Grand Strategy, Part I
Whether it is a coincidence or not, it is nevertheless a fact that [our] decreasing moral sense has steadily kept pace with the growth in armament; for as explosives have gone up, morality has gone down. Treaties are now scraps of paper, war aims weathercocks which change with each political breeze; pledged words are sugared lies; honor between allies, veiled deceit, and obligations towards neutrals implements of betrayal. – MAJOR GENERAL J.F.C. FULLER
Strategy is all around us. People strategize in business, sports, politics, and war. Of course, war is one of the most consequential human activities. In his book On War, Carl von Clausewitz wrote, “Strategy is nothing without battle; because battle is the agent which it uses, the means that it applies. Just as tactics is the use of armed forces in a battle, strategy is the use of battle, — i.e., the linking of the individual battles to a whole, to war’s ultimate end.” And what is war’s ultimate end? It is, says Clausewitz, “the political object of the war.”
Strategy is tricky because your political object can change in the midst of battle. Take, for example, the American Civil War. Abraham Lincoln’s initial political objective was to “save the Union.” As the war progressed, Lincoln realized that slavery was the South’s Achilles heel, especially as Southern independence would ultimately depend on an alliance with Great Britain (where the Slavery Abolition Act had passed Parliament in 1833). Thus, Lincoln changed his grand strategy, announcing the Emancipation Proclamation of 22 September 1862, declaring that slaves held by the rebel states would be “thenceforward, and forever free.” As a result of this proclamation, foreign public opinion turned decisively in favor of the Union. From that point forward, the South could no longer hope to receive military assistance from the British or French. (Henry Adams, whose father was U.S. Ambassador to Britain at the time, wrote, “The Emancipation Proclamation has done more for us than all our former victories and all our diplomacy.”)
As an example of grand strategy, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation demonstrates how wars involve moral and philosophical questions. Even if we are not aware of these questions ourselves, politics is a battleground of moral and philosophical controversy around which “fighting collectivities” coalesce. In 1862 Americans were divided over slavery. In 2021 Americans are divided over abortion, election fraud, and whether the country should have a border. As politics is rife with disagreement, politics is the very ground of war. That is why Clausewitz says that the “political object” of a war is “the original motive” for fighting, and “must be an essential factor in the product.” He further states, “The smaller the sacrifice we demand from our opponent, the smaller … will be the means of resistance which he will employ…. Further, the smaller our political object, the less value shall we set upon it, and the more easily shall we be induced to give it up altogether.” The political object, noted Clausewitz, “will be the standard for determining both the aim of the military force and also the amount of effort to be made.”
The nature of the disagreement leading to war, and the moral questions involved, determine the intensity of the conflict. Will it be bloody or prolonged? Will the resulting peace be lasting or of short duration? The enmity generated by war is different than adversarial relations generated by other forms of competition. This bears careful consideration. The political theorist Carl Schmitt wrote, “The enemy is not merely any competitor or just any partner of a conflict in general. He is also not the private adversary whom one hates. An enemy exists only when, at least potentially, one fighting collectivity of people confronts a similar collectivity. The enemy [then] is solely the public enemy, because everything that has a relationship to such a collectivity of men … becomes public by virtue of such a relationship.”
War itself is an extremity of politics. Within war, the furthest extremity would be a war of extermination. How this might come about is not easy to foresee. But the existence of weapons of mass destruction today grants to political extremism (i.e., totalitarianism) the means to carry war toward what Clausewitz called “the utmost use of force.” Logically, if an enemy’s “political object” is morally crazy, his goal might be to wipe you out. A normal human being would not think of such a project. Yet prescriptions for mass murder can be found in the writings of Marx and Engels, in the secret protocols of the Soviet and Red Chinese militaries, and in Hitler’s private conversations (see Hitler’s Table Talk, 1941-1944). Mass murder is a recurring feature of totalitarian regimes. In the USSR there was the eradication of the Kulaks and the Ukrainian genocide. The Chinese communists are currently engaged in a genocide against Uyghurs. Hitler massacred Jews and planned to massacre Slavs. In fact, Hitler planned to exterminate the four million inhabitants of Moscow and cover this greatest of Russian cities with a manmade lake. (Hitler spoke of this plan on 16 January 1941.) One might ask why totalitarian politicians engage in mass murder. This brings us back to underlying questions of morality and philosophy. If we study the philosophies of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler and Mao, etc., we will find an undercurrent of diabolical thinking.
Stalin famously and succinctly explained why mass murder might be appealing to a dictator. He said, “Death is the solution to all problems. No man – no problem.” Since politics is a field of moral and philosophic disagreement, many “problems” are bound to arise. For people without moral boundaries, like Stalin and Hitler, the “political object” of a major war might naturally incline toward genocide on an undreamt-of scale. Keeping in mind Stalin’s dictum – “No man – no problem,” Schmitt wrote, “The political is the most intense and extreme antagonism, and every concrete antagonism becomes that much more political the closer it approaches the most extreme point, that of the friend-enemy grouping.” The substance of the political, noted Schmitt, always involves a “concrete antagonism.” In society these antagonisms wax and wane; yet these antagonisms are always present, beneath the surface or in plain view.
