Victor Davis Hanson gives the background on Germany’s last attempt to win World War I, then he asks: “What were the lessons of the failed German offensive?”
The fortunes of war can change in days. In late March 1918, the Germans thought the war was won. Three months later, they knew it was lost. Often, the worst moments of war come right before the end, as the last-gasp battles of Waterloo, the Bulge, and Okinawa remind us.
In 2016, an ascendant Islamic State bragged that it had formed a vast new Islamic caliphate. By the end of 2017, ISIS had been bombed to smithereens and routed.
Long-term strategy matters. Without a strategic vision, short-term tactical success means nothing. The advancing Germans had no real idea of what to do next — even if they reached the English Channel. There was never any chance that the British would quit. The British had survived worse at the earlier battles of the Somme and Passchendaele.
In our time, America has never quite determined its strategic aims in the nearly 17-year-old Afghan war. Is it to crush the Taliban? To build a democracy in Afghanistan? To rid the country of terrorist havens? To stop the opium trade? To make Afghanistan economically and militarily self-sufficient? To simply not lose? All these and more have been mentioned as American goals.
Alliances are critical. What did it matter that Germany had finally defeated Russia if at nearly the same time it had provoked an even stronger new enemy in America? The key to denuclearizing North Korea is creating a frontline partnership of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the U.S. — and to flip either China or Russia to our side to ensure that sanctions strangle Pyongyang.
War is decided as much by economics as by soldiers. Germany unleashed a lethal army against the Allies, but its soldiers did not even have enough food or munitions to sustain the offensive after a few weeks. Germany had neither the food nor the factory capacity to conduct war against the combined might of Britain, France, and the United States. In many ways, 1918 Germany was like today’s Russia — formidable on the battlefield, but only for a short duration and without the economic ability to finish what it starts.
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