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Archive for August 9th, 2017|Daily archive page

WHEN HUBRIS TAKES COMMAND

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on August 9, 2017 at 1:42 am

On June 22, 1941, Adolf Hitler ordered his powerful Wehrmacht to invade the Soviet Union.

Since September 1, 1939,  his army had conquered Poland, Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium and France.

Now, he believed, it was time to “settle accounts” with the Soviet Union. Only there could Germany obtain the “living space” it “needed” for its expanding population.

And now seemed to be the perfect time to do it.

Joseph Stalin, dictator of the Soviet Union, had decimated the Red Army with a series of purges in 1937-38.  Its best officers had been shot as “enemies of the State.” Their replacements were untried in war—and fearful of showing initiative that might get them executed.

Adolf Hitler with his generals

At first, Hitler felt giddy with excitement. Turning to Alfred Jodl, his chief of operations of the Wehrmacht,  he said: “We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down.”

But soon afterward–almost as if he had just looked into the future and seen that he had none–he told an aide: “At the beginning of each campaign, one pushes a door into a dark, unseen room. One can never know what is hiding inside.”

That certainly proved true for Hitler. Within four years, he was dead and the Red Army occupied Berlin.

Among the questions Hitler and his generals had refused to ask themselves—and answer:

  • What if the Soviet Union didn’t collapse after “a few powerful blows”?
  • What if the war lasted longer than the summer—while German troops were wearing summer uniforms?
  • What if the war actually lasted into the winter?
  • What if most of the roads in Russia were unpaved—and German tanks got bogged down in, first, autumn mud, and then winter snow?
  • What if Stalin convinced ordinary Russians that they weren’t fighting to save his Communist dictatorship–but to save Holy Mother Russia itself?

By the end of the four-year conflict, all of these possibilities had become reality:

  • The Soviet Union didn’t collapse—although, in October, 1941, it seemed about to do so.
  • The war did last longer than the summer—and, when winter struck, countless German soldiers in summer uniforms froze to death in the below-zero cold.
  • German tanks did become mired—first in mud, then in snow. Russian tanks, having wider tracks, easily outmaneuvered their German counterparts.
  • Stalin did proclaim that this was a struggle to save Holy Mother Russia against a barbaric enemy. And widespread German atrocities convinced them this was true.

German soldiers marching through Russia

Now, fast forward from the Fuhrership of Adolf Hitler to the Presidency of Donald Trump.

During a July 19 meeting with his generals in the White House Situation Room, Trump said the United States was “losing” the war in Afghanistan. He blamed them for lacking a strategy to “win,” and suggested firing the top commander in the field, General John Nicholson.

Trump also asked the generals how the United States could take a portion of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth. He had previously said that the United States should have seized Iraq’s oil after America invaded in 2003.

Even more bizarrely, he repeatedly compared the war in Afghanistan to renovating the elite “21” Club in Manhattan.

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Donald Trump

Trump claimed that after the restaurant had been closed for a year, a consultant suggested that a bigger kitchen be built in the establishment.

Trump told the generals that he would have been better served speaking to the waiters who worked there. And he added that he would do better speaking to veterans of Afghanistan rather than generals.

(Adolf Hitler displayed a similar obsession after the German Sixth Army was forced to surrender at Stalingrad on February 2, 1943. About 94,000 men fell into Russian hands.

(But what most infuriated Hitler was that Friedrich Paulus, the newly-promoted Field Marshal, had allowed himself to be taken prisoner. Hitler raged that Paulus should have committed suicide.

(Three times during his rant, Hitler spoke of a German woman who had killed herself after she found she could no longer go on. His point: If even a weak-willed woman could summon up the courage to take her own life, there was no excuse for a German soldier refusing to do so.)

Bundesarchiv Bild 183-B24575, Friedrich Paulus.jpg

Friedrich Paulus

Trump left the national security meeting without making a decision on a strategy. His advisers were stunned, administration officials and others briefed on the meeting said.

During the presidential campaign, Trump often boasted that he knew more than American  military generals.  This despite his having dodged the Vietnam war via five draft deferments.

American troops have been deployed in Afghanistan since October 7, 2001, when Operation Enduring Freedom was launched. The Taliban, which controlled the country, had refused to turn over Osama bin Ladin, the Al-Qaeda mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.

About 8,400 members of the U.S. military are now currently serving in Afghanistan, fighting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. A total of 1,833 Americans have been killed in action there.

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