According to Schmitt, “all political concepts, images, and terms have a polemical meaning. They are focused on a specific conflict and are bound to a concrete situation; the result (which manifests itself in war and revolution) is a friend-enemy grouping” which, he says, turns into an “empty and ghostlike abstraction when this situation disappears.” He reminds us that words like “state, republic, society, class, as well as sovereignty … are incomprehensible if one does not know exactly who is to be affected, combated, refuted or negated by such a term.” In their politics, people like Stalin and Hitler knew exactly who was to be “refuted and negated.”
Fighting collectivities – be they nations or political factions within nations – exist all around us. Every political disagreement between “fighting collectivities” can turn violent and devolve into open warfare. In terms of grand strategy, Clausewitz explained that war “is an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will.” In other words, one side or the other wants to win an argument by force of arms. In the case of the American Civil War, Lincoln’s grand strategy relied on a moral argument involving slavery; but even so, the war itself was concluded by battles and killing, ending only with the surrender of the various Confederate generals.
The era of the nineteenth century and the American Civil War was very different from the era that began toward the end of World War I. We might mistakenly think of it as a more innocent time, since the advent of totalitarianism was several decades in the future. Yet the animating doctrines of the Marxist dictators of the twentieth century were then forming. The progression from chivalry to total war was gradual. Modernity’s rationalization of economics and administration encompassed a questioning of moral absolutes. Thus, the American Civil War was something of a stepping stone. In his essay, “Southern Chivalry and Total War,” Richard M. Weaver noted, “When John Pope’s Virginia campaign gave the South its first intimation that the North was committed to total war, the reaction was indignation and dismay.” The Old South was imbued with notions of chivalry, which put certain limits on warfare. The North, being modern and more “scientific” in its views, set chivalry aside. General Lee wrote, “Pope must be suppressed.” From that point forward the South saw itself fighting against “an outlawed mode of warfare.”
Weaver argued that a decline in morality began after the Middle Ages. Communism and Nazism merely represented the extreme ends in a scale of progressive moral disintegration. Sherman’s march through Georgia and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima can be tracked on this same scale of decline. If American grand strategy was not as evil as Hitler’s or Stalin’s, it was nonetheless far from being innocent. The code of chivalry challenges the soldier to superior moral conduct in the midst of the murderous passions of war. This code turns out to have great utility when making peace; for a mistreated enemy is bound to seek revenge, and then you are left with Stalin’s dictum (and Hitler’s plan to cover Moscow with a lake). Weaver noted that the depredations of generals Sherman, Sheridan and Hunter, who systematically ravaged and punished civilians, made it seem as if a fundamental support of civilization “had been knocked out.” The method of warfare pioneered by the Northern generals was, indeed, immoral.
Of the generals who waged the Civil War, Ulysses S. Grant was singled out for special praise by the British military historian and strategist Major Gen. J.F.C. Fuller. It is also of interest, that William Sherman was praised by Capt. B.H. Liddell Hart. In 1929, Fuller argued that Grant was the strategist who won the American Civil War. In 1929, Liddell Hart argued that Sherman won the war. Whether it was Grant or Sherman who deserved highest praise, or the unique partnership of both men, the innovations of these generals changed the nature of war thereafter. As Weaver explained, “In this war the side which more completely abjured the rules of chivalric combat won, and the way was cleared for modernism, with its stringency, its abstractionism, and its impatience with sentiment.” Weaver showed how this spirit was directly transmitted from the Union generals to the Prussian generals. “At a banquet given by the Chancellor [Bismarck] in 1870 General Sheridan, who had been with the Prussian staff in the capacity of unofficial observer [during the Franco-Prussian War], remarked that he favored treating noncombatants with the utmost rigor. He expressed the opinion that ‘the people must be left nothing but their eyes to weep with over the war.’ The auditor of this statement confessed himself struck by its brutality but added that he thought it might bear consideration….”
Having used the example of the American Civil War to briefly illustrate how grand strategy and military strategy are deeply connected with moral questions, and having derived a few insightful quotes from Clausewitz and Schmitt, we are ready to dive into the grand strategies of Lenin, Stalin (and their epigones, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin). According to Clausewitz, the “political object” is the “original motive” of a given war and shapes the very way in which the war is to be waged. With regard to the so-called “socialist camp,” the “political object” has always been world revolution. This “object” was first proposed in 1848 by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in The Communist Manifesto. It was updated and further elaborated by Lenin and Stalin, and then by Mao Zedong in China. Essentially, the “political object” of the communists has always been to violently eradicate the legal, moral and religious structures of Western “bourgeois” civilization. Because their “political object” included, from the outset, the eradication of morality, communist grand strategy has always relied on terrorism, mass murder, bad faith and outright lies. In other words, their grand strategy admits of no moral limitations (on method) whatseover. The evil nature of the communist bloc (i.e., socialist camp) has been brought into focus by George Orwell (in 1984), by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (in The Gulag Archipelago), by Igor Shafarevich (in The Socialist Phenomenon), and by Eric Voegelin (in Science, Politics and Gnosticism). (Also see, The Black Book of Communism.)
