"...Und Vin ze Var!" and Other Myths
It just doesn't happen that way, not for a long time, if it ever did...
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3 February is notable for several reasons, ironic and otherwise…
On 3 February 1917, the United States broke off diplomatic relations with Germany in the wake of Germany's announcement that she would begin unrestricted submarine warfare again. The notion that Germany would be able to "win" the war against Britain by doing this was popular, but unfounded. It's not clear exactly what the Germans expected, but "winning" the European war by then was simply a matter of outliving rivals. France, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Russia and the Balkan states were completely spent; Britain was conscripting men for the first time in her history; Germany was starving through her second "turnip winter."
By February 1917, only the United States and Japan of the major states were relatively undamaged by WWI.
Germany certainly hoped for victory, but in this more innocent time, "victory" didn't mean conquering one's enemies or destroying their capacity and their will for war as it would in 1945. What it meant was another negotiated settlement between leaders in morning coats and top hats; a dignified congress of gentlemen discussing matters before retiring and dressing for dinner. Ideally, there were no unseemly marches of mere soldiers past hastily built reviewing stands as the Americans had in 1865, and no shocking executions/assassinations of nobles as the Mexicans had in 1866 to their Hapsburg Emperor Maximilian I that France had so generously placed on the throne.
In the height of irony, on 3 February 1924, Woodrow Wilson finally succumbed to the series of strokes that had weakened him for somewhat over a decade.
The conflict for which we would forever identify him was long over, though the aftermath and rebound had only begun. Wilson died after lingering for nearly a year as a complete invalid, and nearly five years before that, as a somewhat feeble old man. While politics will forever taint his wartime decision-making, his chronic illnesses must also weigh and color his record as a reformer and wartime leader.
On 3 February 1945, Operation THUNDERCLAP would augur just such portents in Germany.
A thousand US bombers hit Berlin over the course of about three hours, plagued by German fighters and pummeled by flak. While Germany was dying and everyone seemed to know it but Hitler, she was still very dangerous.
THUNDERCLAP wasn't the first thousand plane raid.
That distinction belongs to Operation MILLENNIUM in 1942, when the RAF hit Cologne in the heart of the Ruhr with not quite a thousand bombers (though they sent over a thousand, not quite a thousand reached the target). The point of these large raids, as the fictional Otto Thielmann would discover in Crop Duster: A Novel of WWII as he watched Cologne go up in flames, was that it took very large volumes of unguided iron bombs to do what the prewar bomber advocates had insisted would take very little. Technology of the time didn't allow for the theoretical precision that men like Harris and Eaker had promised. But, Cologne also showed that large groups of aircraft could overwhelm Germany's defenses. Such strikes couldn't win, but they could enable victory.
Then there was Japan.
As readers will discover next month in The Fire Blitz: Burning Down Japan, the fire raids that destroyed so much of Japan’s cities didn’t bring victory in themselves, either, but in the aggregate they contributed. The message here is simple…
Single events don’t win or end wars; they never really have.
And the friends find each other again. Available from your favorite bookseller or from me if you want an autograph.
Armed Merchant Cruisers: The Spark
Strategy and Luck; Culture and Geography
On 3 February:
1468: Johannes Gutenberg dies in Mainz, Germany. Controversial for being the first to combine moveable type with an agricultural screw press, at the time his printing of a Bible was an issue, especially with churchmen who objected to the idea that anyone could have one.
1902: George C. Marshall is commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant of Infantry. Having graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in the Class of 1901 (which then came with neither commission nor degree), Marshall had to petition for an Army commission. As Chief of Staff starting in 1939, he would change that.
And today is NATIONAL WOMEN PHYSICIANS DAY, also commemorating the birth of Elizabeth Blackwell on this day in 1821, the first woman to graduate from an American medical school. And a big shout-out to Dr. Karen and all those other women physicians!