would have been laid waste as it’s Army crumbled.
America was fighting an irrational force. But our Establishment Military and Diplomatic corps didn’t see it that way until it was too late.
No, Hitler was going to Hell, and, as far as this demonic monster was concerned, so could the rest of Germany go there with him.
But, Eisenhower, right until the very end, when the 101st Airborne was leisurely sipping Herman Goering’s prized liquors on the veranda of the Eagle’s Nest high atop the Obersalzburg, believed that Hitler was soon to be found pouring over dispatches and breathing the stale air of his bunker in his Alpine redoubt.
So, we divided our forces, and surrendered Berlin, and East Germany to 65 years of darkness behind the Iron Curtain. We subjected all of Eastern Europe to this darkness, when we could have easily secured Czechoslovakia, and perhaps Bulgaria and Hungary, if only we’d seen how crucial it was to take Berlin as quickly as possible. Churchill had seen it; Patton had seen it; Hodge had seen it.
But, the Military Establishment did not. They saw only conventional wisdom, military theory, Allied jealousies, realpolitik argumentativeness, and, most importantly, saw and absorbed the adroit lies that poured out of Paul Josef Goebbels Propaganda Ministry– and believed them.
As Omar N. Bradley said, “the legend of the Redoubt grew into so exaggerated a scheme that I am astonished we could have believed it as innocently as we did. But while it persisted, this legend of the Redoubt was too ominous a threat to be ignored“. So, those at the top of our Military Establishment didn’t ignore it, our forces were divided, and the seeds of nearly 70 years of deadly Cold War were sown.
And herein lay the lessons for Team Romney…
To all on Governor Romney’s staff: Expect the unexpected. In this war to save our nation for our children, and our grandchildren (for war it indeed is), don’t allow the enemy to divide your forces. Don’t allow his propaganda to drive your policy. For example, don’t respond to his putrid lies about the “Republican war on Women”– when Obama is the one waging war on the middle class.
And mostly, don’t pretend you are fighting a war against a garden-variety politician. Barack Obama and his vast campaign army are unlike anything we’ve thus far witnessed in American elective politics.
So, treat him that way. Don’t expect him to do what YOU would do. He will do the opposite. Don’t think for a minute you can chase him up the hills to his Redoubt– he will leave a desolate, scorched earth behind his Democratic wake. He will stop at nothing– so, anticipate it. Define HIM, don’t let him define you.
This will be especially hard for Romney– he of the Eisenhower-school of Establishment Operations. This isn’t a war of gentile alliances, op-research, oh-so-kind-and-clever repartee. Certainly, Barack Obama doesn’t see it that way. Treat this election like a grudge-match to the bloody death, because, I assure you, Camp Obama does.
Just listen to what he say. Listen. Devour his words. Read his writing. Don’t let “Dreams From My Father” sit unread on your mantlepiece, like “Mien Kampf” did in so many German homes. We know –we know— where Barack Obama wants to take the United States.
..and it ain’t to the National Redoubt.