It can be argued that Western strategists, in reckoning their Eastern adversaries, have forgotten with whom they are dealing. The communists in Russia and China are part of a global network of political crime and subversion. Whatever their internal squabbles in the past, they are working together, even now, for socialism on every continent. They are coordinating their policies in Africa, Latin America and inside the United States. Their inhuman ruthlessness was best characterized by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who described Soviet socialism as a “sewage disposal system” for disposing of human beings. As George Orwell said of man’s socialist destiny, “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – fore ever.” Igor Shafarevich concluded, at the end of his book on socialism, that “one could regard the death of mankind as the final result to which the development of socialism leads.” And then there is Eric Voegelin, who described Karl Marx as a charlatan and a liar. “Yes,” noted Voegelin, “Marx was an intellectual swindler.”
The Soviet State, founded by Lenin and built by Stalin, was a criminal enterprise. The grand strategy of the Soviet Union shared with its instigators a criminal character, and must be viewed in that light. One might ask how the Soviet regime managed to get away with so many crimes for so many decades; but this is not hard to understand. As Hannah Arendt explained, “The reason why totalitarian regimes can get so far in realizing a fictitious, topsy-turvey world is that the outside nontotalitarian world, which always comprises a great part of the population of the totalitarian country itself, indulges also in wishful thinking and shirks reality in the face of real insanity.”
As crazy as Moscow or Beijing’s “political object” may sound, the madmen in question are nonetheless shrewd. The concepts which they inherited from Stalin and Lenin may be immoral and crazy, but there is method in what they have done. And we can see, quite clearly, that their bag of tricks is far from empty.
The question for the strategist, at this juncture, is that which Robert E. Lee might have asked himself on seeing General Pope’s conduct in the Civil War. Does a breach of morality in warfare logically drive out all moral considerations in grand strategy? Is global politics trending toward a war of mass destruction and mass extermination? Does the wickedness of Beijing’s policy, for example, require a reciprocal wickedness from ourselves? Is there a way to oppose the logic of progressive moral corruption in policy? Or is civilization doomed to descend into genocidal violence and barbarism?
Grand Strategy, Part II (China versus the West)
In Chinese history, in the replacement of dynasties, the ruthless have always won and the benevolent have always failed. – GENERAL CHI HAOTIAN
The great strategist of ancient China, Sun Tzu, offered “sage” advice to military commanders. Central to his teaching was the art of deception. Sun Tzu said, “All warfare is based on deception.” He wrote of holding “out baits to entice the enemy,” feigning disorder and crushing him. Thus, Sun Tzu may be described as the sage of misdirection, a military trickster, and a master of cunning.
According to scholars of the Denma Translation Group, Sun Tzu’s emphasis on deception stands “outside the bounds of conventional morality.” Here we find no moralizing, no concept of honor, and no chivalry. Everything is about victory. Sun Tzu believed in trusting the self-interest of those you intend to manipulate. If you know what they want, you can make use of them. Sun Tzu warned against open aggression. If you commit open aggression, you give your game away. The idea is to minimize resistance at every opportunity, employing treachery if necessary.
The Denma scholars noted, the sage commander “is not a conventional model citizen. He is willing to do whatever is required to bring about victory, including many things that might not normally be considered acceptable acts for a sage. He uses spies, deceives and throws his troops into death ground. He holds no standard of behavior save what will bring the genuine victory….” The sage commander, they continue, “acts without care for others’ opinions of his methods….”
“In fact,” the Denma scholars stated, “one cannot be sure that any activity is outside the sage commander’s arsenal of behavior when victory is at stake. He determines all his actions in relation to the objective of taking the whole.” This is no modest object. No weapon is ruled out. No method is too foul. “As the text tells us,” noted the Denma scholars, a general may “set fire to people (chapter 12) and even kill the enemy general if necessary to attain victory without bringing his or the enemy’s troops into the danger of a full battle.”
What is the boundary of these outrageous actions? “What distinguishes them from the brutal, self-centered actions of the tryrant?” The justification for the ruthlessness of the sage commander – according to Sun Tzu – is that “He seeks only to preserve the people.” Thus, like our modern communists, he is a “humanitarian,” a hero of the little people, and a savior.
Another important Chinese political thinker and strategist was Han Fei-tzu, the leading philosopher of China’s legalist school. According to Professor Wing-tsit Chan, “The legalist school was the most radical of all ancient Chinese schools. It rejected the moral standards of [the] Confucianists … in favor of power.” The only authority the legalists recognized was that of a powerful ruler. They sought to use strict laws to control the population, employing a system of rewards and punishments. “According to their theory, aggression, war, and regimentation would be used without hesitation so long as they contributed to the power of the ruler,” Wing-tsit noted. “It is not surprising that they were instrumental in setting up the dictatorship of Ch’in, in unifying China in 221 B.C., and in instituting the tightest regimentation of life and thought in Chinese history.”
The first emperor of unified China was a tyrant who greatly admired Han Fei-tzu and was, in his reign, guided by legalist scholars. Although Han Fei-tzu was forced to drink poison by jealous colleagues, his writings formed the foundation of the Ch’in emperor’s brutal regime. After a reign of fifteen years, which included the burning of books and violence against the people, the first Ch’in emperor fell. Although the legalist school died out, its precepts have nonetheless been frequently revived in support of despotism (for which Han’s precepts are ideally suited).
Chinese modernists and communists have sometimes praised legalism for its opposition to mysticism and the “vain platitudes” of morality. Han Fei-tzu was the great synthesizer of legalism. His writing style was almost sarcastic in its wit. Accepting that people are bad by nature, Han wrote, “If we had to depend on an arrow being absolutely straight by nature, there would be no arrow in a hundred generations.” Han did not believe in kindness, since “it is the affectionate mother who has spoiled sons.” People can be molded to obedience by what he called “awe-inspiring power.” An enlightened ruler, he said, “does not value people who are naturally good….”
The conclusion may be drawn, in terms of grand strategic choices, that the Chinese people are unfortunate in having sages who make Machiavelli look like a saint by comparison. The strategic ideas of Sun Tzu and the “political object” of Han Fei-tzu continue to influence the thinking of modern Chinese rulers. The founder of the People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong, said: “Every communist must grasp the truth. Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” Mao also said, “The seizure of power by armed force, the settlement of the issue by war, is the central task and the highest form of revolution. This Marxist-Leninist principle of revolution holds good universally, for China and all other countries.”
Mao’s words belong to the spirit of Sun Tzu and Han Fei-tzu, and to that ruthless approach underscored by General Chi Haotian (in his secret speech on killing 200 million Americans with biological weapons). There is a continuing theme in the history of Chinese grand strategic thought. It is the idea that strategy and morality should have nothing to do with one another. The goal of the strategist is victory at all costs. Morality has no place in politics and war. Ruthlessness always wins. Therefore, morality is of no account. If winning requires wickedness, then wickedness it shall be – and the wicked shall prevail. We should not be surprised to find this idea reflected in Chinese history.
Turning from Chinese military thought and policy, toward European military thought, we find something different. Wicked rulers exist in Western history, to be sure. Men are not angels and, as Jacob Burckardt once said, “Power is evil.” Therefore, said the sages of the West, power must be limited. Lord Acton famously wrote that “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.” He was encapsulating one of the central precepts of Europe’s ancient political science (see Polybius’s history and Cicero’s Republic). Here we find ideas of liberty. Here is a political tradition built on notions of self-limitation and political accountability.
This extraordinary heritage is supported by the moral training of armed men; that is, the persons who wage war and thereby maintain order in society. Henry Hallam’s three volume history, Europe During the Middle Ages, tells us that “the best school of moral discipline which the middle ages afforded was the institution of chivalry.” Hallam goes on to say that even the most skeptical modern writers have to admit the “decisive influence” of chivalry on “human improvement.” Hallam wrote, “The more deeply it is considered, the more we shall become sensible of its importance.” Hallam said three “powerful spirits” have, throughout history, moved the “moral sentiments and energies of mankind.” These three spirits, listed in order, are: Liberty, religion, and honor. According to Hallam, “It was the principal business of chivalry to animate and cherish the last of these three.”
Is it possible to bring warfare into closer alignment with moral teachings? Hallam claimed that the institution of chivalry preserved an “exquisite sense of honor.” As far back as the reign of Charlemagne, noted Hallam, “we find a military distinction that appears in fact as well as name, to have given birth” to chivalry. Hallam tells us that “Certain feudal tenants … were bound to serve on horseback, equipped with a coat of mail. These were called Caballarii, from which the world of chevaliers is an obvious corruption.” The mounted warrior was the premier warrior of that age. “We may … observe that these distinctive advantages above ordinary combatants were probably the sources of that remarkable valor and that keen thirst for glory, which became the essential attributes of a knightly character,” wrote Hallam.
The knight was a warrior who sought moral excellence. “The soul of chivalry was individual honor,” noted Hallam, and honor is strict adherence to what is right. “This solitary and independent spirit of chivalry, dwelling, as it were, upon a rock, and disdaining injustice or falsehood from a consciousness of internal dignity, without any calculation of their consequences, is not unlike what we sometimes read of Arabian chiefs or the North American Indians. These nations, so widely remote from each other, seem to partake of that moral energy, which, among European nations … was excited by the spirit of chivalry. But the most beautiful picture that was ever portrayed of this character is the Achilles of Homer, the representative of chivalry in its most general form, with all its sincerity and unyielding rectitude, all its courtesies and munificence.”
Chivalry encouraged men to be heroes. It was transformative. Thomas Carlyle, in his book, On Heroes and Hero Worship, underscored the importance of sincerity and honor to heroism. He further pointed out the importance of heroism to mankind. Providence, he said, used heroes to move history toward the good. Without heroes, he added, the human race would amount to nothing. The hero upholds truth and truthfulness, honor and justice. Such ideals were once deeply ingrained in the Western mind.
According to Hallam, chivalry was mixed with Christianity in the course of the Crusades. In the twelfth century, respect for women became part of the code. As Hallam Explained, “A great respect for the female sex had always been a remarkable characteristic of the northern nations. The German women were high-spirited and virtuous; qualities which might be causes or consequences of the veneration with which they were regarded.” Hallam added, “The love of God and the ladies was enjoined as a single duty. He who was faithful and true to his mistress was held sure of salvation in the theology of castles though not of cloisters.”
Chivalry, said Hallam, elevated the moral standard of Europe. It imbued the man of force – the man of war – with a moral vision and a beautiful code of conduct. “Breach of faith,” noted Hallam, “and especially of express promise, was held a disgrace that no valor could redeem.” Hallam calls this “one of the most striking changes produced by chivalry.” The honorable warrior, therefore, saw treachery as “the usual vice of savage as well as corrupt nations.” According to Hallam, “A knight was unfit to remain a member of the order if he violated his faith” or was ill-acquainted with courtesy. Here we find, for the first time in history, a code of military conduct for the humane treatment of prisoners, generosity toward the weak, and “an active sense of justice.”
Today, of course, chivalry is almost completely dead. It was Edmund Burke, during the French Revolution, who composed a funeral oration for chivalry in his commentary on the rabble’s mistreatment of Marie Antoinette (the Queen of France): “I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. – But the age of chivalry is gone. – that of sophisters, economists and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever. Never, never more, shall we behold the generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom. The unbought grace of life, the cheap defense of nations, the nurse of manly sentiment and heroic enterprise is gone! It is gone, that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honor, which felt a stain like a wound, which inspired courage whilst it mitigated ferocity, which ennobled whatever it touched, and under which vice itself lost half its evil, by losing all its grossness.”
Burke believed that Europe owned much of its grandeur to chivalry. He warned, “ If it should ever be totally extinguished, the loss I fear will be great. It is this which has given its character to modern Europe. It is this which has distinguished it under all its forms of government, and distinguished it to its advantage, from the states of Asia….”
China and India (in Burke’s time) had sunk into corruption and degradation. Islam had collapsed in on itself. Even now, the rotten shabbiness and corrupt expediency of Chinese politics, with its criminal leaders and labor camps, tells us of a world without effective traditions of chivalry, without the imposition of moral limitations on those in power. And now, the same course awaits the West as it “Chinafies.” As our moral traditions are forgotten, as we mock chivalry in favor of political correctness, the same terrible fate will overcome Europe and America; for civilization is, at its foundation, a moral proposition.
Consider where we have arrived. We labor under the weight of the Chinese pandemic, with Beijing’s cretinous minion in the White House. What would we give now for a little honor in high places? Burke’s words point to all the elements needed for our civilization’s renewal. Here is the very ground of grand strategy. Before one can even have a strategy at all, one must have real men – not masses, not bureaucratic nonentities, not lying politicians, not pregnant women warriors (advanced now, as an ideal, by Biden).
Burke’s words have lost none of their relevance. The revolution he opposed has morphed, has evolved, into something larger and more wicked than before. This revolution is underway here, in the United States. It is near its completion, in fact. Consider how Burke’s words apply to us, when he said: “But now all is to be changed. All the pleasing illusions, which made power gentle, and obedience liberal, which harmonized the different shades of life, and which, by a bland assimilation, incorporated into politics the sentiments which beautify and soften private society are to be dissolved by this new conquering empire of light and reason. All the decent drapery of life is to be rudely torn off. All the super-added ideas, furnished from the wardrobe of the moral imagination, which the heart owns, and the understanding ratifies, as necessary to cover the defects of our naked shivering nature, and to raise it to dignity in our own estimation, are to be exploded as ridiculous, absurd, and antiquated fashion.”
General Chi Haotian said, in his infamous speech of twenty years ago, “death is the engine that moves history forward.” How Chi’s words contrast with those of Burke! It is the contrast of two political traditions. One is Chinese, the other is European. Some will say, that to oppose China, we must become like them. We must adopt a revolutionary or Asian model and put away our old-fashioned Eureopean ideas. “On the scheme of this barbarous philosophy,” wrote Burke, “which is the offspring of cold hearts and muddy understandings, and which is as void of solid wisdom, as it is destitute of all taste and elegance, laws are to be supported only by their own terrors, and by the concern, which each individual may find in them, from his own private speculations, or … his own private interests. In the groves of their academy, at the end of every visto, you see nothing but the gallows. Nothing is left which engages the affections…. On the principles of this mechanic philosophy, our institutions can never be embodied…. There ought to be a system in every nation which a well-formed mind would be disposed to relish. To make us love our country our country ought to be lovely.”
This is why grand strategy must look beyond strategy, toward ultimate ends. In suggesting this, I am not seeking a world of moral perfection. I am only asking for a return to older principles. Those who seek a world of perfection are actually dangerous. They are the legalists of ancient China and the communists of modern China. To build a perfect world is the ready excuse of those pursuing power for power’s sake. Burke warned against the ruthless pursuit of power in politics. Power, he said, “will survive the shock in which manners and opinions perish; and it will find other and worse means for support.” This is exactly what happened in China. If we abandon honor and religion and liberty for the sake of power, Burke warned, “plots and assassinations will be anticipated by preventive murder and preventive confiscation, and that long roll of grim and bloody maxims, which form the political code of all power, not standing on its own honor,” will find honor extinct in the minds of men. Then we would have no compass by which to govern ourselves. We would not know which port to steer for. What good would any strategy do us, then?
Grand Strategy, Part III (1939-1940)
But the Second World War was only a phase – though an important one – in the realization of Lenin’s grand strategy to subjugate the capitalist … nations…. The ‘worldwide anti-imperialist struggle’ [later] was … concentrated on the U.S.A. – especially by mobilizing the Third World against that nation – once again in accordance with the thoughts of Lenin. – ERNST TOPITSCH
To understand where we are today, in terms of grand strategy, it is useful to begin with the history of the last world war. In his remarkable Origins of the Second World War, A.J.P. Taylor says the conflict originated in a dispute “between the three Western Powers over the settlement of Versailles….” He also called it “a war which had been implicit since the moment when the first [world] war ended.” What Taylor didn’t say was that the only country with a viable grand strategy at the outset of the war was the Soviet Union. Neither Germany nor the Allies had properly thought out the consequences of their policies, or the short-sightedness of their strategies. On the other hand, the leaders of the Soviet Union had worked out their basic strategy twenty years before the war began. This claim may seem incredible, but it can be proved out of quotations from Lenin’s Collected Works.
World War II began on 1 September 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland. As a consequence of this invasion, on 3 September 1939, France and Britain declared war on Germany. On 17 September the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east. Having declared war on Germany, France and Britain did not dare declare war on the Soviet Union. They were already facing serious challenges in preparing to fight Germany. Adding to their troubles, by going to war against Stalin, would have put them in an impossible position.
Note what followed from the start of the war: France and Britain were unable to render assistance to Poland as they were unprepared to effectively attack Germany from the West. On 27 September 1939 Warsaw (the capital of Poland) fell to the Germans as 140,000 Polish troops were taken prisoner. German and Soviet troops divided Poland along a demarcation line. On 30 November Stalin’s armies invaded Finland, a democracy. The allies were upset by this Soviet aggression, but they did nothing to thwart Stalin. All their efforts were focused on Hitler, who served as Stalin’s lightning rod. Consequently, Stalin was free to invade country after country. In 1940, the Soviet Union would invade Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, and eastern Romania – without any real opposition.
To understand how this extraordinary advantage accrued to Moscow, we will turn to the writings of Ernst Topitsch, a professor of philosophy at Graz University during the 1980s, and a German veteran of the Eastern Front. He fought in one of the divisions that perished at the Battle of Stalingrad. “I am, admittedly, not a historian,” he wrote, “nor can I offer any new documents in support of the theories proposed; but … widely-known documents may reveal to the outsider surprising connections which may hitherto have been overlooked; solutions may be found to problems which have been blocking the path of research for some considerable time.” [p.2]
As a student of the Greek historian Thucydides, and as someone who pondered the meaning of the war for decades, Topitsch saw a number of truths which mainstream historians never bothered to notice. France and Britain are generally considered the “good guys” at the war’s outset. Yet their approach alternated between appeasement and exacerbating the Polish crisis, as Taylor’s history shows. London and Paris did not understand that they had over-committed to Poland, and were in no position to do any good – morally or militarily – under the circumstances. Hitler seems quite unbalanced as well, forgetting that British public opinion had turned against him after his forces entered Prague in March 1939, making the Czech rump state into a “protectorate of the Reich.” Because of this, the British leaders could no longer appease Hitler, even if they wanted to. Naturally, Hitler is blamed as the “evil genius” of the war, whose “violent expansion and aggression” is today seen as the principal cause of all that followed. Here Topitsch disagrees. He tells us there was a greater evil genius responsible for the war; namely, Josef Stalin.
In writing this, Topitsch makes clear that he is not attempting to “exonerate Hitler.” The real question, in terms of grand strategy, is “to reduce the German dictator to his real political and intellectual stature and to correct the widely accepted overestimation of his ability.” For political reasons, Hitler has been built up as “a fantastic figure, appearing to his frightened opponents as an almost superhuman phenomenon, who combined in one man the military genius of Napoleon, the cunning of a Machiavelli and the fanaticism of a Mohammed.”
Topitsch noticed that Stalin was never favorably compared with Napoleon or Machiavelli or Mohammed, though his real achievements in politics and war outdid all three. In fact, the first historian to properly recognize Stalin’s genius was Stephen Kotkin, the latest of Stalin’s biographers, whose first volume on Stalin (published in 2014) ended with a striking tribute to Stalin’s unique abilities. Kotkin understood something that Topitsch had grasped thirty years earlier; namely, that Stalin was no friend to flashy or “spectacular public appearances.” Stalin did not make himself into a human lightning rod, like Hitler. He understood how to do important things without drawing attention to himself; for example, how to make a communist system function by famine, mass arrests, and purges, while retaining devoted followers around the world. None of his colleagues could have done it, says Kotkin. And there can be little doubt Kotkin is right. Stalin’s grasp of politics was without equal, whether he was dealing with Trotsky and Zinoviev or Churchill and Roosevelt. He lured Hitler into playing the unfortunate role of aggressor in Poland and then proceeded to his own aggressions unmolested. Incredibly, the impotent Allied powers that denounced these aggressions ended by allying with Stalin – helping the Soviet dictator to further conquests in the heart of Europe and Asia.
Stalin, noted Topitsch, was “a master of the undercover game, of indirect action.” He was patient. He let others give their intentions away while keeping his own intentions to himself. He pretended to give Hitler what the Germans needed, realizing that he was leading them into a trap from which they could not escape. Everything was carefully considered. (Even now, Stalin serves as a model for Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.) From the point of view of Western statesmanship, Stalin’s character is not easily understood. “The sly, mistrustful Georgian probably did not confide even to his close associates what he knew, intended or desired,” stated Topitsch.
The basic outline of Stalin’s winning strategy was set down by Lenin in 1920. In those days Lenin was predicting what he called a “Second Imperialist War.” Stalin’s job, thenceforth, was to make the Soviet Union ready for that war. With this in mind, Stalin explained the strategy as follows: “If war is to break out, we won’t be able to watch in idleness; we will have to enter the fray, but we will be the last ones to do it, in order to put the decisive weight into the scales, a weight that should tip the balance.”
According to Topitsch, “Lenin and his associates were never in any doubt about their determination to annihilate capitalism and ‘imperialism.’ They were convinced that the First World War was only the prelude to further ‘imperialist wars,’ which would lead inexorably to the final victory of socialism across the whole world.” Lenin’s grand strategic plan was outlined in his speech to the Action Meeting of the Moscow Organization of the Communist Party of Russia on 6 December 1920:
“Till the final victory of socialism in the whole world … we must exploit the contradictions and opposition between two imperialist power groups, between two capitalist groups of states and incite them to attack each other, for when two thieves quarrel the honest man gets the last laugh. But as soon as we are strong enough to overthrow the entire capitalist world, we will seize it by the throat.”
Lenin suggested three areas for developing a “divide and conquer” strategy: (1) the potential for conflict between Japan and America; (2) the potential for conflict between Germany and the Western Allies; and (3) the potential for conflict between America and the rest of the world. The first two conflicts were cultivated by Soviet diplomacy and active measures prior to 1942. The third was used after 1945.
In terms of triggering a war in Europe between Germany and the Western powers, Lenin put special emphasis on exploiting the unjust peace settlement that ended the First World War (i.e., the Treaty of Versailles). Lenin explained the situation as follows:
“This country [Germany] cannot tolerate the treaty [of Versailles] and must look around for allies to fight world imperialism, even though it is itself an imperialistic land, which is nonetheless being held down. [It would in any case be most favorable] if the imperialist powers were to get involved in a war. If we are forced to tolerate such rogues as these capitalist thieves, each one of whom is sharpening the dagger against us, then it is our bounden duty to get them to turn their daggers on each other.”
As bad as Germany might be, said Lenin, communism’s ultimate enemy was America and Britain. He called the British Empire “the proud bastion of world capitalism, the place from which radiated out, like concentric circles, all the threats of imperialism; it was the highest temple of international finance, the world center of … overseas trade, the metropole from where the peoples of the non-European world were sucked dry.” Lenin bemoaned the fact that there was no real prospect of making a revolution in the mother country of capitalism. The empire had to be brought to its knees through open warfare. Why not let the Germans do it?
Germany would become the most important pawn on Lenin’s global chess board. A KGB officer and historian of my acquaintance, who personally knew Russian archivists in Moscow, said that Weimar Germany was a clandestine puppet of Moscow. In other words, from 1919 until Hitler came to power in 1933, Germany was a virtual satellite of the Soviet Union (though the rest of the world had no inkling whatsoever). Please note: Germany was the homeland of Karl Marx. The German Communist Part, KPD (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands), was subservient to Moscow. The liberals and social democrats were manipulable. Even the far right was subject to Soviet manipulation as we shall see. Germany was Moscow’s tool by which a future war could be engineered. Underscoring this idea, Lenin said: “…we have so exploited the quarrel between the two imperialist groups that in the end both lost the game.”
Lenin made this last statement nearly two decades before the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact shocked the world with the unlikely partnership of Hitler and Stalin in 1939. Days after this pact was signed, Hitler invaded Poland and the Second World War began. Lenin’s strategic grasp of the situation in 1920 was far-sighted indeed. Later, GRU defector Viktor Suvorov would write a book titled Icebreaker: Who Started the Second World War? According to Suvorov, “Stalin supported the Nazis. Zealous Stalinists, such as Herman Remmele, who was a member of the Politburo of the German Communist Party [KPD], was quite open in his support of the Nazis….” [P. 11] Suvorov quoted former Soviet leader and Stalin rival Leon Trotsky: “Without Stalin there would have been no Hitler, there would have been no Gestapo!”
Stalin’s indirect support for Hitler in 1933 was easy to miss. Even Hitler did not see it. Talking out loud about a possible alliance with Stalin, Hitler made a prescient remark. “Then we would really mistrust each other,” said Hitler, “and such a pact would inevitably end in a decisive battle. Only one of us can rule….” According to Hitler, “The Russians [always] take over their partner, body and soul, that is the danger; one can either give oneself over to them completely, or steer well clear of them.”
Those who study Hitler will find that the German dictator foresaw every danger. Yet he flirted with every danger, and succumbed. For example, Hitler mocked Kaiser Wilhelm II for getting into a two-front war, bragging that he would not repeat the Kaiser’s mistake. Yet Hitler got into a two-front war in 1941. Hitler saw the danger in partnering with Stalin, yet he partnered with Stalin anyway. Topitsch wrote, “When things reached a critical juncture Hitler brought ruin on himself by not steering well clear [of Stalin]; instead he made himself dependent on Moscow, with dire consequences.” [P. 26]
And what were the dire consequences? Topitsch quoted from a famous account, given by a German translator, of Hitler’s dismay when Britain gave him its final ultimatum after the invasion of Poland:
“I stopped a short distance away in front of Hitler’s table and then slowly translated for him the ultimatum of the British government. When I had finished, complete silence prevailed. Hitler remained sitting there as if petrified and stared into space. He didn’t lose his temper, as was later asserted; he didn’t fly into a rage, as others have claimed. He kept sitting in his chair, completely quiet and not moving. After a while, which to me seemed an eternity, he turned to Ribbentrop, who was standing by the window, as if benumbed. ‘What do we do now?’ Hitler asked his Foreign Minister with a look of rage in his eyes, as if he wanted to make it clear that Ribbentrop had given him false information about the English. Ribbentrop replied in a quiet voice: ‘I assume the French will hand over to us a similar ultimatum within the next hour.’… In the ante-room a deadly silence reigned at this announcement. Goering turned round to me and said: ‘If we lose this war, then may heaven help us!’ Goebbels stood in the corner, dejected and thoughtful, looking literally like the proverbial drenched poodle. Everywhere I saw disconsolate looks, even on the faces of the lesser Party officials who were in the room.”
It was alleged by those in a position to know, that in the following spring, Hitler lost all his mirth. He no longer joked, or entertained his staff with pantomimes or humorous stories. He made a fatal mistake by invading Poland and he knew it. “Stalin’s perceptive and sure-footed tactics had placed the Soviet Union in a strong position,” wrote Topitsch, “but in the case of Germany the very opposite applied. Hitler was fully aware of this at the handing over of the British ultimatum….” Germany would suffer from the Allied blockade and would be all the more dependent on the Soviet Union for grain and oil.
Hitler was now in a desperate position. As he himself had foreseen, the Russians always “take over their partner.” Hitler found himself completely dependent on Stalin as he went to war with France and Britain. He had but one option – impossible on its face. From a position of strategic disadvantage, he had to fight his way out of Stalin’s trap. Because the British were planning to cut his iron ore supplies from Scandinavia, he preemptively invaded Denmark and Norway in April 1940. Breathing a sigh of relief, he next invaded Holland, Belgium and France using the bold plan of Col. Erich von Manstein, which won a surprising victory. France signed an armistice with Germany on 22 June 1940.
Hitler’s position was only marginally improved, however. Britain was still in the war, with Winston Churchill as Prime Minister – determined to fight him with tooth and nail (if necessary). Across the Atlantic, America loomed – a continent-sized country, sympathetic to Britain’s plight. Hitler had no way of ending the war. And there was Stalin and Molotov, grinning ear-to-ear. After the setback suffered by Germany in the Battle of Britain, Hitler had run out of victories. Now it was time to change the game by applying pressure to the blockaded Third Reich.
Soviet Foreign Minister V. Molotov reportedly made the following statement to Lithuanian Foreign Minister Kreve-Mickevicius on 30 June 1940: “We are now more than ever convinced that our brilliant comrade Lenin made no mistake when he asserted that the Second World War would enable us to seize power in Europe, just as we did in Russia after the First World War. For this reason you should be starting now to introduce your people into the Soviet system, which in the future will rule all Europe.”
In July 1940 the Commintern journal, Red Dawn, referred to Hitler as “a new Napoleon … running amok throughout Europe, conquering great countries…. All this seems heroic to him and his party members. The Nazis see the dawning of a new Middle Ages with themselves … at center stage. This vision of the future will also turn out to be a ‘misunderstanding.’ When the work is done, the conqueror of the world, with his fellow criminals, will end up where he belongs – on the rubbish heap of world history.”
About these quotes, Topitsch wrote: “…Hitler was to be used as a battering ram against the allegedly strongest bastion of capitalism, Great Britain, but at the same time the Soviet leaders wanted to preserve the semblance of loyalty to the Germans, perhaps with the idea of thrusting onto them, at the coming clash of arms, the role of treaty-breaking aggressor.” [P. 66]
There are interesting excerpts found in the regulations and instructions of the Red Army covering certain war games: “The Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics will answer every attack with a destructive blow from the whole might of their armed forces. Our war against the attacker will be the most just war in the history of mankind. If the enemy forces make war on us, then the Red Army will be the most offensive of all armies. We will wage an offensive war and carry it right into the territory of our opponents. The fighting methods of the Red Army will be annihilating….”
Hitler had no choice but to attack Russia, as we shall see in Part IV of this series. When he made that fateful decision, Hitler did not know what today’s historians seldom comment on; that for every tank Hitler used to invade the Soviet Union, the Soviets had eight tanks. When Hitler visited Finland on 4 June 1942 to meet with Field Marshal Baron Carl Mannerheim, he gave the Finnish Commander-in-Chief a shocking piece of intelligence. In fact, there exists a voice recording of Hitler’s conversation with the Finnish commander. According to Hitler, in less than one year of fighting, the Germans had destroyed or captured nearly 35,000 Soviet tanks. This is ten times the number of tanks used by the Germans in their initial invasion. Hitler told Mannerheim that if he’d known these numbers, he would not have attacked the Soviet Union. The Soviet preparations for war, he said, had been massive. It was sheer luck, and a tribute to German military skill, that this huge force had been overcome. Yet the Germans had not defeated the Soviet Union. They were mired in yet another war they could not win.
Despite the loss of Soviet tanks, Stalin’s trap had worked.